L77 Class 0-6-2T 1914-1924
LNER Class N-7
LNER Class N-7/1 1925-1927
Between 409 and 465, 826 and 873, 907 and 988
LNER Class N-7/2 1927-1928
LNER Class N-7/3 1927-1928
By the period of the First World War the principal main line passenger and goods tender engines of the GER were of comparatively-modern design, featuring superheaters and piston valves. Meanwhile, the current suburban tank engines still had their roots firmly planted in the 19th Century. A.J. Hill decided that some new thinking was required, and at the end of 1914 produced two new 0-6-2Ts numbered 1000 and 1001 to Letter Account L77. These had piston valve cylinders and – unusually for an inside-cylinder locomotive – Walschaerts valve gear. This was a wise decision, for with only one eccentric per cylinder, it left room on the crank axle for wide crank webs and bearings. The Belpaire boilers were a shortened version of the ‘Claud’ type, and had top-feed to the dome. The driving wheels were 4-ft. 10-ins. in diameter, and ‘side traverse’ was fitted to the leading axle, and a radial carrying axle was provided at the rear. For comparison purposes, No. 1000 was a saturated engine, whilst No. 1001 was provided with a 12-element Robinson superheater as an experiment, for this was the first time that GER had tried a superheated engine on the suburban services. However, No. 1000 also had snifting valves, due to the higher vacuum produced by the piston valves when coasting, which could otherwise suck cinders and ashes into the valve chests. In appearance they were a stocky powerful-looking design. No. 1000 was the first to be completed, and was painted in ‘photographic grey’ for its official portraits, and entered service in this condition. No. 1001 proved to be the only one of the class to carry the GER blue livery, for it was discontinued shortly afterwards due to the on-going wartime conditions. No. 1000 meanwhile was not repainted in the by-then standard plain grey livery until around 1920. In the photograph it is seen c1922 at Stratford Depot with the large ‘Train Control’ numerals on the side tanks.
Due to the War, it was not possible to be build further 0-6-2Ts until 1921, when Nos. 1002-11 were built. Although the superheater on No. 1001 had proved its worth, these ten engines were saturated. This was probably as a result of manpower and materials shortages at the time, for some batches of normally-superheated replacement boilers for other classes were built at this time without the superheaters. The new batch of 0-6-2Ts featured some detail differences compared with the first two, principally in that the dome was moved further forwards, the cab roof was of a quasi-elliptical profile, and larger 8/8½-in. pumps were fitted, mounted alongside the smokebox. This is No. 1004, as renumbered 8804, in the early LNER period.
Another ten 0-6-2Ts were ordered immediately after the Grouping, and these appeared numbered as LNER 990E to 999E in 1923-4, No. 999E proving to be the last new locomotive to be built at Stratford Works. These engines were superheated, but with larger 18-element equipment. The firebox crown was lower internally, and the pipes to the top-feed were re-routed. These ten engines also had vacuum ejectors from new, and the chimneys were one-piece castings instead of the built-up type. Under the LNER the L77 class became class N-7.
It is a tribute to the GER that the LNER’s Chief Mechanical Engineer selected the N-7s as a standard class, alongside his own 0-6-2Ts, the N-2 class that he had introduced originally for the Great Northern Railway. Experience with the N-2s working on the GE section, and the N‑7s working on other sections of the new system showed the wisdom of this, for ultimately the N-7s were found to be more suitable for the GE system, as their smaller driving wheels gave greater acceleration from the more closely-spaced stations, whereas the N-2’s larger driving wheels were better-suited to attaining higher speeds where the station stops were further apart. In 1925-26 fifty further N-7s were built: thirty at the former Gorton Works of the Great Central Railway, and twenty built by Robert Stephenson & Co. These engines were all given blank numbers in the ex-North Eastern Railway series; in the 400s and 800s for the Gorton engines, and in the 900 series for the Stephenson-built locomotives. These were classified as N-7/1, as they differed from the original GE locomotives in having their boilers formed in one ring, with the feed to the back-plate and pop safety valves, left-hand drive and reduced cab height and boiler mountings to suit the Metropolitan ‘Widened Lines’ between Kings Cross and Moorgate, the chimneys being of the former GCR ‘flowerpot’ pattern. The photograph shows No. 916 as originally built, one of the Stephenson locomotives. This engine was based on the Great Northern section at the time: note the GE-pattern destination board showing ‘High Barnet’.
Another thirty locomotives were built in 1927: a further ten from Gorton Works numbered 2632-2641; and twenty by Beardmore & Co. numbered 2642-2661. These were classified as N‑7/2, for they differed in having no side-traverse to the leading axle, and the radial axle at the rear was replaced by a pony truck with smaller wheels. They also had long-travel valve gear, higher bunker sides with a curved top to the rear and circular rear spectacles, and the GE-pattern ‘droplight’ cab side window was changed to the horizontal sliding type, being moved further to the rear. The ten Gorton engines had the usual Westinghouse brakes and vacuum ejector, whilst the twenty Beardmore examples – of which No. 2643 is illustrated – had steam brakes and vacuum ejectors, although most were later altered to Westinghouse and vacuum ejector.
The final group of N-7s was delivered in 1927-8 from Doncaster Works. Totalling 32 engines numbered 2600-2631, these were class N-7/3. Otherwise identical to the N-7/2 class, these had round-topped fireboxes, and all were Westinghouse/vacuum fitted. No. 2603 from this group is shown in the photograph – note the GNR-pattern strapped smokebox door with which the first ten were built. They later gained the usual GER ringed pattern.
Between 1928 and 1931 the saturated steam ex-GER locomotives – by then known as class ‘N‑7/GE’ were fitted with superheated boilers. Various detail alterations were made to all of the N-7 class as time passed: the cab roofs being replaced by steel ones with sliding ventilators, and the removal of the condensing equipment for example. Between 1940 and 1949 the ex-GE locomotives were fitted with the round-topped boiler as used on the N-7/3s, being re-classified N-7/4. This photograph shows BR number 69621 (ex-999E) as running in the late 1950s.
Incidentally, the situation regarding condensing gear on GER locomotives is worthy of mention. The first four locomotives to be fitted were of the E10 class 0-4-4Ts in the 1880s, when the GER took over the working of the East London Line services through the Thames tunnel. More-general fitting of GE locomotives with condensers began in the early 1890s when – with the enlargement of Liverpool Street station – a tunnel was excavated beneath the old Bishopsgate Goods station for the ‘Suburban’ Line from Bethnal Green. When Liverpool Street had been opened in 1874, Bishopsgate Low-Level station was opened to replace the passenger facilities of the former terminus. Platforms were therefore provided on the adjacent Suburban Line, inside the tunnel, hence the need for condensing gear. Something approaching 300 GER tank engines eventually had condensing apparatus, probably the largest total owned by any one railway in the World. During the First World War Bishopsgate Low Level station was closed due to staff shortages, and never re-opened. However, it took nearly twenty years for the LNER to wake up to the fact that the only times that the condensers had to be used was on trains over the East London Line, amounting to about three goods trains a night, and occasional excursions, troop trains and other special traffic! Thus, all of the N-7’s lost their condensers around 1937, and it was also removed from all but a handful of the other ex-GER locomotives that still had the gear.
The N-7/1 and N-7/2 classes were similarly reboilered with the round-topped firebox pattern from 1943. At first these rebuilds were included in the N-7/3 classification, but from 1952 the engines rebuilt from N-7/1 with short-travel valve gear were re-classified N-7/5. All fifty N‑7/1s were rebuilt thus the N-7/5 by 1956, but two of the N-7/2s still retained their Belpaire boilers when withdrawn in 1957/8. As mentioned when dealing with the N-7/2s, not all of the vacuum-braked engines were later equipped with Westinghouse brakes. Those that remained vacuum brake-only were instead fitted with vacuum-operated push-pull gear in 1949-51, whilst three of the other LNER-built engines were similarly modified between 1951 and 1957, the Westinghouse brake being removed in the process. Shown in the photograph is No. 69642 in the BR period. Originally N-7/1 No. 850 it was rebuilt as an N-7/5 in 1951 and was withdrawn in 1960.
Under the 1946 renumbering scheme the N-7s became 9600-9733 in order of building, and thus the ex-GER engines and the ten built in 1923-4 became 9600-9621. However, prior to this, in 1944 Nos. 8000-8011 had been renumbered 7978-7989 to clear the numbers for re-use on new diesel shunting engines. Withdrawal of the class began in 1957, by which time most of the locomotives were on the GE section, with the majority in London. Eight were left in traffic at the end of GE area steam power in 1962, all of which were stationed at Stratford for the last-remaining steam suburban services on the Palace Gates – Stratford – North Woolwich line. The locomotive shown – ex-No. 992E – was in 1956 selected as West Side pilot at Liverpool Street, and always kept in first-class condition.
By the mid-1950s thirty years of exacting work on the suburban services was beginning to take its toll on the N-7s at Enfield and Chingford. With electrification on the horizon maintenance was minimal. The engine crews successfully petitioned management to re-introduce the old system of allocating crews to a particular locomotive. Each engine was therefore allocated to two sets of men and, as they had reasoned, each driver and fireman kept their opposite numbers on their toes as far as reporting and dealing with faults, and cleanliness of the footplate was concerned, and so on. Reliability improved as a consequence, and the engines were generally kept much cleaner as crews began to take pride in ‘their’ engines. Many crews began adding (un-official) embellishments, such as painting the coupling rods and numberplate backgrounds in red, and even adding elaborate ‘star’ designs to the smokebox doors, around the handles. N-7/5 No. 69660 is seen in the photograph at Enfield Town shed, with the driver attending to the motion. This locomotive sports a white-painted smokebox ring and lamp-irons, whilst the chimney cap has also been picked-out in white. There is no doubt that this initiative by the footplate crews enabled the N-7s to keep going until the NE London lines were electrified in November 1960. One of the last engines that were withdrawn in September 1962 was 69621, formerly 999E, and the last locomotive to be built at Stratford. It was privately purchased and eventually restored to working order. Usually based at the East Anglian Railway Museum at Chappel, it was present at the closing ceremony of the last part of Stratford Works on 29th March 1991, on which occasion it was named A.J. Hill.