Livingston Thompson

From Festipedia, hosted by the FR Heritage Group
For Livingston Thompson, the person, see Livingston Thompson (1810).
Livingston Thompson
At Duffws in 1886
Type Double Fairlie
Home Railway NRM
Original Railway FR
Number 3
Status Cosmetically Restored
Designed by G. P. Spooner
Built by Boston Lodge
Built 1886
1905, 1932 Rebuilt
1956 Returned to service
1971 Withdrawn
1988 Placed in NRM
Wheel Arrangement 0-4-4-0T

Livingston Thompson (also named Taliesin and Earl of Merioneth during its working life) was the second locomotive to be built by the Festiniog Railway Company in its own workshops at Boston Lodge and the fourth FR Double Fairlie. It worked on the FR until 1971 when, worn out from years of service, it was withdrawn. It was then cosmetically restored with the original name, Livingston Thompson, and placed on display at the National Railway Museum in York.

The locomotive was originally named after Livingston Thompson, the railway's largest shareholder and, as a director, an influential supporter of the Spooners.


Bleasdale photograph, 1887.

1882-1886: Second Locomotive built at Boston Lodge[edit]

Livingston Thompson was built at Boston Lodge between 1882 and 1886 to the same basic design that G. P. Spooner had produced for Merddin Emrys, with the improvement of larger water tanks and incorporating learning from the modifications that had been made to Merddin Emrys since its construction. The boiler was built by Adamsons and the frame plates came from the Farnley Iron Co. with most of the rest of the foundry work being done at Boston Lodge. The works plates record a completion date of 1885, and it is recorded as being first tested in October of that year. It worked a trial train to Tan y Bwlch in February 1886 and Livingston Thompson actually entered service on 29th June 1886.[1] Originally intended to be number 11 in the FR fleet, it was given the number 3 (formerly carried by Mountaineer which was withdrawn in 1879).

1887-1895: Reliable but with minor troubles[edit]

The records for maintenance show it was a reliable locomotive from new, but that the boiler kept leaking from the foundation ring, requiring regular caulking. In May 1887 a plate of sheet iron was fixed to the top of the cab to strengthen it and the exhaust nozzles opened out to over 2 inches. In January 1889 the reversing rods were altered, flanges put on, through excessive strain on the faces, through want of proper lubricating oil. In October that year the sides of the cab were widened and new beading put round. In 1890 the exhaust nozzles were opened out again to 2¼ inches. The vacuum brake was put on in January 1893. The smokeboxes had new fronts and doors in April 1895 and in November that year, the brake gear had to be repaired after running over a sheep.

1896-1904: Major overhaul, then coal induced tube problems[edit]

Finally it had a major overhaul in August 1896 and all the copper rivets were taken out of the foundation ring and replaced with iron ones. In March 1898 two tubes burst so it was retubed with 214 new red metal tubes. However in December 1899 it had to be retubed again (in brass), the tubes having been eaten away by sulphurous coal. Cracks were now having to be patched on the corners of the firebox also. Two ventilators were added to the cab in April 1901 and then in August of that year again, two tubes burst. The engine was retubed once more in September with red metal tubes by Everett & Co. In January 1904 it was damaged by running into a piece of rock with the 8.30 train. A piece of a cylinder broke off and was repaired with wrought iron angle and studs having an iron strap around same. In July the entry is fastening slack tyre on wheel - which broke, 8 old tyres taken off and 8 new steel tyres shrunk on and each pinned. Maintenance is never easy!

Livingston Thompson at Duffws c1920

1905-1914: Second boiler, higher pressure, tanks becoming thin[edit]

Finally a new steel boiler from the Vulcan Foundry arrived in April 1905 and the locomotive was rebuilt by July that year. It had two new smokeboxes and the old chimneys were reused, but cut down by an inch and a quarter. The tanks were repaired with patches on the stokers side, two dome covers were altered to fit, and two new Whites injectors were fitted. The pressure of the boiler was now 170lb.

It was put in traffic for 8 months; then, when it came in for cylinder joints and steam chest leaks, it was repainted with 6 coats of varnish. Four new cylinders were fitted in 1907. In July 1910 a cylinder port broke. A piece 8½ ounces had been blown through the chimney! The water tanks were in a very poor condition now and were patched in 1911. In February 1912 it had a new cylinder and other repairs. The cause was given as the road at Tan y Bwlch Jan 22nd. In July that year it came off the line at Portmadoc, but only damaged a 'lifeguard'. The last entry in the Williams books is for October 1914 where the tanks on one side were taken off and four patches were rivetted on.

On a down train at Glanypwll crossing, 1930s

1921-1946: Delayed major overhaul, name change and incomplete boiler overhaul[edit]

The locomotive came into the works for a major overhaul in December 1921, but it wasn't until 1929 that the boiler was sent to Avonside Engine Co. for repairs, including a new firebox. The loco returned to service in May 1932, carrying the name Taliesin (formerly carried by the Single Fairlie built in 1876 and withdrawn in 1924). At this time it was placed on the bogies originally made for Merddin Emrys.[2] Taliesin had an intermediate overhaul in 1938 including re-tubing. In March 1942 the engine was put into the erecting shop for repairs including re-tubing one end, which could not be pressed owing to shortage of men and pressure of other work. Consequently, the work was still unfinished when the railway suspended rail operations, on 1st August, 1946.

At Penrhyn, 10th August 1962. Photo by Roger Joanes

1956-1971: Use during the early revival years[edit]

The new management found Taliesin where it had been left, in the erecting shop partially stripped for repair. It was the second locomotive to be put back in service on the revived railway after Prince. Assistance was provided for the rebuild by the Vulcan Foundry. The boiler was re-tubed and a cylinder was rebored and lined. The Vulcan Foundry donated an elephant chime whistle to Taliesin and to Prince. It was out on test on 2nd September 1956 and was hauling passengers a few days later.

At Porthmadog, August 1958. Photo by John Lloyd Temple

Taliesin was repainted over the winter of 1956-7 and appeared on 30th March 1957 (that year's AGM weekend) in unlined grey primer. Later in the season it received green livery with black boiler cladding and cab fronts and red rods. By 1959 the livery had been modified to have green boiler cladding and cab fronts.[3]

Around 1960/1961, it was indicated that the Duke of Edinburgh would be happy to have his name on a FR locomotive. Francis Wayne, the then FR Co. Company secretary, had been at school with the Duke's secretary. In the Spring 1961 Festiniog Railway Magazine it was announced that Taliesin was to be be renamed Earl of Merioneth / Iarll Meirionnydd (one of the titles of the Duke of Edinburgh) by Mr Oswald Thomas at Minffordd on AGM day, 22nd April 1961, after the arrival of the special from London. Thomas was the stationmaster at BR Portmadoc and a former chairman of Portmadoc Urban District Council.[4] There was some grumbling amongst the society membership at the time, as Taliesin is a famous figure in Welsh legend. See Naming The Earl April 1961 By Eddie Bellass for a gallery of images from the naming day.

During the 1960s trials were carried out with new designs for the flexible steam pipes. Eventually a solution was chosen using commercially available ball joints used by the chemical industry, an arrangement that was then used on the other double engines until the 1990s.[3] A heavy overhaul was completed in early 1967 after which it ran with painted white wall tyres on its wheels.

In storage, early 1970s

1971-1988: Narrow escape from modern makeover[edit]

In 1971, the 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 Festiniog Railway Magazine signed by forty staff and volunteers over the byline 'Active Forty'.[5] 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.

For several years the body, less its bogies which were needed for further service, languished in the Maenofferen Shed in Minffordd Yard. Meanwhile a brand new locomotive, to bear the name Earl of Merioneth slowly took shape at Boston Lodge.

The work to restore the locomotive proved slow and little had been done by the 1980s when, following the completion of the line to Blaenau, there was increasing interest in the railway's heritage. Fundraising began to restore the locomotive as a museum piece but by 1984 the plan was to restore the locomotive to working order. However an engineering assessment revealed that virtually nothing of the original was suitable for reuse on a working locomotive. Instead of rebuilding this locomotive much of the money raised was diverted to a new project to build a replica Spooner Fairlie to carry the name Taliesin. It was later decided that a third double engine was unnecessary and the money was used to rebuild Merddin Emrys to a more traditional outline. Eventually the locomotive was towed by the new Earl of Merioneth to Glan y Pwll for restoration. However again little was done due to a shortage of volunteers. More schemes were proposed, including one to section the locomotive, but by 1987 it was decided to restore the locomotive to towable condition. At this time the project to build a new single Fairlie was becoming serious, this new locomotive was to take the name Taliesin so the decision was made to restore Livingston Thompson to its original name.[3]

In the National Railway Museum

1988-Present: Museum piece[edit]

In 1988 restoration of the derelict body, to a condition fit for display in a museum, was completed by Winson Engineering of Penrhyndeudraeth. A pair of bogies was constructed from parts no longer fit for revenue service. The wheels and various motion parts came from James Spooner and the frames were those originally built for Merddin Emrys but which had been used with this locomotive from 1932 to 1972. Various other spare parts were located around Boston Lodge. The locomotive's livery was meticulously researched to match that at the locomotive's last major rebuild in 1905.

In October of that year the locomotive, hauled by its older brother Merddin Emrys, enjoyed a last trip up the line from Porthmadog to Tan y Bwlch where a ceremony to hand it over, on long term loan to the National Railway Museum, was performed. Since then Livingston Thompson has continued his FR service by advertising the railway to visitors to the NRM.

In 2004 Livingston Thompson returned to the FR to join the celebration of the Golden Jubilee of the FR Society, and stayed on the line until April 2006, being wheeled out for a number of special events.

Livingston Thompson on display at Harbour Station,Porthmadog

Principal stated dimensions[edit]

Cylinders (4) 9" x 14"
Nominal wheel diameter 2' 8"
Boiler pressure 160 psi
Tractive effort (@80% BP) 9,070 lb
Weight 24 tons

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Jones, Chris; Dennis, Peter (2018). Little Giants: A History of the Ffestiniog Railway's Pre-Revival Locomotives, Their Mentors, Manufacture and Maintenance. Lydney: Lightmoor Press. ISBN 9781 911038 43 6. OCLC 1079189439.
  2. ^ Jo Clulow (1997) "Musical Bogies", Ffestiniog Railway Magazine, Issue 157
  3. ^ 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.
  4. ^ Johnson, Peter (2004). Immortal Rails (Vol 1) The Story of the Closure and Revival of the FR 1939-1983. Chester, England, CH4 9ZH: RailRomances. p. 168. ISBN 1-900622-08-4. OCLC 56654167.{{cite book}}: CS1 maint: location (link)
  5. ^ "Correspondence", Ffestiniog Railway Magazine, Issue 054, page(s): 034