Published: 21st July 2015
The Middleton Railway, located in the Hunslet area of Leeds and with a history dating back to 1758, organised a major gala over July 18-19 inspired by the 150th anniversary of construction of the first Hunslet Engine Company locomotive.
The Hunslet Engine Company was founded in 1864, its first locomotive – a standard gauge 0-6-0ST contractors locomotive named Linden – leaving the firms Jack Lane works on 18 July 1865.
The final standard gauge steam locomotive to be built by Hunslet left Jack Lane in 1964 with the very last Hunslet steam loco being completed in 1971 – these being the last standard gauge and narrow gauge steam locomotive constructed for commercial use (as opposed to more recent preservation-era construction) in Britain.
Hunslet locomotive construction at Jack Lane finally ended in 1995, the last locomotives built at the site being a batch of six 4wDH 2ft gauge locos (HE9346 – HE9351) supplied to work on tunnelling contacts for construction of London Underground’s Jubilee Line Extension.
Middleton Railway has a collecting policy centred on Leeds-built locomotives. For this major gala based on a Hunslet anniversary, the decision was made to opt for an event solely employing Hunslet locomotives. To achieve this Middleton seriously pushed the boat out to present a spectacular event, bringing in a trio of locomotives (each with a special story to tell) to supplement its own Hunslet-built products on its standard gauge line, plus a pair of narrow gauge locos to return steam to Jack Lane. The latter aspect of Hunslet 150 is reported in a separate rail.co.uk story.
First visit away from home:
When Hunslet 0-6-0ST ‘Austerity’ NCB No. 66 (HE3890/1964) was completed on February 19 1964 it became the 485th and final ‘Austerity’ to be built. Even more significantly, it was the last standard gauge steam locomotive constructed for commercial use in Britain. The latter caveat refers to the difference between the end of traditional steam construction by independent companies and preservation-era new-build construction - when A1 No. 60163 Tornado was completed in 2008 it become the first main line steam locomotive built in the UK since Evening Star was constructed by BR in 1960.
No. 66 spent its working life in the coal industry, its career ending in 1970. Initially purchased privately it went to the Buckinghamshire Railway Centre at Quainton Road in November 1975, later becoming owned by BRC operator, Quainton Railway Society.
No. 66 waited a long time to return to steam, a project finally brought to fruition in May this year. Its appearance at Middleton’s gala was its first visit away from Quainton Road and the first time in preservation it had run on a full length railway rather than the comparatively short BRC demonstration line. It is good to report that no untoward issues apparently surfaced, the representative of its owners being delighted with its performance.
The second visiting ‘Austerity’, Hunslet 0-6-0ST NCB No. 19 (3818/1954) from Bo-ness & Kinneil Railway also spent its working life in coal industry service – exclusively in Scotland. It entered preservation on being purchased by the Scottish Railway Preservation Society and, like No. 66, had a lengthy wait before returning to action. A major rebuild at Bo’ness & Kinneil Railway was completed last year and this visit was the first time it had been outside Scotland since construction in 1954.
Hunslet 0-6-0ST Beatrice (2705/1945) owned by John Beesley was making its first ever visit away from its Embsay & Bolton Abbey Steam Railway. This notable ‘first’ did not cause too much home sickness since remarkably Beatrice has still yet to ever leave Yorkshire! Built in Leeds, Beatrice spent its working life at Ackton Hall colliery, Featherstone (near Pontefract) where she was named after the colliery manager’s daughter and on entering preservation in 1976 went to Embsay in the Yorkshire Dales.
Beatrice celebrated her 70th birthday during the visit, a July 19 celebration on the platform at Moor Road including a group of children singing ‘Happy Birthday dear Beatrice’ to the surprise and delight of her owner. Pieces of birthday cake were then fed into her firebox.
Amid its collection of Leeds-built steam locomotives, neither of Middleton Railway’s Hunslet products are currently operational, 0-6-0ST HE2387/1943 Brookes No. 1 being under overhaul and HE1493/1925 a long-term restoration project. However, its two diesels were able to participate, these being Hunslet 0-6-0DM LMS No. 7051 (HE1697/1932) (known as John Alcock although it does not presently carry the name) and ex-Alton Brewery 4wDM HE1786/1935 Courage (a.k.a Sweet Pea).
So Middleton was able to achieve its ambition of all-Hunslet motive power for the gala? Well, not quite. Unfortunately vintage machinery sometimes does not fully recognise the importance of the occasion, an example being the gear shift problem which No. 7051 encountered on the morning on July 18. Rescue was required, with deleterious effects of the timetable for the rest of the day, the job being tackled by Peckett 0-4-0DM 5003/1961 Austin No. 1 which therefore appeared briefly on the Balm Road branch.
Thunderbird rescue duty completed, the Bristol-built loco departed the scene to leave the products of Jack Lane back on centre-stage. No. 7051’s problem was not terminal, overnight attention seeing it back on the roster for Sunday operations.
The visiting locos, gala operations and bringing steam back to Jack Lane for the first time since 1971 were the public highlights of Hunslet 150. For Middleton Railway, organising a reunion of ex-Hunslet Engine Company workers on July 17 was one of the big success stories of the event. Over 50 ex-employees responded to Middleton’s invitation, the oldest having started work at Jack Lane in 1933 and now aged 96, while another attendee was aged 92. Not only did the ex-employees enjoy the day but Middleton Railway recorded priceless memories and stories on video for the enjoyment and education of future generations.
An unexpected historic aspect of the Middleton Railway’s history also seemed to emerge from the event. While ‘Austerity’ 0-6-0STs are closely associated with the coal industry, NCB never employed them on the Middleton line, instead using relatively small locomotives. In its long preservation era, Middleton has also tended to employ relatively small industrial motive power.
Talking with rail.co.uk a Middleton spokesman, while emphasising the experience of operating the two ‘Austerity’ guests had been “great” and well-worth doing, observed that their size and power (probably twice that of the locomotives traditionally employed on the line with consequently high coal and water consumption) was far more than required to work the railway. “We think this experience goes a long way towards explaining why NCB never used them here – they knew they did not need to,” he observed.