John Speller's Web Pages Armstrong “517" Class 0-4-2 Tanks

John Speller's Web Pages

Armstrong “517" Class 0-4-2 Tanks
George Armstrong (1822-1901) was the younger brother of Joseph Armstrong. Shortly after Joseph’s birth his family moved from Bewcastle near Carlisle to Canada, and George seems to have been born there. The family returned to England in 1824 and lived in Newburn-on-Tyne (which gave the name “Newburn” to the residence of the Great Western Railway’s Locomotive Superintendents in Swindon), where George recalled chasing Hedley’s “Puffing Billy” on the Wylam Tramway. At the age of 14 George went to work for Robert Hawthorn, and in 1840 both Joseph and George went to work for John Gray on the Hull & Selby Railway, following Gray to the Brighton Railway in 1845. After a time on the Northern Railway of France, George followed his brother to the Shrewsbury & Chester Railway under Edward Jeffreys in Saltney near Chester. In 1853 the Shrewsbury & Chester merged with the Shrewsbury & Birmingham, and both brothers moved to Stafford Road Locomotive Works in Wolverhampton, where Joseph became Locomotive Superintendent. The following year the Shrewsbury & Birmingham was taken over by the Great Western, and Joseph Armstrong became the Locomotive Superintendent of the Great Western Railway’s Northern Division. Although Joseph Armstrong was nominally under the authority of Sir Daniel Gooch at Swindon, in practice the Northern Division was more or less autonomous, and even had its own locomotive livery of bluish green lined out in black and white.

When Sir Daniel Gooch resigned as Locomotive Superintendent at Swindon in 1864, Joseph Armstrong moved to take up the position, leaving his brother in charge at as Locomotive Superintendent of the Northern Division at Wolverhampton, and taking his other assistant, William Dean, to Swindon. George Armstrong continued in charge at Wolverhampton until his retirement in 1897, after which the Wolverhampton Works were finally subjugated to Swindon, and locomotive production was run down, ceasing in 1909 after an embarrassing incident in which a new Churchward "Prairie" tank proved too large to get out of the erecting shop, which had to be partially demolished to release it. Meanwhile the redoubtable George Armstrong had died following a fall at a flower show in Wolverhampton in 1901.

Apart from a few 0-6-0 and 2-4-0 tender engines, most of the 1,139 locomotives that George Armstrong designed were tank engines. Three classes in particular, the “517" Class 0-4-2T, the “645" Class 0-6-0ST, and the “850" and 1901" Class 0-6-0ST, proved to be enduring designs that only needed minor modification by Collett and Hawksworth into new classes that continued to be built into the 1950s.

The prototype “517" Class 0-4-2T locomotive was built at Wolverhampton Stafford Road Works in 1868. It had 5 ft. 0 in. driving wheels (which with thicker modern tires became 5 ft. 2 in., 15 in. x 24 in. cylinders and a boiler pressure of 150 psi, giving a maximum tractive effort of 12,635 lb. 144 locomotives were built between 1868 and 1885, and proved especially useful in local passenger work after the introduction of autotrains in the early 1900s. When they became due for replacement Collett designed the very similar “48xx” (later “14xx”) and “58xx” 0-4-2 tanks to replace them, and these continued in service until the end of steam.

The prototype of the “517" Class, 0-4-2T No. 517, impeccably turned out at Birmingham Snow
George Armstrong 0-4-2T No. 213 at Solihull
“517" Class 0-4-2T No. 1430 on an autotrain at Barmouth in around 1920
The “3571" Class was a modification of the “517" Class with slightly larger boilers. Still with its original open cab, No. 3573, built in July 1895, is shown here awaiting scrapping at Swindon in March 1947. Image © copyright Ben Brooksbank and licensed for reuse under this Creative Commons License
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