Lord Nelson arrived at Minehead

Lord Nelson arrived at Minehead

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The steam locomotive Lord Nelson E850, in the sidings at Minehead station on the West Somerset Railway while on its maiden shakedown after its refit at Eastleigh depot back in 2006. Lord Nelson was hauled via the mainline by a Class 33, no D6566 SR 4-6-0.

“The Southern Railway required a locomotive capable of hauling 500 ton trains at an average 55 M.P.H, but with severe restrictions imposed, the Chief Civil Engineer. R.E.L. Maunsell designed his “Lord Nelson” class to weigh little more than a “King Arthur” but with the highest tractive effort in Britain at that time.

The engine is notable for its crank settings of 135° instead of the more normal 90°. This gives the locomotive the eight exhaust beats per revolution of the driving wheels, which sounds as if she is travelling faster than other locomotive types at the same speed.

No. 850 “Lord Nelson” was the first of the class to be built, and entered service in August 1926 being allocated new to Stewarts Lane shed in Battersea. A further 15 locomotives of this class were built between 1928 and 1929, all were named after famous Admirals associated with the Royal Navy.

The type was used on the heaviest and most prestigious services of the Southern Railway from the outset including the famous “Golden Arrow” and “Bournemouth Belle” all Pullman services.

At the time of construction the Lord Nelson Class was the most powerful locomotive in Britain, a fact that clearly upset the Great Western Railway, having lost the title previously held by the Castle Class. In fact it was this that led the GWR to build the King Class to reclaim the title, such was the rivalry between the competing companies.

The 1940’s saw the introduction of Bulleid’s Merchant Navy, and lighter West Country class pacifics that ousted the Lord Nelsons from the premier “Top Link” work, and the Lord Nelson’s were cascaded to other duties. Nationalisation of Britain’s railways took place in January 1948 which saw the formation of British Railways, and 850 was renumbered to 30850.

The whole of the class was eventually transferred to Eastleigh shed, which led to the type often being seen hauling prestigious boat trains such as ‘The Cunarder’ from Southampton Docks to London during the years of steam on the main line. This period arguably saw the most consistent performances from the locos due to the Eastleigh crews getting regular work on them, and getting to know their quirks.

With the electrification of the Kent Coast and an influx of more modern locomotives being transferred to Eastleigh the whole of the Lord Nelson Class was withdrawn from service in 1962, with 30850 being withdrawn on 18th August, having accumulated a final mileage of 1,349,617.

Listed for museum status as part of the National Collection, 30850 went to Fratton Shed for initial storage and then to the Pullman Co.’s works near Brighton, remaining there until 1977.

In 1979 the loco was restored at Carnforth to operate mainline tours until firebox problems side-lined it as a static exhibit. In 1997 the Eastleigh Railway Preservation Society overhauled Lord Nelson at Eastleigh back to mainline use, partly funded by the Heritage Lottery Fund. After negotiations with the owner of, National Railway Museum, she arrived at Alresford in February 2009 to be based at Ropley.

Lord Nelson, or ‘Nellie’ as she is affectionately known, has proved a popular engine with crews here at the MHR, but provides a challenge for Firemen, a challenge which most relish! With a long firebox, some 10’ 6” to the front, a very accurate aim with the shovel is required in order to build and maintain the fire and get the best from the engine.

For a Southern engine, Lord Nelson is also unusual for having a split grate, whilst this was common elsewhere, which requires mastery of the technique necessary to keep the boiler steaming well.

30850 is currently stored out of service awaiting the start of an overhaul that will return her to service.”

Source : Water Cress Line. Accessed on 26th May 2023

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