LSWR ''S15'' Class
Robert Wallace Urie was appointed Chief Mechanical Engineer of the LSWR in 1912, after the sudden death of Dugald Drummond on 8th November of that year. Ultimately to become the last CME of the company prior to the Grouping, Urie’s background was not unlike that of his predecessor. Born in Ayrshire on 22nd October 1854, he embarked on an apprenticeship in Glasgow with millwright and engineering firm ‘’Gauldie, Marshall & Co.’’ in 1869. The company made a variety of steam engines for use on land and at sea, and his tenure there was followed by spells as draughtsman at Messrs. DÜbs & Co and Messrs. William King & Co. Both concerns were, too, Glasgow-based, the former being a locomotive builder that eventually became part of the North British Locomotive Company in 1903, and the latter a builder of boilers and steamships. During the 1880s, he was employed as a draughtsman for the Caledonian Railway, and it was here that he became acquainted with Drummond. In 1890, Urie was promoted to Chief Draughtsman, with Drummond as his superior, and was based at the CR’s St Rollox Works, Glasgow. In 1896, he became Works Manager, a short-lived role, for in the following year he accompanied Drummond in a move south to the LSWR. Here, Drummond became Locomotive Superintendent and Urie was made Works Manager at Nine Elms. Urie transferred to a new works at Eastleigh in 1909, on the closure of Nine Elms, remaining there until his retirement in 1922.
Urie’s promotion to CME came at a time when long distance freight and parcels traffic on the LSWR system was experiencing a period of significant growth. In response to this, Eastleigh Drawing Office set to work on developing a modern goods locomotive capable of handling such trains at relatively high speeds. Hitherto, Eastleigh staff had become accustomed to the autocratic approach of the formidable Drummond, but in Urie they found a character of more level-headed temperament with a less imposing physical presence. Nevertheless, Urie was a competent all-round locomotive engineer, and reportedly a quick decision maker who was almost impossible to be swayed otherwise once his mind had been made up. Thus, Urie’s design team often struggled to gain approval for eleventh-hour modifications to finalised designs. Furthermore, if he disliked anything he saw within the works, he would soon let his foremen know about it.
Initial efforts culminated in the ‘’H15’’ Class, a mixed traffic tender engine and the first of three 4-6-0 designs produced under Urie’s direction. These engines featured 6’0” driving wheels and two cylinders, eventually becoming a ten-strong class. Six of the class, which emerged during 1913/1914, were rebuilds of earlier four-cylinder Drummond designs. The emphasis was very much on producing a robust engine with relatively easy maintenance and a high level of availability. Subsequent Urie builds also aimed to bring a degree of standardisation to a distinctly Scottish-looking LSWR fleet, to enable alternate classes of engine to share common components. In August 1918, the ‘’H15’’ was followed by Urie’s second 4-6-0, the Class ‘’N15’’. Ten of these engines were initially turned out by Eastleigh Works, the last emerging in November 1919, and they were essentially based on the outline of their ‘’H15’’ sisters. Unlike the latter, however, the ‘’N15’’ class was procured as an express passenger type, and for this role the engines were equipped with larger 6’7” driving wheels. In particular, they were intended to haul the heaviest trains then found on the West of England main line via Salisbury, for which they looked promising early on. Latterly, however, drivers found it difficult to maintain steam pressure, an issue which is better dealt with in a separate section anon.
The third and final Urie 4-6-0 was that of the ‘’S15’’ Class, which, like its ‘’H15’’ counterpart, was intended primarily for goods traffic. It is reasonable to consider these engines as an ‘’N15’’ with smaller 5’7” driving wheels. The first ‘’S15’’ came into traffic in February 1920, and by the end of the following year twenty engines were in service. As mentioned previously, locomotives of classes ‘’H15’’, ‘’N15’’, and ‘’S15’’, shared common components, demonstrating an early form of standardisation on the LSWR system. The ‘’S15’’ fleet, finished in LSWR Holly Green goods livery, was equipped with a Urie innovation, that of the ‘’Eastleigh Superheater’’. In essence, this was a development of a much earlier German concept known as the ‘’Schmidt Superheater’’, whereby saturated steam was passed down several elements within the boiler tubes. Here, it was superheated, and subsequently sent to the engine’s cylinders through steam pipes. The raison d’être of the superheater was to raise the temperature of the steam as it left the boiler, thereby increasing its volume without increasing its pressure. The S15 fleet was split between three depots from the outset: Nine Elms, Strawberry Hill, and Salisbury. In 1923, Strawberry Hill was closed on the completion of an LSWR-inspired scheme to build a new shed and hump marshalling yard at Feltham. From 1922 onwards, staff and engines were transferred piecemeal to Feltham from Strawberry Hill, which, like its successor, had principally been a freight depot. Of the original Strawberry Hill ‘’S15’’ allocation, No. 515 had been converted experimentally to oil burning in 1921. A large oil tank was incorporated within the tender in place of the coalbunker.
The Southern Railway emerged on 1st January 1923 through the Grouping, an amalgamation of the LSWR, LB&SCR, SE&CR, and a number of small independent concerns. This coincided with Robert Urie’s retirement, and Richard Maunsell was immediately appointed as the first CME of the then new SR. Maunsell was an Ashford man, having originally become CME of the SE&CR Joint Managing Committee in autumn 1913. Ultimately, he was of Irish descent, and had spells at the Great Southern & Western Railway in Dublin, and the Lancashire & Yorkshire Railway. At the former he was apprentice for three years to the renowned Henry A. Ivatt, and at the latter spent a year as a foreman in the locomotive works. He had a short time in India and a second, much longer period back in Dublin, before arriving in England to succeed Harry Wainwright. Maunsell’s reign as SR CME must be put in the context of the prevailing policy of that company at the time. Electrification was the order of the day and the SR Board, dominated by figures of the erstwhile LSWR, was keen to perpetuate the 600-Volt D.C. third rail system. Consequently, development of new steam engines took a somewhat secondary role, but nevertheless, some fine locomotives were produced.
Immediately, Maunsell set to work on improving Urie’s first 4-6-0 design, the ‘’H15’’. In 1923, ten more of these engines were authorised for construction. Urie’s locomotives had reportedly been poor steamers, so those which emerged from Eastleigh Works in 1924 were equipped with the superior boilers fitted to the ‘’N15’’ Class; in addition, they were married to smaller tenders. Next in line for modification was the ‘’S15’’ fleet, a prelude to which were trials analysing water/coal consumption of the engines, and their ability to run to a precise schedule. Urie’s locomotives were pitted against a pair of pre-Grouping engines of similar type, the ex-LB&SCR ‘’K’’ Class and the ex-SE&CR ‘’N’’ Class. The latter pair both comprised a 2-6-0 wheel arrangement, for no 4-6-0 engine had existed on either of these companies’ networks. Maunsell’s trials concluded that the ‘’S15’’ was the best all-round freight locomotive and, consequently, the CME instructed another fifteen to be built. This batch of engines, numbered E823 to E837, emerged from Eastleigh Works throughout 1927 and 1928. They comprised a variety of important alterations which set them apart from the locomotives built to Urie’s 1918 design. Outside cylinders of slightly reduced diameter were fitted, a Maunsell-style superheater incorporated, and boiler pressure increased from 180lbs/psi to 200lbs/psi. In addition, the firebox grate (upon which the burning coal was situated) was reduced in size, and valve travel lengthened. With reference to the latter, the valves exist on an engine to admit steam to the cylinders (and also to allow exhausted steam to escape the cylinders) at a precise point in the pistons cycle. Increasing the valve travel – i.e. the distance moved by the valve for a given angular movement of the crank – reduces the loss of pressure as steam passes to the cylinders. Larger diameter external steam pipes were included on the modified engines, which also featured detail differences in cab design. Maunsell’s revised design was marginally heavier than that of Urie, weighing in at 80 tons 14 cwt against the 79 tons 16 cwt of the latter (note that this is locomotive weight, excluding the tender).
The end result of Maunsell’s alterations was a sound mixed traffic locomotive, largely used on the ex-LSWR lines on heavy freight. Mechanically, the original Urie engines remained unmodified, but on transfer to SR ownership lost their LSWR Holly Green goods livery in favour of a lined black goods scheme. The latter colour was, too, applied to the first batch of Maunsell engines. A third and final batch of ten ‘’S15’’ locomotives, naturally of the Maunsell type, was ordered in 1931. However, a drop in freight traffic as a result of the Great Depression delayed the construction of these engines until 1936. The 1936 batch was as per that of 1927, albeit with detail differences which resulted in a reduced weight of 79 tons 5 cwt. Unlike the earlier builds, the locomotives of 1936 were equipped with smoke deflectors from the outset; these were retro-fitted to the 1918 and 1927 batches from about 1931 onwards. By this time, the livery had once again been altered, and in light of the ‘’S15’’ Class’ regular turns on passenger duties, Maunsell Lined Green was applied to engines. The ‘’E’’ prefix of the engine number (which simply denoted that locomotives were of Eastleigh origin; similarly, ‘’A’’ was for Ashford and ‘’B’’ for Brighton) had been discontinued in the previous decade.
Of the first Maunsell ‘’S15’’ batch of 1927, five engines – Nos. E833 to E837 – went straight to the Central Division. There they joined thirty Maunsell ‘’N15’’ engines, built at Eastleigh in the previous year specifically for work on the Brighton main line. Hitherto, both ‘’N15’’ and ‘’S15’’ classes had been equipped with 5000-gallon capacity eight-wheel tenders; indeed, some engines of Urie origin were paired with Drummond tenders. A legacy of the LB&SCR’s extensive use of large tank engines on both main passenger and freight duties had left the Central Section with turntables of below standard size. As a result, ‘’N15’’ and ‘’S15’’ engines allocated to this area of the SR were paired with smaller 4000-gallon six-wheel tenders. Electrification of the Brighton Main Line as early as 1933 saw the re-allocation of ‘’N15’’ engines to South Western and Eastern Sections; the ‘’S15’’ Class nevertheless remained associated with the ex-LB&SCR lines thereafter (though not necessarily the same engines which were allocated there from new).
In 1937, Maunsell retired as CME of the SR, and in November of that year he was replaced by Oliver Bulleid, formerly assistant to Nigel Gresley on the LNER. Bulleid was keen to return the steam locomotive to the forefront of SR policy, and make it a genuine competitor to the electric traction that was fast taking over SR lines. Modifications were made by the CME to existing Maunsell ‘’Lord Nelson’’ engines and a handful of the ‘’N15’’ fleet, by the fitting of a ‘’Lemaitre’’ exhaust. The latter consisted of multiple blast pipes, through which smoke was discharged through the chimney. On the advent of war in September 1939, improvements to existing locomotive designs ceased, by which time Bulleid had already started work on his then new ‘’Pacific’’ engines. The war years saw some interesting locomotive exchanges take place between the ‘’Big Four’’ companies. In 1942, four ‘’S15’’ engines, Nos. 496 to 499, were loaned to the GWR to help cope with the large amount of freight traffic around the capital. For this, they were based at Southall. Similarly, ten ‘’N15’’ engines (by now known colloquially as the ‘’King Arthurs’’) were sent northwards to the LNER in the same year. In the north east, freight traffic had become very heavy, and there was a need for more large-wheeled locomotives to help speed it up. Nos. 739, 740, 742, 744, 747, 748, 749, 750, 751, and 754 were allocated to Heaton Depot, Newcastle, and their time there involved trips over the border to Edinburgh. To be found on 800-ton freights and twenty-coach troop trains, the ‘’King Arthurs’’ returned to the SR in July 1943; their ‘’S15’’ sisters, too, came home over the May to July 1943 period.
During the war, the ‘’S15’’ engines had surrendered their Maunsell Green colours for a more sombre all-over black scheme. On the advent of British Railways, unlined goods black became the standard livery for the fleet, and ‘’30000’’ was added to the existing SR number from April 1948. By far, the largest allocation of the type remained at Feltham, the principle goods depot on the South Western Division. Although procured under the ‘’mixed traffic’’ heading for an unhindered wartime development, the then new Bulleid Pacifics – many of which were still under construction – were by and large express passenger types. Thus, the older ‘’S15’’ engines were not ousted from their heavy freight duties, which they had so far handled well. However, the general decline of all rail traffic during the late 1950s, combined with dieselisation of many goods workings on SR metals, brought the initial wave of withdrawals. From 1962 onwards, engines of both Urie and Maunsell designs were taken out of service. Withdrawals continued until September 1965, when the last members of the class were relieved of their duties. Much of the heavy goods and parcels traffic, for which the engines had originally been procured, had virtually disappeared, particularly after the transfer of those SR lines west of Salisbury to the Western Region in September 1962. ‘’S15’’ No. 30837 was temporarily re-instated for a rail tour on the South Western Division on 9th January 1966, by which time sister engines of classes ‘’H15’’ and ‘’N15’’ were long gone.
On 17th August 1964, No. 30834 was seen fronting a type of train at Waterloo for which it was originally designed:
parcel vans. The engine was one of five which went straight to the Central Division from new in November 1927,
initially being equipped with a 4000-gallon six-wheel tender. The engine was withdrawn in November 1964, three
months after the above view was taken, by which time it had received a larger 5000-gallon eight-wheel tender
with flared sides. On the right is 3MT 2-6-2 No. 82022, an example of a BR Standard design which sadly eluded
preservationists. © David Glasspool Collection
The famous Barry Scrap Yard is the setting for this view of No. 30841, complete with eight-wheel 5000-gallon
bogie tender. Simply No. 841 in Southern Railway ownership, this locomotive was part of the final batch of
''S15'' engines built, emerging from Eastleigh Works in July 1936. Originally allocated to Exmouth Junction,
it eventually joined the large majority of ''S15'' engines at Feltham. Withdrawn from there on 5th January
1964, it was subsequently sold to the Woodham Brothers of Barry, South Wales, arriving there on 1st June
of the same year. It was saved for preservation in 1972, being moved to Chappel & Wakes Colne, Essex,
where it was restored to working order. Based at the North Yorkshire Moors Railway since December 1978,
a comprehensive overhaul after withdrawal in 1994 saw the frames of classmate No. 30825 used during
reconstruction. The latter was cannibalised by North Yorkshire Moors and Mid-Hants Railways for spares.
Consequently, this frame change has seen No. 30841 change its identity to No. 30825. © David Glasspool Collection
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