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The Snailbeach Locomotives

The Snailbeach Locomotives

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For the opening of the line in 1877, the Company acquired a 0-4-2 saddle tank locomotive, built by Henry Hughes & Company and named Belmont after one of the principal shareholders’ house. The Company was desperately short of capital and the locomotive was obtained second-hand, at an advantageous price as the result of colliery liquidation, with the happy coincidence that its gauge was correct, She had been built by Henry Hughes and Company of Loughborough and was supplied new, probably in 1874, to the Ifton-Rhyn Colliery, near Chirk, and was named ‘Salome’. It had been supplied to help in the construction of a railway that was planned to connect with the 2’ 4” Glyn Valley Tramway but in the event this was never completed.

Although no full photograph is known to exist It is likely that Belmont was similar in appearance to the Hughes locomotives on the Corris Railway (one of which survives as the Talyllyn Railway's ‘Sir Haydn’), because all known Hughes saddle tanks have a strong family resemblance. The Corris locomotives weighed about the same as Belmont, but had smaller driving wheels and cylinders. Belmont appears from a part photo to have had a cab, with the rear open above waist level. It was a relatively small 0-4-2 saddle tank weighing around ten tons in working order, with 10” x 15” cylinders and 2’ 7 ½” diameter driving wheels.

It was moved on 15th February 1877 from its colliery home to Oswestry, where it received a number of weeks' work at the hands of the Cambrian Railways’ workshop staff. This consisted mainly of a repaint - white lead undercoat and red lead topcoat - but some repairs and refitting too, including new gauge glasses, some new metal work and a pair of Cambrian Railways buffers. It was kitted out with an oil feeder, a gauge lamp, a signal lamp and sundry other items. New Belmont name plates do not seem to have been fitted, although the scrap value of two old name plates was subtracted from the final bill, together with other items cashed in to keep the cost down. Work had finished at the end of June. The Cambrian company delivered Belmont to Pontesbury Station by rail ready for the Snailbeach District Railways being opened for traffic in July 1877.

By 1882 Belmont was well worn and had to be ‘renewed’ at a cost sufficient to require a slice of a newly issued Debenture. By the late 1890s she was again much worn and had gone to the Wrexham firm of Cudworth and Johnson for extensive repair. One of the first acts of the Railway Board after Dennis reconstituted it was to raise cash ‘so that the engine [Belmont] be delivered’. Raising the cost of £340/1/2 took from January to April 1900 and another special debenture was issued to cover the cost. This must have been a very substantial repair and it seems likely that it would have been sufficient to ensure that Belmont was the last survivor of the original two engines, disappearing from the books in 1912.


By 1880, Belmont was literally feeling the burden of carrying the railways’ heavy traffic and was in need of overhaul. The Board therefore authorised the acquisition of a second locomotive at a cost of not more than £1000. They had reported this need to shareholders on 16 February 1880. They did not however formally give approval till August.

The locomotive was bought through sales agency Lennox, Lange & Company. This agency sold the products of such locomotive builders as Andrew Barclay and Barclays & Company, both of Kilmarnock. Receipts indicate a total cost of £900 some of which had to be paid for with a debenture issued in 1882. Given the price there can be no doubt that the purchase was a new locomotive. It carried maker's plates showing its builder as Lennox, Lange but this was a common practice for agency sales of locomotives. It is likely that the locomotive was one of Barclays & Co's, probably one of works numbers 279, 280, 281 or 285. On 23rd August 1881 the Directors reported the new locomotive received and working. It was named after another shareholders‘ house.

The only known photograph of Fernhill is damaged but shows that it had much in common with Barclays 0-4-0 saddle tank locomotives of that period, which were built for track gauges from 3’ 0” up to standard gauge. In this case, for such a narrow gauge, Barclays put the wheels inside the main frames, spreading the estimated weight of 19 tons by adding a third axle under the cab and behind the firebox, with flangeless centre driving wheels for the sharp curves. Fitted with 12” x 20” cylinders and 3’ 0” diameter wheels Fernhill no doubt pushed the axle loading to a maximum on the 40lbs per yard wrought iron rails on the railway. Barclays were fitting steam brakes to their products at the time Fernhill was built, and this locomotive may well have had them too, although there is no hard evidence.

Fernhill was much larger than its predecessor. However with the prospect of heavy coal traffic uphill and lead ore downhill the new locomotive needed to be as heavy and as strong on braking as possible. A clue to this need can be found in the Directors' report to shareholders in1881 "In view of the present and prospective condition of the Traffic of the Line, and of the possibilities of accidents, your Directors consider that the time has arrived when additional Locomotive power should be acquired …” .To assist in controlling such heavy loads, the later Bagnall locomotive Dennis was certainly fitted with steam brakes and sand boxes. Such features were particularly important when you consider the damp, greasy rail conditions prevailing in the railways hilly location.

Dennis (No 1)

Dennis (No.1)

Henry Dennis, by now the Chairman and engineer and after whom the engine was to be named, advised the Board at its September 1905 meeting that with the opening of the new Eastridge quarry either one locomotive must be repaired or a new one bought. This advice and course of action was confirmed. This was just as well as the locomotive had already been ordered from W.G. Bagnall Limited of The Castle Engine Works, Stafford, by Dennis & Son from its "Engineers Office, Ruabon" on 15th February 1905.The locomotive was a 0-6-0 side tank with 12” x 18” outside cylinders, 2’ 9 ¼” diameter wheels and an 8ft 6” wheelbase. It was equipped with Bagnall-Price valve gear. At 85% of the 150 Ibs/sq in working pressure, the locomotive had a tractive effort of 9900lbs, making it very powerful indeed for the narrow gauge. Delivery was on 20th February 1906. The cost was £970, with £370 down and 12 quarterly payments of £50 commencing on 25th June 1906. The SDR's difficult financial position meant that even this extended payment system required the sale of Debentures to the mining Company.

The weight in working order of Dennis was comparable to Fernhill at 22 tons. The locomotive was clearly a direct replacement for Fernhill and it is probable that this locomotive was withdrawn around this time.

Dennis did all that was required of her and for much of her career was the only working locomotive hauling, perhaps with assistance from one other engine before 1912, the heaviest traffic the railway ever carried. Spares for the engine were consistently ordered from Bagnall until the last record on 20th March 1923 about which time the loco was probably set aside for repairs.

No.4 with driver GatfordAlthough Stephens provided ample replacement motive power for the resurrected line there were continuing hopes of repairing the loco and he numbered it 1. During November 1924 called in H. Nevitt, a consulting engineer and retired LMS official, whom Stephens used for day to day engineering matters on the Welsh Highland/Festiniog. He examined Dennis to report on the progress of boiler repairs. Out of a total of 271 copper stays in the firebox, 132 had been drilled out and paid for, a further 108 had been drilled out and not paid for, and Nevitt goes on to refer to the number of rivets needing to be removed from the foundation ring, firehole door, and smokebox tubeplate. He further reported that W. Crawley (who was apparently carrying out the repairs) could not proceed until the boiler was lifted completely out of the locomotive frames, and that he had offered him £1 to do this work. We know that this work was undertaken, as photographs exist of the locomotive by the shed at Snailbeach, with the firebox completely removed and lying alongside the engine; and with the smokebox tubeplate removed too. Work seems to have then virtually stopped. However there does not seem to be any real substance to the claim that this was because Driver–fitter Gatford did not like the engine. Hopes of resurrecting Dennis still continued during the period of Stephens’ active management. In 1929 there was correspondence between Gatford and Tonbridge about firebox repairs. This is the last mention we have of attempts to repair the locomotive and hopes were probably terminated when Austen, with his more pragmatic attitudes to the real need for the locomotive took over. 'Dennis' remained dismantled until officially withdrawn in 1936 and its components were recorded as sold for scrap in 1937.

The Kerr Stuart No 2

This relatively small 0-4-2T No. 802 was built in 1902 to 2' 6" gaugeThis relatively small 0-4-2T No. 802 was built in 1902 to 2' 6" gauge. The dainty little ‘Skylark’ was the prototype of a Kerr Stuart standard class and had a varied career. She had been built for the contractor H Lovatt and Co for construction of the 2’ 6” gauge Leek and Manifold Light Railway. With that work finished in 1904 it passed to another contract in Salford docks and was sold in 1907. It then disappeared until 1914 when the Admiralty had it stored on Hoo Ness Island. It played its part In WW1 by working on the Ridham Dock Salvage Depot system operating on Edward Lloyds narrow gauge tracks from some time in 1917. It was still stored at Ridham in September 1920 but moved to storage at a Central Storage Depot at 31, Dog Lane, Neasden, London from where It was bought by dealers E C Cornforth sometime late in 1922. A Kerr Stuart standard classCornforth were based at Kidsgrove, north of Stoke, who claimed to be rolling stock contractors and suppliers of locomotives, wagons, rails, passenger stock, steam excavators, steam cranes, hauling and winding engines, boilers and metals and advertised locomotives for sale between 1894 and 1924. They seem to have sub-contracted most engineering work. The Kerr Stuart was sold to Stephens on 11 December 1922 (before he formally took over the Snailbeach) and it was delivered to the Snailbeach on 10th March 1923 probably after re-gauging.

The Baldwins Nos 3 & 4

The first was Baldwin 44383 built in 1916, refurbished by Bagnall in December1918-April 1919 and delivered to the Snailbeach still carrying WD No 538. The second was Baldwin works number 44522 (not 44572 as frequently recorded) built in 1917, refurbished by Bagnall in October-November 1918, and carrying WD No 722. On the Snailbeach these locomotives were official numbered 3 and 4 respectively and carried these numbers latterly. They could be told apart by No.4's being from a later batch equipped with water lifting equipment and protective hoods over its cab front spectacle plates. Baldwin 44383 built in 1916, on the Snailbeach this locomotive was number 3The two Baldwins are recorded as purchased in January 1923 from Messrs Learoyd & Son of Clapton, London, and delivered in April 1923. They carried Rebuilt Bagnall 1918 plates. Snailbeach subsequently ordered spares for the Baldwins in March 1926, February 1930, October 1934 and July 1935. Spares were also obtained from the Ashover who ran (and cannibalised) similar locomotives. The Bagnall October 1934 spares order is especially interesting and reads 'General Order No.7904, Baldwin No.3 loco, built to 2' 0" gauge, but adapted to 2' 3 ¾” gauge by drawing the tyres from the wheel centres, flange alterations now desirable'. Presumably Bagnall had the wheels and axles at Stafford for re-tyreing. This statement confirms the report in The Locomotive magazine for October 1926 that the locomotives were adapted to the Snailbeach track by the simple expedient of shifting the tyres outwards on the wheel centres. This was a very cheap and unsatisfactory method that nevertheless appears to have lasted for over ten years until Bagnall provided new purpose-built tyres.

All the Stephens’ purchases proved effective and reliable on the Snailbeach and appear to have been used turn and turn about without trouble until limited funds and manpower caused their tubes to fail at the same time in the summer of 1946. With the satisfactory substitution of a farm tractor on the only remaining active part of the railway and then lease to Salop County Council they were never needed again and succumbed to the scrapman, T W Ward, in May 1950.


Colonel Stephens Archive-SDR Minutes and records

Industrial Railway Record- Various articles by Rodney Weaver, Allan Baker and Andy Cuckson
Snailbeach District Railways, E Tonks (IRS 1974)