Earl of Merioneth II

From Festipedia, hosted by the FR Heritage Group
This is the second locomotive named Earl of Merioneth. The first is described under Livingston Thompson.
Earl of Merioneth
Earl of Merioneth in 2012
Type Double Fairlie
Home Railway FR
Number 11
Status Withdrawn
Designed by Boston Lodge
Built by Boston Lodge
Built 1979
1997 Major Overhaul
2006 Converted to coal
2007 Major Overhaul
2018 Withdrawn
Wheel Arrangement 0-4-4-0T
Length 32 ft 9 in
Fuel Coal
Whistle(s) Vulcan Elephant chime
FR Bell whistle

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).

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). Subsequent modifications have softened the appearance by adding a number of heritage style features and it is now a popular locomotive. The locomotive is now in need of major work and was withdrawn after its last run on 8th April 2018. It will now be stored until resources are available for a rebuild.


In original condition, 1981. Note the distinctively shaped wheel bosses.

Origins and construction[edit]

In 1971, the first Earl of Merioneth locomotive was withdrawn as its boiler had reached the end of its life and was beyond economic repair.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 Forty' 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 design requirements of the new locomotive were that as much of possible of the old Earl of Merioneth could be reused and that it should be able to carry enough water for a full round trip Blaenau Ffestiniog and enough fuel oil for two. The design of the superstructure was very much a product of the era's prevailing austerity. The distinctive sloped tank fronts were incorporated to improve visibility whilst shunting as well as to break up the "squareness" of the design.

The bogies of the new locomotive were the ones originally built for the old Earl of Merioneth (but had been under Merddin Emrys until 1972). They were rebuilt with new wheels, steam brakes and in one case new valve gear. The new wheels were larger and chunkier than before due to a perceived weakness of the original design. The larger wheels resulted in the cylinders requiring packing pieces to be inserted so that they were in line with connecting rods. The design of the locomotive tanks were such that outside piston valve bogies could have been fitted, but this never occurred.

The modern appearance was enhanced by the D shaped smokeboxes with small doors hinged on opposite sides at each end (as on Merddin Emrys) as well as by the fitting of headlights in boxes ahead of the tanks, built up chimneys, flat topped domes and the nameplates' high position with modern style works plates below. The chimneys were comprised of Hunslet bases with new caps formed from sheet metal because there was no money for traditional cast ones.[2]

Entry into service and early years[edit]

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.[3][4]

Earl of Merioneth hauled the first passenger train to the new Blaenau Ffestiniog Station in 1982.

The rebuilt bogies were found to be unsatisfactory in service, particularly the mismatched valve gear. In 1988 a valve gear failure coincided with cracks being discovered in Merddin Emrys' boiler. This led to Earl of Merioneth being put on Merddin's newly built bogies with a resulting transformation in performance.[2]

First rebuild and boiler troubles[edit]

As rebuilt in 1989.

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 appearance was further enhanced by moving the nameplates to a more traditional location half way up the tanks and by the addition of cosmetic profiles giving the well tanks a curved appearance. The livery was adjusted to include more traditional lining which gave the appearance of separate tanks and cab. Additionally the original bogies were completely rebuilt eliminating the issues arising from the previous modifications.

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 the new locomotive.

Earl of Merioneth remained stored as a kit of parts until 1995/6, during which period period repairs were made to the boiler, including new longitudinal stays 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 helped further soften the locomotive's appearance.

First passenger train on coal, May 2006

Conversion to coal and recent years[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.

The trials with Taliesin and Earl Of Merioneth had 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 locomotives to coal firing and the fuel diversification programme, please see Ffestiniog Goes Back To Coal.

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. Earl of Merioneth was chosen for conversion, despite the imminent expiration of its boiler ticket, because Merddin Emrys was fresh out of the works and David Lloyd George's Boiler required more extensive alterations. Despite having run on oil since its completion in 1979 Earl of Merioneth's boiler and tanks were originally designed for coal firing.[2]

Changes in appearance made to the Earl for coal firing included the brass domes being swapped for the original 'dustbins' which were now painted green and the chimney caps being painted over black. Both the domes and the caps were though to be a challenge for crews to keep clean now that the loco was burning coal.

The Earl was withdrawn from service at the end of 2006 for a boiler overhaul. New tanks (the same as Merddin Emrys') of traditional appearance had been constructed in 2003. However in the end the opportunity was also taken to repair the original tanks rather than try and convert the new rounded tanks for coal firing. 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 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!.

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. The brass domes were often exchanged for the painted ones during the winter when cleaning was more of a challenge.

In November 2008 new coupling and connecting rods were required on the top bogie after a coupling rod fractured. The offending rod dated from the construction of Merddin Emrys in 1879.

In 2012 Earl of Merioneth hauled a special train to commemorate the anniversary of the line reopening to Blaenau Ffestiniog. For the occasion the original domes were refitted painted black, dummy smokeboxes sides added and the bogies painted with red rods and white wheel rims to imitate the original appearance. The cosmetic modifications were again applied for the 2016 vintage weekend but this time with dummy headlamps as well.

For the 2013 and 2014 seasons Earl of Merioneth temporarily ran on its original bogies (used on David Lloyd George since 1992) whilst its usual bogies were repaired. For a short time before repainting could occur it ran with red cylinder cladding.

In 2015 boiler repairs were required after steam was founding leaking from the domes. This repair followed a similar one already carried out on Merddin Emrys.

Withdrawal and replacement[edit]

It was officially reported (April 2016) that the Earl would be withdrawn and replaced by a new Double Fairlie, to be named James Spooner. The bogies and expensive fitting such as pressure gauge, water gauges and injectors were set to be removed for use on the new locomotive, with the rest of the body being left intact on its original bogies - then spare following the building of new bogies for David Lloyd George - to allow for a potential future restoration.[5]

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 locomotive.[6]

The Earl's last day in service was Sunday 8th April 2018.[7] The locomotive's final train was a staff and volunteers evening special with proceeds from the ticket sales being donated to the local air ambulance service. The final total raised from the donations and auctioning off the special headboard came to £3200.[8]

The bogie swap was made not long after withdrawal. Since then the locomotive has been stored at various places on the railway. Initially it was at Boston Lodge alongside Mountaineer at the back of the Heritage Carriage Shed before later moving to the carriage shed at Glan y Pwll. Earl of Merioneth was moved back to Boston Lodge in June 2024, where it will be put on display as part of the Heritage Lottery funded tours.

Due to the Earl being a favourite of the operating staff over the years there are various unofficial plans to return it to service using either its original boiler, the second of the two new double engine boilers or using Merddin Emrys's boiler after it has finished its current 10 year ticket.

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 (@ 85% BP) 9,640 lb
Rating FR: 12 carriages
WHR: 6 carriages


See also[edit]


  1. ^ "Correspondence", Ffestiniog Railway Magazine, Issue 54, page(s): 34
  2. ^ a b c Payling, David (2017). Fairlie Locomotives of North Wales. Harbour Station, Porthmadog: Ffestiniog and Welsh Highland Railways. ISBN 978-0-901848-14-7. OCLC 1006424938.
  3. ^ Ffestiniog Railway Magazine, Issue 86, page(s): 5
  4. ^ Johnson, Peter (2005). Immortal Rails (Vol 2) The Story of the Closure and Revival of the FR 1939-1983. Chester, England, CH4 9ZH: RailRomances. ISBN 1-900622-09-2. OCLC 59356573.{{cite book}}: CS1 maint: location (link)
  5. ^ Inside Motion, March/April 2016
  6. ^ "The Fairlie Appeal", Ffestiniog Railway Magazine, Issue 235 (2016)
  7. ^ "Farewell to The Earl". FR Co Website. Retrieved 7 March 2018.
  8. ^ Holden, Michael. "Farewell to steam Locomotive 'Earl of Merioneth' staff train raises £3,200 for charity". Rail Advent. Retrieved 20 April 2018.