Modified Bulleid WC/BB 'West Country' and
'Battle of Britain' class 4-6-2

"Without wishing to be pedantic,
I could class Britannia as merely an enlarged Atlantic.
For something really tarific
See a Bulleid Pacific."
HAV Bulleid 
As originally built the Merchant Navy class and the Light Pacifics were a roaring success, particularly so in the 1948 locomotive trials when they showed a clean pair of heels (especially the Light Pacifics) to all opposition. It is true to say that the other regions called "foul" with some (minor) justification as, in the main, the trials were comparing economy and performance. The Southern engines could not compete on economy so their drivers were instructed to "go for it", and this they certainly did! Greeted with rapture on their introduction to traffic, by 1947 a couple of clouds had arrived on the horizon. Firstly, the locos were costing a lot in coal, water and oil and secondly maintenance, originally anticipated to be less than on traditional engines, was in reality rather more. These were not a problem for the drivers, of course, who were busy proving that the Southern had the best time-keeping of all the railways. The arrival of the Britannia Class 7MT Pacifics in 1951 only served to enhance the reputation of the Bulleids, which gave rise to the little ditty reproduced above! However, in 1952 the maintenance problems were growing. Bulleid's departure for Ireland had led to no effort being made to cure leakages from the oil baths, which were growing worse and, coupled with a general lowering of maintenance standards in order to cut costs, sloppy fault identifying and delayed attention to them, was causing serious and expensive damage. Three options were clear - the Railway could:
1. Do nothing.
2. Try to fix the problems without major modifications.
3. Replace troublesome parts by standard parts.
The task was given to Jarvis of the CM&EE Department at Brighton and he, understandably, opted for number three. By the end of 1954 he had finished the designs and drawings, which were put forward in January 1955, proposing to modify all 140 Pacifics over a six year period, for a cost of £760,000, which, it was estimated, would save an overall £2,051,400 by the locomotives' estimated scrapping date of 1987.

A not-so-common shot, 34047 Callington caught exactly side-on. The lack of nameplates says it is at the end of her career!

photograph: Mike Morant collection

The decision to go ahead was taken in 1955 and modifying of both the MN and the WC/BBs proceeded. However to many, whilst this modifying corrected the erratic running, it also reduced the "sparkling" performance (at least when working well) of the locos. One big disadvantage was the necessity to add balance weights to the Bulleid-Firth-Brown wheels, thus removing one of their better characteristics - the total absence of any hammer blow. Another problem was increased weight which originally barred the modified LPs from working to North Devon or over Meldon Viaduct, west of Okehampton. (In July 1959 Meldon Viaduct had been strengthened and the modified locos were allowed to work to Plymouth, but they were still barred from the North Cornwall and North Devon lines. The first such working over Meldon Viaduct was on 14th July when 34062 headed the 8:41a.m. Exeter-Plymouth stopping train and the 2:25p.m. return).
(For information and pictures of the Light Pacifics in their original form please follow this link to the SREmG Light Pacific picture pages.) However, unlike the MN class, not all were modified since the financial justification for converting a relatively new locomotive class was weakened with the decision to phase out steam traction far faster than originally proposed. In all 60 out of 110 were modified with the WC variants being modified in greater proportion than the BB ones - 43 out of 66 WC locos compared with 17 out of 44 BB. As with the engines in their original form the only differences between the modified WCs and BBs were the nameplates and scrolls/plaques.
34069 Nº34090 Sir Eustace Missenden, Southern Railway at Brookwood during 1959.

photograph: Mike Morant collection

34021 Dartmoor was modified during November and December 1957.
Originally 21C121, she was renumbered to s21C121 in March 1948, then to 34021 in July 1948 but still carried the number s21C121 on her front. She was repainted in BR livery in May 1950.

photograph by Ray Soper

34008 34008 Padstow arriving at East Croydon in charge of the 6:10pm from Victoria

photograph by Keith Harwood

The 6.10 from Victoria was the heaviest commuter train on the Oxted line. It was described as "infamous" or something similar by R H N Hardy when writing of his experiences as shedmaster at Stewarts Lane (and elsewhere), because it was such a heavy train and tightly timed over a difficult route (the Oxted line is uphill most of the way from South Croydon to beyond Woldingham). It ran from Victoria to Brighton via Oxted and Eridge and conveyed a Tunbridge Wells portion that was detached at Oxted. Running fast from East Croydon to Oxted, it was invariably worked by a Brighton pacific that came up on a balancing working earlier in the day. If anything other than a pacific was rostered it used to run very late!

Keith Harwood

34087 145 Squadron off home territory at Willesden Junction on on 13th August 1961.

photograph: Mike Morant collection

The first loco to be modified was 34005 Barnstaple in the summer of 1957 and the last 34104 Bere Alston in May 1961. Modifying followed a similar programme to that employed on the MN class but all narrow cab locomotives had their cabs enlarged to 9 ft. The appearance of the modifieds resembled their contemporary BR standard design Pacifics but still retained many of Bulleid's features, the most obvious being the BFB wheels, the smokebox door and the cabs. Modifying also increased the weight in full working order by almost 4 tons which prevented them working to Barnstaple, Bude, Ilfracombe or Padstow. Some modifieds also obtained new 5250 gallon capacity tenders which were built on the underframes of the badly corroded originals.
Being relatively new locomotives these classes in their modified form lasted working front-line services until the end of steam. The first withdrawal was in 1964 and the final members of the class lasted until the end of Southern steam in 1967. As with the locomotives in their original form the modifieds are a popular class and again ten have either been preserved or are awaiting restoration: 34010 Sidmouth, 34016 Bodmin, 34027 Taw Valley, 34028 Eddystone, 34039 Boscastle, 34046 Braunton, 34053 Sir Keith Park, 34058 Sir Frederick Pile, 34059 Sir Archibald Sinclair and 34101 Hartland.
34037 Slipping The LPs and MNs were renowned for slipping when in the hands of an inexperienced or careless driver, or when making a difficult start such as on a grade with a sharp curvature. Here 34037 Clovelly can be seen slipping badly when re-starting after coaling at Nine Elms. Slipping can be very dangerous if not brought quickly under control, both to the crew and the locomotive. After being modified engines weren't quite so prone to slipping as when in the original condition as they were not so "free and easy" on starting.

photograph by Mike Morant

On 27th April 1963 fifteen specials from Southampton took supporters to an FA Cup semi-final. Ten of the specials from Southampton ran via Basingstoke, Oxford and Leamington to Snow Hill, nine of them with Southern Pacifics throughout, one of which was 34028 Eddystone, pictured here at Hatton.

photograph: Mike Morant collection

34098 Another of the nine was 34098 Templecombe, also shown here passing Hatton.

photograph: Mike Morant collection

An immaculate Nº34088 213 Squadron at Smitham on Derby Day, 29th May 1963, hauling the Royal Train for Tattenham Corner.

photograph by Mike Morant

34096 34096 Trevone on the turntable at Nine Elms on 15th August 1964.

photograph courtesy of
The Paul Plowman Photo CD Collection,

All photographs are copyright

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This page was last updated 9 July 2020

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