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Southern Railway Ashford Locomotive Works

It was in February 1846 that the Board of Directors of the South Eastern Railway decided to buy, for the sum of ?21,000, from a gentleman of the name of Walls, 185 acres of good Kentish countryside, at Ashford, on which was to be sited - a 'Locomotive Establishment'.

Having gained Parliamentary endorsement for a proposal to spend up to ?500,000 on this new venture, the Directors reported to the proprietors that they had purchased the land on advantageous terms, and in the situation they wished to have. By the summer of 1847 a cluster of 72 labourers' cottages had been built on the site and the story of Ashford Works had begun. An imaginative conception, the 'Railway Village', as it was later to become, possessed its own general shop, its own public baths, its airy, spacious green on the doorsteps of the workpeople's homes and even its own 'Pub', not nearly so Gradgrind-like as some of today's employers.

From the beginning of 1847, a limited amount of repair and maintenance work had been undertaken and it was to be the following year, 1848, that was to see construction begin on the first locomotive. This remarkable little engine, completed in 1850, had a vertical boiler and was nicknamed the 'Coffee Pot'. Its design was attributed to a marine engineer called Fernihough. Used for propelling the Company Directors and Chief Engineers about the South Eastern system and it was active in railway service until 1861 when it was taken off the line to do pump house service at Redhill. By 1851 the Works was supporting some 3,000 people, including employees' wives and children. For several years the destiny of the locomotive department of the South Eastern Railway was in the capable hands of James I'Anson Cudworth.

His first 2-4-0 passenger engines had outside frames and a compensating beam above the bearings, and gained a creditable reputation under the title of the 'Hastings' or ' 157' class. An experimenting engineer, it was he who introduced the 'Uniflow' system of steam distribution to a railway engine. In addition to this he developed a firebox divided by a longitudinal water partition, or 'Midfeather', a device with sloping grates which made it possible for coal fuel to be used without the emission of smoke. Hitherto, the staple diet of a railway engine's firebox had been coke. Eventually all engines in Cudworth's charge were fitted with this firebox, a device that remained standard on the South Eastern's locomotives for the next 30 years - that is until 15 years after Cudworth had retired. After building a number of various goods and passenger engines, Cudworth introduced his 'Mail' class locomotives. These 7ft 'Singles' were introduced to haul the fast London-Dover 'Post Office' expresses. It was to be the commissioning of Ramsbottom, of the LNWR, to design a passenger engine that caused Cudworth to resign, his position being taken by the son of the Chairman, Mr A.M. Watkin. His only contribution to the South Eastern's motive power was his name which was commonly bestowed on the 20 Ramsbottom locomotives.

Watkin's successor was R.C. Mansell, who had been Carriage and Wagon Superintendent during this time. He had already brought distinction to the South Eastern with his 'Mansell' wheel for carriage stock. This successful Ashford innovation was composed of a steel tyre with teak segments which was forced on to the axles by a 60-ton hydraulic press. Three other locomotive classes were introduced under Mansell during his interim term of office until the arrival of James Stirling, straight from the north, firm disciplinarian and railway pioneer.

He was a designer who saw no need for the steam dome and consequently all locomotives that came out of Ashford at this time were without this traditional feature. He was greatly esteemed amongst the staff at the Works and his first passenger locomotives were 4-4-Os with 6ft driving wheels. After building various standard goods engines and a class of 0-4-4Ts, Ashford produced the initial model of his 'F' class bogie express engines with 7ft driving wheels. It was his inflexible aversion to photographers and their productions that few pictures exist of Stirling and the fine engines he created.

After Stirling came the Wainwright era at Ashford with a figure who had for the previous three years been in charge of the carriage and wagon section. During his years as Locomotive, Carriage and Wagon Superintendent, he produced some well-proportioned and resplendent engines. Highly polished brass dome coverings distinguished his creations, some classes being further embellished with copper-sheathed chimney tops. In an era of great productivity, the works at Longhedge and Battersea passed over their locomotive construction, and later their repair work, to Ashford. By 1909 there were 497 engines on the South Eastern section for which the works at Ashford were responsible.

Wainwright's successor was R.E.L. Maunsell, the first to receive the title of 'Chief Mechanical Engineer'. Although much of his early administration was connected with the manufacture of munitions, his first types of locomotive appeared in 1917 and were big departures from any of the types hitherto seen at Ashford. One class was a mixed-traffic 2-6-0 tender engine and the other, a 2-6-4 express passenger tank, both having outside cylinders. With the amalgamation of the railways in 1923, the last carriage built at Ashford rolled out of the shops, all carnage work being carried out at the erstwhile 'Brighton' company's works at Lancing and the Eastleigh works of the other constituent company, the London & South Western. However, Ashford continued to build some very fine engines. In 1923 three of Maunsell's highly successful 2-6-Os were turned out and in 1929, eight of his 'U' class engines steamed their way into service. An event in 1926 saw the visit of the future King and Queen, then of course, the Duke and Duchess of York. After a tour of the workshops it was the Duke who was at the regulator of Maunsell's Eastleigh built 'Lord Nelson' - at that time the most powerful 4-6-0 in Britain - and drove the locomotive to Ashford station. As a result of the opening of a new depot between the Canterbury and Folkestone lines in 1933, the Running shed was emolished. In the same year locomotive building boomed once again. Fifteen Maunsell 'N' Class 2-6-Os came out of the shops and seven large 'W' Class tank engines were built in 1935.

In 1937 Maunsell's retirement saw the appointment of O.V.S. Bulleid as Chief Mechanical Engineer to the Southern Railway. World War 2 brought its share of problems to Ashford, as it brought its quota of bombs, with the German-occupied airfields in France a mere seven minutes' flying time away. Notwithstanding the 2,881 'Red Warnings' or the 2,044 spotters 'Danger Signals', war supplies poured out of the workshops. The surprising outlines of Mr Bulleid's 'Austerity' 0-6-Os even became familiar in the Erecting shops and 14 of the powerful LMS-designed '8Fs' were constructed in 12 months. By 1952 the works had built its last locomotive - an 0-6-0 diesel shunter and two years later, in 1954, they undertook a major rebuilding of SR 2-6-Os with new cylinders and front ends. When Ashford became part of BR Workshops division in 1962, all locomotive work was transferred to Eastleigh.

Last Updated : Sunday 25th August 2002 16:46

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