Steam Railway feature sample
Here’s a sample of one of the many fantastic features you can read in this month’s Steam Railway magazine.
Back in black: Lyme Regis branch classic Adams ‘Radial’ No. 30583 steps out again ahead of a very special family reunion this month. NICK BRODRICK asks: ‘will it ever steam again?’ .
What makes the Bluebell Railway special?
There is a variety of answers to that question, but one of them is undoubtedly its exotic array of unusual and elegant locomotives. Perhaps that’s no wonder, given that the Bluebell began to amass its collection almost a decade before the end of steam.
But delve deeper, and ask which of those locomotives are unique survivors of motive power, rather than simply historic ones, since none of them are either the pocket-sized tanks, nor are they the big Bulleid or BR Standard engines. The answer is found in the Bluebell’s middle order: the Chatham ‘C’, ‘H’ and ‘O1’, Brighton’s ‘E4’ Birch Grove, the Maunsell ‘Q’, the GWR ‘Dukedog’… the ‘Radial’. In other words, designs of locomotive that you won’t find anywhere else on Earth.
With the exception of the GWR 4‑4‑0 hybrid, all of those engines are an ideal fit for the Bluebell when it plays to its optimum Southern branch line-cum-secondary line image. Interwoven with period infrastructure and vintage stock, it really can be a match made in Sussex.
And yet, while most of those mentioned are either in regular use, or have steamed within the last decade, there’s one that you could have been forgiven for having half-forgotten about: the LSWR Adams ‘0415’ – an engine that is now firmly back in the limelight after three decades.
This sole-surviving ‘Radial’, erstwhile No. 488, is a surviving embodiment of the often overlooked and underestimated design work of William Adams – LSWR locomotive superintendent between 1878 and 1895.
Adams was a pioneer of many things, including standardisation of parts and technological advances; both manifested in his ‘415’ (later ‘0415’), which was a refinement of his earlier, comparatively makeshift, suburban ‘46’ 4‑4‑0Ts.
A pivoting radial axle (designed by another William Adams!) and leading bogie were features ahead of their time, matched with big wheels and a free-steaming boiler, plus the addition of 1,000 gallons of water storage in two side tanks and a third tank (hidden within the one-ton capacity coal bunker). It made these elegant-looking machines well equipped for quick and intensive suburban trains.
And yet while they were undoubtedly popular, the introduction of newer locomotive designs – and subsequent onset of third-rail electrification in the London area – meant that many of the ‘0415s’ were relegated to rural backwaters of the LSWR system early in their lives. This was in line with the redeployment of several other locomotives, like the handful of Beattie well tanks, which found a niche in a china clay-rich corner of Cornwall, while one third of Adams’ own 0‑4‑4Ts, the ‘O2s’, were shipped across the Solent to the Isle of Wight, where they would eke out their existence until the penultimate year of British Rail steam.
For the Adams ‘Radials’ – all but wiped out by the end of the 1920s – it was the sinuous Axminster to Lyme Regis branch in Dorset that ensured the prolonged survival for the class, albeit only two engines – Nos. 125 and 520 (later Nos. 3125 and 3520) – that were the Southern Railway’s final pick of the bunch from 30 engines that had already survived the LSWR cull prior to the 1923 Grouping.
These gallant machines served the snaking 6¾-mile branch line magnificently, surmounting hills with grades as steep as 1‑in‑40, through another war, almost two decades after the other remaining ‘Radials’ had already been pensioned off. With one exception: No. 488.
It’s an engine that had luck on its side on several occasions, thanks in no small part to the two world wars (see panel), and it eventually found itself plying its trade on trains to the Jurassic coast with its ‘siblings’. They succeeded on this line where others failed, until 1961 when Ivatt 2‑6‑2Ts finally made the ‘Radials’ redundant.
Read more on pages 72-78 of Steam Railway SR490 – on sale now!