Middleton tunnel_Cliff Thomas

Hunslet 150 celebration in Leeds

Published: 27th May 2015

Historic Middleton Railway to host 150th anniversary celebration of Leeds locomotive manufacturer

The Hunslet Engine Company was founded in 1864 (its name being derived from the area in south Leeds where it was established at Jack Lane, Hunslet, with the company’s first steam locomotive being built the following year - a standard gauge 0-6-0ST delivered to Thomas Brassey at Ampthill in Bedfordshire for use during construction of the Midland Railway. The 150th anniversary of Hunslet’s first locomotive being produced will be marked by the Middleton Railway – located in South Leeds close to the Hunslet hotbed of locomotive construction - over July 18-19.

Pioneering railway

The Middleton Railway can trace its origins back to a waggonway built around 1755, followed by a more direct line authorised by a 1758 Act of Parliament. Steam locomotives were introduced in 1812, enabling the railway to claim it provided the first regular revenue earning use of steam traction, as opposed to experimental operation. These locomotives employed a rack and pinion drive on one side and the line’s gauge was actually 4ft 1in. The system was converted to standard gauge in 1881.

In 1959 Middleton became the first standard gauge preservation scheme in the country, just eight years after the pioneer Talyllyn Railway Preservation Society had shown that a railway could be taken over and operated by volunteer labour, with the first passenger service on a standard gauge line to be run by volunteers operating on June 20 1960.

Gala visitors for Middleton line

The July 18-19 event will take place on two sites. A gala event will be running on the Middleton’s own line with at least two visiting locomotives. The confirmed guests are John Beesley’s Hunslet 0-6-0ST Beatrice (2705/1945) visiting from the Embsay & Bolton Abbey Steam Railway and Hunslet 0-6-0ST ‘Austerity’ NCB No. 66 (HE3890/1964).

Beatrice was supplied to The Ackton Hall Colliery Co. of Featherstone, near Pontefract. It entered preservation in 1976, its new home being at the E&BASR. Intriguingly, Beatrice has never been outside Yorkshire, but this will be the first time it has returned to the city where it was built.

Lucky 66, the last steam loco built in the UK

The ‘Austerity’, launched back into operation following overhaul during Buckinghamshire Railway Centre’s May 3-4 steam gala having not having previously steamed since entering preservation in the mid-1970s, is historically significant in its own right.

It was the last standard gauge steam locomotive to be commercially built in Britain for the UK market – the slight caveats only becoming necessary after A1 No. 60163 Tornado was completed in 2008 to become the first main line steam locomotive built in the UK since Evening Star was constructed by BR in 1960. HE3890/1964, with an official date of construction of February 19 1964, was the 484th ‘Austerity’ to be built. It became No. 66 in the South Yorkshire NCB fleet being sent to Cadeby Main Colliery, Conisborough on March 27 1964.

A further visiting standard gauge locomotive is anticipated, its identity still awaiting confirmation.

The Middleton Railway locomotive collection centres on locomotives manufactured in Leeds and important Moor Road-based Hunslet-built locos expected to be in action include HE1697/1932 John Alcock and HE1786/1935 Courage (also known by the nickname Sweet Pea).

Narrow gauge steam returns to Jack Lane

Steam will also return to the Jack Lane site, once the location of Hunslet’s works. Middleton Railway is to lay two parallel 2ft gauge tracks in what is now the Schneider Electric works to enable what could be a once in a lifetime opportunity to see two locomotives in steam at the historic location.

A key guest is Statfold Barn Railway’s Hunslet 0-4-2ST HE3902/1971 Trangkil No. 4 - the last steam locomotive to be built at the Jack Lane works. Constructed to a Kerr Stuart ‘Brazil’ class design for Robert Hudson Ltd, it was supplied as a 750mm gauge loco to work at the Trangkil sugar mill, Java. It was repatriated in June 2004 by SBR and its overhaul included re-gauging to 2ft.

Also to run at the Jack Lane site is the West Lancashire Light Railway’s Hunslet 0-4-0ST HE823/1903 Irish Mail. Once of the Dinorwic slate quarry in North Wales, Irish Mail represents the iconic ‘Quarry Hunslet’ type produced by Hunslet.

Yet more Hunslets!

The organisers aim to assemble 150 Hunslets of all sizes for the event with displays of models from 32mm gauge/16mm scale to 7.25in gauge. Anyone who would like to take a model Hunslet is invited to contact hunslet150models@gmail.com.

In addition, 18in gauge Hunslet 0-4-0WT Jack will be in steam at the nearby Armley Mills museum, which will be on the route being served by a free vintage bus service.

Call to Hunslet employees

Middleton Railway is holding a special event for ex-employees of the Hunslet Engine Company on July 17 and is keen to talk to anyone who used to work for the firm at Jack Lane. To find out more contact hunslet150@gmail.com.

Transport links

The Middleton Railway is located just outside Leeds city centre and is served by local buses. However, Middleton Railway is operating two free vintage buses over the weekend.

One bus will operate between the Middleton Railway, the city centre bus station, railway station and return via Armley Mills Industrial Museum and Jack Lane (where the 2ft gauge locomotives will be operating).

A second bus will provide regular shuttle services connecting the Middleton Railway and Jack Lane only. It will also do a couple of city centre runs in the morning to provide extra capacity at the busiest time.

Armley Mills opens from 13.00 on the Sunday, so Sunday morning buses will not call at Armley Mills. While the buses are free to use, there will be an on-board collection bucket - a suggested donation of £2 towards the cost of running the vehicles would be appreciated.


Pre-Booked tickets cost £10 (adult), £2 (children) - or £15 for the full weekend. An offer which includes an event-branded polo shirt is also available, shirt + rover ticket £20 for one day, or £25 for the weekend. This offer is only available in advance, with additional polo shirts available for £10 each.

Ticket prices on the day are: £12 (adult), £3 (children) or £18 for the weekend. Polo Shirts will be available costing £12.

Tickets can be pre-booked by calling 0845 680 1758.

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