James Spooner rides again

September 4th 2017

The F&WHR Company Board has given its approval for the building of a new Double Fairlie locomotive, the eighth to run on the railway and the fifth built entirely at its workshops at Boston Lodge.

James Spooner will carry the number 8, as did its predecessor, built by Avonside in 1872 and withdrawn in 1928. Some parts of the original survive to the present day, the wheels being under Livingston Thompson at the National Railway Museum in York.

The original loco is pictured below at the old Harbour Station in 1873, less than a year after delivery.

The original James Spooner, photographed in 1873 at Harbour Station

The new loco will take the place of Earl of Merioneth in the FR's frontline fleet of Double Fairlies alongside Merddin Emrys and David Lloyd George, built in 1879 and 1992 respectively at Boston Lodge.

Earl of Merioneth was built in 1979 and will hold a unique place in railway preservation history as the first new-build steam loco on any preserved line in the UK and the first to be withdrawn. The loco will be placed in dry storage on its original 1979 bogies so as not to preclude restoration at a later date. Cab fittings and controls will be removed for use on the new James Spooner.

Earl of Merioneth, affectionately known as The Square due to its angular appearance, is approaching the end of its ten-year boiler certificate and needs a new boiler, boiler cradle, smokeboxes, chimneys and water tanks.

Only its power bogies, built in 1986, are serviceable and they are in need of heavy overhaul and new tyres. The decision was thus made that building a brand new loco was the best approach rather than patching up one that is effectively life-expired.

The new James Spooner will have a traditional appearance, yet will be clearly identifiable alongside Merddin Emrys and David Lloyd George. Features will include stovepipe chimneys and a removable cab roof centre section reminiscent of how Merddin Emrys looked in its original form. It is hoped that some original components and design details will be incorporated into the new loco.

The first components for the new boiler have already been delivered. This will be the fourth new boiler built in the works and will be of hybrid welded / riveted construction, currently being designed at Boston Lodge. It is planned that the loco will enter traffic in 2020, in time for the 150th anniversary of the Little Wonder trials in 1870, when the world's first successful double engine hauled a train of 111 slate wagons, six carriages, 60 passengers and 12 goods wagons some 1,350 feet long.

F&WHR General Manager Paul Lewin commented: "Back in the early days of rebuilding the FR, when reopening to Blaenau Ffestiniog seemed an impossible dream, volunteers would have thought it inconceivable that 50 years later, legendary locos such as Welsh Pony and James Spooner would be in action on two wonderful railways, stretching 40 miles from Caernarfon to Blaenau Ffestiniog."