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Vice Presidents: Sir William McAlpine Bt, FRSE, FCIT, FRSA; Richard Hardy




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Restoration of Cheltenham

Chris Smith 

14 October 2013

In 1930 there was a need for bigger engines on the Hastings line – more powerful but still fitting within the 8ft 6ins wide loading gauge and fitting the turntables in Kent. The solution was to take the wheels, cab fittings from a Lord Nelson, the boiler from a King Arthur and fit these together. The result was the successful 4-4-0 Schools class, of which No 925 Cheltenham is in the National Collection.

Cheltenham went to Fratton when new, before moving to Kent. When the Kent lines were electrified in the 1950s, the loco moved to Nine Elms and then Basingstoke, where it remained until withdrawn. Cheltenham fame was increased whn it appeared as the mascot on the RCTS magazine, and the engine was used on many RCTS railtours, including 'foreign' lines, such as the Great Central, and the East Coast mainline, where it touched 80mph.

When it came to choosing a Schools Class locomotive for the National Collection, there were 40 still in traffic, but Cheltenham was chosen because of this fame. It was initially stored at Fratton, then Tysley before moving to York. Very little needed replacing on the locomotive before it was steamed for the Rainhill celebrations in 1980. It then ran a while at Dinting before suffering a tube failure, when it returned to York for static display.

So things remained until the NRM decided to ask the Mid Hants Railway, which had restored and was looking after Lord Nelson, whether they would be interested in having Cheltenham. A deal was struck which involved MHR removing the asbestos and then deciding whether to restore and use it on the railway. It was moved from York to Eastleigh in October 2010. The following month, Chris was successful in securing Lottery funding as a bursary grant to support heritage projects, so he got agreement to help with the restoration of the engine. Meanwhile, Knights Rail had been contracted to remove the asbestos from the boiler and cylinders. It then became clear the the boiler was in excellent condition. BR seem to have fitted a new firebox as part of its last full overhaul in December 1958. The asbestos had provided excellent protection for the external boiler platework and all the boiler stays were still first-fittings. All it needed was a retube.

The restoration team then got going. Team members were recruited, and younger members teamed up with more experienced people. With a five-day working week, team moral was kept high because of the progress which could be seen. A mobile tool-bench was used to give flexibility and security to equipment, while operating at Eastleigh. The job started with the removal of the smokebox, which was rivitted to the frames, and then, using the facility's 30t crane, the boiler was removed and sent to Ropley for repair.

The frames were lifted in April 2011. No paint was apparent underneath – BR had just relied on the grease and grime to preserve everything. The NRM had originally thought that the crank-axle had a crack, but ultrasonic inspection proved it to be sound. The brake cylinder is a 30ins diameter casting which is a tight fit underneath the cab, and it needed careful, and complex, handling to get it out – so much so that a series of photographs were taken of the operation for use in reverse when the time came to put it back. The draw-bar pin was wedged solid – so much so that a jack, which was trying to push it out, lifted the entire engine. It needed several weeks of penetrating-oil treatment and various methods of “persuasion” to get it to shift. The locomotive wheels were sent to South Devon Railway for turning and the tender wheels got the same treatment at Wimbledon TMD. Pipework was repaired by brazing rather than replacement. The piston valves just needed new rings fitting. Only a few rivits needed attention on the tender which was otherwise water-tight. The leaf-spring pins needed replacing due to wear. A lot of other minor jobs needed doing, but the main items which needed fabricating were a new main steam pipe which was fabricated by a specialist steam engineer at Southampton Docks, and a casting to connect the outlet from the inner cylinders to the blast pipe. The latter needed a new complex casting, which was made by Reliance in Kent.
Some modifications were made to the locomotive, with the approval of the NRM, to make it easier to operate. These included moving the steam-chest pressure gauge to the driver's side and the boiler pressure gauge to the fireman's side. A water spray system was fitted to the top of the fire-grate to help flushing out the ash, and a rocking grate fitted. A hose-pipe fitting was attached to the base of the tender to allow for easy filling when there is no water crane. Grease nipples were fitted at various points to help the crew with the lubrication.

In Summer 2011, just over 6 months into the project, the NRM were so impressed by the progress that they asked whether the engine could be available for Railfest the following year.

The pit at conveniently free at the time the wheels were due to be re-united with the frames. The exercise started at the front with the frame slightly tipped forward, and only three people were involved on the ground in the operation, two helping to line up the axle boxes, and one giving signals to the crane operator.

Christmas 2011 saw the boiler being steam tested and it was returned to Eastleigh exactly a year after it had left. Throughout the work they only found two items which were not original, a slide valve cover and slide bar.

Towards the final stages, the team had earned the trust of the Eastleigh management and were allowed to work on Saturdays. However, they were asked to vacate the area as this was needed, but happily this coincided with the first steam tests, which would have required a move outside in any case. The May Day Bank Holiday weekend was the time for the press launch, which was covered by local press and radio, the NRM PR team generating the interest. All that needed doing was the final painting before the engine was picked up by Allerbys for the trip to Railfest at York. Once that was over, the engine was returned to the Mid Hants to fit the rocking grate and then hald a series of running in trials. This culminated in a final test run double-headed with Lord Nelson in August 2012. From then it was engaged in steam gala events and in October went to the Great Central Railway to appear alongside Sir Lamiel. In May of this year, it visited the Gloucester Warwickshire Railway making triops along the line to its alma mata. It is now at the Severn Valley Railway before returning to the Mid Hants for the winter.