By the time the curtain rises on Basilica Fields in 1890, the foundation for future outer-suburban passenger services is well in hand. Thomas Worsdell’s relatively short tenure at Stratford (January 1882 – July 1885) had brought much to the table in terms of both engineering and style, the best of which his successor, James Holden, was keen to retain or improve upon rather than discard, and the M15 class illustrates this policy well.
Flying in the face of a very long line of successful suburban and branch line 0-4-4T designs by Bromley, Adams and Johnson, in 1884 Worsdell designed the first Great Eastern 2-4-2Ts since Sinclair’s low-boilered ‘Scotchmen’ Well Tanks built in the early 1860s. Stylistically the M15s set the standard for future tank engine design at Stratford, incorporating many features which are now considered quintessentially Great Eastern, and between 30th June and 11th November 1884 ten locomotives to Letter Account M15, numbered 650-9, were released to traffic.
To specifics; the locos were 31’9″ long over the frames – the maximum length permissible due to the size of the loco docks at the platform ends of Liverpool Street, and to which all large tanks down to Grouping would conform – ten spoke radial wheels fore and aft, 5′ 8″ driving wheels, and 18″ cylinders with Joy’s radial motion. The boilers were in three-rings, butt-jointed and pressed to 140psi with Worsdell’s standard dome on the middle ring. The round-topped fireboxes were fitted with cased twin Ramsbottom safety valves and the whistle on the driver’s side of the valve seat. The smokebox was built up from angle iron, and faced with a wingplate, a dished smokebox door, and topped with Worsdell’s pattern of fabricated stovepipe chimney.
Other fittings included Roscoe lubricators on the smokebox sides, clack valves on the front ring with straight feed pipes, a brass spherical blower valve on the driver’s side of the smokebox operated by a rod inside the handrail, a Westinghouse pump inside the cab on the fireman’s side exhausting into the smokebox via a pipe running above the tank top, parallel buffer casings with hollow-spindle buffers, under-hung Westinghouse pipes, a capacious cab with a wooden roof and round spectacles in both front and rear weatherboards. All the locos were turned out in Worsdell’s ultramarine blue livery, lined vermilion with black borders, 4″ high lettering and brass numberplates painted vermilion.
For nearly a century historians were universally scathing of Worsdell’s decision to fit Joy’s valve gear to three of his five GER locomotive designs, and the M15s quickly gained the unfortunate epithet ‘Gobblers’ from their rather voracious appetite for both coal and water. David Joy had been a colleague and friend at Crewe, and his radial motion had been used successfully there by Worsdell’s mentor, Francis Webb. Joy’s gear is considered superior to Stephenson’s Link motion as the valves open and shut more quickly – an advantage when ‘notched up’ and the maximum opening of the valves is relatively small. However, in 1964 the RCTS pulled no punches in a rather rambling statement saying that the M15s were ‘poor machines’ before conceding their problems probably stemmed to the difficulty fitters had in setting the valves on the radial motion.
The fact of the matter is that the ten locos performed sufficiently well enough on the outer suburban services they were tasked with that the Directors of the historically cautious Board (they having successfully lifted the Company out of Chancery in the previous decade by expediency) can’t have been overly concerned as a second batch of twenty locomotives to Order E16, numbered 660-79, was given the all-clear and gradually released to traffic between 22 December 1884 and 3rd March 1886.
In May 1885, an article in The Engineer explained Worsdell’s somewhat unusual explanation for experimenting with and building the compounding G16 4-4-0 class which also used Joy’s gear; for no greater reason than to try and force the crews to drive expansively by notching up the motion rather than driving full on the regulator. Most senior drivers in the early 1880s had started their careers on engines fitted with primitive Gab gear which had two positions – full forward or full reverse – and the old habit of driving on the regulator was not only proving hard to break, but was being passed to their firemen who would be the next generation of drivers.
The complexities are far too involved to describe in detail here, but tenacious research by Lyn Brooks of the GER Society and his comparison between the contemporary Y14 Stephenson Link and M15 Joy motion by computer simulation concluded that there was little difference between Joy’s and Stephenson’s motion when driven expansively, but driven in full gear on the regulator Joy’s motion caused a reduction of pressure in the main pipe and made the engine sluggish which encouraged the driver to open the regulator wide, consuming more coal.
However, before he could satisfactorily address the issue of the coal and water consumption Worsdell handed in his resignation and taking the opportunity of a substantial pay rise (essentially doubling his income with the addition of a house thrown in) by moving to Gateshead, home of the North Eastern Railway. Soon afterwards the M15 design with a slightly larger driving wheel diameter was introduced as Class A on the NER – a company for which, due to its location, large coal consumption was not an issue.
Holden came to Stratford from Swindon in July as Nos. 670 and 671 were being built and was happy enough with the specification to see the order completed. However, the Works was also in the middle of constructing Order P17 – which comprised of ten Worsdell’s Y14 0-6-0s with Stephenson’s Link motion – and the following month Holden ordered one of the Y14s should exchange cylinders and motion with an M15 for comparative trials. M15 number 674 was the chosen loco, and very little work was needed to accommodate the Y14 cylinders and motion, it being released to traffic on the 23rd October. For Y14 no.696 it was a very different story; to clear the valve chests positioned above the cylinders on the M15 Joy motion, the boiler needed to be pitched 7½” higher than normal, and it wasn’t until 30th December 1885 that the loco was released to traffic.
The results of the trial was as expected; Holden hadn’t tackled the issue of the driving style and thus fuel consumption of the hybrid Y14 was higher than average for the class and that of the hybrid M15 was lower. Holden had already ordered ten new members of the M15 class, and it’s debatable whether the change to Stephenson’s motion was due to the test results or was in fact pre-emptive.
Between 24th September 1886 and 17th January 1887 Order O18, numbered 790-9 were released to traffic with Y14-style 17½” cylinders and the valves set between them, Stephenson’s Link motion and, contrary to hitherto published information, with single-bar slidebars rather than the four-bar type fitted to the earlier batches. The RCTS Part 7 states that 140psi boilers with two butt-jointed rings and the dome in the forward position were fitted, but my photograph above clearly shows a three-ring boiler with the dome over the middle ring. For the first time spike lamp irons were fitted from new and Holden’s 6″ lettering was used on the tank sides, spaced a little wider than Worsdell’s lettering. Small cylinder cover lids were fitted at the base of the smokebox, and again 12-spoke radial wheels were used, but essentially the rest was as designed by Worsdell, and even the Westinghouse pumps remained inside the cabs.
For the next five years there is little to report: In July 1892 no 790 was renumbered 800 to clear a numerical block for an order of T19 2-4-0s and the following year, and with an increase in heavy passenger and outer suburban work Holden introduced a new design of 2-4-2T based on his T26 2-4-0s, the C32 class (the subject of the next entry).
Between August 1895 and January 1898 the thirty locomotives of the M15 and E16 batches were rebuilt with new 2-ring boilers and the dome seated on the front ring, The first twenty rebuilds down to August 1896 had boilers pressed to 140psi, but thereafter the new standard 160psi type was fitted. Holden took the opportunity to replace the Joy radial gear with Stephenson’s Link motion, single-bar slidebars and 17½” cylinders. To avoid the expense of a new crank axle the cylinders were spaced with 2’0″ centres and fitted with the T19 2-4-0 pattern of link motion with the valves beneath; their steep inclination resulted in a large, incongruous cylinder cover lid underneath the smokebox door.
Other contemporary improvements were made; narrow-waisted smokeboxes to a new flanged pattern were fitted, tank filler lids on nos. 650-9 were moved from the bunker to the tank tops, the Westinghouse pumps were moved to the tank front on the driver’s side and coal rails were fitted to the bunkers. All thirty received continuous handrails with Holden’s rotary-pattern blower actuated via rod and crank inside the handrail, sight-feed lubricators in the cab replaced the displacement type on the smokebox sides, the clack valves were moved back to the dome centreline with the feed pipe cranked forwards. Swan-necked Westinghouse standpipes replaced the under-hung type on the front and rear bufferbeam, and some locos were fitted with tapered buffer housings. There must have been a policy of ‘grab the nearest wheelset’ during rebuilding as several were photographed with a mixture of 10 and 12 spokes on the radial wheels. No.674 returned the Y14 type of Stephenson’s Link motion to number 696 in January 1897 and later fitted with the T19 type to fall in line with the rest of the rebuilds.
The main difference between the M15 and E16 rebuilds is that the original ten nos. 650-9 were all fitted with condensing apparatus during their rebuild, whereas the E16 series remained as normally aspirated engines. The visual evidence of the condensing gear on these locomotives were two long pipes leading from the smokebox to tank tops and vent pipes inside(!) the front of the cab, the tops of which projected out from the roof.
During the rebuilding of the M15 and E16 batches, Holden’s O18 series also came up for reboilering, and between July 1896 and June 1899 all ten were fitted with two-ring boilers with a working pressure of 160psi. These locos retained their Y14 type Link motion and 17½” cylinders at 2′ 4″ centres with valves set between them and the correspondingly small cylinder cover lid. As with the two earlier batches, all the contemporary improvements were made. None of the ten were fitted with condensing gear at this time.
When the need for new outer-suburban engines came up in 1898 Holden turned back to the 0-4-4T type which had served the GER so well for many years and designed the S44 class based upon his ‘improved Y14’ 0-6-0, the N31 class. Unfortunately neither design turned out to be as successful as expected and for the first and only time Holden experienced the pitfalls of a standardisation too far. Therefore, in 1903 with the opening of the new suburban line between Woodford, Ilford and Seven Kings via Fairlop and Hainault, and with many of the early Bromley, Adams and Sinclair 0-4-4T classes becoming life-expired, Holden had the O18 drawings of 1886 dusted off, and down to 1909 a further 120 members of the 2-4-2T class were built in ten batches, somewhat incredibly retaining by-now archaic features such as outside brake rigging.
Telescopic two-ring boilers pressed to 160psi were fitted to new builds from 1907 onwards and fifteen earlier rebuilds gained this type from that year until a 180psi boiler came into service in 1911.
Eighty of the new builds were fitted with condensing apparatus from new, only the ten locos comprising series’ P55 of 1903 (nos.140-9), D58 of 1904 (nos. 781-90), R58 of 1905 (nos. 91-100) and D63 of 1907 (nos. 582-91) were normally aspirated. Over time various engines either lost or were fitted with the gear, depending on whether they were transferred in to or out of the London District.
All the locos were Westinghouse braked, but nos. 216-20 from Order G63 built in 1907 were also fitted with a vacuum ejector from new for working the East London Railway, and many other members of the class were later dual-braked.
The first forty locos of the class were initially based in the London Division, working into and out of Liverpool Street and Fenchurch Street on outer suburban duties. Most were based at Stratford with some out-stationed to suburban and rural depots in the area. With the advent of the larger C32 2-4-2T and S44 0-4-4T classes there was some movement to the country districts, but in the main, during the period covered by Basilica Fields, the majority worked into and out of London, and it wasn’t until the end of the Edwardian era that there was a general migration to the more rustic pastures.
Modelling the Class
Fortunately the 7mm modeller is well served with kits from both Connoisseur Models and Laurie Griffin for the LNER versions of the class, and a range of detailing parts to backdate them to GER condition are available from Laurie Griffin, Ragstone Models and Alan Gibson Workshop.
It’s my intention to build at least four of the class; M15 no.652 as rebuilt in 1895 with condensing gear, E16 no.664 as rebuilt in the same year without condensing gear, O18 no.795 as built with a 3-ring boiler and one of the post-1903 batches with condensing apparatus. I’d also quite like one of the original thirty in pre-rebuilt condition, perhaps no.661 which wasn’t reboilered until November 1897, but we’ll see about that.
This journal entry supersedes the earlier place-holder article titled ‘Gobblers’ published 10 March 2010, which has now been deleted.
- Great Eastern Locomotives Past & Present 1862-1945 – C Langley Aldrich
- GER Society Journal no.129 – Updating Buckle: The M15 Class ‘Gobbler’ 2-4-2Ts – Lyn Brooks
- GER Society Journals nos. 14 and 18 – A Background to GER Locomotive Policy 1856-1923, parts 1 & 2 – Lyn Brooks & A. C. Sandwell
- GER Society Journal no.87 – Personal Profile: T. W. Worsdell – Richard Joby
- GER Society Journal no.87 – GER Locomotive Mysteries: Worsdell Gobblers – Did They? – Lyn Brooks
- GER Society locomotive drawings – John Gardner
- Locomotives of the LNER – RCTS Part 7
- Yeadon’s Register Vol. 39