The P-class tank locomotives were, in design terms, an updated copy of the LBSCR Terriers, but, with only eight of them built, made rather less of a name for themselves. However, with four of the eight surviving into preservation, they have blossomed, and are now much more favourably regarded as highly capable little locomotives. Their greater water capacity and larger cabs give them a slight advantage over the considerably older Terriers.
Long the flagship of the Bluebell's fleet, painted blue and named "Bluebell" between 1961 and 1998 (as in the photo here), for the 1999 centenary of the SE&CR it was repainted into SE&CR wartime plain green livery, as seen below.
In 2009 it was decided as a priority to get the engine (as one of the two original locos which were used to re-open the line in 1960) running for the Railway's 50th anniversary celebrations the following year. The Bluebell Railway Trust agreed to fund the work.
So in September 2009 the loco entered the works and was lifted from its wheels, signifying the re-starting of its overhaul, with the aim of completing to overhaul for the 50th anniversary celebrations in August 2010. This was thwarted by the discovery of the need for additional boiler repairs, and after this additional work, the loco returned to service just in time to put in an appearance at the Branch Line weekend in March 2011, carrying a "Bluebell Blue" livery based closely on the SECR's Edwardian green livery, as carried most recently by P-class No. 178.
Following its 2019 annual boiler inspection, it has been withdrawn from service, and awaits both major boiler work and a major mechanical overhaul, having run 78,000 miles in Bluebell service. Following the announcement in the Autumn of 2023 that it is to be overhauled, hopefully the locomotive will again be seen at work very soon. You can follow the overhaul here.
Mike Esau's photo above shows No. 323 operating a push-pull train on the first section of the extension to be opened, which ran for about three-quarters of a mile from Horsted Keynes Station to Horsted House Farm.
Below, 323 is seen with SECR-liveried carriages at Horsted Keynes on 25 June 2015. (Richard Salmon)
Built: July 1910, Ashford Works
Wheel Arrangement: 0-6-0T
Driving Wheel: 3 ft. 9 in.
Length: 24 ft. 1 in.
Weight: 28 tons 10 cwt.
Water Capacity: 550 gals.
Cylinders (2): 12 in. x 18 in.
Boiler Pressure: 160 lb. / sq. in.
Tractive Effort: 7,810 lb.
Coal Capacity: 18 cwt.
Power Classification: 0F
Right: 323 at Sheffield Park in SECR wartime economy livery (Lewis Nodes)
Current Number and Name: 323 'Bluebell'
Other Numbers carried: SR: A323, 1323, BR: 31323
Withdrawn: June 1960
Arrived on Bluebell Railway: 2 June 1960
Previous major overhaul completed: March 2011 - Report of 2011 overhaul
Last operational: 9 February 2019
Owner: Bluebell Railway
Current Status: Under overhaul - follow the overhaul here