SHDC No.17 - A history and review...

SHDC No.17 – A history and review…

Updated 22/04/20

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.

This facimilie advert was recreated from a battered original, copying the text and inserting the original engraving. Note the difference between Type 1 and 2 is limited to cylinder dimensions and wheelbase.

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.

Also found in No.1’s file when restoration began in 2005 is this rather nice drawing, showing an unmodified Type 1, with the regulator design as fitted to No.1, and not No.16 – do we presume No.16 had a new regulator arrangement, fitted at a later date? If so, No.17 has a similar arrangement so this may have been a SHEW change. No.1, in operation, is very wet indeed, so the Londonderry Railway/SHDC may have modified the regulator to try and combat this, though little would have been achieved by relocating the actual valve, the steam still being drawn from the top ring of the boiler itself.

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.

There are two early photographs of No.17 at Seaham, this being one of them. They date from late 1890s and show the locomotive after what I speculate was a first rebuild by the Seaham Harbour Engine Works (SHEW). The other image can be roughly dated by identification of people in the photograph, and this (which I don’t have access to at home) depicts No.17 in ex-works condition.
The photograph was taken in the sidings between South and North Railway Street, the locomotive facing west and the self-acting incline from Seaham Colliery arriving into the town from the west (left side) in this view. There are some beautiful images of these sidings, nestled within the developing urban centre of Seaham, which would definitely be something to include in any publication on No.17.

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:

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.

A mystery locomotive – could this be a Head Wrightson saddle tank? Presumably not No.32 (purported to have been sold to a German factory), but with some similarity to the engraving (see later in this article) showing what Head Wrightson proposed that they could build. The frame shape and style of wheels are not incompatible with this theory, though there is little else to suggest that this is a Head Wrightson product.

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.

This is one of the earlier views, taken later in 17’s life, that I have access to. It shows the locomotive now sans cab, but still fitted with the original timber bufferbeam at the rear of the locomotive. Note the apparent absence of front brake blocks, suggesting the steam brake (or whatever mechanism operated them) has been removed. Also of note is the sandbox, described earlier. The rear buffer plan is made from two pieces, with buffing pads fixed to each plank and capped in iron sheet. The low and high level couplings are clearly visible, noting the chaldron-compatible chain carried on the lower drawgear, which has no corresponding drawhook. Also visible is the pin and chain for this, hanging on the bracket on the tank top, behind which the fire irons have been stashed.
Note the lining on the rear of the water tank, and faint outline of the number 17. Also noteworthy is the broken footplate adjacent to the sandbox. Something heavy must have struck the locomotive from above, causing this break. It was later replaced as there is no sign of this on the locomotive today. The lump of coal clearly provides a healthy reserve! Also, the toolbox has disappeared by this stage, which as far as I recall, is around the 1940s.
A side-on view, showing No.17 in the same guise as the previous image. The footplate doesn’t appear to be broken in this view, and the brakes are clearly only acting upon the rear coupled wheels. Note the lining on the tank side, the boiler cladding and oil bottle behind the sandbox and also the arrangement of chains hanging on the rear of the water tank.
The typical sort of view that we find of No.17 in steam at Seaham, sat above the docks on the staithes, awaiting its next duty. The locomotive looks well kept in this view, and still retains both its boiler cladding and original rear buffer beam.
By the late 1950s, No.17 has seen some changes. The rear bufferbeam has been changed for a section of steel beam, and the boiler cladding has been dispensed with in favour of a naked asbestos-lagged finish. presumably for ease of maintenance. The chalk markings on the front bufferbeam make interesting reading – appearing to say ‘LNER Flying Coffee Pot’. Also visible is the Peckett injector, mounted on the running plate and with its overflow pipe curving upwards and outwards over the side of the footplate. Seaham seemed to prefer Peckett injectors, No.17 retaining this example to the present, whilst No.18 was also similarly fitted (replicas being carried today).
A view of the other side of No.17, before the cladding was removed. Note the plethora of items stored/carried on the front footplate – the temptation to use any flat surface as a barrow being as tempting to mankind then as it is today! Also of note are the cylinder draincocks. These are operated manually, and with no linkage to the footplate they have to be operated when stood next to the locomotive. Quite common on portable/early traction engines, less often seen on railway locomotives (though also a feature of the other Head Wrightson-built locomotives).
The photograph is taken beneath the concrete staithes, erected when the South Dock was extended, in the vicinity (I think) of the concrete making plant used to produce harbour wall reinforcing blocks.
We now see No.17 from the rear, taken, I would guess, in the 1950s and showing the boiler still clad but the rear bufferbeam replaced. Studying photographs created a moment of sudden realisation, when I spotted that the water tank was mounted in a different way – before the new bufferbeam was fitted, it was mounted directly to the footplate. After the new bufferbeam was installed, the tank was placed onto wooden packing pieces; begging the question – why? Further study shows the tank now clears the rear leaf springs, and so the packing is to facilitate this. But why wasn’t this a problem before? The more I looked at the photos of No.17 fitted with its original wooden buffer planks, the clearer the reason became – the engine has been shortened!
Presumably, whatever event caused the necessity for a new rear bufferbeam, also damaged the frames, so they were cut back slightly (perhaps only by a few inches) and the new bufferbeam attached. This meant the tank had to be moved forwards, at which point it fouled the springs, whence the packing pieces. Comparison of photos showing the original timber buffer planks shows the relative position of the brake cross shaft brackets in relation to the rear of the locomotive changes. This isn’t the bracket moving, rather it is the relative position of the back of No.17 changing – because it is shorter! I hope this all makes sense?! We won’t really know for sure until we eventually remove the replacement bufferbeam and restore the original buffer plans when No.17 is eventually restored – and we may factor in restoring any ‘length’ we can determine has been lost…
Another view of the new bufferbeam, in a view taken in the 1950s, certainly pre-1960 (when No.18, seen behind, was rebuilt with an enclosed cab). Also note the broken footplate adjacent to the sandbox. So the break occurred before the new bufferbeam was fitted, and wasn’t repair until after the new bufferbeam was made.
This helps with the timeline, though without the dates that I have in the files at work, I cannot precisely day when these views were taken! The plate was eventually replaced, and there is no evidence today of a break, so it is to be assumed that the respective section of footplate was removed and a new piece of plate fitted in its place.
In April 1960 Peter Doel took this exceptionally rare photograph of No.17 in colour. Peter was 13 at the time and recalled the weather conditions were very overcast. I am grateful to Peter for supplying this view which I have been able to add to the post retrospectively. Note the red bufferbeams and rods, black boiler bands and red-backed works plate. The locomotive still had two years work ahead of it at this time, despite already being 87 years old!

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.

No.16 is seen here with a brick waggon and chaldron waggon, presumably engaged in gathering material from the beach for use at the concrete plant. I am not sure if this view is taken to the north of the north dock, where the railway ran onto the beach via two tunnels (which survive today, albeit blocked off) or whether it is to the south of the south dock, where there was a jetty towards the Seaham Fleet Rocks.
No.16 sat adjacent to the lifeboat house (now restored) with the north dock in the background. Note the springs projecting up onto the footplate – No.1 has leaf springs beneath the footplate. Also the smaller tank, compared to No.1 (which had an enlarged water tank from new). The sandbox can be seen, mounted beneath the footplate. Unlike No.1, the Betchworth locomotive, No.16 could not be taken out of gear to enable it to coast. It is, in this view (for which I cannot recall the date), every bit the original Type 1 ‘catalogue’ locomotive. The difference between Type 1 and Type 2 was, as the reader will recall, the cylinder dimensions and wheelbase.

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:

No.16 on display at Thornaby, with the ends of the locomotive propped to elevate the wheels in order for the locomotive to operate using an air supply. The two chaldron waggons were ex Seaham, and also moved to Preston Park, their fragmentary remains eventually being acquired by Beamish in around 2010, to add to the collection of Londonderry/Seaham material that I was gathering in order to restore and conserve a suitable rake of chaldron waggons to use and display at the museum.

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.

No.16 when displayed on a roundabout in Stockton. I would love to add this locomotive to the collection at Beamish!

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.

The 1871 locomotive, No.1 as we call it (for it was so numbered at Betchworth), seen after delivery and before installation of the handrails. Note the buffer beam blocks and buffers, as well as the larger water tank. Also the box beneath the footplate, presumed to be a sandbox but not replicated during the 2000s restoration as there was insufficient evidence to reproduce it accurately. The toolbox was, however, replicated – it makes a useful seat for the driver and fireman/stoker!
Seen with handrails fitted and still with its original boiler, so taken in 1871, 1872 or 1873. The first boiler was replaced as soon as in 1873, then again in 1879 and 1904 – one wonders what they were doing to them, other than subjecting them to the extreme lime water of the quarry. The present boiler is the fifth carried. The regulator valve is located between the cylinders, with the linkage on the side of the boiler – differing from No.16 in this respect.
Note the box beneath the footplate again – perhaps we should revisit this and look at replicating this feature. It is presumed to be a sandbox, there being a handle above the running plate, just visible here. There are what look like mounting holes within the cast frame as well. Though no obvious sign of a sand pipe to the railhead.
With the fourth boiler in situ, and with a roof and substantial upright supports fitted (which also run forwards to the boiler top, to brake this against the back of the ‘cab’ structure), No.1 is seen at Betchworth in what was to become its most familiar guise, until 2010. Note the diagonal tank bracing as well – the tank can be a little mobile when the locomotive is in operation so this is an understandable modification. Larger buffers are also a feature by the time of this 1940s photograph.

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. 

No.1 is seen at Head Wrightson’s works, with No.17 in the dark behind it. It was restored to an approximation of its original condition by apprentices at the works. I do not know if was ever displayed anywhere other than this building however. No.16 was quite conspicuously displayed outside the offices.

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.

Following removal from Consett to storage at Marley Hill, No.1 is seen here in the condition that it was restored to by the HW apprentices. The livery was surely conjectural? Taken between September 1971 and march 1975.
Am enlargement of the previous view. The boiler fitted in 1904 (manufactured by Lewis Olrick) was much taller than the original, and even with the cab roof and bracing structure discarded, the original appearance wasn’t quite captured. Note the Head Wrightson works plate fitted on the side of the water tank – this was never carried by No.1 in service, being fitted during the restoration at Thornaby. A T. H. Head plate, oval in shape, was fitted during No.1’s earlier working life.

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 March 1975 No.1 was finally moved to Beamish. It was dismantled and a new phase in its life began. The boiler, of the hanging-tube design (rather than smoketube) was found to be repairable, and some work was carried out to overhaul the locomotive mechanically – somewhat crudely as this view suggests! Another liver makes an appearance at this stage too!
No.1 saw some use in the 1970s – seen here hauling passengers in an adapted chaldron waggon! This location is opposite the present Pockerley tram stop, the locomotive standing around the site of the narrow gauge headshunt in this location today.
A 1970s steam event at Rowley Station (taken on the same occasion as the previous view), an image from a large collection of colour transparencies in the Beamish archive that are yet to be scanned. Here the boiler can be seen to be un-lagged and without cladding. Note the rather interesting livery too!
A rare view of No.1 with No.18 – both in steam! I was told that they often shared components in order to operate, such as lubricating pots, and that eventually some suitable parts became available from machinery collected by the museum. Photo c/o Brian Tunnard

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.

No.1 displays its replica Betchworth cab roof and supporting uprights. The locomotive is fitted with two injectors and a mechanical lubricator is mounted on the tank top.

Some interesting views of the Beamish railway operation in 1984, including No.1 and some liberal track access appear here:

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.

To slightly confuse historians, No.1, whilst having no association with Seaham Harbour, has operated there! In 1971, in connection with filming work for a series called ‘The Ascent of Man’, No.1 was sent to Seaham and operated, on air (the compressor being concealed in the chaldron waggon), for a number of filming sequences. It was driven by Beamish’s Alan Grimes, and he recalled that the air supply was soon exhausted and a diesel shunter was used to propel the ensemble, the air being used to blow the whistle! Here is a photograph of No.1 on the harbour breakwater, in the guise in which Head Wrightson restored it but with the fourth, and somewhat taller, boiler that was then fitted.
On November 30th 2006 we commenced a new project, to restore No.1 to steam and recreate its as-built appearance as closely as possible. In December 2012 the Your-Heritage office of the National Lottery announced that we had been successful in our application for a grant to restore No.1 to steam, and work began in earnest on completing the package of funding, surveying the locomotive and designing a replacement boiler. The full story of this can be found on the blog that pre-dated the Beamish Transport Online site, here:

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:

A recreation of a Betchworth transporter waggon was completed in April 2019, seen here with No.1 and a compliment of narrow gauge waggons aboard, including the water barrels which provide a portable supply of water for events etc.

Head Wrightson

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).

The late 1860s advert for a saddle tank locomotive which could be supplied by Head Wrightson. It is thought that their works number 32 was of this design, but there is little to substantiate this. There are some features of the engraving that do lend credence to this design being of Head Wrightson origin, notably the chimney cap design, shape of the worksplate and the pattern of wheels, with square spokes cast with deep webs around them.
The Alexander Chaplin locomotive in the Glasgow Transport Museum, works number 2368, built 1885. It was typical of the locomotives built by the company, from the 1860s to the turn of the century. The arrangement of the locomotive, with vertical engine unit and water tank to the front, coal/coke and footplate to the rear is typical of the period, and was widely copied, not least by De Winton & Co, who built numerous narrow gauge locomotives in a similar format and across a similar period of time.

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:

With the title of the locomotive under discussion, it was removed from the Regional Museum Store at Beamish, where it was stored on behalf of Darlington Railway Museum (Darlington Council), for investigation and study in 2005.
A closeup view of the front end of No.17. Note the steeply inclined cylinders, distinctive pattern of Head Wrightson driving wheel, with square spokes, deep web and blind boss (opposite the crankpin boss). Also the footplate, made of cast segments and the newer plate adjacent to the sandbox. The detailed painting of the rivets is a product of display in a museum for many years, rather than representation of any livery carried in its working life.
The footplate end of the locomotive, showing the base of the sandbox and also the cab step, misaligned for access and probably a remnant from the days the locomotive had a cab, and was fitted with a second step to the left of that shown here. Note the brake crosshsaft bracket and crank to the right of the step.
November 2006 sees both Head Wrightson’s with boilers removed and being stripped for assessment. No.1 behind was with a view of returning it to steam, whilst No.17 was for cosmetic restoration,
Davy Sheen cleans of years of dust and cobwebs… A programme of funding that Beamish was tied into at the time was called ‘Renaissance in the Regions’ – a labour initiative to provide substantial funding to the sector in, I think, three regions of the UK. This money allowed us to employ staff and carry out conservation work, and No.17 was a beneficiary of this, totalling, as I recall, around £8000. This covered the cladding, repainting and staff time utilised in the restoration.
This view, with the boiler removed, shows the arrangement of the eccentric rods and their curved route to the expansion link that converts their movement into the fore/aft motion for the valve rod. Curved links are unusual! It also shows the limited space available for brake rigging, per the comments earlier. Also of note is the means of strapping the front axle – quite why this is like this remains to be discovered… It is not a feature seen on No.1 so is quite possibly a repair, either to a broken or fractured axle or to restrict sideplay. Given the capabilities of the engine works at Seaham (even after the closure of the SHEW itself), it seems odd that they wouldn’t replace an axle that was broken. This is a feature that remains to be explored if and when we eventually restore No.17 to working order.
I mentioned the use of Peckett injectors at Seaham – this is a closeup view of No.17’s rather diminutive unit. Also nicely wrapped in tape and subsequently painted! Hopefully this will be restorable. We also have a Worthington Simpson style steam water feed pump to fit to the locomotive, having found that fitted to No.1 to be incredibly reliable and very effective. Vertical boilers steam well but are quickly exhausted, so a means of steady delivery of water is useful (the pump can be left slowly running), whilst a rapid replenishment of water at low steam pressure is also very useful, should (when!) the boiler become exhausted after any prolonged use. Neither No.1 or No.17 are fitted with dampers, which makes the steaming performance even more erratic.
New boiler cladding was made and fitted by Alton Engineering in Derbyshire, as this was an important element of restoring the locomotive’s appearance – the exposed asbestos finish no longer being an acceptable element of No.17’s history to have on display! Note the interesting patch on the boiler, to the left of the seam and line of rivets at the base of the boiler. The tubeplates have both had apertures cut into them to allow passage of an air line, work carried out by the Head Wrightson apprentices. The boiler, as a pressure vessel, already being deemed life-expired in 1959.
A local commercial painting firm was contracted to repaint No.17, carrying out this work swiftly whilst the locomotive remained on display in the Colliery Engine Works. A suitable shade of green was selected, and with the boiler out of the frames, as much of the cosmetic work was completed prior to installation of the newly-clad boiler.
The finished cosmetic restoration – with No.17 appearing outside for the first time since the work was completed. A couple of spare coupling chains were added, along with an old jacket and fire irons, to give the impression that No.17 could be a working locomotive once again.
A second view of the finished restoration work, with the rear of the water tank displaying the lining and numbering seen in the black and white photographs of No.17 working in Seaham. The footplate was also filled with coal, and a shovel added to complete the effect.
This was one of the objectives for restoring No.17 cosmetically. It is seen back at Seaham Harbour in November 2007, displayed adjacent to the North Dock, sat on rails long since obscured by concrete. The weather that day was notable for a storm and high seas, ultimately resulting in us relocating No.17 to a position on higher ground!
This is the late Hal Weetman, who drove No.17 and No.18 during their operating life at Seaham. Hal always wore a greasetop cap at work, the only dock employee to do so, making him easy to pick out in photographs, particularly those of No.18 at work in the late 1960s.
A view from the top of the North Dock at Seaham, looking down onto the breakwater and No.17 (with a bucket of rags burning in the firebox!). The rising storm and necessity for a harbour breakwater hardly needs pointing out! The smaller locomotives, No.16, 17 and 18 lasted as long as they did because they could operate within the confines of the coal drops, gathering coal spilt from above, venturing onto the beach for shingle, and moving the concrete/shingle blocks from the works beneath the staithes out onto the breakwaters to provide reinforcement against the sea.
During the restoration of the 1871 locomotive, a gentleman named Maurice Turnbull wrote to Beamish describing a 7.25 inch gauge model of No.17 that he was building. He later brought the model to the museum for us to inspect, and what a fine job he was doing in recreating the locomotive in fabulous detail, reflecting its appearance post-replacement of the rear buffer beam. Note the lubircator sat within the opening in the footplate casting. We actually had this particular fitting on No.17, until it was sadly stolen whilst No.17 was on display at Beamish. We obtained a similar replacement, but it was a great shame to loose an item that had managed to remain with the locomotive for what appears to be most if not all of its life up to that date.
In October 2008 we moved No.17 to the Bowes Railway for display during a number of events there, reuniting it with a three ex Seaham chaldron waggons (two of which were on loan from Beamish and had been restored at Springwell. These have now returned to Beamish). It is seen here on the back road at Springwell, on an early phone camera photograph – whence the slightly strange contrast and colour rendition!
For a period of time, 17 was displayed with a set of chaldron waggons at Rowley Station. This view as taken in April 2008 when the locomotive first arrived at the station, and was shunted by our ailing Ruston 88DS (now at the Bowes Railway). I can’t quite recall why we did this, other than that the chaldrons had been to Bowes for an event (where I had the ‘fun’ of hauling them using the visiting Robert Heath 0-4-0ST) and I think I was thinking a display at Rowley of a complete coal train would be of interest – bearing in mind we did not run passenger trains at that time.
No.17 looked quite at home with the waggons, despite the very rural setting – very different to its working environs in Seaham!
In October 2008 No.17 visited a small number of primary schools in Seaham (three as I recall) as part of a learning and outreach project. Each time we moved the locomotive on a Brimec lorry (the whole deck tilts and slides to create a ramp), plus a panel of track (on the trailer) for it to stand on.
No.17, sat in a school playground! It stood in another playground, and also on the road outside a further school (where we were unable to get the lorry through the gate!).
In April 2014 we took No.17, and one of the chaldron waggons, back to Seaham Harbour for an event at the North Dock, celebrating the local history, opening of the new marina and rejuvenation of this area for tourism. We had removed the copper steam pipes from the locomotive for safe keeping.
No.17 has been back to Seaham 5 times since restoration, and No.18 once. The SHEW car has also been for an event, along with the museum’s caravan and outreach staff on numerous occasions – reflecting the significant history of the town as well as a very active interest by its residents in their own history. These events have brought us into contact with numerous former dock staff, and their anecdotes and some photographs have been added to the record as a result of this work.
Finally, for this section, a reminder of No.1 and No.17 – showing their similarities as well as quite marked differences.

The future…

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…

Having discovered the references to locomotives painted in ‘ultramarine’ in George Hardy’s essential book on the subject of the Londonderry Railway, I tried a photoshop modification to a photo of No.17 to see what it would look like! George Hardy was was largely responsible for making the Londonderry Railway what it was in terms of a railway, rather than colliery siding, and wrote a fascinating autobiography that was published in 1973, many years after his death in 1917 and is well worth reading for the information contained and gentlemanly style in which it is written. Beamish has an unabridged copy of his manuscript, though neither this nor the published version makes reference to No.17 (or any of the dock engines), focusing instead on the ‘mainline’ locomotives used on the Londonderry Railway.
More recently, Jonathan Clay was asked to paint No.17 with cab and in the blue livery (Great Eastern Railway style!) complete with buffers and embellishments. This is the condition to which I would like to restore No.17, as a truly Seaham/SHEW locomotive. A number of components were produced for No.17 during the restoration of Coffee Pot No.1, and we also have items such as imperial section angle for the cab structure, the toolbox and a steam water feed pump (as fitted to No.1) in store in readiness for the day we can start work.
Without access to an original Londonderry, Seaham and Sunderland Railway crest, and using old photographs and information found online, this replica crest has been painted for eventual use on No.17 – not knowing if and where such was carried, the rear of the cab is the most likely location for this.

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: