- This was the first locomotive named Taliesin. The second is described under Livingston Thompson and the third under Taliesin III.
Works photograph 1876
|7 (Originally 9)
Taliesin was an 0-4-4T Single Fairlie locomotive built for the Festiniog Railway in 1876. It was completely rebuilt between 1898 and 1900. Over subsequent years, the locomotive fell into increasing disrepair and was dismantled in preparation for a new boiler in 1924. However, despite recommendations from the Locomotive Superintendent and Engineer, the Board refused to purchase a boiler. Boyd states that Taliesin was reassembled with its existing boiler, but the archives have no record of this. The remains were later scrapped.
The name is that of a legendary Head Bard to Prince Elffin, who lived possibly around 520-560 A.D. The name means 'fair-brow'; it can also mean 'fair pay' or 'reward.' The story is that William Williams (a bard himself, Gwilym Meirion) persuaded the FR Board that the legendary bard was just the name for the loco, but as there was a pay dispute between the Board and their staff at the time, it gave some glee to the men seeing the loco puffing up the line displaying the brass plate 'Fair Pay.'
1876-1898: Building and early modifications
Taliesin was built by the Vulcan Foundry in 1876 (works no. 791), and originally carried the number 9. The design featured a power bogie similar to those under James Spooner but with changes to the steam pipes and the use of coil springs as later used on Merddin Emrys. Unlike previous FR locomotives that had open footplates, Taliesin was fitted with a half cab at the front and the rear of the footplate had a large weather board providing protection for the crew when running in reverse.
It had its first run on 10th August 1876, double heading with Little Giant, and was put into service on 17th August. As built, Taliesin was found to be at the limits of the loading gauge. The upper part of the cab was modified in November of that year after “damage at tunnel”. The new cab was narrower above the tanks, a profile later adopted for use on the double engines. Some of the problems were due to excessive rolling and various attempts were made to change the suspension of the rear bogie until in August 1877 the original inside framed trailing bogie was rebuilt with external frames providing a wider base for the suspension to cure the tendency to roll. Both the original and rebuilt rear bogie had brakes, the latter having drum brakes (“3 new cast iron brake drums & wrought iron brake straps fitted on” being noted in July 1881). There is no date given for their removal, but the last record of their maintenance was in 1884.
The locomotive was heavily used, and consequently was damaged quite often: in September 1877, November 1878 and September 1880. The bunker was enlarged in 1878 and a balance weight was fitted between the bogie frames in 1879. In 1880, it is reported that, “Owing to the use of inferior coal, the tubes are deteriorated and will have to be replaced shortly, the tube plate is cracked and gives some trouble...”
In July 1881, the main coil springs were replaced with conventional leaf springs. In December 1881, it was re-tubed and the original sandboxes were replaced with those of the 'standard' FR pattern. The tanks were altered to give more water space. In February 1882, it was derailed on the Cob by a stone being left between the point blade and the stock rail, which took four days to repair. From 1883, Taliesin was renumbered as No. 7, (Little Wonder, the previous No. 7, the first FR Double Fairlie, having been condemned on 6th December 1882. It was also this year a canvas cover was provided for the cab.
1884 saw the bogie frame starting to crack and being patched with a steel plate. The tyres were replaced and the cab was cut down by an inch and a quarter. In 1886, it was damaged at Tan-y-Bwlch and needed a new cast iron buffer beam and buffers. Two hinged doors were fitted to the cab in December of that year. In February 1887, the dome was polished (it had been painted to this point) and the two small brass handrails added to the smokebox “for sanding”.
In June 1887, it is recorded as being “In working order but in need of heavy repairs”. In November, the firebox was patched, the carrier frame was lowered and strengthened, the main bogie frame was repaired with a steel plate “above Horn plate gab”, new connecting and coupling rods were provided and an all over cab was fitted. The work was completed by 16th December 1887.
In 1888, a new exhaust arrangement was trialled and the firebox needed further repairs. In 1890, a new balancing pipe was fixed between the two water tanks. The rear bogie wheels (which were braked) had worn down so far that a quarter inch plate was inserted between bogie and superstructure. The wheels were replaced in 1891, and the main bogie frame was patched and the smokebox and chimney were replaced.
In February 1893, it came off the line “at Portmadoc Points” and in the subsequent repairs a vacuum brake was put on. However it broke down in September, the frames and cylinders were replaced, returning to service in March 1894. The boiler now was giving concern. “Top of firebox wasted away considerably” was noted in 1895, and a further patch was put on the boiler in 1896. 75 new ferrules were put in the tubes in 1897, and the three handrails on the smokebox were replaced by the single 'all round' handrail.
It is noted the loco was “taken to pieces Sep 30th 1898”.
1898-1924: Rebuilt with new boiler and eventual decline
Between 1898 and 1900, Taliesin was completely rebuilt with larger tanks, a new steel boiler from the Vulcan Foundry costing £295, a more enclosed cab and new smokebox. The rebuild should have been completed in 1899 and the Boston Lodge foundry cast suitably dated works plates in anticipation. However, they had not anticipated a mini-hurricane that struck the North Wales coast in November 1899 and completely demolished the wooden framed and corrugated-iron clad Boston Lodge Erecting Shop, inside which was Taliesin. Rebuilding the workshop delayed the final stages of the overhaul, and despite the date on the rebuild plates, Taliesin did not re-enter service until May 1900. Trial runs were made through Moelwyn Tunnel to test whether the crew could escape from the new cab in 1901.
The boiler was retubed in 1903, since the original tubes had been “eaten away by sulphur in the coal”. The driving wheels were re-tyred by Cammell & Laird in 1905.
In 1909, it had a major overhaul, the boiler was patched and the tubes were examined and “found safe for a while”. The boiler was tested hydraulically to 150 psi, but working pressure was 135 psi. In 1911, a new steam connection was made for the injector because the steam was not dry enough in the previous position.
In 1916, as part of a report from the Locomotive Superintendent to the Company Board a retube of the boiler was recommended. By 1923, the working pressure was down to 120 psi and the description was “Engine poor, Boiler bad”.
1924-Present: Boiler condemned, eventual scrapping and legacy
In 1924, the boiler was condemned and the locomotive was dismantled for a new boiler to be fitted. The Vulcan Foundry tendered for a replacement, but the Board refused to sanction the purchase, despite being recommended by the Locomotive Superintendent and the Engineer. Boyd claimed the engine was re-erected with the condemned boiler, but there is no evidence in the archives for this. Part of the boiler barrel was earmarked for reuse on Palmerston, but an accident with the tender from Welsh Pony in August 1924 pushed the boiler through the back of the old engine shed and so it was too damaged for re-use. The chimney was also broken, and Welsh Pony's tender damaged.
Taliesin was effectively withdrawn in 1932 when the name was transferred to the engine previously known as Livingston Thompson. The boiler was scrapped in 1935 and the maintenance records log the scrapping of what remained in 1937. Of the original locomotive, the reversing lever has survived to be used again, and the eccentrics were put onto Linda in the 1960s. A set of surviving Fairlie wheels may well be from this loco.
The name Taliesin was revived again in 1999 when a replica Single Fairlie was built.
Tales of spirited running
Taliesin was always intended as a passenger engine, and usually took the mid-morning and mid-afternoon "mail" trains. These lighter trains were within the haulage capacity of the England Engines but as a Single Fairlie Taliesin had a more stable ride and was able to run at higher speeds, keeping pace with the Double Fairlies on the other trains.
Will Jones used to tell a tale that David Davies (Tom Davies' father) took an ECS working from Glan y Pwll Junction to Boston Lodge with this locomotive in 29 minutes. He was reported to have left at 4.30 p.m. and to have arrived at Boston Lodge in time to push the train into the Bottom Yard before everybody went home at 5.00 p.m. Tom Davies would never confirm nor deny this story as he disapproved of such antics (though capable of them himself when out of sight of stations). If the tale is true (Will was not above embroidering his yarns for dramatic effect), 12 miles in 29 minutes is around 24 mph and implies a possible top speed of 40 mph. Tom spoke warmly of the loco and from his expression it was quite plain that the railways in Heaven must use Single Fairlies.
- Payling, David (2017). Fairlie Locomotives of North Wales. Harbour Station, Porthmadog: Ffestiniog and Welsh Highland Railways. ISBN 978-0-901848-14-7. OCLC 1006424938.