From the TLC cover Princess basks in the winter sunshine on the Cob - 2013 Photographer unknown.
TLC or Top Left hand Corner is a magazine sometimes published by the Ffestiniog & Welsh Highland Railway to promote the Railway and Wales. The particular issue showing a cover photograph of "Princess" resting on the Cob was published in the second quarter of 2013. One particular story contained therein deals with the history of the Ffestiniog's diminutive steam locomotives built by George England's Hatcham Iron Works in East London, namely, Princess, Mountaineer, Welsh Pony, Little Giant, Palmerston, and Prince. Princess was the first to be constructed and was named after Princess Alexandra of Denmark who had married Albert Edward, Prince of Wales (Later Edward VII) in March 1863. Princess was delivered by rail from London to Caernarfon then brought by road to Porthmadog on "Job and Harry Williams" specially built cart drawn by ten horses. Princess hauled her first Ffestiniog Railway train on 1 August 1863. As 2013 marks the 150th year since then the Ffestiniog planned several events to commemorate the event, including a special issue of TLC Magazine. Read on to learn more about the Ffestiniog and the "Englands" as they are affectionately known.
I Will Survive
From its inception the Ffestiniog Railway (FR) considered using steam engines. They later consulted with the famous Engineer Robert Stephenson, who advised them that it was not feasible on such a small gauge. By 1860 the Railway remained an isolated horse-drawn tramway, far from any main lines but gradually replacing pack ponies and boats on the River Dwyryd as the means of transport for Blaenau slate. At this time the FR company board feared competition from standard gauge railways would threaten their market. Therefore they instructed their Secretary and Engineer Charles Easton Spooner to work with the young engineer Charles Menzies Holland who had designed locomotives he believed would be suitable for working the steep gradients and tight curves.
Holland's uncle, Samuel Holland, had been a prominent local slate quarry owner and early customer of the railway. In these designs they worried about getting a large enough engine with a low centre of gravity on such a narrow gauge. After many weird and wonderful concepts, they arrived at a feasible design and in 1863 engaged a London manufacturer, George England, to construct them.
England's engineering experience coupled with Holland's youthful foresight led to an advanced design for so narrow a gauge, which would endure for 150 years.
The only known photograph of Mountaineer - Date/Photographer unknown.
The first locomotives were delivered in July 1863 with a third being kept back in case changes were needed. When tested, only one change was required, the boiler needed a dome to avoid priming (water being drawn off with the steam and damaging the cylinders). The two locomotives delivered had to be altered at the FR (no mean feat in 1863) and the third locomotive was modified in London.
Princess at Porthmadog - Circa 1871 Photographer unknown.
Probably as a sop to George England a fourth locomotive was ordered as well. The first two (Princess and Mountaineer) started work in October 1863. A third engine was delivered in January 1864 and the last in March 1864.
They looked different from today because of their small side tanks and lack of a cab (1860s drivers were tough). The design proved rugged and reliable. England had given the locomotives a large boiler for their size and although meant to pull 25 tons at 8 miles per hour (mph) uphill they could manage double that.
However, additional faults appeared as loads increased, not enough water capacity and limited adhesion (they only weighed around 8 tons). They also "hunted" from side to side as they pulled uphill and earned themselves the nickname of "boxers".
The locomotives became victims of their own success. The slate traffic grew and something more was needed. Two improved locomotives were ordered from England (Welsh Pony and Little Giant) which became known as "Large Englands". He claimed he would struggle to improve on the design, but this was bluster. England made a couple of simple alterations that made the locomotives more effective.
Princess at Boston Lodge with the cast iron weight over her boiler - 1887 Photographer unknown.
Early worries about a high centre of gravity had proven groundless, so he used a larger, higher pressure boiler, and a saddle tank over the top to increase both the weight (to 10 tons) and water capacity. The wheelbase was lengthened slightly to make the ride better and lessen the damage to the track. This became the ultimate design, having the water capacity and range to pull 50 tons up the line at twelve mph.
The slate trade continued to grow so that even more power was needed and the railway turned in 1869 to the articulated designs of Robert Fairlie to take the heaviest trains. The original Englands were outclassed and as early as 1870 Charles Spooner was talking about selling a couple of them. So how did they survive? Luck and timing!
With the increase in slate traffic, shunting engines were needed to marshal the wagons from each of the quarry feeders and at Porthmadog one was needed to shunt the wharves. A use could therefore be found for two or three of them and Spooner was also discussing providing a similar railway at the nearby Penrhyn Quarries.
They were eventually coming round to the idea and approached him to buy a locomotive in early 1876. At the same time he was the consulting engineer for another local railway being built, the North Wales Narrow Gauge Railway (NWNGR), now part of the Welsh Highland Railway (WHR). He negotiated for Palmerston to be loaned to the NWNGR contractor and so a fourth engine escaped being sold.
By 1879 the first standard gauge line had arrived in Blaenau Ffestiniog and the FR lost its monopoly on the slate traffic. Costs had to be pared and so the first locomotive Mountaineer was withdrawn and cannibalised for parts, the need for economy meant getting more out of the remaining engines.
The remaining three small engines were upgraded by adding a two ton cast iron weight on the top of the tanks (made to look like a saddle tank) and it was in this modified form that they survived into their third decade.
However, in the end it is the boiler that dictates the life of a steam locomotive. After nearly 30 years of hard work (over 300,000 miles of running) the locomotives were pretty much worn out. They were saved again by an even greater need for economy on the FR following the arrival of a second standard gauge railway in Blaenau.
The FR Company Board carried out a review of work practices and, amongst other changes, made the decision not to buy new locomotives without shareholder approval. This left the railway in a quandary. They had five old locomotives that would all be needed if the traffic improved. The route to buying new engines was blocked by lack of money and the shareholder veto. Therefore they decided to do a major upgrade, in-house, of all five Englands. This was done at the Ffestiniog's Boston Lodge Works as the lowest cost option, engine by engine as money became available.
For the older locomotives this meant new frames, a new boiler (the same size as the large Englands), a new saddle tank, and an all-over cab, making them the equivalent of the large Englands. Luck was with the engines again, as the slate trade improved during the 1890s and all three engines were tackled. The first to be altered was Palmerston in 1888 followed by The Prince in 1892 and The Princess in 1895.
The two larger locomotives were re-boilered with new frames, tanks, and a cab in 1889 (Little Giant) and 1891 (Welsh Pony). So in the space of only seven years all five surviving England engines were given a new lease of life. The names of The Prince and The Princess were shortened at this time to just Prince and Princess.
The slate trade reached its final peak in 1897 and a steady decline then took place which would last until World War I. Confidence in slate as a commodity declined, with strikes for pay in the quarries, culminating in the Great Strike at the neighbouring Penrhyn Quarry, which lasted three years. In addition, cheap roofing tiles became readily available.
As a result, the railway started to use cheaper coal which corroded the boilers and tubes faster. Little Giant and Palmerston had to be re-boilered in 1904 and 1910 respectively. With the decline in traffic an engine could be spared and Palmerston was lent to the Vale of Rheidol Railway in Aberystwyth during the summers of 1912, 1913, and 1914.
Palmerston was sent south with one of the FR's real characters, Driver David Davies. It is said the first thing he asked on arriving at Aberystwyth was where was the nearest pub!
Princess and crew at Minffordd Yard - 1920 Photographer unknown.
The elapsed time between a boiler failing and being replaced grew to three years with Welsh Pony (returned to service in 1915) and five years with Prince (returned to service in 1920). It was badly needed and was rushed into service only to be involved in an accident at Blaenau. Due to an unfortunate misunderstanding in fog, points were changed under the wagons it was pushing and Prince ended up on its side.
Fortunately, being only a small engine, a group of locals gathered round and put it back upright before the breakdown gang arrived!
The railway entered the 1920s with hopes of a revival. The Welsh Highland Railway was completed to Porthmadog in 1923 and Palmerston was once again lent to help build it.
Princess received a new boiler in 1923 and new petrol shunters were bought which could have seen off the steam locomotives.
The 1920s also marked the start of rival motor bus services in North Wales. With the slate trade continuing its inexorable decline and real competition for traffic, the railway went into a downward spiral of reduced wages, fewer employees, and minimal maintenance. The petrol shunters were probably less well treated and prone to faults. The Englands proved useful on the short trains needed for the struggling WHR. So the rugged old steam engines were still needed.
Despite this, Little Giant ran out of luck with its boiler in 1929 and was dismantled. This was the start of the depression and there was no money for a new one.
The railway had adopted a policy of trying to attract tourists in the summer months but was having to rely on the slate trade to get it through the winter. In an era of make do and mend the railway somehow managed to keep the remaining Englands going until 1936.
Prince by this time was again in need of major boiler work as was Palmerston by March 1937. Princess was out shopped in April 1937, the last locomotive rebuild to be carried out by the original Ffestiniog Company.
Welsh Pony continued to operate until 1939, leaving Princess as the sole operating England locomotive as the railway entered the 1940s.
World War II
The Railway ceased passenger traffic with the outbreak of World War II and was in a perilous state financially. The company had looked at getting Prince and Palmerston's boilers repaired in 1938 but they were too far gone. They dithered about the cost of a new boiler but by 1943, with the state of Princess becoming critical, they had to act. They ordered a new boiler for Prince. Palmerston found a novel way to escape being scrapped.
Part of Boston Lodge Works was taken over by the Glaslyn Foundry for war work and this locomotive was connected up as a stationary boiler in order to drive a steam hammer.
Palmerston relegated to use as a stationary boiler - Date/Photographer unknown.
At the end of the war, the new boiler finally arrived for Prince, but by this time the railway was in terminal decline. There was no money to reinstate the passenger service and not enough slate traffic to make a profit. Princess hauled the inevitable last train in August 1946.
The end came so quickly that the engines were left with water in the tanks and coal in the bunkers, a recipe for corrosion. The railway needed money to pay off its debts but could not find a buyer for either the new boiler or its locomotives, so the Englands survived yet again.
By good fortune, because the Ffestiniog Railway had been incorporated by an Act of Parliament, it could not be scrapped without further legislation. So, although moribund, the locomotives and railway remained effectively intact while a solution was sought.
The era after the Second World War brought new ideas and new mobility for holiday makers. The neighbouring Talyllyn Railway was taken over in 1950, running solely for tourists. It was this trade that would ultimately save the FR.
In 1954 the Ffestiniog Railway was taken over by a group of enthusiasts and volunteers, but how could they run trains with the run down carriages and locomotives from 1946?
The answer lay in the partly overhauled Prince and its new boiler. The chassis had been worked on bit by bit from 1937 onwards and so was in a good state. Some parts were gleaned from both Welsh Pony and Palmerston and although it was not complete at the re-opening of the line in July 1955, Prince came into service within a couple of weeks and hauled every train until September 1956 when a Double Fairlie came into service.
Prince continued to be a mainstay of the service until 1961 when new cylinders and some boiler repairs were required.
In 1962, an engine from the Penrhyn Quarry railway, Linda, arrived to help solve the locomotive crisis. On Prince's return to traffic it was very soon its 100th birthday, which was celebrated in some style with TV coverage in 1963.
Linda had a lucky escape when paired with Prince, she derailed in the woods and only the couplings prevented her disappearing down the embankment!
This and other tales appeared in one of the Reverend Awdry's Thomas the Tank Engine books and Prince found new fame as Duke in those popular stories.
However with the arrival of larger locomotives like Linda (and a year later a sister engine Blanche), the writing was on the wall for Prince. The success of the railway meant the trains were too heavy for an England engine. When Prince's boiler ticket expired in 1968, the locomotive was set aside.
So what of the other Englands? Princess was always talked about for rebuild and was cosmetically restored in 1963 for the centenary. Welsh Pony too, was considered, but they both had the same haulage limitations as Prince. Palmerston seemed beyond repair and there was even discussion about scrapping it.
In 1969 Princess was placed on a plinth at Blaenau to show commitment to the line reopening to that station and stayed on that duty until 1981.
Then, out of the blue, in 1974, a consortium bought Palmerston and an old tender for restoration and it was moved to Derbyshire with the proviso that it would never run on the FR again!
In the same year, a group of volunteers decided to take on the task of restoring Prince to make it strong enough to haul the trains of the day. It came back into service in 1980 superheated and oil fired, just as Princess entered the museum at Harbour Station in 1981.
Princess shortly before leaving Spooner's Pub - 2012 Photographer unknown.
In 1985 Welsh Pony was rescued from storage, cosmetically restored and put on a plinth outside Porthmadog Station as an eye-catching advertisement for the railway. Prince was repainted in a historic red livery in 1986 and, in 1988, celebrated its 125th birthday in style.
By 1987 Palmerston's restoration was advanced enough to bring the engine back for finishing off at Boston Lodge. So when Palmerston re-entered service in 1993, there were two operational England engines for the first time in over 50 years.
Smaller trains were created for their use and so they continued to operate into a new millennium. A large input of volunteer effort supports their continued running.
Welsh Highland Reopens
With the reopening of the Welsh Highland Railway between Caernarfon and Porthmadog, they have now both had an opportunity to stretch their legs on the steeper gradients and demonstrated just how free-steaming was the original design.
Prince was driven, appropriately, by HRH Prince Charles on the opening of the line to Rhyd Ddu in 2003. They have both travelled far and wide across Britain and Palmerston has even visited France.
Princess at Boston Lodge - 2013 Photographer unknown.
So what does the future hold for them? Princess is kept in the condition she was left in by the old company as a tribute to them. Prince and Palmerston are kept available by volunteer effort and enthusiasm. Welsh Pony was rescued from her plinth in 2002 and now is safely under cover. A new conservation report has been written and it remains a possibility that one day she will steam again.
So what would George England say if he could see his engines still running after a century and a half? He would probably say he got it right, he does sound rather pompous in his writing. Nevertheless, over the 150 years, these locomotives have proved to be an efficient, reliable, and rugged design.
So, as the Reverend Awdry might well have said: "A really useful engine."
Chris Jones - TLC Magazine March 2013 - Ffestiniog & Welsh Highland Railway Harbour Station Porthmadog Gwynedd Wales United Kingdom LL49 9NF
All four Englands pose for the camera at Boston Lodge - 2013 Photographer unknown.
Welsh Pony Rebuild
The Ffestiniog & Welsh Highland Railway Company's board of directors has approved the rebuilding of Welsh Pony. The locomotive has been out of service since 1939 due to a condemned firebox. In 2013 a cosmetic restoration prepared Welsh Pony for the four day Steam 150 event. Work to make the engine operable will probably commence during the winter of 2013-2014. The loco will be 150-years-old in 2017 so one assumes this may become a target completion date. But... like all good things, money is required to make this happen. Donations may be made online at Virgin Money Giving.
Welsh Pony was one of the first "Large Englands" built for the railway - Prior to 1936 Photographer unknown.