Alongside such locomotives as the LSWR T9 and GWR City Class, Harry Wainwright’s D class of the South Eastern and Chatham Railway has to rank as one of the most elegant 4-4-0 steam locomotives ever built; it’s perfect lines, copper chimney cap, brass dome and fittings and symmetrical shape make it a very attractive steam locomotive.The National Railway Museum’s D class number 737 of 1901 is the last survivor of a class of fifty one and was part of a batch of twenty one to be built at Ashford works in Kent.
The class had a good reputation for being hard working and this reputation came from hauling boat trains to Dover and Folkestone. They were affectionately nicknamed “coppertops” and really looked beautiful in their intricately lined SECR livery.
Although originally built for express passenger workings, they were displaced in these top-link duties by more powerful types, such as the SECR L class of 1914. By the 1930’s they had been relegated to secondary duties. 21 other members of the class were rebuilt with Belpaire Fireboxes that did little to improve their appearance but did make them more powerful. Maunsell’s rebuilds became known as the D1 class.
Most of the class were still operating at nationalisation in 1948, a testament to their build quality but unfortunately they did not last long. 737 (then numbered 31075) was the last survivor and was withdrawn in 1956.
To read about other exhibits to be found in the National Railway Museum during this visit in 2013, please click here.