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70 years' sterling service by Wolverhampton-built steam engine

By Black Country Bugle  |  Posted: May 07, 2014

By Dan Shaw

  • The shuttle service at Stourbridge Town station 65 years ago

  • A GWR 850 class saddle-tank engine at Stourbridge Junction in 1906

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THE photograph at the top of this page was taken in 1906, by which time the Wolverhampton-built locomotive pictured was already 24 years old. Remarkably, it remained in service until 1951 – an active life of almost 70 years and a fine testament to Black Country engineering.

The picture has been kindly loaned to us by John Taylor of Kidderminster, a keen collector of all memorabilia related to his birthplace, Stourbridge.

The photograph was taken at the Stourbridge Junction engine sheds and steam enthusiasts among readers will recognise the loco as a Great Western 850 Class.

These were true workhorses of the GWR and 170 of them were built between 1874 and 1895. They had long working lives, the last examples not being scrapped until 1958.

Designed by George Armstrong they were built at the GWR's Stafford Road works in Wolverhampton. This particular example, number 1917, was completed on August 31, 1882.

George Armstrong first came to Wolverhampton, along with his brother Joseph, in 1853, when the Shrewsbury and Chester Railway pooled its locomotives with the Shrewsbury and Birmingham Railway. Within a year both companies were amalgamated into the GWR and in 1864 Joseph became chief engineer at its headquarters at Swindon while George remained in charge at Wolverhampton.

From 1910 onwards the GWR began rebuilding its 850 Class engines, fitting them with new fireboxes. Their saddle tanks would not fit over the new firebox/boiler configuration and so they were converted to pannier tanks, with a full-length water tank on either side.

Locomotive 1917 was withdrawn from service on March 31, 1951, and was scrapped, like all of its class.

Our second photograph from John Taylor was taken around half a century later and a little further along the line, at Stourbridge Town station.

The date was September 10, 1949, and the picture shows the shuttle service between Stourbridge Town and Junction, powered by a 1400 Class tank engine, number 1414. Designed by Charles Collett they were a development of George Armstrong's 517 Class. 75 were built at Swindon between 1932 and 1936, with this one being completed on April 30, 1933.

The train in the picture is a "push-pull" train, the engine being coupled to an autocoach. This carriage had a driving cab which allowed the driver to control the locomotive from the carriage and dispensed with the time-wasting need to uncouple the engine and switch it to the other end of the carriage at each end of the line.

The 1400 Class were a familiar sight on GWR branch lines and a popular locomotive with enthusiasts. The engine even made it into Rev W. Awdry'sRailway Series of books as Oliver the Western Engine.

Locomotive 1414 was withdrawn from service on April 30, 1957 and was scrapped the following month.

The Stourbridge Town line, at less than a mile long, is famously the shortest railway line in Europe. However, when opened in 1879 it was longer, extending past the town station to the goods yard and interchange at Stourbridge canal basin. The goods line was closed in 1967 and the line was truncated further in 1979 when the station was rebuilt.

Have you any Black Country railway pictures or souvenirs to share with readers? Please contact dshaw@blackcountrybugle co.uk or write to our editorial address.

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