Prince at Harbour station. Courtesy of Cliff Thomas

Princess of Paddington celebrates 150th birthday

Published 04th April 2013

St. David’s Day important Welsh locomotive unveiled on the Paddington’s platforms.

Following a cosmetic makeover at the Ffestiniog Railway’s (FR) Boston Lodge works, the line’s 1863-built 0-4-0STT Princess was unveiled on the area between platforms 8 and 9 at Paddington station on March 1. Speeches were made by FR chairman, Dr John Prideaux CBE and Welsh Assembly Member, Lord Dafydd Elis-Thomas. The small, but historically very important, locomotive will remain on the station concourse until April 13.

Built in London to work in North Wales

Princess was built by George England at Hatcham Ironworks in New Cross, SE14 and this is the first time she has returned to London after being delivered to the FR. Originally carrying the name The Princess, she was one of four such locos built for the Ffestiniog. She and Mountaineer were delivered in July 1863, followed by The Prince (later simply Prince) and Palmerston in 1864.

Prince and Princess were named after Albert Edward, Prince of Wales (later Edward VII) and Princess Alexandra of Denmark (subsequently to become Queen Alexandra) who married on 10 March 1863. Mountaineer reflected the terrain around the Ffestiniog Railway in North Wales while Palmerston’s name was derived from the 3rd Viscount Palmerston - popularly known as Lord Palmerston – who was Prime Minister at the time.

150 years of Ffestiniog steam

These locomotives, built just 30 years after the Rainhill Trials, were not the first narrow gauge locomotives in the world as is sometimes claimed, nor are they the oldest surviving narrow gauge locomotives – Horlock 0-4-0 Fire Queen built in 1848 for the 4ft gauge (double that of the FR, but still less than standard gauge) Padarn Railway and preserved in the National Trust’s Penrhyn Castle Industrial Railway Museum is an obvious contender for that title.

However, Princess, Prince and Palmerston (Mountaineer effectively ceased to exist after 1879) are the oldest surviving narrow gauge locomotives still present on their original railway. Moreover, their introduction meant the 2ft gauge Ffestiniog Railway became the first railway in the world to adopt and make regular use of steam locomotives on such a narrow gauge and working significant distances on a public railway.

Transformation from horse to Iron Horse

Indeed, they enabled the transformation of the Ffestiniog from a horse and gravity mineral railway into a steam worked public line which achieved worldwide renown.

The FR’s first official passenger train ran on 5 January 1865, making the railway the first in Britain of less than standard gauge to be authorised by the Board of Trade to carry passengers. Adding to its historic claims, the Guinness Book of World Records recognises the Ffestiniog as being the oldest operational railway company in the world.

As mentioned, when Princess and her brothers (?) were built these were early days for narrow gauge steam. Various shortcomings were discovered in the light of experience and their appearance has changed somewhat since they were built – in truth, reconstruction over the decades does make it debatable just how much of the original Prince and Princess remains today.

Early lessons…..

Many of these lessons were incorporated when two further similar locomotives, named Welsh Pony and Little Giant, were built in 1867. Little Giant was withdrawn in 1932 and dismantled, but Welsh Pony survives.

Double 150 celebrations

Princess is visiting London as part of the Ffestiniog Railway’s celebration of the 150th anniversary of the introduction of steam on its railway. In addition, 2013 is also the 150th anniversary of opening the first section of what was to become London’s underground railway system – and that section was between Paddington and Farringdon Street, so where better for Princess to be displayed in the capital than at Paddington station!

April Appearances in London

Prince has latterly been receiving a 10-year overhaul and will appear in steam at the London Transport Museum’s April 13-14 Open Weekend at its Acton site, linking with LT’s own celebrations of steam being introduced on the Underground.

A further connection between the two 150th anniversaries is that the FR restored the museum’s Metropolitan Railway ‘Jubilee’ coach which was involved in recent steam operations on part of the underground network and which should also be present at the Acton event. Princess is also expected to join Prince at Acton on the Sunday.

The FR’s own celebration, ‘Steam 150’, is being held over May 3-6 with all four England engines present, two (Prince and Palmerston) in steam and two (Princess and Welsh Pony) on static display.

Later this year, Princess will visit Dublin’s Heuston Station to recall the Irish origin of much of the money which originally financed construction of the Ffestiniog Railway.

Written by Cliff Thomas

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