Earl of Merioneth II

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This is the second locomotive named Earl of Merioneth. The first is described under Livingston Thompson.
Earl of Merioneth
PICT1334 edit.JPG
Earl of Merioneth passes Boston Lodge on its first run on coal.
Type Double Fairlie
Home Railway FR
Status In Service
Designed by Boston Lodge
Built by Boston Lodge
Built 1979
1997 Major Overhaul
2006 Converted to coal
2007 Major Overhaul
Wheel Arrangement 0-4-4-0T
Length 32 ft 9 in
Fuel Coal

Earl of Merioneth is an 0-4-4-0 Double Fairlie and was the third locomotive to be built by the Festiniog Railway Company in its own workshops at Boston Lodge. Construction began in 1972 and was completed in 1979. It carries its name in English on one side and in Welsh (Iarll Meirionnydd) on the other. It was built as a replacement (incorporating some parts) for the previous Earl of Merioneth (originally Livingston Thompson).



In 1971, the first Earl of Merioneth locomotive was withdrawn as its boiler had reached the end of its life and was beyond economic repair. Plans to rebuild the loco to a more modern style had already been developed and it was proposed to scrap the bodywork and retain all the useful components, including the bogies, for reuse. Appalled by the plan to destroy the last remaining Victorian-outline double Fairlie (Merddin Emrys had already been given a modern makeover), a letter was published in the Ffestiniog Railway Magazine signed by forty staff and volunteers, who were tagged the 'Active 40' by the magazine's editor, Norman Gurley.[1] A subsequent appeal raised sufficient money to manufacture a new boiler cradle (virtually all that was required from the carcass) and, thereby, preserve the last example of a Spooner Fairlie.

This new boiler cradle and an existing pair of power bogies formed the basis for a new locomotive. The superheated boiler was made by Hunslet Engine Company, Leeds. New steel wheels were cast by British Rail Engineering at Crewe and the axles and wheels were machined by J.I.P. Engineering Ltd. of Willenhall, Staffs. for assembly at Boston Lodge.

The new Earl of Merioneth made her first trip across the Cob on 12th June 1979, followed by modifications and running-in turns. On Saturday 23rd June she was formally named by the General Manager - Allan Garraway - in a short ceremony at Harbour Station, with Merddin Emrys alongside sporting an 1879-1979 headboard, and on the 28th she took a 12-coach trial train through the gloom to Tanygrisiau on a damp evening, highlighting some regulator problems which were soon sorted out afterwards. Press and TV coverage was arranged for the inaugural passenger turn on 19th July, after which she settled down into a regular roster involving two trips daily. The light trains of the peak service hardly put her abilities to the test, although a loco failure on Saturday 25th August resulted in the Earl (as it is commonally known) whisking 12 coaches up the line in effortless style.[2][3]


From the moment of its introduction, Earl of Merioneth's angular appearance has provoked controversy and the locomotive is regularly referred to as The Square (or, by those who like it, The Mighty Square). With changing attitudes around the railway to heritage and image, it is not surprising that upon the loco's first overhaul in 1989 the opportunity was taken to attempt to soften its appearance by fitting brass dome covers and copper-capped chimneys - both of which were formerly fitted to Merddin Emrys prior to that locomotive's 1988 rebuild. The livery was also adjusted to include more traditional lining.

Although the locomotive had operated reliably for its first 10 years, in 1992 Earl of Merioneth was found to have serious cracks around the boiler throat-plate. This has since been attributed to a design-flaw in the two 1971 Hunslet built boilers. These were designed to have barrels of the same length as single locomotives Blanche and Linda, but on a Double Fairlie the boiler is also a main structural component of the locomotive, and the stresses placed on the throat-plate are much greater. With construction of David Lloyd George now at an advanced stage, the decision was taken to withdraw Earl of Merioneth and use its bogies and some other components to complete DLG.

Earl of Merioneth remained stored as a kit of parts until 1995/6, during which period period repairs were made to the boiler, including modifications designed to halt further cracking. The same problems were also being experienced with the boiler on Merddin Emrys, ultimately leading to Merddin's withdrawal in 1996. In order to keep two double Fairlies in service Earl of Merioneth reappeared in 1997 with bogies and burners from Merddin Emrys, and also new round smokeboxes - which also helped soften the locomotive's appearance.

Conversion to coal[edit]

The Ffestiniog converted to oil-firing in the early 1970s (starting with Linda in October 1970) to limit the number of line-side fires in the Snowdonia National Park (and the consequent fines and increased insurance premiums that resulted from the fires). During the mid-2000s the rising price of oil fuel and restrictions on the burning of waste oils forced the railway to reassess the situation, leading to trials during 2005 with Taliesin, chosen because it was built to be changeable between oil and coal firing. Trials with Taliesin on winter and Santa services were highly successful and the decision was taken to convert a double Fairlie for the main 2006 season. Earl Of Merioneth was converted in early 2006 and following trails during May, entered service on coal on the 27th of May and has continued to work, very regularly, through the peak season. This was the first time the locomotive had run on coal, having been built by the railway at its Boston Lodge works as an oil burner in 1979.

The trials with Taliesin and Earl Of Merioneth have shown fuel cost savings of 50%-60%; higher than expected. An average day's work for a double Fairlie burning oil costs £370, compared with around £170 when burning coal. (Two years ago the oil costs would have been around £170 too!). For more details on the conversion of loco's to coal firing and the fuel diversification programme, please see Ffestiniog Goes Back To Coal.

Poor weather, but worth recording the event! Note the minor changes in appearance made to the Earl for coal firing (comparing this picture with the one above taken at the same place). The brass domes have been swapped for the original 'dustbins' which have now been painted green and the chimney caps have been painted black. Both the domes and the caps would have been a challenge for crews to keep clean now that the loco is burning coal.

The Earl was withdrawn from service at the end of 2006 for a boiler overhaul. The opportunity was also taken to repair the original tanks rather than try and convert the new rounded tanks for coal firing. The Earl returned to service in August 2007 and appeared with the brass domes and in a plain black livery. The nameplates were also repainted with mauve lettering!.

New firehole doors were fitted with vertically opening doors as below, and were known as 'pacman' doors by the crew, due to their similarity to the video game character. The 'pacman' doors were removed in 2015, to be replaced with conventional doors which swing open

The locomotive was repainted back into its usual lined green and retaining the brass domes and chimney caps in early 2008, re-entering service on the 1600 departure on the 21st March.

Withdrawal and replacement[edit]

It was officially reported (April 2016) that the Earl will be withdrawn and replaced by a new Double Fairlie, to be named James Spooner. This however is not the end for the Earl being an important part of the railways recent heritage; only the bogies and expensive fitting such as pressure gauge, water gauges and injectors were set to be removed, with the rest of the body being left intact. Hopes are to reunite the locomotive with its original set of power bogies to allow ease of storage around the railway. Due to the Earl being a favourite of the operating staff over the years there are unofficial plans to return it to service either using the second of the two new double engine boilers or using Merddin Emrys's boiler after it has finished its current 10 year ticket.

In December 2016 a fundraising appeal was announced for all new components for James Spooner. This will allow Earl of Merioneth to be left intact on its original bogies, thus making a future restoration easier than if its components had been taken for the new loco.

Principal stated dimensions[edit]

Cylinders (4) 9" x 14"
Nominal wheel diameter 2' 8"
Boiler pressure 160 psi
Length over couplers 32' 7 1⁄2"
Width over tanks 6' 6 1⁄2"
Height to cab top 8' 6 1⁄2"
Bogie wheelbase 4' 8"
Weight 31 tons
Water capacity 450 gallons
Heating surface area 533 sq. ft
Tractive effort 9,639 lb


See also[edit]


  1. ^ Ffestiniog Railway Magazine - Society House Magazine Issue No: 054 , page(s): 034 , Correspondence
  2. ^ FRM 86; page 5
  3. ^ Immortal Rails Vol II