Published: 29th July 2015
The first steam locomotive built by Hunslet Engine Company left the works at Jack Lane in the Hunslet area of Leeds on 18 July 1865. The last steam locomotive to be built by Hunslet left the same site in 1971.
Although Hunslet continued to produce internal combustion locomotives at Jack Lane until 1995 the days of constructing steam locomotives were long-gone. Also now gone are the buildings in which they were constructed, although the offices erected at the site by 1885 remains - with a blue plaque on the frontage – as a proud reminder of the venerable history of this Leeds locomotive works which sent its products around the world.
Hunslet No. 1, a standard gauge 0-6-0ST contractors locomotive named Linden saw service at a number of locations around the country and survived until 1964, its identity and significance not having been realised in time for steps to be taken to save it.
The last Hunslet steam locomotive, indeed the last steam locomotive to be built in Britain for commercial use (as opposed to heritage-era construction) was 3902/1971, a 750mm gauge 0-4-2ST constructed to a Kerr Stuart ‘Brazil’ class design (Hunslet having acquired rights, designs and names of several well-known firms including Kerr, Stuart & Co in 1930) for Robert Hudson Ltd to work at Trangkil sugar mill, Java. The significance of this locomotive, Trangkil’s No. 4, certainly was understood.
The main lines at the Javan sugar mill were lifted after the 2002 season with Trangkil No. 4 placed in storage. Amid concerns steam may not be brought back into use for the 2004 season, Graham Lee (whose company had purchased the Hunslet Engine Company locomotive building element of the Hunslet-Barclay business in December 2003) opened negotiations to buy the historically significant locomotive. These were concluded in April 2004 and the locomotive was repatriated in mid-June 2004. Trangkil No. 4 was rapidly overhauled, including re-gauging to 2ft, and returned to steam in 2005 at Graham Lee’s newly constructed Statfold Barn Railway.
The historic Middleton Railway (which dates its origins back to 1758) located in the Hunslet area of Leeds took up the mantle of celebrating the 150th anniversary of the start of Hunslet locomotive production. The standard gauge line organised a major gala over July 18-19 which rail.co.uk will report separately. In addition to the gala on its own line, Middleton’s vision was to also produce a sight few ever thought they would see, steam back on the Jack Lane site.
More than that, 150 years after production of Hunslet’s first steam locomotive, the company’s last steam loco would return to where it was built. In addition, West Lancashire Light Railway’s Hunslet 0-4-0ST HE823/1903 Irish Mail, just back in service following a significant overhaul, would also be present to represent the iconic ‘Quarry Hunslet’ type of 0-4-0STs which in many ways are synonymous with the North Wales slate industry – and, along with standard gauge ‘Austerity’ 0-6-0Ts – have made contributed to making the Hunslet name so revered among enthusiasts.
It was an amazing coup to pull off, and all credit to Schneider Electric – a global specialist in energy management and automation – whose modern premises now occupy the Jack Lane site for not only facilitating the adventurous idea but also becoming a leading sponsor of Middleton Railway’s Hunslet 150 weekend event.
Middleton Railway organised a regular heritage bus service from its Moor Road HQ to Jack Lane through the weekend enabling visitors to view the two locomotives steaming back and forth in turn over temporary 2ft gauge lines, literally in the shadow of the old office building. Schneider Electric also had a display stand present with audio-visual material helping to explain and interpret the historic site upon which their modern premises now stand.
Will this ever happen again? Never say never, but this was an amazing sight which could turn out to be a once in a lifetime opportunity. Huge credit to Middleton Railway and Schneider Electric for making it happen.