My modest attempts to try to trace the history of a single small locomotive
I found the photograph below when I was tidying some of my mother’s things after her death in 2009. It shows my grandfather on the footplate of a steam locomotive. He is the one in the middle. It was almost certainly taken at Fleetwood, Lancashire early in his career with the Lancashire & Yorkshire Railway (L&YR).
I would guess, judging by his age, that it is the early 1920s, but I cannot be sure. I also have no idea who the other two people in the photograph are, although it would be reasonable to assume that the one on the right is my grandfather’s colleague on the footplate. Whether he is the driver or the fireman, I am not sure. I do not know who took the photograph or why it was taken either.
100 years on, there is almost no chance of finding out any of these facts, of course. But there is one thing I can trace, one thing that can be investigated: the locomotive itself. The number is visible in the photograph, so it is possible to find out more about its life and history. I was interested to see just how much I could find out about it, initially without making too much of an effort.
Looking closely at the photograph, there are two plates on the side of the locomotive. The larger one indicates that the engine was built by the L&YR at Horwich in 1891 and its running number is 1156. The smaller plate just above it is the class number: 21. I must admit that I am no expert on steam locomotives built in the 19th Century, so my first step was to see what Wikipedia had to say about the L&YR class 21.
I quickly learned that the Class 21 was a locomotive primarily designed for shunting in yards. It had the most basic wheel arrangement of 0-4-0 (two wheels on each side) and was based on an earlier batch of 3 engines built by the Vulcan Foundry in 1886.
John Aspinall, the L&YR’s chief engineer, made modifications to the initial design, including making the wheels a little closer together so that it could fit onto a wagon turntable. He then built 17 more of them. His two successors, Hoy and Hughes, built 40 more, making a total of 57 introduced by the L&YR in the period between 1891 and 1910.
Small shunting locomotives like the L&YR Class 21s were commonly nicknamed “Pugs” although whether this came from a Scottish word meaning “monkey” or was a reference to the breed of dog seems less clear.
All the Class 21s were built at the L&YR locomotive works at Horwich near Bolton. By the time they were built, Horwich had already become an important railway town; the L&YR works had grown to include five erecting shops, iron, and steel foundries, and had its own gas and electricity plants. It could produce an impressive two locomotives per week.
The Class 21’s vital statistics were: weight – 21t 5cwt; driving wheels – 3ft 3⅜ins; boiler pressure -160psi; outside cylinders – 13in x 18in, and tractive effort – 11,335lbf. By comparison, the famous Flying Scotsman locomotive weighs in at 96 tons and has a tractive effort of around 32,00lbf.
I was able to find out a bit more from the L&YR trust online. The engines had outside cylinders and were fitted with inside Stephenson valve gear. They also had several unusual features, including open cabs, and (in some cases) thick wooden “dumb” buffers.
There was no coal bunker; instead, coal was carried inside the cab sides. Some members of the class were based at Liverpool docks and worked inside warehouses or areas with low headroom and were fitted with simple spark arrestors and smoke hoods.
The short distance between the two small disc wheels made the Pugs ideal for shunting in industrial areas and docks. The L&YR initially used them in such places as Fleetwood (which made sense of course), Goole, Liverpool, and Salford. Although in later times they became a lot more widely dispersed, and reached places such as Bristol, Derby, York, and Swansea.
Having learned that the locomotive in the photograph was a shunting engine normally used in yards or docks, I started to wonder if it was one of the first locomotives that my grandfather ever drove.
I already knew that my grandfather followed a normal railway career path: he started as an engine cleaner before being promoted to fireman and then eventually became a driver. I also know that there were intermediate steps in this ladder too. For example, a fireman training to be a driver who had passed the various examinations on rules and regulations would become a “passed fireman”.
A passed fireman, between his regular turns as a fireman, would have been able to drive small simpler engines like Pugs in yards to gain experience before his final promotion to driver. Given the probable date and my grandfather’s age in the photograph, I wondered if the photograph might have been taken to celebrate his first driving turn?
Identifying No. 1156
Having found out enough about the Class 21, I started to try to seek more information about the specific example in the photograph: No 1156.
The Wikipedia entry also gave details on locomotive numbering, and it identified 1156 as the 4th of the class to be completed. The year that Wikipedia claims it was built tallies with the builder’s plate visible in the photograph:1891.
When the L&YR became part of the London Midland & Scottish Railway (LMS) in 1923, all the Class 21 locomotives were renumbered into the 112XX series. L&YR No. 1156 thus became LMS No. 11204.
Twenty-five years later when the LMS became part of the nationalised British Railways in 1948, the survivors of the 112XX series became 512XX. This meant that, assuming it had survived that long, the locomotive in the photograph would have ended up as British Railways No. 51204.
So, now I had three numbers with which to search over the life of the locomotive. L&YR 1156 (1891-1923), LMS 11204 (1923-1948), and BR 51204 (1948-).
Armed with this information, I searched on two website databases that have details of old British steam locomotives BRdatabase and railuk.co.uk
From these I learned that the locomotive in question began its life as 1156 in December 1891. became 11204 at the end of 1924 and was renumbered 51204 at the end October 1948. The databases gave a lot of detail on the depots that the locomotive was allocated to, but they only went back to 1948.
I learned that 11204/51204 was at Sutton Oak in January 1948. It was loaned to Preston from the end of 1948 until the middle of January 1949. In March 1949 it went to Crewe South and then in 1955 to Widnes. Its last depot was Agecroft in 1958.
According to extra Stephenson Locomotive Society Data quoted, it was at Crewe South Depot in 1945 and loaned to Preston in 1946 before going to Sutton Oak.
It was withdrawn in early September 1962 and scrapped at Horwich in November of the same year. It had a total working life of 70 years 9 months and 9 days. 51204 was actually the second longest lasting L&YR Pug of all of them.
On the website Preserved British Steam Locomotives, I also came across the information that 51204 retained a low cab roof and a cut down chimney which were fitted when it worked at Maryport in 1929.
I then decided to see if I could find photographs of it online. Searching for 1156 proved fruitless and I started to wonder how many other photographs there are out there of it when it was still owned by the L&YR.
Searching for 11204 got me a link with the National Archives database. Apparently in the Lancashire Archives they have a photograph of LMS 11204 at Greenbank sidings in Preston. It is dated 1933.
There was nothing else pre-World War 2, but I found three from afterwards. The Transport Library collection has a picture from the Neville Stead collection of 51204 at Widnes shed in 1955. That ties in nicely with the history of the allocation above.
The website “Warwickshire railway.com” has a picture of ex-L&Y 0-4-0 ST “Pug” 51204 working at Dunlop sidings to the south of Foleshill station in 1958. That does not tie in at all with the history. The locomotive was allocated to Agecroft by 1958 but Foleshill is near Coventry. Nevertheless, looking at the photograph, it is certainly 51204.
Finally, there is one shot credited to FG steinle from Peter Gricerman on Flickr in an LMS locomotives album. It shows 51204 at Agecroft shed. It mentions that the locomotive was withdrawn when the photograph was taken on 7 October 1962.
Whilst searching for photographs online, I happened on a photograph of a model of 51204 for sale on e-bay. After a bit more checking around, I discovered that the Class 21 is quite a well modelled locomotive. In the 1950s the L&Y Pug became the subject of a Kitmaster kit and then later an Airfix model.
Just as the Pug was a kind of starter locomotive for drivers in real life, so it is the same for modellers, particularly for those who build their own models. There are many variants out there, large, and small.
Hornby, the famous model train manufacturers, also made one and they still do. A model of 11208 in LMS colours or 51208 in BR livery is available online for home delivery and costs around £70.
Of the 57 Pugs built, two were withdrawn in 1926 having never received LMS numbers, whilst a further seven were sold by the LMS to private owners between 1931 and 1937.
In the 1930s the numbers started to decline from 50 at the start of the decade to 23 by the time the war began. None were lost during the conflict and all 23 survived until British Railways on 1 January 1948. By the start of 1961 only 10 remained, 6 were lost that year and by the start of 1962 only 4 were left including 51204. Just 1 survived into 1963.
Two Pugs have been preserved and both of those have been through the Lancashire and Yorkshire Railway Trust. The last locomotive standing, BR 51218 (L&YR No 68 – LMS 11218) was purchased directly from BR in 1964 and went to the Keighley and Worth Valley Railway in 1965. It took part in the 150th anniversary of railways cavalcade in 1975. There is a video of it here (pretending to be 51222) in steam at Goole docks in 2003. Today, it carries its original identity of Number 68 and has been cosmetically restored. A full restoration is now under consideration.
The L&YR’s No.19 (LMS 11243) had been sold into industry in 1931, it had worked on Southampton Docks before being bought by United Glass Bottle Manufacturers and used at their factory on land that is now occupied by the Millennium Dome. It was also purchased by the L&YR trust and put on static display first at Southport and then at the Ribble Steam railway in Preston. In 2020 it was moved to the East Lancashire Railway at Bury for restoration to full working order. That restoration is now in progress and donations can be made here.
A Pug’s Life
So, this is what my brief research has revealed so far: 1156 was introduced in 1891; it was at Fleetwood in the early 20s; worked in Maryport in 1929 (where it had its cab cut down), and it was photographed at Preston in 1933.
After 1945 it was allocated to a mixture of sheds around the northwest, mainly in Lancashire. It was photographed near Coventry in 1958 and scrapped at Horwich in 1962.
I don’t know what my grandfather’s exact connection with this particular locomotive was or what he thought about it, and I never will. But at least I do know now that it was built in the same decade as he was born and scrapped in the same decade as he died. The locomotive actually had a slightly longer life than he did.
My grandfather would certainly have been amazed to learn that 100 years after the picture was taken, I can find out so much about the type of locomotive he is standing on, watch a film of one working, and order a model of one to be delivered to my door, all without leaving my house.
I have put my little research project on hold for now, but I am still interested to see if I can find out more about 1156, particularly its life before the 1940s.
If anyone knows anything, please get in touch.
Website Links (Valid in 2021)
- Wikipedia entry on L&YR Class 21
- https://www.brdatabase.info/ Searchable database
- railuk.co.uk Searchable database – Class 21 information
- Preserved British Steam Locomotives Searchable database – Class 21 information
- https://lyrtrust.org.uk/ Lancashire and Yorkshire Railway Trust
- A gallery of L&Y pugs on Flickr curated by Stephen Wolstenholme Photographs