Above: Ex-M&SWJ Railway 2-4-0 No. 1334, sporting its Great Western branding, waits by the buffer stops at Lambourn. The engine shed is still in evidence, albeit a bit delapidated, and the box wagion behind is ready to accept goods.
A wide variety of steam and diesel-powered locomotives and railcars provided motive power on the Lambourn Valley Railway.
In addition to the two engines commissioned by the LVR – before the GWR's acquisition of the line – during the early years, a small Sharp Stewart 2-4-0 tank engine no. 1384, which was originally built for the Watlington & Princes Risborough Railway in 1875, was rented from the GWR and gave the newly-formed LVR company a breathing space until its own power units could be purchased.
The next hurdle for the officers of the LVR to overcome would be the purchase of their own motive power. The continued locomotive hire charges of the GWR were a drain on resources and could not be allowed to continue on an open-ended basis.
So by May 1898, following advice from Mr. MacIntyre, Colonel Archer-Houblon signed an agreement with Chapman and Furneaux of Gateshead to build two locomotives for the LVR, The price agreed was £1,330 each. Both locomotives arrived in October and were named Aelfred and Ealhswith, names that were synonymous with Lambourn's history. Aelfred started work hauling passenger services for the first time on the 18th of October 1898.
It was ordered that a plate be fixed in the cab of each engine stating: "This engine is the property of Colonel Archer Houblon of Welford Park Newbury".
Ealhswith in the Lambourn bay at Newbury. Photo: Real Photographs courtesy Ian Allan Ltd
Ealhswith at Newbury
Aelfred and Ealhswith were identical 0-6-0 side-tank locos; there is a detailed description of their design and dimensions here. Both engines were painted in a dark blue livery with black lining edged in white, and nameplates mounted on the side tanks. The drivers spoke favourably of the engines although they did in fact suffer a few gremlins in the early days of use. Aelfred for instance was reported to"run warm" and was also for some time, the victim of leaking tubes. The engineer from Chapman and Furneaux spent time on site repairing the faults, and within a few weeks the locos were working fine. At this point, the final payment of £660 was made to the manufacturers.
The first full year of operation produced an overall profit just short of a £1,000, although this did not take into consideration the payment due to Col. Archer Houblon under the terms of their agreement. In December 1902, despite the company's precarious financial position, the directors decided to purchase a third locomotive. It would be built by the Hunslet Engine Company from Leeds and would be of similar design to Aelfred and Ealhswith.
The LVR was offered deferred payments by the manufacturer and Eadweade arrived in the Spring of 1903. It was perfect timing in fact, as Ealhswith was now in great need of overhaul, which was undertaken by the GWR at a cost of £276. The LVR brake van also needed major repairs, work that was carried out by Plenty's, of Newbury.
Steam railmotors arrived after the LV sold off its locomotives in order to help defray its mounting debts. After teething troubles related to the hard, chalky water which furred up the boilers with limescale, they remained as motive power until the LVR's acquisition.
In 1904, the GWR offered to rent two railmotors to the LVR for the total sum of £420 per year. The idea seemed an attractive one and the LVR decided in favour of the proposed plan.
This preserved steam railmotor, No.93, seen here at Norton Fitzwarren, gives a sense of what they looked like on the LVR. Those initially hired by the LVR from the GWR for £420 pa were among the first of their kind, numbered 1 & 2 and built in 1903. Image courtesy of Wikivisually: https://wikivisually.com/wiki/Lambourn_Valley_Railway
Among the first moves by the GWR after its official acquisition of the LVR on 1st July 1905 was to remove the steam railmotors and replace them with normal locomotives and coaches.
Ex-Midland and South Western Junction Railway 2-4-0 tender engines (top image), originally numbered 10, 11 and 12, but renumbered by the GWR to 1334-1336, were frequently employed on the Lambourn line until their withdrawal in 1952.
Other visitors included 0-6-0 pannier tanks during the 1930s, and even a then-new 48xx 0-4-2 tank engine, a series subsequently renumbered as the 14xx series. This engine worked horsebox specials in connection with Newbury race meetings.
In 1932, the ex-Cambrian 0-6-0 tender engine no. 908 helped haul coaches and goods, and in 1936 and again in 1938-9, a pair of class 850 0-6-0 saddle tank locos, nos 1925 and 2007, worked the branch on alternate weeks. Although transferred off the branch early in WW2, they were seen as particularly suited to the branch's sharp curves and steep gradients.
Just prior to the introduction of the diesel railcar, an '850' class saddle tank engine, number 2007 approaches West Fields Halt with a Lambourn train in June 1936
The same train on its return journey. With no turntable at Lambourn, engine crews had to put up with coal dust in their faces on up trains.
After the ex-M&SWJ locos were withdrawn, steam workings were taken over by Dean Goods 0-6-0 tender engines, with no. 2573 a frequent visitor until its withdrawal in 1953. The class had been used previously in emergencies but restricted to 15mph on goods trains and 25mph on passenger workings. The regulations were subsquently relaxed to allow engines of the yellow route restruction group to work the branch, after which members of the Collett 22xx class joined the branch, in particular 2208, 2245 and 2299.
Auto-coaches were used on the branch but never for the purpose for which they were originally designed: no push-pull locos were ever employed on the line.
Carrying railway officials in 1937, this was railcar No. 18's first appearance on the branch. It was especially built for branch-line working, was fitted with coupling gear and buffers, and its two engines produced 242bhp, enabling it to haul tail loads of up to 60 tons. The new railcar could carry 49 seated passengers and was geared to a top speed of 45mph.
Railcar No. 18 waiting to haul a set of Pacos - horse boxes - down the branch. This would have been a much easier task, one suspects, for the under-powered vehicle than hauling them up.
However, No. 18 failed on many occasions and was eventually replaced by an ex-MSWJ 2-4-0 or a saddle tank. The railcar was transferred to Glamorgan for use on the Cowbridge and other branch lines. Consequently, a new railcar, No. 19, was commissioned and introduced to cover the workings on the Lambourn line.
Railcar No. 18 rests at the Lambourn platform before hauling its two-coach passenger working back down the branch to Newbury. Note the autocoach directly behind the railcar.
The railcar didn't last. In 1956, steam power took over and remained on the line until the end. However, experience on other lines and in Europe suggested that, had the much more economical railcar remained and had other economies been made, the line may have had a fighting chance to avoid being one of the mass closures of the 1950s and 60s. There's a longer discussion of this issue on 'The bigger picture' page.
Ex-MSWJR 2-4-0 (now GWR/BR no. 1335) nears Welford Park with its one-coach train. This photo was probably taken in the early 1950s.
A GWR 0-6-0 Pannier Tank traverses Bockhampton Crossing in the 1950s. They were frequently used during this period, along with Collett-designed 0-6-0 updated Dean Goods engines, as seen below in the same location.
A Dean Goods with its two-coach train approaches Bockhampton Crossing in 1950