In order to generate some content for the blog, I thought I’d take a look at the things I have been meaning to write about in recent years, or which I have covered in talks but not published, and try and put some of these down in writing. I will also try and cover some subjects not well covered on the blog, or in print, previously, in order to place something on record for those interested in the subject to study.
In due course I hope to write a series of monographs about elements of the transport collection, having long-since realised I will never have time to write the over-arching book on the subject! Some areas have been covered separately, for instance in the Book of Samson, and in a forthcoming series of articles planned for the Narrow Gauge & Industrial Railway Modelling Review periodical. You can also find attachments in the ‘articles’ section of the blog with articles previously published.
I am working on a booklet (so, what will become a monograph) on the Leyland Cubs at Beamish, featuring the restoration of 716, and in due course a book will be published on Dunrobin – a collaboration between the Highland Railway Society and Beamish. The tramway book, Forty Years of Service, is also on the list of books due for review (and update plus expansion) and which the enforced absence from work may well see progress rather faster than anticipated!
I am therefore starting with Seaham Harbour Dock Company No.17, a Head Wrightson vertical boiler locomotive built in 1873 (works number) for the Londonderry Railway as a shunting locomotive at Seaham Harbour. I should add that I am working entirely from memory as I don’t have the file on the locomotive with me at home, so I will endeavour to make this as comprehensive as I can, but with apologies for any gaps or errors of memory! Along the way we will also look at the other two Head Wrightson locomotives that survive today, and make some comparisons and promote the odd hypothesis too.
First, a little background… No.17 was probably the fourth locomotive constructed by Head Wrightson. A summary of the company history appears further down this article. They initially produced a vertical boilered locomotive of Type 1 or Type 2, with gear drive from the vertical engine unit to the front axle, the coupled wheels having conventional coupling rods to transmit the power to the rails. The boiler was centrally located, with a water tank to the front of the locomotive and the coal (or coke) box to the rear, along with the driving position/footplate. This was typical of vertical boiler locomotives of the period.
The most interesting feature of the Type 1 and Type 2 was that the frame was cast as a single piece of iron, and incorporated the frames, bufferbeams, frame stretchers, footplate and bunker within this one casting. Cast steel locomotive frames would later become quite common elsewhere in the World, but not in the UK, and not cast in iron.
This manufacturing method must have proved to problematical, as by the time No.17 was constructed (works number 33), the cast frame had been abandoned in favour of traditional plate frames, with the cylinders being mounted onto these to give a conventional arrangement of cylinders/connecting rods/coupling rods. The boiler was still centrally mounted, but the water tank was now mounted at the rear, with coal carried in a recess between the frame plates to the rear as well. The geared drive was abandoned and as a result a smoother, more lively design was the result.
Sadly the order book which would contain the locomotive series of construction was removed many years ago from the collection of such records, and has never been heard of since. In brief, the locomotive output, for this ironworks producing bridges, piers, gantries and hydraulic machinery of vast proportion and scale, appears to consist of the following:
Works Number 21/Built 1870 0-4-0VBTG (A Type 1 locomotive, supplied to the Londonderry Railway and became their number 16, later passing to the Seaham Harbour Dock Company, retaining the number as well as remaining at Seaham Harbour. Presented to Head Wrightson by the SHDC in June 1959 – see reference later in this article)
Works Number not allocated/Built 1871 0-4-0VBTG (A modified Type 1 locomotive, with enlarged water tank, supplied to the Dorking Greystone Lime Company, Betchworth, out of use by late 1940s and later preserved by Head Wrightson in 1961. Presented to Beamish in 1971 – see reference later in this article)
Works Number 32/Built 1872 0-4-0ST (Said to be a direct drive saddle tank supplied to a manufacturer in Germany. The only evidence for its appearance is an advert which appeared in the 1860s showing an ‘Improved Tank Locomotive’. But whether this was ever constructed or the advert was purely speculative remains a mystery).
(NB – It is presumed that works numbers were allocated in a wider series of machinery produced by Head Wrightson, and is not exclusive to railway locomotives)
Works Number 33/Built 1873 0-4-0VBT (Supplied to the Londonderry Railway and became their number 17, later passing to the Seaham Harbour Dock Company where it retained the number as well as remaining at Seaham Harbour.
Works Number 35/Built 1876 (Supplied to Chell Colliery, Stoke-on-Trent, later sold in c1897 to Stephen Offer & Co for use on railway construction work. No further history known after 1901)
There were three further Head Wrightson locomotives, said to be 0-4-0VBTGs, of which two worked at Gjers Mills in Middlesbrough and one worked for the Weardale Iron & Coal Co. Ltd.
The reference to 0-4-0, followed by a series of letters, is the Whyte notation – a means of describing the characteristics of a locomotive. In this case it states that there are four coupled wheels, with no pony or trailing wheels in the arrangement. The VB refers to a Vertical Boiler, the T is for Tank and, where applicable, the G states that the engine has a form of gear drive between engine unit and coupled wheels. ST denotes a Saddle Tank is fitted, for carrying water.
The photo above has spent a lot of time on my wall, in the office and at home! It has revealed a great many things, which I have subsequently been able to compare to the real locomotive – so here are some of my observations…
This photograph shows the engine after a few months use, but clearly still straight and tidy. It is a valuable image for study, given the side angle aspect. The reason for thinking it shows an overhaul completed at the SHEW is that the cab design is entirely in keeping with the other Londonderry Railway locomotives in style and shape. My hypothesis is therefore that the locomotive was supplied new to the Londonderry Railway in 1873, and that a cab was found to be desirable for operation at the harbour, being fitted at the first major overhaul. This would align with work we know was carried out on No.18, which oscillated between having a cab and then an open cab, each time the SHEW overhauled the locomotive and further adapted it to local conditions.
The locomotive has four brake blocks – two acting on the rear coupled wheels, and two on the front. The front two cannot be readily linked to the rear two, as would be normal practice, due to the presence of the vertical boiler sitting between and beneath the frames. The valve gear (eccentric rods) is actually curved to enable this to work, so the idea of threading brake linkages into the assemblage seems unlikely. So how are the front brake blocks applied? I have considered this at length and concluded that there was probably a steam brake cylinder mounted between the frames at the front of the locomotive, for which there is ample space. It would therefore seem likely that this feature was added at the c1890s rebuild and is a SHEW feature rather than a Head Wrightson one.
The locomotive is slightly longer in this photograph than it is now – I’ll return to this point!
The cab, as described earlier, is typical SHEW practice for their in-house builds and re-builds. Note the porthole window on the side of the cab. The other image, taken before this one, can be found here: http://east-durham.co.uk/wp/railways/nggallery/thumbnails
It clearly shows a small portion of the cab window in the rear cabsheet, and from this I inferred that a shape similar to that installed in No.18’s cab in c1936 is likely – indeed, it could be that the window frames from No.17 were reused in No.18’s 1930s reconstruction (this being the rebuild that saw the current appearance of No.18 appear, and marking the start of what was essentially a new, SHEW, locomotive appearing, reusing parts of the original Lewin supplied to the Londonderry Railway).
Of particular interest are the two low-level (chaldron height) sprung buffers fitted only to the front of the locomotive. I wonder why they were only fitted to the front – did it push more than it pulled? The chaldrons, without any buffer springing at all, can be clumsy and bumpy waggons to shunt, so perhaps 17’s work mainly entailed being coupled at the front, and the sprung buffers were to take some of the shock out of the train and protect the locomotive? The photograph is taken in the sidings above the harbour and at the base of the self-acting incline down which chaldrons arrived from Seaham Colliery and beyond. It is therefore possible that the spring buffers were used when ‘catching’ these waggons and preparing them for shunting onto the coal staithes and drops.
Sandbox: Londonderry Railway No.2 (the first example) was dismantled in 1884, various components being used elsewhere on the railway and docks. An 1860 photograph shows it having a porthole in the cabside and also a sandbox very much of the style carried later by No.17 (and No.18). I therefore think it can be considered quite likely that it is possible such items were later reused on No.17 (and potentially No.18) after being kept in the works for future use.
The sandbox style was also replicated for No.18’s restoration, based on photographic evidence of both 18 and other Seaham/Londonderry locomotives, and, of course, the original sandbox fitted to No.17 to this date. Whether it was fitted before No.17’s cab was removed is impossible to say – it was perhaps located inside the cab, as there are sandpipes visible in the photograph above, so it is entirely possible that it was mounted in the front of the cab, in the same location as later fitted after removal of the cab structure.
The paintwork is slightly subdued in this photograph, but black borders and a dividing line can be seen (and which are much clearer on the earlier photograph – see link above). Also of note are the rather impressive lamps carried on the front footplate and rear cabsheet. Note the toolbox as well – a replica of this has already been made and is in store for eventual installation onto the running plate.
No.17 at Seaham Harbour
We will now move on to look at No.17’s later and better recorded life at Seaham… First, lets have a look at short film, seen on the blog before, but worth including here as it shows No.17 in steam.
Two other Head Wrightson vertical boiler locomotives
It is probably worth a digression to look at the other two surviving Head Wrightson locomotives…
There are three surviving Head Wrightson built locomotives, from what was a very small original portfolio of construction, as outlined earlier in this article. Works number 21, built in 1870 and supplied to the Londonderry Railway (later Seaham Harbour Dock Company) became their No.16. It was of the standard Type 1 design, fitted with coil rear springs on the footplate, and an interesting form of reversing lever catch.
No.16 also had a regulator similar to that fitted to No.17, but not the Betchworth locomotive. For a period of time, as evidenced by a single photograph in George Hardy’s book ‘The Londonderry Railway’, No.16 was fitted with a rudimentary roof, comprising a sheet (of steel?) supported over the footplate and bunker on four uprights. It also displays what appears to be a small steam driven pump, mounted on the footplate alongside the boiler.
It was operated at Seaham well into the 1950s, before moving to the Head Wrightson works, where it was built, in June 1959. Here it was ‘restored’ by apprentices and placed on a plinth, clear of the rails and with an air supply fed to the cylinders, enabling it to operate for visitors to the Thornaby works. Some photographs appear here: https://picturestocktonarchive.com/2018/07/06/coffee-pot-locomotives/
In October 1970 it was moved to Preston Park Museum, Eaglescliffe, Stockton, for display. For some years it was displayed on a roundabout within Stockton, though is once again displayed in the open-air at Preston Park.
Various individuals have mooted plans to restore it to steam, a task made easier by the restoration of the 1871 locomotive at Beamish (for which there are patterns, an approved boiler design and considerable experience), all of which have come to nought. The cast frame is cracked, this being visible in the photograph below, to the left of the buffer block to the right of the image.
In 1871, T.H.Head engineer of London supplied the Dorking Greystone Lime Company with an 0-4-0 Vertical Boilered Geared locomotive. The diminutive engine was actually built by Head Wrightson & Co Ltd.
The origins of this locomotive were in Head Wrightson’s standard ‘Type 1’ design. In reality a standard ‘factory’ locomotive was a rare beast and in this instance two modifications were requested by the Dorking Greystone Company. These were that sprung buffers be fitted in place of the dumb buffered option offered, and that a 300 gallon water tank supplement the standard 150 gallon version. These extras added £10 to the £435 cost of the engine! The little Coffee Pot fulfilled the simple task asked of it until 1950 (possibly stretching into 1951), before being withdrawn and left to fall into a derelict condition.
In September 1960 Coffee Pot was re-purchased by the then incarnation of its builders, Head Wrightson Teesdale Ltd, and moved by road to Head Wrightson’s works at Thornaby, Teesside. Here the Betchworth exile re-joined two other Head Wrightson products, works numbers 21 and 33 of 1870 and 1873 respectively, both of which had worked out their entire operating lives more locally at Seaham Harbour on the County Durham coast south of Sunderland
During 1960, Head Wrightson’s apprentices restored the locomotive to what they thought to be its original appearance.
Offered to Beamish in 1962, the engine remained at Head Wrightson until 1970 when it was initially moved to the British Steel Corporation’s Consett Ironworks in County Durham and later to Marley Hill, now the base of the Tanfield Railway but at that time used as a large objects store for Beamish’s growing collection.
Once at Beamish restoration commenced and limited steamings, including rare passenger trips in converted chaldron waggons (see photographs below), took place with the Coffee Pot, by now repainted into a livery of green and black and still minus the Betchworth roof and handrail additions.
In 1982 Beamish was benefiting greatly from the Manpower Services Commission (MSC) schemes, one being the overhaul of the Coffee Pot to 1940s appearance. Resplendent in a new livery of maroon (as there was no indication of what the Betchworth livery was, other than white lime dust!), the rebuilt locomotive was launched at Beamish on May 31st 1984.
Some interesting views of the Beamish railway operation in 1984, including No.1 and some liberal track access appear here: https://www.flickr.com/photos/nigelmenzies/albums/72157692030625182
Once again the locomotive’s age became a hindrance to its operation and by the late 1990s it was again out of use, stored in the colliery engine shed. As well as the life-expired boiler, a particular problem was the mounting of the cylinders and crankshaft directly onto the boiler, numerous leaks developing through the oscillating movement of the valve gear and connecting rods and the difficulties in ensuring that the mounting bolts remained secure.
The new boiler was designed to include blind bushes, enabling the engine unit to be fixed tightly without worry of steam leaking through the boiler shell. There was still an issue of the crankshaft mounting pedestal coming loose, which was eventually cured using Nordlock anti-vibration washers. It is interesting to consider whether this was always a problem for the Type 1 design of locomotive produced by Head Wrightson, and whether the endless tightening of bolts was considered to be part and parcel of operating them?
Alan Barnes used the Coffee Pot Restoration blog (which can be found on Page 55 of this blog) as the basis of an article in both Heritage Railway and Old Glory Magazines, the former being in the archive of articles on this site: http://beamishtransportonline.co.uk/wp-content/uploads/2012/11/HR-Issue-166-Coffee-Pot-article.pdf
In 1840 Messrs Head and Wright united to form a foundry, based in Thornaby on what we know today as Teesside. Their factory became the Teesdale Iron Works, expanding rapidly through the 1850s and 1860s to take advantage of ironstone found in the nearby Cleveland hills. Mr Wright left the partnership, his place being taken by Mr Ashby, the name changing to Head, Ashby & Co.
In 1860 a former apprentice from William Armstrong’s famous engineering works in Scotswood, on the Tyne to the West of Newcastle, joined Head, Ashby & Co. Thomas Wrightson quickly added his name to the company title, Head Wrightson & Co. being the result. The firm soon built up an enviable reputation for supplying cast and wrought iron for boilers, railway track chairs, bridges, piers (including an example in the Isle of Man, built at a cost of £45,000) and even ships for the British Navy. It was during this period that Head Wrightson had a brief flirtation with industrial railway locomotive building.
In 1845 the company had employed some 450 men, by 1892 this had risen to 1,200 people, reaching nearly 6000 employees in 1968.
On the 21st June 1890 the company was incorporated, the title changing to the more well known Head, Wrightson & Company Limited.
During the Second World War the company suffered severe bomb damage in air raids on the area. Despite this they were able to remain in production, eventually supplying landing craft in the lead up to the D-Day landings and liberation of Europe in 1944/45.
In the 1960s, conscious of its heritage, Head Wrightson purchased back three of its steam locomotives, built in 1870, 1871 and 1873 respectively. The apprentices at the firm restored these to what was understood to be their original condition before they were placed on display at Thornaby
One engine was placed on stands, enabling the locomotive to be operated on compressed air. It sat alongside two former Londonderry Railway (later Seaham Harbour) chaldron wagons [sic], each bearing the initials HW – Head Wrightson.
Like so many seemingly unshakable (almost institutional) firms, Head Wrightson was to suffer from an extensive and irretrievable decline through the 1970s. Eventually the Thornaby works, scene of so much production, was closed, the three preserved locomotives finding homes elsewhere, as we shall see later.
The Teesdale Iron Works site was later earmarked for development, but not before then Prime Minister, Margaret Thatcher, had been photographed on her famous ‘Walk through the Wilderness’ on the site.
Fortunately many of the Head Wrightson’s records survived and were deposited with the Teeside Archives in Middlesbrough. These include numerous order books relating to the many bridges, piers and railway wagons that the company built. Unfortunately, from the point of view of this project, the 1859 – 1877 order book is missing. This would have revealed the true extent of Head Wrightson’s locomotive output as well as those who purchased them. It probably would not, however, reveal the customer’s motivation for purchasing these particular types against some of the more prolific builders, particularly of vertical boilered engines, such as Alexander Chaplin & Co of Glasgow (whose output totalled some 136 vertical boilered locomotives between 1860 and 1899).
No.17 in preservation
Following a long and useful life working around the harbour at Seaham, No.17 was preserved by Head Wrightson in June 1959 and cosmetically restored alongside the other two locomotives preserved at their Thornaby works. Displayed at Shildon Wagon Works for the 1975 Stockton & Darlington Railway 150th anniversary celebrations before being placed on display at the Darlington Railway Museum. Removed to storage at Beamish when the museum moved LNER A2 Pacific ‘Blue Peter’ into the display, No.17’s uncertain ownership was finally established by a process of detection (it had transferred with the assets of the defunct Head Wrightson to off-shore firm Aker Kvaerner – the original loan to Darlington Railway Museum having been made by Head Wrightson, in all probability in expectation of it being a donation rather than loan) and title was transferred to Beamish.
A photo of No.17 at Shildon appears here: https://www.flickr.com/photos/davidwf2009/26470203122/in/album-72157659632148314/
The ultimate restoration to steam of No.17 remains very much on the wish-list of work I would like to see carried out in the future. There is no immediate need for the locomotive to operate, so it would be largely a curatorial exercise to restore No.17, though it would provide an additional locomotive for use at the Colliery on the popular Have-a-Go experiences that we regularly operate through the year. No.1 is not readily suited to such courses, whereas No.17 would be an ideal spare for No.18. Other than the boiler and some specialist work on the water tank and wheelsets, we’d hope to be able to carry out the restoration in-house. Obviously funding, and recovery from the present Covid-19 situation have set programmes back, but considering No.17 as a project within the next five years or so would certainly be attractive to the museum. We shall see…
I hope that this article has been of interest, writing it has certainly sparked my enthusiasm for writing something more permanent along these lines. (and rather better formatted!). Writing in the blog is a little disjointed so I apologise for any continuity errors or other mistakes now!
Needless to say, the ultimate goal of restoring No.17 to steam is also a strong incentive to keep this locomotive in one’s mind! If we could one day include No.16, that would be a bonus (though there is little need to see 16 steam again, given its similarity to No.1, it would be a candidate for cosmetic restoration and replication of lost fittings and components).
Finally, another Seaham film worth viewing, included here as an excellent illustration of the workings of the railway within the town and on the docks: