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South Eastern & Chatham Railway H-class No. 263

263 light engine move - Peter Edwards - 28 July 2012

No. 263 is seen in Peter Edwards' photo at Three Arch Bridge while on its light
engine move up to Horsted Keynes for its re-dedication on Saturday 28 July 2012.

31263 on shed at Three Bridges - Peter Quilley - 31 May 1963 Built as the standard loco for the SECR's suburban services, the H-class were a popular loco in later years for services on rural branch lines in Sussex, especially after the withdrawal of the LBSCR D3 tanks. This particular locomotive ended up on the line between East Grinstead and Three Bridges and worked there until the last push-pull services on that line were withdrawn in January 1964. It is estimated to have run 1,849,668 miles over its 59-year main-line career.

It was one of five built, in 1905, with flat-sided bunkers for an abortive push-pull scheme. During 1959 it was fitted with the flare-topped bunker from another class member, and in 1960 equipped for motor-train working. With the flared bunker it well represents the class, and whilst the existing (and it is original SECR metal, even if from a different locomotive) bunker remains in good condition there is no consideration of replacing it.

The photo on the right was taken by Peter Quilley, at Three Bridges shed on 31 May 1963. The locomotive, as British Railways No. 31263, was based there for operating trains on the line to East Grinstead, as seen in the photo below left, by Keith Harwood, showing it leaving East Grinstead high level station for Three Bridges. The coaches are a pair of SR Maunsell carriages formed into a push-pull set, which the loco is here pushing.

31263 departs from East Grinstead HL in BR Days - Keith Harwood Purchased from BR by the H-Class Trust, it was initially intended for the putative Westerham Valley Railway scheme, and stored at Robertsbridge, but soon found a home at the South Eastern Steam Centre at Ashford, where the engine appeared at various open days. However, in 1975 the Trustees decided that the locomotive would have much more scope for running if based on the Bluebell, where it then ran in service between 1976 and 1982.

Its first Bluebell overhaul (during which the entire rear section of its frames was replaced) saw it return to service on 7 September 1991. In 2008 ownership was transferred to the Bluebell Railway Trust, which funded an overhaul starting in March 2009, with the loco returning to service on 28 July 2012 for its third period in steam on our line.

With its boiler certificate having expired in February 2022 it is planned that it should receive a rapid turn-around in view of the generally good condition of the boiler, and recent significant mechanical work. The boiler was lifted in November 2022, and the overhaul is expected to require new crown girders and tubes, new tyres and new springs. A new cylinder block is likely to be cast for it. The work is being funded by a grant from the Bluebell Railway Trust, in part thanks to a bequest left by Ray Tanner specifically for work on this locomotive. Progress reports of the work being done are available here.

H-class approches Kingscote - Derek Hayward - 22 May 2019 H-class to the north of rock cutting - Steve Lee - 15 June 2019

Above right - No. 263 and SR Maunsell droplight open third No. 1336
arrive at Kingscote Station on Saturday 22 May 2019. (Derek Hayward)

Above left - To the north of rock cutting with three pre-grouping carriages (one SECR,
one LBSCR and one LSWR) providing a shuttle service between Sheffield Park and Horsted Keynes
to augment the timetable for the 'Road meets Rail' event, 15 June 2019. (Steve Lee)

H-class with teak set at West Hoathly - Brian Lacey - 27 April 2019 H-class approches Kingscote with goods train - Derek Hayward - 1 June 2019

H-class with the Victorian varnished teak set of carriages at West Hoathly
on Saturday 27 April 2019. (Brian Lacey)

On Saturday 1 June 2019, the H-class approaches Kingscote with a goods train
formed of engineering vehicles, being used for guards' training. (Derek Hayward)

263 approaches Horsted Keynes with SECR Hundred seaters - Richard Salmon - August 1996 Class: H
Wheels: 0-4-4T
Class Introduced: 1904
Designer: Harry S. Wainwright
Built: 1905 at Ashford Works, SECR
Purpose: Suburban and secondary passenger work
Total number built: 66
Numbers carried: 263, A263, 1263, 31263
Withdrawn from BR service: 5 January 1964
Preserved: 11 November 1964
Arrived on Bluebell Railway: 25 January 1976

Length: 33ft overall
Weight: 54 Tons 8 cwt
Water capacity: 1,200 Gallons
Coal capacity: 2 Tons 5 cwt
Boiler Pressure: 160 lb/
Driving Wheels: 5ft 6in diameter
Cylinders: (2, inside) 18" x 26"
Tractive Effort: 17,360 lbs
Engine brake: Vacuum
BR power classification: 1P

Earlier service on the Bluebell: 1976-1982, 1991-1997
Last major overhaul completed: July 2012 - Record of that overhaul
Last operational: 13 February 2022
Owner: Bluebell Railway Trust
Current status: Overhaul in progress - News reports available here.

Above right: the H-class approaches Horsted Keynes, with SECR carriages in tow, August 1996. (Richard Salmon)

See also a picture of the H-class shunting.
       Derek Hayward's photo gallery for this locomotive.
splash The Queen's Award for Voluntary Service
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