Modellers of a Southern persuasion including myself have a right to be excited today, particularly those of us who love small tank engines that are full of character! Once a manufacturer with a large range of 00 scale models, Dapol sold their toolings to Hornby and have since concentrated on the N scale market, with a few exceptions. They have shared Hornby’s recent production woes and as a result are consolidating their ranges, so with just one new N Gauge steam engine model announced today (in the shape of the venerable J72) it is rather surprisingly that a 00 scale B4 tank engine is also being planned. Interestingly for a small locomotive, the models will be produced with a range of DCC options that include sound. As ever we are grateful to Graham Muz for announcing this (clear here to read!)
Seeing as this model announcement is today’s front page of modelling headlines, it is a good time to find out a little more about this class of tank engine, illustrated with pictures of preserved B4 tank engine 96 Normandy from the Bluebell Railway.Twenty B4 tank engines were built by the London and South Western Railway (LSWR) in two batches – 10 in 1891 and 10 in 1893, although the class totaled 25 in 1908 as a result of the 5 strong K14 class being so similar as to be reclassified as B4! Constructed by Locomotive Superintendent William Adams at Nine Elms Works, the class were designed to work in yards across the railway’s network, however after Southampton Docks were taken control by the LSWR in 1892 they soon found their most useful home.
The footplates of these locomotives have been described as both dirty and cramped, which if you consider the lack of space for coal (and hence a limited range) it is a little surprising to hear that the locomotives were popular with their crews.
As mentioned previously, the five final B4’s originally started life designated as a different class (K14), but were essentially the same design with a different cab, chimney and missing toolboxes on the top of the tanks. All B4’s were absorbed into the Southern Railway at the grouping of 1923, but did not carry the plain black livery as illustrated here until 1938. In the intervening years, the members of the class working in the docks were painted brown with red lining and the others in lined black.
Having seen hard service dealing with heavy traffic through two world wars, the class were becoming expensive to run by the mid 1940’s and for that reason Oliver Bulleid (who was then Chief Mechancial Engineer of the Southern Railway) decided to replace them by purchasing ex-War Department USA 0-6-0T locomotives, with withdrawals starting in 1948. 11 were sold to a number of purchasers around the UK and 3 scrapped. 11 survived into British Railways ownership where transfers continued. By 1964 there were just 2 of the 25 B4’s left in existence, but fortunately both have been preserved.
96 Normandy now resides on the Bluebell Railway and can be seen on display at Sheffield Park engine shed, awaiting overhaul. 102 Granville is also on display only and can be found at Bressingham steam museum.
I have long wished for an LSWR B4 tank engine model, so am looking forward to adding at least one to the locoyard fleet!