John Speller's Web Pages Lickey Incline

John Speller's Web Pages - Midland Railway
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The With a grade of 1:37 Lickey Bank is the steepest incline on a British main line, and moreover for a distance of just on two miles. It is situated on the Birmingham & Gloucester Railway. This was first surveyed by Isambard Kindgom Brunel, who suggested a much less hilly route to the east, not unlike the later Redditch or Gloucester Loop Line. In an attempt to save money, however, the company had the route resurveyed by Captain William Moorsom, who produced a much less expensive scheme involving, however, the Lickey Incline, which would be worked by means of ropes and stationary steam engines. Nobody imagined that such an incline could be worked by steam locomotives.

For some years it couldn't. Then the Birmingham & Gloucester heard of some locomotives in the United States that might be able to do the job. These were some powerful 4-2-0 locomotives built by the Norris Locomotive Works of Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. The Birmingham & Gloucester ultimately acquired 26 of them, though the last 9 were built in England. The Locomotive Superintendent of the Birmingham & Gloucester was Matthew Kirtley, later Locomotive Superintendent of the Midland Railway, and the company had its own locomotive works at Bromsgrove.

The Birmingham & Gloucester origiannly placed an additional Norris 4-2-0 on trains for banking purposes. There is a record of a Norris engine being used as a banker exploding on 10 November 1840 with the loss of the lives of driver Thomas Scaife and fireman Joseph Rutherford. In 1845 Kirtley designed a massive 0-6-0 saddle tank named "Great Britain," which was built at Bromsgrove Works. According to the line's Engineer, Captain Moorsom, in the Minutes of Proceedings of the Institution of Civil Engineers, Vol. 15 (1853), p. 365, the "Great Britain" weighed 35 tons, and was capable of banking a 307 ton train up the incline at 6.5 mph. This was only 3 tons lighter than Gooch's broad gauge "Banking" Class of 1852-54, so represents a pretty massive locomotive for the narrow gauge at the time. The "Great Britain" was later sold to the London & North Western Railway, where it received an additional lease on life after rebuilding by McConnell. According to a Parliamentary Report of 1841 on the Birmingham & Gloucester the banking engine was attached in front, which necessitated stopping the train to couple and uncouple the banking engine. I have been unable to determine when the banking engines on the Lickey Incline went over to the usual practice of banking from the rear.

Coming to the twentieth century, what almost nobody knows is that the famous Lickey banking engine, "Big Bertha," was not intended to be a banking engine at all. The Chief Mechanical Engineer of the Midland Railway, Sir Henry Fowler, designed the 0-10-0 locomotive as the prototype of a new heavy freight class, intended for main line trains comparable to the ones later hauled by the British Railways 9-F 2-10-0s. It had four 16.75 28 in. cylinders, ten 4 ft. 7.5 in. coupled wheels, and a massive boiler, which even on the relatively low pressure of 180 psi gave it a tractive effort of 43,000 lb. It emerged amid much adulation from Derby Works in 1919, and was briefly tried on heavy main line freight work. Alas for Sir Henry Fowler it proved a complete failure. Though fiendishly powerful, at the best of times its top speed was painfully slow, and on curves and pointwork it had to be run even slower. Then someone had the bright idea of making "Big Bertha" the Lickey Banker, for which duty it could not have been more perfect, since for this job power was all-important and speed was of little consequence. It gave faithful service as the Lickey Banker for more than 35 years until its retirement in 1956. Rare footage of "Big Bertha" operating in 1947 may be found here. Under British Railways the line passed to the Western Region and following the retirement of "Big Bertha" multiple Hawksworth "94xx" Class pannier tanks were used for banking purposes -- sometimes as many as three or four on the same train.
Coal train climbing the Lickey Incline behind a Norris 4-2-0 locomotive from a print of around 1845
4-2-0 locomotive "England," supplied to the Birmingham & Gloucester Railway by William Norris of Philadelphia. Image courtesy of Wikipedia Commons
Ex-LNER 2-8-0+0-8-2 Beyer-Garratt locomotive No. 69999 was tried briefly as a banker on on the Lickey Incline in 1949. It was not a success. It was initially sent the wrong way round which made for poor visibility at night, and even when it had been turned on the triangle at Kings Norton it proved very heavy on coal and was soon withdrawn. Image copyright Ben Brooksbank and licensed for reuse under this Creative Commons License
"Big Bertha," LMS No. 2290 (later renumbered 22290). Image courtesy of Wikipedia Commons
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