John Speller's Web Pages Churchward 44xx Class Prairie Tank

John Speller's Web Pages

Armstrong “850" Class 0-6-0 Saddle 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, finally ceasing in 1909. George Armstrong 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 “850" Class 4 ft. 0 in. 0-6-0 saddle tanks, designed by George Armstrong, of which 157 were built at Wolverhampton Works between 1874 and 1895, have aptly been compared to the Brighton “Terrier” class in their diminutive size and great usefulness. They enjoyed long lives and many were later fitted with pannier tanks. 44 of them survived into British Railways ownership. Since George Armstrong was nominally under the authority of his brother Joseph Armstrong at Swindon, the “850" Class were strictly speaking considered Joseph Armstrong engines, although they were designed and constructed by George. Following Joseph Armstrong’s death in 1877, locomotives 1216 upwards were originally classified as the separate “1901" Class and strictly speaking considered William Dean engines. The engines were later reclassified under Churchward and merged into a single “850" Class.

William Dean introduced a slightly larger version, the “2021" Class, which had 4ft. 1˝ in. diameter wheels, and of which 140 were built at Wolverhampton Works between 1897 and 1905. 1896 was the year George Armstrong retired, and it is not clear how far Armstrong should take the credit for the “2021" Class and how far the design was developed by Dean. 110 of the “2021" Class also survived into British Railways ownership.

A further development came in 1930, when Charles B. Collett rebuilt Dean “2021" Class No. 2080 with much larger 5 ft. 2 in. wheels and an enlarged bunker. This became the prototype of the “64xx” Class. Both the “850" and “2021" classes were eventually replaced by Frederick Hawksworth’s “16xx” Class 4ft. 1˝ in. 0-6-0 pannier tanks, of which 70 were produced between 1949 and 1955, and which were basically just an update of Armstrong’s 75-year-old design.

One of the first batch of George Armstrong’s “850" Class 0-6-0 saddle tanks, No. 856, in a photograph of around 1914
An early view of the Much Wenlock branch train of four wheelers behind an Armstrong “850" Class saddle tank near Horsehay
Armstrong “850" Class No. 1935 was built in 8/1884 as a saddle-tank, converted to a pannier-tank in 2/1913 and withdrawn 11/53. It is shown here at Oxford Shed on 22 February 1953. Image © copyright Ben Brooksbank and licensed for reuse under this Creative Commons License
No. 2007, one of the last batch of Armstrong Class “850" Class 0-6-0 saddle tanks built in 1895, awaiting scrapping at Swindon in 1950, bereft of its brass safety-valve casing and number plate. This was one of only two members of the class to survive into British Railways ownership without having its saddle tank replaced with pannier tanks. Image © copyright Ben Brooksbank and licensed for reuse under this Creative Commons License
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