Little Wonder

From Festipedia, hosted by the FR Heritage Group

Little Wonder
At Portmadoc c1871
Type Double Fairlie
Original Railway FR
Number 7
Status Scrapped
Designed by Robert Francis Fairlie, George England
Built by George England & Co., Hatcham Iron Works
Built 1869
1882 Condemned
Wheel Arrangement 0-4-4-0T

Little Wonder was a steam locomotive built for the Festiniog Railway in 1869. It was the first Double Fairlie to be used by the line and it is considered to be the first successful double Fairlie. It ran trials against the England engines between September 1869 and July 1870. The development work the FR made on the design, to make it successful and the publicity this gave Fairlie persuaded him to grant the FR the right to build future locomotives of this type without having to pay him for the patent rights.

It was, however, a prototype, and as such it had design faults that eventually resulted in the locomotive being withdrawn worn out after only 13 years. Despite this, its legacy lives on in the many subsequent Double Fairlies used on the FR.


Little Wonder c. 1870 at Duffws.
Charles Easton Spooner in top hat, son Percy on right hand front footplate. The person at left may possibly be William Williams (1836), but if so, he has no beard.

1869: Origins and construction[edit]

Little Wonder was designed by Robert Francis Fairlie and built by George England & Co. at Hatcham Iron Works. It is recorded as being exhibited alongside Fairlie's Steam Carriage on 15th July 1869 and was delivered to the FR by 26th August 1869. It cost the FR Co. £2,006.

Little Wonder is considered to be the first successful double Fairlie and owed its success to the fact that it was the first to have two separate fireboxes. However, it was, however, a prototype and, as such, it had design faults the shape of the fireboxes in its original form, and a lack of balance for the cylinders on the bogies.

Little Wonder Creuau Bank 1871. Source: FR Co.

1870-1874: Early success and trials that inspired the world[edit]

The success of this locomotive enabled the FR to avoid having to double the line. It ran trials against the England Engines between September 1869 and July 1870. These were witnessed by many eminent figures from Britain's railways, including the Duke of Sutherland, and foreign emissaries from many countries, including Russia. The success of the locomotive, and its use on the narrow gauge, inspired the building of narrow gauge railways in difficult terrain around the world.

In the trials of 1869/70, it was shown to be capable of hauling trains more than twice as heavy as the England Engines. The details of two runs are recorded here:

The first train in September 1869 consisted of 111 slate wagons, 6 carriages, 60 passengers and 12 goods wagons. This weighed 133 tons and was 1,348 ft in length. The train was divided at Hafod-y-llyn in case the loco stalled in Moelwyn Tunnel. With the remainder of the train however, Little Wonder went through the tunnel at 23 mph. On the return journey a speed of 35 mph was recorded.

In July 1870, it hauled a train of 75 loaded slate wagons and 8 unloaded totalling about 210 tons from the Cob to Gwyndy Bank, where it was shown capable of restarting the train on the gradient. The loco averaged 13 mph on the first part of the test.

1874-1875: Novelty wears off[edit]

Early records show William Williams (1836) (later the Locomotive Superintendent) was one of the first drivers of Little Wonder. By the time his proper records begin Little Wonder had been in the works since November 1874 awaiting tubes. All 218 tubes were replaced and referruled, new ash pans were fitted and the rings on the exhaust pipes changed and the loco re-emerged in May 1875.

A month later it was in with leaking tubes, a wheel worked loose in August and then one of the bogie frames cracked in the same month. As part of the repair, a new corner angle was fitted from cylinder to frame. It was repaired by the end of September 1875.

In February 1876, another wheel worked loose, and then April fire box work and caulking of tubes was needed.

In August the frames were given another overhaul, strengthening the fastening of the cylinders and there is the first mention of balance blocks. All the wheels were taken off and re-keyed on their axles. A new smokebox with new doors and a new front plate were fitted at the bottom end. Two new baffle plates were fitted on the fire doors and a new pressure gauge was put on the weather board. This is the last time it is recorded as being fitted with new wooden brake blocks.

At Duffws c. 1880

1877-1881: Maintenance burden rises as shortfalls in design show[edit]

1877 was relatively uneventful; a crank pin broke in April and the tubes needed caulking again in June. However by January 1878, the loco is recorded as being out on trial after being retubed and referruled. In May 1878, an iron patch was put on a crack on the side of the boiler. In June the firebox was patched, and then in July it had an accident with a locomotive from the Ffestiniog & Blaenau Railway. This cracked the bottom end bogie frame and repairs took until October to complete. The opportunity was also taken to move the whistles outside the weather boards at this time. In December a copper patch was put on the firebox and then in March 1879 two further patches were put on.

By August 1879, the half yearly report to the company board recorded that the firebox is in a dangerous state, the Machinery is in a fair state of order(would cost £65 in order). The decision was taken to repair the loco and in November four new patches were put on the corners of the fireboxes. The frames were overhauled and tightened and the motion maintained. In April 1880, two corners of the firebox were repaired and in June the working pressure is recorded as 110 psi. In February 1881, C.E. Spooner recorded Is in fair condition, & continues to do a good amount of work after the thorough overhauling & repairs made last half year.

1881-1882: Final decline to being condemned[edit]

In March 1881, the loco came in for the repair to a crack in the centre of a bogie (a new wrought iron ring put in hot); the cylinders were refastened and four new stays inserted to strengthen the frame. Two new sliding plates were put in at the bottom end, and all rivets tightened. A footboard was damaged at Portmadoc in May, and in August the frame bolts were tightened again and a new chimney was put on.

In December, William Williams described the engine as Boiler leaky, otherwise in fair working order. The boiler frames and motion were worked on from December 1881 to January 1882, and then in February the firebox gave trouble again. Patches were put on both sides of the firebox shell and one below the footplate. In June it is recorded, Boiler in very bad state, otherwise in fair working order, worked up to 98lbs. In July, the cylinders were refitted to the frames again and a new wrought iron plate fixed to the side of the bogie.

At the beginning of September the foundation ring was caulked, but the engine's days were numbered. On December 6th 1882, the entry reads Little Wonder Condemned.

Salvaged parts[edit]

Parts of the original loco were subsequently used on Little Giant, Palmerston and Prince. The only part known to survive to this day is the bell.

Principal dimensions[edit]

Cylinders 8.188 x 13"
Pressure 160 psi
Driving wheel diameter 2' 4"
Tractive effort 8,465 lbs (at 85% boiler pressure)

The loco had Gooch valve gear with curved links.

At Duffws circa 1880 (John Thomas)

See also[edit]