Edward, Furness Railway K2 'Larger Seagull'

Sir Richard Hatt profiles the oldest working locomotive on the North Western Railway - Edward the Blue Engine!

When the North Western Railway of Sodor was created in 1914 (As part of a Government-funded grouping of existing Standard Gauge Lines on the island) we found ourselves with a very old fashioned group of steam locomotives with little to go by, larger engines being trialled or given on loan from the Mainland. The meeting of these lines required long-term locomotives to assist in construction and the chief engineer, Sir Topham Hatt, my Great Grandfather (who had previously been engineer to the Tidmouth, Knapford and Elsbridge Light Railway in 1909, and the Tidmouth Wellsworth & Suddery in 1912) chose to try and do some bargaining.

 

One of the engines provided on loan was from the Furness Railway. This engine was a K2 'Larger Seagull', a fairly agreeable but somewhat shy steaming class built in 1896 with a further two built in 1900. This particular engine was of the first batch and came over with a fantastic work ethic and enthusiasm to boot in 1915. He was a troublesome little engine, his shy steaming unusual even for his class and despite his enthusiasm no modifications seemed capable of fixing the issue.

 

This engine was joined by a London, Brighton and South Coast Railway E2 Class locomotive that had been declared surplus to his railway's requirements. The two became friends, the younger Southern Engine finding great respect for the Furness railway as a whole as work went on.

 

When construction was completed, the young NWR was due to send the engines back to their homes - both owning Railways offered the engines for sale. After a bit of haggling, the North Western Railway of Sodor purchased a certain young E2 Tank Engine and a K2 Larger Seagull.

 

Both were sent for repairs, modifications and indeed new liveries at the fledging railway's fitters in Crovan's Gate. Both were given a livery of Sudrian blue with red lining and brass. The K2 was rebuilt, gaining a few modifications an attempt to rectify steaming issues. These were modestly successful but sadly nothing we could declare a major step forward.

 

The K2 Locomotive was given a name for the first time - Edward. Despite his issues he became a very well valued member of the young fleet, running freight and passenger services on the Mainline, while Thomas, the E2 Engine, was placed at Vicarstown Railway Station as a pilot.

 

As larger engines began to arrive on Sodor, even a locomotive very similar to the GNR's A1 Class, Edward found himself being used less and less, until soon he became a 'spare engine', placed in a shed for any work that no other engine was available for.

 

In these years the NWR's administrative work was vast and the Director, Mr. Hatt, was largely isolated from this situation while kept the line running. Edward spent some ten years largely out of use, becoming old and worn, developing clanking noises when he ran. He was overdue for an overhaul, but by the time the war years approached Sodor this had still not reached fruitition. From 1945 onwards he found himself back in use, largely being sent to the Wellsworth branch line to assist in the war effort nearby Brendam docks. The engine's small size and weight became the perfect asset to the branch line and he was soon given the branch line as chief duty. Wellsworth became known as 'Edward's station' and the branch earned a moniker of 'Edward's Branch Line'.

 

By 1950, he was becoming very antiquated, worn and in need of extensive repair. His original parts were becoming very difficult indeed and his performance was becoming increasingly restricted.

 

In 1954, the engine chased after our Lancashire and Yorkshire Class 28, James, who ran away after his regulator was tampered with by a group of Children. This was the final straw and the Furness engine was now exhausted. He was promptly sent for an overhaul, including many replaced parts and improvements. With the NWR no longer the young, fledging railway it once was, Edward's rebuild was due to be a fair more substantial one. He was given an improved boiler which cured shy steaming permanently and given more modern parts. He is now a very different engine!

 

He has now ran without fault for many years, becoming the wisest engine on Sodor and one of the most experienced. He became mentor for many of our younger engines and yet remained modest and pleasant. In 1965 the increased china clay traffic on his branch line spelt the introduction of BoCo, the 'Metrovick' - whom I wrote about the previous issue!

 

In 1966, Edward had a notable incident with a particularly difficult train in poor conditions, when a sheared crank pin caused his valve gear to severely damage his frames. Choosing to operate the train as a 'single', it took a lot of work but the NWR's No.2 successfully carried the train home, a testament to his will and work ethic that has made him our finest example of workhorse. Still finding occasional use as a banker or a pilot for special trains, his experience is something no engine can rival on the NWR and I remain immensely proud of him, as did my father, grandfather and great grandfather before me.

 

Edward, in 1996, reached one hundred years old, and has continued to work although with increased care towards the old engine - we keep a close eye on him, but we are confident he is due to run for many, many, many years to come.

 

Edward is one of the world's only remaining pieces of Furness Locomotive power - and is very valuable to railway preservation and indeed our network.

 

There are no other K2s in existence but a very similar engine may be found in at the Utrecht Railway Museum in Holland - Sharp Stewart no.107 shares incredibly close outlines and manufacturer and can be seen in wonderful condition at this utterly excellent museum.

 

If you ever find yourself on Sodor, travel to Wellsworth on a local train and you shall see a blue engine resting, waiting for his next train. He shan't talk much, but I recommend you strike a conversation with both him and his crew. They have much to tell you about him, no doubt. There are few staff members on the NWR whom haven't!

Find out more about Edward and his origins on the internet's definitive Awdry Railway Series website - The Real Lives of Thomas The Tank Engine.

The Furness Railway Trust - a group dedicated to the preservation of the memory of the Furness Railway.

Click the link above for relevant books and products about Edward and the Furness Railway!