It’s not everyday you meet a locomotive passing through Cuckfield High Street, but that’s what happened in October 1978. If you saw this momentous event - you might have wondered what happened to this magnificent railway engne. Here is the full story given by the Maunsell Locomotive Society who took the project on to restore 'the largest and most powerful loco’ in the Bluebell collection.
Tricky journey through the village
Back in 1978 - yes that's nearly 43 years ago [August 2021] - this locomotive was hauled all the way from a scrapyard near Cardiff to Sheffield Park - via the A272 and Cuckfield.
It was towed by a powerful haulage tow truck from the A23 and Bolney, through Ansty and up the hill towards the very tight left turn at the White Hart. It then had to negotiate the lower Ockenden Lane corner, then the corner past ‘the umbrella tree’ it then took advantage of the opposite carriageway to round the 'Coop corner' (it was Hoadleys then!) to make its way up to the right turn into Broad Street bound for Haywards Heath.
The valuable cargo was accompanied by police motorbike outriders - and Cuckfield High Street was a mass of traffic cones to prevent parked vehicles hampering the passage of this massive and lengthy load. Villagers and sightseers had a perfect day to take in the impressive show and admire the skill of the driver. Cyril Pike recorded the occasion with his still camera (his pictures of the day accompany this article).
847’s working life
Built at Eastleigh, 847 entered service in December 1936, and spent a number of weeks working out of Eastleigh. Then it was relocated to Exmouth Junction shed, and then to Salisbury in 1951. In July 1959 it was re-allocated to Redhill shed where
it joined two other ‘S15's’ (nos 833 and 836) and was seen steaming up and down the Redhill-Reading line. It's final redeployment in 1963 was to Feltham, but by then its days were numbered. It was withdrawn from service in January 1964 and sold to Woodham’s Brothers scrapyard in Barry, South Wales.
Preservation fund set up
The 847 Locomotive Preservation Fund had been formed two years before the 847’s visit to Cuckfield (in 1978) with the aim of buying and restoring the loco. The fund merged with the Maunsell Locomotive Society and the loco was purchased for £9,750 - and yes that included VAT - and transported to the Bluebell Railway in October 1978. A Urie eight wheel bogie tender, no 3225 (which had been coupled to S15 828) was purchased to accompany the loco.
The restoration of 847 started in early 1984, the loco and tender were fully stripped down and overhauled. Three coupling rods were purchased from another society. One new coupling rod forging was purchased and machined. New cylinder liners were bought and fitted. The tender tank was badly corroded in places and a major rebuild undertaken. This has altered the appearance from, the designer, Maunsell’s flat sided design. She returned to full steam on 12 November 1992, and the work had cost a very modest £40,000.
The loco ran for nearly five years until September 1997, before its boiler certificate expired. Having covered over 30,000 miles some repairs were needed including ‘re-profiling the tyres’.
The next overhaul of 847 started in 2008 and the boiler had tubes, flues and elements replaced. All stays below running plate level were replaced – as were all the crown stays - this is a complex and tricky job, in a very confined space. The loco was back running again in 2013 and again proved to be reliable and powerful addition to the Bluebell's loco fleet.
Its ‘6F power classification’ has proved of use now that Bluebell is connected to the national network. On a couple of occasions it has hauled 12 coach charter trains from Sheffield Park – up the line to East Grinstead, with ease and style. Although 847 has over two years left on its 10 year boiler certificate, its tyres are showing signs of wear and it may need to come out of service before then.
The Maunsell Locomotive Society
The society looks after for five steam locomotives designed by Richard Maunsell who was Chief Mechanical Engineer of the Southern Railway from 1923 to 1937. Four of the locos came from Barry scrapyard and all have been restored to working order, with the work being undertaken by members of the Maunsell Society and the Bluebell Railway’s own workshop staff.
Two of the locos are in working order, two await their next overhaul and one is part way through a major overhaul. The Society has won several awards for its work, including the Heritage Railways Association’s John Coiley Award in 2006 for ‘restoring and maintaining their fleet of Maunsell Locomotives, such as the restoration of ‘U’ Class 2-6-0 No.1638 from scrapyard condition’.
The society is based at the Bluebell Railway in Sussex, where their locos are in regular use. Overhauling steam locomotives is an expensive past time. The Society spent £187,000 on the latest overhaul of S15 class 847. All financed by the Society’s 400 members and by generous bequests. The society welcomes new members and supporters and financial support would be especially welcome after a difficult 18 months.
Partly adapted from a detailed account on Locomotive Preservation Fund’s website: www.maunsell.org.uk/pages/847.htm
If you want to read about the Sir Archibald Sinclair then check out www.bluebell-railway.co.uk/bluebell/pic2/nigel_kendall_34059b.html
The Bluebell Railway first ran trains in August 1960 and was sadly prevented from properly celebrating its 60 year milestone last year - so do make it a point of dropping by this year to ensure the trains are still running in another 60 years. www.bluebell-railway.com
Many thanks to Peter Boulter for allowing us to use his shots of the restored 847 (taken in 2014). Check out other beautiful railway photographs at his Dragon Sanctuary website at www.seiryu.org.uk/ppp/index.html
The photographs of the 847 passing through Cuckfield were taken by Cyril Pike and restored by the author.
Contributed by Malcolm Davison.