The First Princess

Published 16th March 2012

An article by Harold Philbin

It is still a memory of a day to be treasured, and seems to be almost unbelievable in today’s age of plastic railways. Looking way back in time, I may even wonder myself. “Did this really happen to me so long ago, and did this fantastic machine really exist.” The official records show that 6202 a Princess class Locomotive, never went into general service in its original form. So on that morning in the summer of nineteen forty seven, Len Yarwood and I, must have been very fortunate indeed to have had the pleasure of working with this wonderful, man made steel monster. A great pity though, was the fact that this beautiful Princess would never even reach middle age.

Preserve English Railway History

This story is meant to preserve a little bit of English Railway History that should be remembered for all time. I am not certain that I can really do her the justice she deserves, because I only saw her for a few wonderful hours. The magnificent locomotive was built with the inspiration of some of our great railway engineers of the 1930’s, when many of our finest locomotives were either designed, or improved by W.A. Stanier, enthusiast of the efficient tapered boiler.

This particular morning, Len and I were on Control Orders, and we were instructed to go on a passenger train to Hebden Bridge to relieve a goods train going to Moston Sidings, and then take it to Newton Heath Shed. Len was of top quality railway stock, and he knew his way deep into Yorkshire, and as far afield as Liverpool. Aintree. St Helens. Blackpool, Morcambe and Southport.

Just another engine number?

Teamed up with Len, you could guarantee not only a good day, but a bit of overtime as well, even better than that he would usually allow an experienced fireman to do a bit of the driving. Control had given us the engine number so that we would recognize our train as it was coming towards us, and Len would know that we were getting a rather posh engine. But even he did not realise just how posh it was going to be, as far as I was concerned, 6202 was just another engine number.

Still having a lot to learn, I did not notice the obvious difference of this engine to others of a similar type as it came towards us almost silently like a ghost, pulling its full load of wagons with no effort at all. I did not notice the absence of the usual cylinders, valves, pistons and slide bars either, it had no big ends, or little ends, and all of its working parts were covered over with steel plating. Once we had climbed on board, the driver that we were relieving was full of enthusiasm for his engine, and he said. “It’s an experimental engine and it goes like a dream, she is a cracker, and you will not even know that you have a load on, this is the Turbomotive, and it is the only one on the job.”

Rolls Royce of a steam engine

The footplate sparkled like new, and this in itself was getting to be very unusual, as despondency was already taking over from the old efficient ways of getting the job done, Len opened the regulator in his normal cautious manner, and we were away. Just like the driver had said it was no effort to this unique giant as it pulled the forty-five or so loaded wagons out of Hebden Bridge and up the steep incline towards Todmorden.

Our new toy did not go off with a roar, and a beat of exhaust steam and smoke like a normal steam engine. The puffing, chuffing sound was not there at all; instead it had a quiet, low, fast beat. To quote Len, “It ticks just like a Swiss watch.” Here we were on this magnificent Rolls Royce of a steam engine, making steam and history at the same time.

The fireman that I had relieved certainly knew his job, the fire was perfect, and if I placed the coal as efficiently as he had done she would steam for fun. The fire went Whiter and Whiter as Len opened her up, I gave her a light firing and we were away. Never had I seen an engine put out so much power for so little coal, and the miles went by before I had to put any more on. Len a master of his craft was most eager to try out his skills and so was I if I was given but half a chance.

A chance to drive

On we went with our load through Todmorden, Littleborough, Rochdale, Middleton Junction, and finally into Moston Sidings, never before had a journey been so enjoyable, especially through the notorious Summit Tunnel. This was at its worst if you were following an engine with a dirty fire that was giving off sulphurous fumes or if you had a dirty fire yourself and you were getting short of steam. A trip through the tunnel under such conditions was a nightmare. The only way to breathe was to place a wet cloth over your mouth, and crouch with your face over the side of the engine; but always remembering the patient lesson of Driver Harry Smith; to avoid denting the adjacent, but now invisible tunnel wall with your head.

On arrival at Moston Sidings the shunter hooked off our engine, and he gave us the usual permission, “Right away, Newton Heath. “ At the exit at the bottom of the sidings, Len got on the telephone to the signalman at Newton Heath and he asked for a road onto Newton Heath Shed. When he got back to the footplate he just said, “Can you manage this?”

“Could I?” I have never moved faster in all my life, there I was driving the finest engine in the world. On the shed I backed it up to the coal stage and Len filled the tender with coal, then he called the foreman on the telephone.“How did you like the Turbo?” said the foreman. “Superb,” replied Len, and I most definitely agreed with that very compact statement.

Having read just a little bit more about this engine, written by persons far more knowledgeable than I. The impression was reached that not all of her trials were as successful as ours, but perhaps she needed the touch of a master like Len to give of her best. The Turbomotive went into service about 1935 as an experimental engine, others had been built before, mostly abroad, and there was one many years later in the Liverpool Road Museum.

No reverse gear

She had no reversing gear at all, only a large turbine for going forwards, and a smaller one for going backwards. The engine was easy to handle, and even though we had never even seen one before, we just got aboard and drove away with a fully loaded train. She was experimental from new to being scrapped as a result of an horrific accident when two expresses travelling in opposite directions; smashed into a stationary local train at Harrow and Wealdstone Station and each other at top speed. This beautiful Princess did not have my Guardian Angel to protect her and it was not her first taste of disaster either; because soon after our little trip out from Hebden Bridge 6202 was involved in an accident that damaged one of her turbines.

British Rail, instead of doing a proper repair for the sake of its history and a conclusion to its tests, made a botch up by fitting old, normal cylinders and valves from a scrapped engine, and then naming her, “Princess Anne.” There was a sequel to this tale, a coincidence perhaps, because twice later, I would meet the real Princess Anne. In 1969 I would guard her all night, prior to The Investiture of The Prince of Wales at Caernarfon, and later I would do the same again in Rochdale at a Concert, it’s a small world isn’t it?

The true story of the Princess Royal Class 8P locomotives is deep and revealing; it clearly demonstrates the motives of British Rail and other involved persons, in hurriedly disposing of the finest locomotives in the world at knockdown prices. There were thirteen of these wonderful machines built, the first one 6201 in 1933 became Princess Elizabeth; and 6202, later Princess Anne commenced her very short life in 1935, she was only about twelve years old when Len and I had the great pleasure of working with her in 1948.

Another Princess Royal Class engine sister to 6202 was the Princess Arthur of Connaught numbered 6207, she also had a wayward approach to life, and she dived off the rails at Weedon in 1951, and landed at the bottom of the steep embankment on her side. It took three days, and a great deal of skill, men and machinery to put her back on the right track. It is obvious to anyone that these top quality British Locomotives would have brought premium prices throughout the world and they could have been used for many years.

6201 is still with us, usually at Bury, on the old Bacup Branch line.

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