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1881-1940: 'Cuckfield' a popular D1 workhorse

'Cuckfield' No 237 on a turntable looking well cared for. Photo from David Searle's Collection.

Cuckfield researcher Fred Wheatland recently drew our attention to a photograph (3rd photo below) of this ‘Cuckfield’ locomotive and of course we had to know more. Fortunately I have a near neighbour, Michael Welch, a book author and railway researcher who was not only able to give us more information but had actually featured a photo of this particular engine in one of his books.

Apparently the Stroudley D1 class of loco was designed by one of the most famous English railway locomotive engineers of all time, William Stroudley (1833-1899). He was best known for this type of tank engine. In 1871, at the age of 38, William lived with his wife Charlotte in Dyke Road, Brighton and was the locomotive superintendent of the London, Brighton and South Coast Railways (LB&SCR) Brighton works.

The D1 proved popular with engine crews and operated by LB&SCR as a workhorse on the network pulling passenger carriages up and down the Brighton line, around Mid Sussex branch lines. They also handled freight and were used for shunting as well. Bearing in mind these were formative years of the railway system and speeds were lower than today, these locos were considered ‘unsteady’ at anything over 45 mph.

The ‘Cuckfield’ No 237 (then B237 then 2237) was built by Nielson & Co of Glasgow in November 1881 and did over 60 years service until August 1940 (the condemnation date) and did longer service than many others in its class.

'Cuckfield' at Horsted Keynes works. Photo by Ralph Stent, Bluebell Archives.

Maids of all work - 125 constructed

The D1 class 0-4-2T, to give the engine its full description, was used for London suburban services of the LB&SCR from 1873 until the late 1940s when they were displaced by larger locos in 1890s. They were ‘maids of all work’ and used today’s standard gauge width of 4 ft 81⁄2 in (1,435 mm). The very last operational engine of this type worked on British Railways.

Other D1s on the LB&SCR were also given place names such as Rotherfield, Uckfield, Isfield, Cuckmere, Seaford, Withdean, Balham, Dorking, Ardingly, Horsham, etc. Between November 1873 and March 1887, 125 locomotives of this class were constructed, 90 of which were built at the Brighton railway works and the remainder by Neilson & Co.

The RailUK website describes them as ‘Pure Stroudley through and through, the locomotives were ideal for both suburban and country traffic … provided there was time for a water stop or two’.

Bluebell Line gets big disappointment

As so many of these locos that ran in this local area the Bluebell Line saw adding a D1 class engine to their collection an absolute ‘must’. The D1s pulled the first trains on what we now know as the Bluebell line* when it originally opened as a public railway. The Bluebell team looked high and low and finally managed to track down the last operational and sole surviving D1 to a hospital in Lancashire. But the outcome was to be a big disappointment. [*formerly the Lewes to East Grinstead line]

In 1947 the Whittingham Mental Hospital Railway in Lancashire acquired number 2357 from the Southern Railway at a cost of £750. It was renamed ‘James Fryers’ in honour of the Chairman of the Hospital Management Committee. Serious boiler defects in 1956 curtailed its working career and the engine was scrapped that year when it proved beyond economic repair.

What we now call the Bluebell Line was set up in 1959 - and it was in the late summer that they contacted the hospital management committee - but the reply came back that sadly, it had been sold for scrap a year previously. So despite this loco being ubiquitous in the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries none of these engines can be seen anywhere today.

Fatal D1 Cuckoo accident

Before railway safety became higher on the agenda in the UK, this loco was involved in several serious accidents. A driver of a D1 class was killed on the 'Cuckoo Line' in 1897 which raised questions about the use of front coupled locomotives. However, it was realised that the true cause of this accident and others was the poor state of the permanent way at the time. [The Cuckoo Line was the now defunct railway service which linked Polegate and Eridge]

Stroudley wasn’t first with 0-4-2 engine design, three goods engines had previously been built by Robert Stephenson and Company for the Stanhope and Tyne Railway in 1834.

'Cuckfield' with Brighton Locomotive Works in the background. Photo supplied by Fred Wheatland.

Stroudley’s other achievements

William Stroudley was responsible for the re-organisation and modernisation of Brighton railway works and also the repair facilities at New Cross. He also designed railway carriages and the steam engines for the LB&SCR cross-channel ferries which operated between Newhaven and Dieppe.

William died of acute bronchitis on 20 December 1889 during his visit to the Paris Exhibition where he was exhibiting one of his locomotives. Stroudley was buried in the Extra Mural Cemetery, Brighton on Christmas Eve 1889. He was succeeded at Brighton by Robert John Billinton, who had worked for William, and went on to develop the D class design further and also designed other successful locomotive classes.

A 1930s summer scene painted by Don Breckon (1935-2013 ) reminiscent of 'The Railway Children' with a o-4-2T chugging past which captures some of the atmosphere of the time

NOTE: For the non-railway enthusiast let me explain the 0-4-2 Whyte notation. This is the wheel configuration. In this case it shows the loco has no leading wheels in front, then four coupled driving axles (four wheels) and then one trailing axle (two wheels). The 0-4-2T shows that this is a tank locomotive carrying one or more on-board water tanks.

For a full specification of the D1 loco:

William Stroudley Wikipedia entry:

RJ Billinton Wikipedia entry:

The ‘condemnation date’ was kindly supplied by Stremg, the Southern Railway email group.

The second photo above is by Ralph Stent with No 237 at Horsted Keynes station. Some of the parts have been removed as it was about to have - or recently had - some maintenance done to it. Courtesy the Bluebell Archives.

We would like to thank Michael Welch, railway enthusiast and author, for his researches on our behalf to help us bring you this story. The book I mention above is ‘Rails to Sheffield Park’, by Michael S Welch, published by Kingfisher Railway Productions, 1988.

Contributed by Malcolm Davison.



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