The Friends of the
National Railway Museum

South of England Group
Vice Presidents: Richard Hardy; Sir William McAlpine Bt, FRSE, FCIT, FRSA

Last Update

Talk Synopsis

5 January 2006

The Restoration of S.R. No 850, Lord Nelson
Neil Kearns
Eastleigh Railway Preservation Society
9 February 2004

The first talk for 2004 saw Neil Kearns give us a talk on our special project, the restoration of Southern Railway locomotive no. 850, Lord Nelson. This project was very much a dream come true for the Eastleigh Railway Preservation Society, but one which sadly has turned into a nightmare of cracked boiler plates.

Neil started by giving us an introduction to the founding of ERPS. The idea of preserving an Eastleigh built locomotive came out of a grandiose scheme for a museum to celebrate the heritage of local manufacture, with steam locomotives joined by aircraft built by Supermarine, along with others from the area including Thornycroft lorries. The museum plan was scaled back, but thanks to the efforts of Harry Firth the idea of a static locomotive displayed in the local park became the restoration to main line operation of a steam locomotive. It had been hoped that this would have been Lord Nelson, but that had been allocated to Steamtown at Carnforth and the group settled for the restoration of SR class S15 no. 828.

At first ERPS organised their own rail tours, but the difficulties during the transition to Railtrack persuaded them to leave the actual train planning to others, merely providing the motive power. However, even this was not without its problems. Not being a pacific and not being in BR green or red seemed to reduce the market for the S15. Eventually, economics drove them to basing the locomotive on the Swanage Rly. Not only was the income more dependable, it was more regular and the boiler suffered less because it would be kept in steam for a week at a time. Readers may remember that Richard Gibbon told us last year how the boiler tubes on the Duchess of Hamilton had to be modified to cope with the problems of intermittent steaming.

With 828 in regular operation the ERPS was looking for a new challenge. Coincidentally, the NRM was looking for a new home for Lord Nelson. Steamtown was now more of a commercial centre for railway restoration and the demise of the Cumbrian steam excursions was reducing the work for locomotives in the area. Thus the original dream of the ERPS, was to come true. If only they had realised what they would find when the boiler was stripped.

Before talking about its restoration, Neil gave us some background on the locomotive. It was a prototype for a class of locomotives built to haul boat trains between Victoria and the channel ports. However, by the late 1930s electrification had reduced the need for them in the south east and the class was transferred to the western division, working from Waterloo to Exeter. Here they are credited with some spirited performances hauling 550 ton trains at high speeds over the various banks. Eventually, all came to be based at Eastleigh in 1953, but being a small class they were withdrawn in 1962 when a cull was made of "non-standard" steam locomotives. On withdrawal, Lord Nelson was chosen for preservation. It was allocated by the NRM to Steamtown at Carnforth to operate the Cumbrian Coast and Mountain Expresses. Neil showed us some striking pictures of the locomotive operating, especially one on the Settle & Carlisle. Despite the glorious weather, there were few photographers out that day - in contrast to the previous week when there had been hordes to photograph a pacific climbing in the pouring rain! Somehow, Lord Nelson did not have the crowd drawing ability of the LNER & LMS pacifics.

When Lord Nelson arrived at Eastleigh it was understood that the mechanical parts were sound, but the boiler was "iffy". As stripping started it became apparent that the overhaul at Steamtown had been rather limited, with evidence that under the surface little cleaning had been done. However, the mechanical parts were proven to need relatively little attention. Carrying out the restoration in the works where the locomotive was built had certain benefits - like there still one or two of the "old hands" who could remember back to when it was built. Nevertheless, there was much relearning to be done, for instance on casting the white metal into the bearings. One pleasing result of this was that one young man was sufficiently impressed with the work that it encouraged him to take up a mechanical apprenticeship so some of the skills will be carried forward into the future.

Eventually, the day came for the boiler to be lifted out of the frames. To lighten the load as much as possible had been stripped out. In retrospect, it would have been better to have left the tubes in since there were major difficulties in achieving a safe lift because of the imbalance created by their removal. This was, only the start of the problems with boiler. The boiler was sent away to Roger Pridham for the boiler overhaul. However, after spending half the Heritage Lottery grant he was still finding more problems - the task just kept getting bigger with no end in sight. As each crack was cleaned out in preparation for welding, it seemed that another crack opened up. Furthermore, there was evidence that at some time there had been a sudden loss of pressure whilst the boiler was under load. The resulting overheating of the copper inner firebox had resulted in severe quilting of the inner firebox, and cracking around the stays. This, along with the extent of the cracking, has led some to wonder how close the boiler had been to catastrophic failure before the locomotive was withdrawn. Sadly, there was evidence of bad practice in most recent boiler overhauls - welding where it should not have been done, and a stay tap was found in the foundation ring!

After much hard work, and additional lottery funding, the work on boiler is now well advanced. It is hoped that Pridham's will be able to install the tubes later this year, and then carry out the static steam test. ERPS are still hopeful that Lord Nelson will be ready to take its place in the bicentenary celebrations for the Battle of Trafalgar on 21 October 2005. This will maintain a tradition started by the Southern Railway whereby a Lord Nelson class locomotive was put on display with a short publicity train in Portsmouth Town station every year on the anniversary of the battle.

See also news cutting on donation to Lord Nelson restoration.

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