Our loco history really starts with George Jackson Churchward and the striking developments in locomotive design which took place during his tenure as chief mechanical engineer of the Great Western Railway.

Mr Churchward was born at Stoke Gabriel in Devon in 1857. He started his career by being articled as a pupil to the locomotive superintendent of the South Devon and Cornwall Railway.

This environment perhaps played a part in his later design work. The beauty of the Devon countryside may have influenced his artistic work on the external appearance of his engines.

An awareness of the diverse requirements of locomotives negotiating the heavy gradients in South Devon and Cornwall as well as the need for high speed elsewhere would have been essential in these early years and perhaps sowed the seeds that later grew into the range of locos that served the GWR so well for many years.

In 1876, his employer was absorbed into the Great Western Railway and Mr Churchward transferred to Swindon where he worked in the drawing office until 1882.

 He then became became assistant manager of the carriage works, moving to the locomotive works in 1895

with promotion to manager in 1896.

In 1897 he also took on the additional role of chief assistant locomotive superintendent.

During these years there is no doubt that he was busy in the initial stages of the developments that were to be so important.

He took over from William Dean as Chief Mechanical Engineer in 1902, though that title only came into being in 1916 (as Mr Dean had been in failing health for some years it is clear Mr Churchward's influence and workload was fast expanding).

Mr Churchward's great concept was for “Standard Locomotives” – the basis was a drawing dated January 1901 which outlined six projected engines sharing many common components. Included in the range was a 2-8-0, the first British design with that wheel configuration - this became the 28xx class.

The prototype came out of the Swindon works in June 1903 and was originally No. 97 – later being numbered 2800.

The loco was a success from the start and over a period lasting until the 1940s a total of 167 engines of the class were built and though the later locomotives incorporated some modifications by Collett they were substantially Churchward’s design.

Many of the class were still running into the 1960s hauling goods trains around the country right until the withdrawal of steam from the main line.

Today, a number of these rugged, powerful and reliable locos still do sterling service on Heritage lines around the country – a real testament to Mr Churchward’s imagination and design.

Grateful thanks are due to Richard Derry and Dave Walker for information and copies of GWR records that have made this history possible. We would be delighted to receive any further information and/or photographs of the loco either in its working life, in Barry or since.  Of course, we would be very happy to receive any corrections or additions to our information.

We have put together this group of images of the loco at work and are grateful to those who have made them available.

Another locoation with a selection of photos of the class at work can be found on Wikimedia   (go to  https://commons.wikimedia.org   then search on "GWR 2800") There is a really good one at:  https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Pangbourne_geograph-2614795-by-Ben-Brooksbank.jpg. which shows a typical freight formation in the Thames Valley - a route that 2874 would be very familiar with.

2874 was built in Swindon to Churchward’s design and was part of a batch of 28 to Lot 210, Diagram I and had Works Orders of 2762 – 2789 respectively. Work started in 1918 and was completed at the end of November. The recorded cost to build was £4992 and when the tender was included £6193, at today's prices this would represent £286,000 for the loco and £355,000 with tender. Of course, today we do not have the benefit of the economies of scale and a massive works (and workforce) able to undertake every task on site and so it will cost far more to restore than to originally build.

The loco was rated 8F with a tractive effort of 35,380 lbs and weighed out at 92 tons 12cwt with its tender.

Photo of 2874 Locomotive in April 1954


Coming into traffic on 4th December 1918 it was just too late to help with the major war effort where it’s class colleagues provided valuable assistance to the Royal Navy in hauling coal from the Welsh coalfields to numerous ports in the Western region and up into Lancashire for onward movement to Scapa Flow – the so-called “Jellicoe Specials”.

The first shed was Old Oak Common where it worked turn and turn about on the coal trains from Wales to London –

later homes included Reading, Leamington, Tyseley, Neath, Cardiff, Banbury, Stourbridge, Newport , Aberdare

and its final one again at Neath.

There is a lovely photo at Warwickshire Railways website of her standing at Tyseley on Sunday 21st June 1931. The loco was condemned on 24th May 1963 and sold to Woodham Bros on 9th October that year. As was usual with the GWR, the boiler that is now on 2874 (Standard No 1 – 2961) saw service on numerous other locos including Halls (Olton, Broome, Trentham and Butlers) and Granges (Arlington and Haughton) and covered some 1,007,205 miles – if only we could do the renovation of the boiler for what it cost new £971 (£56,000 at today's prices) we would be very pleased!

We have had sight of the engine record card from the National Archives at Kew and these confirm that the loco covered 1,255,231 miles in service.

We would be delighted to publish any photos of the loco in GWR or BR service.

Of great interest is the cost of maintenance shown in the records – in the 1930s a heavy general cost between £450 (£32,000)and £700 (£50,000) and a boiler overhaul between £150 and £700 – if only those prices were available from Swindon today our task would be much easier.

Of course, what make this 2-8-0 different from the rest of the class in preservation is that it is likely to be the only one to ever run again with the original internal steam pipes – although the class was designed in this way the vast majority were later converted to external pipes and all of the 38xx class were built to the latter, external pattern.



More Loco History




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