Wolverhampton Based Locomotives, 1854 - 69

When the G. W. R. acquired the two Shrewsbury companies in 1854 it also came to own its first stretch of "narrow gauge" main line, and a collection of similar gauged locomotives of various shapes and sizes. The G. W. R. entered Wolverhampton over metals belonging to the Oxford, Worcester and Wolverhampton Railway, the G.W.R. main-line from the south ending at a junction at "Priestfield Furnaces", where a small ticket collecting platform was set up. The O.W.W.R. was forced by Parliament to lay mixed gauge rails for the benefit of G.W.R. trains, at least from Dudley through Priestfield to the jointly owned station at Wolverhampton, later to be known as "Low Level". The G.W.R. itself laid broad gauge metals to the north of Low Level as far as the far side of the viaduct at Oxley, and to a four road engine shed between the canal and the Stafford Road. Beyond Oxley the line reverted to narrow gauge and continued towards Wellington and Shrewsbury.

The O.W.W.R. had an engine shed located close to the tunnel mouth at the south end of the Low Level station, and G.W.R. broad gauge engines were detached from "down" trains at the north end of the station. G. W. R. trains running between Birmingham and Shrewsbury were narrow gauge to avoid the change of gauge which would otherwise ensue at Wolverhampton. Initially the narrow gauge did not proceed south of Birmingham Snow Hill. These arrangements created a locomotive situation unique on the G.W.R., with the two mile section of line between Low Level station and junction at Priestfield playing host to two gauges of G.W.R. locomotives and to the engines of the O.W.W.R. As if this were not enough, a "real" narrow gauge (2' 6") industrial railway serving the Chillington Ironworks Company crossed over the line just south of the tunnel mouth.

The situation as regards the "narrow gauge" locomotives is well covered elsewhere (in particular see the R.C.T.S. "Locomotives of the Great Western Railway" Part Three "Absorbed Engines"), but details of broad gauge locomotives working in the area are virtually unknown. Those known to us are recorded here. (Apologies for the rather vague references for material gathered years ago).

“Prince” was a 2-2-2 of the “Prince” class, built at Swindon in 1846. Notice the “iron coffin” mounted above the rear of the tender, being the protective look-out post given to the guard, vigilantly looking back along the train. These engines are recorded as working the “Birmingham line” in later years, which, as usual, actually includes the line as far north as Wolverhampton. “Prince” is recorded as receiving attention at Stafford Road, and may well have been regularly stationed there. “Prince” was withdrawn, unrebui1t, in 1870, after the closure of the northern main line to broad gauge traffic. Courtesy of Real Photos.

Broad Gauge Locomotives

The first broad gauge locomotive working into our area was recorded in the Birmingham newspapers at the opening of the line as far as Snow Hill, when we hear that the "Firefly" class 2-2-2 "Harpy" drew the inaugural train in 1852. The locomotive "Dreadnought" survived the collapse of a bridge at Handsworth in August 1854, shortly after the inspection of the line prior to its opening by Captain Galton. Both locomotive and train had passed over the bridge moments before its demise. An inspection by Brunel brought about the reconstruction of several other bridges, including one crossing the canal before the approach to Stafford Road at Wolverhampton.

Mr. T. Houghton-Wright wrote an article for the "Railway Magazine" of October 1898 in which he referred to the derailment of the 0-6-0 "Ariadne" of the "Caesar" class, whilst at the head of a Wolverhampton-London goods train in January 1861. The "Wolverhampton Chronicle" recorded the stately arrival of Her Majesty Queen Victoria behind the resplendently decorated 4-2-2 "Lord of the Isles" when she visited the town in 1866. The same newspaper as late as 1906 reviewed a recently published railway book with the comment that: "The engine "Great Western" was employed for a good many years in running the express trains from Paddington to Birmingham. To Wolverhampton people it formed an important link in their connection with the Metropolis prior to the abolition of the broad gauge, which Mr Bennett (the author) shows to have been a mistake".

The most interesting evidence for broad gauge engines locally is to be found in the book recording the lists of rolled plans that were once deposited in the works at Stafford Road. The following plans were recorded appertaining to broad gauge locomotives:

October 1859  "Salus" Reversing shaft and brackets.
October 1869* "Salus" Broad gauge worked on.
December 1859 "Diana" Eccentric.
November 1861 "Peri" Details of reversing shaft.
No date "Peri" Valve motion.
No date           "Woverhampton" (proposed stuffing box)
9/1/58 "Prince"     . . . . . .
*(Possibly meant to read 1859.)  

Even if the date for "Salus" is a mistake, (and it might not be), it can be seen from the list that "Peri" at least, (a 2-2-2 of the 1st lot passenger") was a regular visitor to the works in the 1860s. It is interesting to see that the goods 0-6-0 "Wolverhampton " is included in the list; it seems reasonable to believe that she should be allocated to Stafford Road, (incidentally there have been three steam locomotives of this name).

The list also mentions a plan under the "Works Machinery" section for an "Engine truck - 7 ft gauge - 1854 " for use on dismantled locomotives.

“Flirt” was an 1852 built broad gauge 0-6-0 of the “Ceasar” class, or “4th Lot Goods”. We have no written evidence that “Flirt” was allocated locally, however, notice the concentric rings painted around the wheel centres. Some Bristol and Exeter passenger locomotives carried similar patterns, but such concentric rings became a distinctive hallmark of Stafford Road allocated engines, passenger and goods alike, in the later Victorian age. Were such details part of an earlier tradition? Photograph F. Moore.

Although these mere nine broad gauge references are all that may be found among many hundreds of listed plans relating to standard gauge locomotives, the wording of the other plans suggest that the broad gauge was not forgotten at Wolverhampton quite as readily as G.W.R. historians would have us believe. There is a regular tendency within the lists, long after the retreat of the seven foot gauge, to refer to standard gauge engines unnecessarily as "narrow gauge" late into the 1870s, and occasionally into the 1880s. The works also produced a plan for converting the buffers of their 0-6-0 saddle-tanks, enabling them to shunt trains of both gauges in the Southern Division, one such altered engine, "850" class No. 990 being shown in Real Photographs negative No. 15662.

Finally the lists give the identities of the stationary boilers used within the works. The lists record the following: "13/9/93 old b.g. boilers Lot 6 Dragon and Bulkeley" and gives the earlier boilers as belonging to ex B & ER No 2001 and G.W.R. "Balaclava", in plans dated 25/10/82. The RCTS records 2001 as withdrawn from stock in December 1877, and "Balaclava" withdrawn in October 1871. These old boilers were popular with the men at Stafford Road, as they were excellent steamers. The original identity of the different boilers was remembered into the 1930s by those who worked them, though they gradually became forgotten.

An extract from the Stafford Road book of  “Rolled Plans”, reference to the broad gauge locomotive “Wolverhampton”.

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