Introduction of steam locomotives

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At a board meeting on 24 August 1860, the Secretary was instructed to make enquiries regarding the use of locomotives on the line. It is not known what response was obtained, but if any it was very likely negative. No steam locomotive of this narrow a gauge had so far been built, let alone one capable of the arduous work required.

A handful of sub-3ft gauge locomotives had been built from 1829 for gauges between 2ft 6ins and 2ft 8ins but these were mostly for industrial purposes around ironworks and collieries. The claim for the first "genuinely narrow gauge locomotives" ever built has recently settled on three 2ft 1ins gauge tender locomotives built in 1852 by Thomas Richardson at Hartlepool for the Derwent Iron Company's ironstone workings at Upleatham in North Yorkshire.

Neilson & Co of Glasgow took out a patent for a single cylindered 0-4-0ST narrow gauge locomotive in 1856 and are believed to have built several. In 1861 the first 2ft gauge locomotive was built, but the period when the FR was investigating steam traction coincided with the further adoption of narrow gauge steam locomotives, with Neath Abbey, Hawthorns of Leith, Fletcher Jennings & Co, and John Smith of Coven, Staffordshire, being among the builders. Curiously, not all these were to express interest in supplying locomotives to the FR. The construction of John Ramsbottom’s 1ft 6ins gauge shunter for Crewe Works in 1862 showed that the use of very narrow gauges was feasible, even if the power requirements of the FR were as yet to be met.

CM Holland became consulting engineer regarding the steam locomotive project. In April 1861, Charles Spooner indicated to him that a locomotive would have to haul 40 tons up the line at 8mph and run at 10mph on the down journey when it would be following a gravity train. A four-coupled tender engine with outside cylinders would be needed, with a low centre of gravity. John Jones, locomotive builders of Liverpool, proposed a single-cylindered locomotive, no doubt influenced by the Neilson saddle tank design. In August 1861, Holland came up with a vertical boilered tank locomotive. Consultations with Neath Abbey led to the proposal of a more conventional 0-4-0T with the firebox between the axles.

While no satisfactory design had been found, by April 1862 the determination had been made to purchase steam locomotives. If two were obtained, it was estimated that all the capital costs, including track upgrading, would be covered by the operational savings made in less than seven years.

Design thoughts dwelt on a 2-4-0T, a 4-4-0T and then an 0-6-0T with the rear axle behind the firebox. Some discussions had been held with George England of Hatcham Ironworks but these had not led to any positive conclusion when in October, an advertisement was placed in “The Engineer” for the construction of locomotives, based on the 0-6-0T outline design. No fewer than 29 replies were received, and details can be found here.

The list was reduced to nine who were asked to submit quotations. Among the more experienced builders were Manning Wardle and Hawthorns, both of whom chose to ignore the impractical Holland design, substituting types which they believed to be tested and true.

Charles Holland, based in London, was keen for the locomotives to be built there. Discussions behind the scenes had gone on with George England, and in February 1863, a formal proposal was received from them to build three locomotives. The 0-6-0T design was scrapped and agreement was reached over a simple 0-4-0T with separate tender. By the 4th March 1863, George England had accepted CM Holland as the railway's appointed engineer for the 3 locomotives and the suggested price was £1000 each for the first two and £800 for the third. The first installment was accepted on 23rd March. It was decided that two locomotives would be built initially, with the third 'not to be brought to a forward state' until the commissioning of the first two. Subsequently the first two locomotives were delivered in July 1863.

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