For enthusiasts and researchers of the Great Eastern Railway

N31 Class 0-6-0 1891-1898

LNER Class J-14

542-551, 562-571, 602-608, 935, 946-999

7005 127J. Edgington/GERSHC 7005/127

By the beginning of the 1890s James Holden had produced new standard locomotive designs for all of the traffic requirements of the GER. Subsequent events rather give the impression that he was now ‘twiddling his thumbs’ and wondering what to do next! The standard goods engine was Worsdell’s Y14 class 0-6-0 (q.v.) which had been perpetuated by Holden, and 229 had been built, forming some 25% of the entire locomotive stock, whilst the same boiler design was in use on another quarter. They could hardly have been regarded as ‘non-standard’. Nevertheless, Holden resolved to revise the design so as to incorporate his standard arrangement of cylinders with the valve chests beneath, and the same pattern of motion that was used on his own large engine designs. A prototype locomotive was built to order N31 and numbered 999 in January 1893 – it is seen in the photograph shortly afterwards in ‘photographic grey’, and it underwent initial testing in this condition. The locomotive was identical in its principal dimensions to the contemporary Y14 0-6-0s, and so represented no increase in power or weight. The principal dimensional difference was that the leading frame overhang was three inches less than the Y14s, and the boiler was pitched higher at the standard 7-ft. 6-ins. above the rails, tending to make No. 999 appear more powerful, but appearances can be deceptive!

798 1894LCGB Ken Nunn 1105/GERSHC 798/1894

Series production of the new N31 class began immediately, and these differed from the prototype only in having deeper frames between the smokebox and firebox, and the trailing frame overhang and cab lengthened by three inches, thus restoring the engine to the Y14 length. However, it soon became apparent that all was not well with the new engines, for they were sluggish and difficult steamers, and tended to prime (water being carried over to the cylinders with the steam). The enginemen sarcastically dubbed them ‘Swifts’ and ‘Waterburies’. The reason undoubtedly stemmed from the layout of the ‘front end’ in that, because of the presence of the leading coupled axle, the cylinders were mounted above it, and the valve rods beneath, directly driving the valves. As a result, the passages between the valve ports and cylinders were too long, whilst the valve chest was so low down beneath the front of the engine that it made an effective condenser! When William Stroudley of the London, Brighton & South Coast Railway had revived the idea of placing the valves beneath the cylinders, it was also on an 0-6-0 goods engine. However, on these the valve rods effectively drove through the leading axle, being fitted with bridging couplers that passed beneath it. This Holden could not do in the N31s without moving the cylinders further forward and lengthening the frames and probably also the boiler – any of which would have negated the purpose of the exercise. One of the production N31s is seen here in the photograph.

798 2454LCGB Ken Nunn 1401/GERSHC 798/2454

This useful head-on photograph of an N31 0-6-0 illustrates just how low beneath the front of the engine the valve chests were – they can be seen just above the transverse brake rod.

798 2452LCGB Ken Nunn 1396/GERSHC 798/2452

In all, a total of 81 N31s were actually built, and several batches had tenders that were second-hand from older locomotives. The example seen here, No. 959, has a 2500 gallon tender from one of Adams’s ‘Ironclad’ 4-4-0s (q.v.).

798 2548Photomatic/GERSHC 798 2548

Twenty engines of the N31 class were fitted with automatic brakes for mixed traffic work, Nos 989-998 of 1894 were Westinghouse only, whilst 959-968 of 1896 had vacuum ejectors as well, as demonstrated here by No. 963. These twenty engines were naturally painted in the blue livery with the GER crest on the driving wheel splasher. They appear to have fared a little better on passenger work, with the opportunity for ‘notch up’ the valve gear and run at speed. The last new N31 0-6-0 was delivered at the end of 1898, whereupon Holden wisely decided to go back to building the faithful Y14 design, and the whole episode goes to prove the old adage that “If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it!”. Some of the engines were reboilered from 1905 onwards, but withdrawal commenced as early as 1908 when – by rights – the earlier Y14s should have been going for scrap. The First World War undoubtedly prolonged the lives of the remaining N31s, and three more engines were given new boilers in this period. Nineteen remained to be taken over by the LNER in 1923 as class J-14, but none lasted long enough to carry an LNER number, as all had gone by 1925.