Jack of all trades – British Railways Standard Class 5 locomotive, 73050, ‘City of Peterborough’


In 1948, when the newly nationalized British Railways took stock of its locomotive stud, it was in a real mess. Many locomotives that it had inherited from the ‘Big Four’ constituent ‘groupings’ – Great Western Railway, Southern Railway, London and Northeastern Railway and the London, Midland & Scottish Railway – were worn out due to incredible route mileage during the war. Not only that, but they had inherited some locomotives from the War Department, such as 25 WD Austerity 2-10-0s (ordered for war service abroad). It was decided that the former ‘Big Four’ should build a number of their own locomotive types (2537 in total), whilst a series of ‘Standard’ steam locomotives were designed, to bridge the gap between steam trains, the further electrification of some mainlines, and the introduction of diesels (the Midland Railway ‘10000’ and ‘10001’ – later called British Rail Class D16/1 – having proved that diesel traction would work). The need for more steam locomotives in the short term was also bolstered by a political decision to continue with a ‘coal economy’ on the railways, as a sudden switch away from coal in a national situation where there was rising unemployment due to cancellation of war contracts and returning Servicemen, would have been disastrous.

Consequently, Robert Arthur “Robin” Riddles, CBE, MIMechE, MinstLE , the new Railway Executive Member for Mechanical & Electrical Engineering, put together a design team based at the Doncaster Railway Works to produce a series of ‘Standard’ locomotives to be used throughout the system. One of the classes produced was a ‘do anything’ mixed traffic locomotive, capable of handling express trains and fast freight. Basically, the 12 ‘Standard’ classes – totalling 999 locomotives – were based on the highly successful later designs from the London, Midland & Scottish Railway, with some features taken from other types. The ‘Class 5’ locomotive which emerged had a Power Classification of ‘5MT’, (or ‘5 Mixed Traffic’), which indicated that it could handle express passenger trains or fast freight; needless to say, it looked remarkably similar to the much loved LMS ‘Black Five’, which had a similar power classification, 4-6-0 wheel arrangement, taper boiler, two outside cylinders, and a tractive effort which almost identical (‘Black 5’ – 25,455 lbf; 5MT – 26,120 lbf). As a matter of fact, there are only a few visual clues to enable you to distinguish the pair of related engines. The running board on a 5MT is higher, revealling almost all of the wheels, the locomotive’s whistle is directly behind the chimney, and the cab sides are NOT square, but have one corner ‘cut off’. As well as the LMS ‘Black 5’, the 5MT was roughly comparable to the LNER’s B-1 Class, and the Great Western Railway’s famous ‘Hall’ Class of locomotives.

The first 5MT, numbered 73000, emerged from the Derby Works (formerly the old Midland Railway Works) in April 1951, and was immediately assigned to handle Eastern Region trains in the Sheffield area; a total of 172 5MT’s – with the numbers 73000 through 73171 – were built between 1951 and 1957. Only the magnificent 2-10-0, 9F, the ‘Nine Freight’ of the Standard Classes was built in greater quantity (251 total). The 5MT had a ‘Route Availability’ of 7 (RA=7). This meant that the RA of the track had to match or better that figure, if the locomotive was to run in safety. RA’s ran from 1 to 10, and both the track and the loco were rated. A track capable of taking an RA7 loco had to be able of taking an axle loading of 24.1 tonnes per axle or more. Just to give you a ‘yardstick’, the current European Union average track rating is 22.5 tonnes per axle. The 5MTs were so useful that some of them lasted until the last days of BR steam, in 1968. Withdrawals of the class started in 1964, but the ‘class locomotive’, 73000, lasted almost to the end, being withdrawn in March, 1968.

Here we see 73050, at the Nene Valley Railway. There has been a railway presence in the Nene Valley, near Peterborough, since June, 1845. The London and Northwestern Railway ran services from Peterborough to Rugby and Peterborough to Northampton, with connecting trains to London. The line went to the London, Midland, Scottish Railway on ‘grouping’ in 1923. Following Nationalisation in 1948, passenger numbers entered a steady decline, with the consequence that passenger services on the Peterborough to Northampton route were cancelled in 1964; passenger services to Rugby followed in 1966. The final blow fell in 1972, with total closure of the line by British Rail; this meant the cessation of rail services after 127 years! The Nene Valley Railway consists of 7.5 miles of the eastern section of the original line, and includes the stations of Yarwell, Wansford, Ferry Meadows (Nene Park) and Orton Mere.

In 1968, a railway enthusiast, the Reverend Richard Paten, bought the Class 5 loco, 73050, for its scrap value of £3,000, with the intention of having placed on a plinth outside the local technical college, as a memento of the area’s railway heritage. However, when the locomotive was examined, it was found that it was in far too good condition to be reduced to ‘retired’ status, so the Peterborough Locomotive Society was formed in 1970, with the intention of restoring 73050 to steaming condition. In 1971, the loco was moved to the sidings of the British Sugar Corporation’s Peterborough Works (As an aside, it might surprise some to know that the sandy soil of the East of England produces large quantities of Sugar Beet – Beta vulgaris – which is processed locally). The first ‘Steam Day’ involving 73050, and the Hunslet- built 0-6-0 tank engine, ‘Jacks Green’, took place during Easter, 1971.

73050 is standing in a siding at Wansford, the HQ of the NVR. You can see the whistle, immediately behind the chimney, the Walschaerts valve gear, and the name plate. Yes, despite the fact that no Class 5s were named in BR service, this locomotive, following its donation by the Reverend Paten in 1973 to the City of Peterborough, was named the ‘City of Peterborough’ by the then Mayor, Roy Topley, then transfered to the NVR on a 99 year lease. 73050 left the Derby Locomotive Works on 14th April 1954, and was one of only three equipped with a special British Railways BR1G tender, containing 5,000 gallons of water and 7 tons of coal. It was immediately exhibited at the International Railway Congress, in London, on 26 -29th May, 1954. A very intense period of work followed, including hauling the ‘Pines Express’ on the scenic Somerset & Dorset Line before eventually being put into store in 1966.

Following the acquisition by NVR, ‘City of Peterborough’ has been a star turn, even being driven by HRH Prince Edward on 30th June 1986, when he opened the NVR extension from Orton Mere to Peterborough, Nene Valley Station. 73050, a classic locomotive, still going strong!

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4 comments on “Jack of all trades – British Railways Standard Class 5 locomotive, 73050, ‘City of Peterborough’”

  1. 2537 new locomotives, the number tells the tale of the need for industrial sized transportation requirements! Your description is quite concise and interesting, as well — I do like the “cut corners” of the cab — and I had no prior idea of the rating system. I confess my ignorance, but what is the Walschaerts valve gear? A very nice post, thanks 🙂

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    • The Stephenson & Walchaerts valve gear both use a series of cranks and levers to actuate piston valves allowing steam to be admitted to, then exhausted from, the locomotives cylinders, They are almost as old as each other (Stephenson, 1841, Walschaerts, 1844). The advantage of the Walschaerts gear is that it is completely external, so it can be easily adjusted and maintained, and leaves the space between the locomotive frames clear, whereas at least part of the Stephenson valve gear is ‘inside’. The Walschaerts gradually grew in popularity, particularly with later generations of steam engineers.

      There is a THIRD type of valve gear, the Caprotti, which was invented by an Italian engineer, and was fitted to some British locomotives. It used cam-actuated poppet valves (rather like those on a car) to control the steam, and promised a decrease in coal consumption of some 20%! Unfortunately, there were problems. However, a U.K. company made its own version, the British Caprotti, which rectified the problems, and gave very fast and free-running engines. This was fitted to a few of the very last steam steam locomotives built, and if coal-fired haulage had continued, it would have been extremely successful.

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      • I see what you mean now. Thanks for the pleasant lesson 🙂 A 20% reduction in fuel — what a jump!

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  2. 20 Standard 5s were named after legendary Arthurian figures and places whilst in BR service.

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