44422 – meet the ‘Four Freight’; Fowler Class 4 0-6-0 freight engine


When I was a small boy, I used to walk across the fields for about 3 miles – usually in the company of a small group of like-minded ‘enthusiasts’, to one of three bridges which spanned the former Midland Railway’s main line between London and Sheffield. The lines were now operated by the London, Midland and Scottish Railway Company – an amalgamation of the Midland Railway, London and North Western Railway, Glasgow & South Western Railway, Caledonian Railway, Highland Railway, North Staffordshire Railway, and the Furness Railway – one of the ‘super companies’ brought together by the 1921 Railways act in the so-called ‘grouping’, which forced the merger of over 100 independent rail companies into just four regional giants – the Southern Railway, London & North Eastern Railway, Great Western Railway, and the L.M.S.R.

The LMS wasn’t just the biggest of the four, it was the biggest commercial concern in the whole British Empire! As well as railways, it owned hotels (even now you can find a ‘Midland Hotel’ in many towns), steamship lines, a road transport fleet of goods delivery vehicles, and even a share in an internal airline, Railway Air Services Ltd, operating elegant de Havilland DH89 Dragon Rapide, DC-3, Avro Anson, Ju52 and other aircraft. It routes ranged across Northern Ireland, the Highland glens and industrial Midlands of Scotland, the cotton towns of Lancshire and the woollen towns of Yorkshire, the engineering power-house of the West Midlands, the coalfields of South Wales, and that huge world city, London. It needed a massive locomotive stud to service not just the crack passenger trains but the traffic that made the real profits – freight.

One of the designs that the LMSR relied on was based on a classic superheated freight engine, the 3835 Class, 0-6-0, (originally introduced in 1911) by the former Chief Mechanical Engineer of the Midland Railway, Sir Henry Fowler, KBE, now the CME of the LMS. This developed design was to be known as the Class 4, a title which reflected its power classification of ‘4F’. The Midland had adopted a rather mis-guided ‘small engine’ policy, which gave rise to a great deal of double-heading, as one locomotive, generally, was not up to the task of hauling a heavily laden train. They also had short-travel cylinder valves, leading to inefficiencies and higher coal consumption, and smaller than expected axle boxes, with inadequate bearing area, which meant that certain classes of loco would develop a ‘hot box’ with distressing frequency – sadly the Fowler Class 4 was subject to these failings, plus a tendency towards developing cracked mainframes.

Notwithstanding, this class was built in very large numbers – no less than 772 examples between 1924 and 1941. Given such a large number, it was inevitable that many of Great Britain’s locomotive works would be given contracts to build the Class 4; these included LMS Derby Works, LMS Crewe Works, LMS St Rollox Works (Glasgow), LMS Horwich Works (nr Bolton), North British Locomotive Company Ltd (Glasgow), Kerr, Stuart & Co (Stoke-on-Trent) and Andrew Barclay & Sons Co. (Kilmarnock, Scotland). The locomotive tender was six-wheeled and could carry 3,500 gallons of water and 4 tons of coal. The LMS-type G7S boiler, ran at 175 lbs/sq in, and supplied steam to the two inside cylinders, equipped with Stephenson Valve Gear. This allowed the six coupled driving wheels to produce 24,555 lb of tractive effort. Thus, the locomotive had a power classification of ‘4F’ (the ‘F’ standing for freight); however, the ‘Four Freight’ as it was universally known, could sometimes be found handling local passenger services on branch lines. The LMS re-numbered this Midland design, giving it engine numbers from 43836 to 44606. Wartime service spread them far and wide beyond their ‘home’ region, and when the railways were nationalized in 1948, by the post-war Labour Government, 4F’s could be found almost anywhere.

44422 was built in Derby in 1927 (according to the plaque on her side) at a cost of £3217, plus the tender at £1000. She was assigned to Leicester ‘shed’ (shed code ’15C’) in October of that year. During the dark days of 1940, she was sent to Bristol, a move which lead to 44422 spending the rest of her working life in the South West of England.
The coming of diesel traction and the spread of electrification together sounded the death knell of steam on British Railways, the class was withdrawn and sold for scrap from 1959 onwards. In 1965, 44422 was sent to the famous Woodham Brothers scrap yard in Barry, South Glamorgan. She languished there for nearly 12 years, and since my brother lived on Broad Street, directly opposite Dai Woodham’s yard, it is highly likely I saw her (as a avid ‘train spotter’ from my youth, I used to walk along the right-hand side of Broad Street and stare at all the rusting hulks).

The only reason that no less than 212 locomotives made it OUT of Woodhams, and were not scrapped (they were bought by nascent rail preservation societies) was due to the fact that the yard found it far more profitable, and far quicker, to scrap the thousands of railway wagons they were being offered by British Rail, instead! The locos were pushed to one side, to be dealt with later, alllowing enthusiasts to step in and make bids. In 1977 the North Staffordshire Railway Society (as it was then known) paid £4,860 for the wreck of 44422 – a sum almost identical to her original cost (not allowing for inflation). A long drawn-out restoration was undertaken to bring her back to life (as one of only four ‘4F’s in preservation) to enable her to run on the Churnet Valley Railway in Staffordshire.

Here you can see 44422 at rest ready to depart from Wansford Station, the HQ of the Nene Valley Railway, near Peterborough. She is now owned by ‘The 44422 Locomotive Company Limited’ and is available for hire by train operators and preserved railways. That is exactly what has happened in this case as Nene Valley has contracted with the ownership (since they do not have many large British engines, themselves) to use 44422 to run a number of their services. Indeed, on the 1st of March, 2013, 44422 was given a special task. To mark the take over of the former British Railways Board-owned Fletton Branch line (which joins up with the Nene Valley line and the East Coast Main Line to London), a special train, called ‘The Fletton Branch Limited’ was hauled by 44422 over the expanded system.

You can a small plate bearing the legend ’83G’ on the smokebox door – this indicates that its ‘home’ shed was that serving Penzance, Helston or St. Ives (all in Cornwall). On the day of the branch opening, however, 44422’s ‘shed plate’ showed 71G – which refers to the Weymouth & Bridport area shed in Dorset. The two engine lamps you can see, one at either end of the buffer bar, give a code for ‘Express Passenger Train’ – someone has a sense of humour, anyway!

44422’s ownership are busy trying to raise cash for a VERY expensive total rebuild, due in 2014. Oh, and THE classic work on the 4F? It has to be ‘A Defence of the Midland/LMS Class 4 0-6-0 -also, why frames cracked and axle boxes ran hot’, by A.P. Tester – sadly now out of print.

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