Photo courtesy of Lewis Nodes.
This powerful goods locomotive was designed for shunting in the docks served by the NLR (principally Poplar Dock* and the West India Docks) and for hauling the goods traffic emanating from them to warehouses along the NLR's 14-mile main line, plus transfer work to and from other companies' yards.
The NLR subsequently became part of the London & North Western Railway and, at the grouping in 1923, the LMS. Several locos from this class became celebrities thanks to their use on the LMS's very steeply graded Cromford and High Peak line in Derbyshire.
Our locomotive was built under Works Order No.181 as loco. No.76 in 1880 at the NLR Bow works in East London. The locomotives were referred to as "Goods Engine(s)" by the NLR and no specific class designation was allocated to them. However, as the first loco of the type built was No.75, the 30 locos of this type were known as the 75 class by 20th. century enthusiasts. It was renumbered in 1891 to No.116 on the NLR duplicate list to free up the number 76, which was then given to a new locomotive built in October 1891. No.116 was rebuilt at Bow Works in October 1897.
Following a working agreement in 1909, the NLR was run by the LNWR, becoming part of that company in 1922. In 1909, No.116 was transferred to the LNWR and was renumbered 2650 in August 1909.
The LNWR became part of the LMSR at the Grouping in 1923, our loco gaining the LMS number 7505 in December 1926. In June 1934, it was renumbered 27505. BR renumbered it 58850 in May 1949.
From at least 1935, it was allocated to Rowsley shed in Derbyshire (LMS/BR 17D***), which is the main shed for the Cromford and High Peak line. This was a freight-only line with steep gradients (more than one of which was rope-worked) and at least one very sharp curve.
When 58850, the last one of the class, was withdrawn from traffic in May 1960 (formally condemned in September 1960), it was kept at Derby until being sold to the Bluebell in working order in 1962 for £890. In fact, BR fitted an overhauled boiler to the loco prior to its sale.
It was hired to the contractors responsible for lifting the line from Ardingly to Horsted Keynes and Horsted Keynes to East Grinstead, ending up at East Grinstead. The loco was returned to Sheffield Park by road. Since its last overhaul, it has been used in the rebuilding of the line towards Kingscote, as part of the Bluebell's northern extension to East Grinstead.
Requiring major boiler work before it can again be steamed, in the interim it was placed on loan to other locations, and so both relieve space at Sheffield Park and act as an ambassador for the Bluebell in foreign parts.
The North London Tank was launched on its return to service in 1984 (left) by railway enthusiast and comedy
writer/performer Michael Palin (perhaps best known for his Monty Python work). (Brian Spurle)
It is seen on the right in service in 1984 coupled appropriately to the LNWR observation car. (Brian Spurle)
In 1999 it went on loan to Barrow Hill Engine Shed, and on 6 May 2005 was moved to the Ecclesbourne Valley Railway at Wirksworth, this being the nearest location to 27505's old stamping ground on the Cromford & High Peak Railway. It arrived back at Sheffield Park on 22nd October 2005, with the intention of commencing its overhaul fairly soon.
Class: NLR Goods Engine
Class Introduced: 1879
Designer: J. C. Park
Built: 1880**, Bow Works
Total number built: 30
Numbers carried: NLR: 76, 116, LNWR: 2650, LMS: 7505, 27505, BR: 58850
Arrived on Bluebell Railway: 28 March 1962
Weight: 45 Tons 10 cwt
Water capacity: 1,000 Gallons (approx.)
Coal capacity: 1 Ton
Boiler Pressure: 160 lb/sq.in
Driving Wheels: 4ft 4in
Cylinders: (2, outside) 17" x 24"
Tractive Effort: 18,140 lbs
Engine Brake: Vacuum
BR power classification: 2F
*Poplar Dock was a small dock in east London. It connected to the Blackwall Basin of the West India Docks and, although independent of this system, never had a direct connection to the Thames. Originally a series of reservoirs built by the West India Dock Company and completed in 1828, Poplar Dock was converted into a railway dock, in the days before any of London's enclosed dock systems were connected to the railway network. The dock was built by the East & West India Docks and Birmingham Junction Railway Company (later becoming the NLR) and connected to the company's goods yard at Chalk Farm. It was alone among the London docks to remain outside the control of the Port of London Authority in 1909, and continued in railway ownership until closure in 1981. It was reopened as the Poplar Dock Marina in 1999.
**British Railways' understanding at the time of sale was that the loco was built in 1880. Some publications quote a date of December 1881 as the build date for locos No.76 and 77; however, this may represent the date by which the locos had satisfactorily completed their running-in period, rather than the end of construction.
***The pedant will note that the code of Rowsley shed was altered to 17C in April 1958, following the transfer of Coalville shed to the Leicester district. Later, in September 1963, it was further reallocated 16J under an enlarged Toton District.