Britannia Class 4-6-2

70014 on Boat Train

"Britannia" class Nº70014 Iron Duke leaving Victoria with a Boat Train during August 1951.

photograph by G. W. Morant

The Britannia Class of 7MT pacific locomotives was the first of what was to become a successful line of Standard locomotive classes introduced by British Railways between 1951 and 1954. The decision not to build any more steam locomotives, despite the most recently introduced class (the Class 8P pacific of 1954) having just one solitary example, put an end to this program which had seen a total of twelve classes produced with an originally planned lifespan extending into the 1990s. Designed at Derby and built at Crewe, the Britannias hit the headlines when the first, Nº70000 Britannia, was unveiled to a generally appreciative audience. The impressive clean lines were a further reminder that Britain was finally recovering from the dark, drab days of the second world war, and the years of austerity that followed, and was now firmly looking to the future. The fifth member of the class, Nº70004 William Shakespeare was exhibited at the 1951 Festival of Britain on the South Bank.

Designed by R A Riddles, the locomotives were to all intents and purposes a further development of the products of Stanier and Ivatt at the LMS, with improvements that took advantage of the lessons learned during the Locomotive Interchange Trials of 1948. One such being the adoption of the 6' 2" driving wheels that had proved so successful on the Southern's Bulleid pacifics. Twenty five were built during 1951, another thirteen in 1952, seven in 1953 and a final batch of ten during 1954. Finished in unlined black, Britannia was sent for a test run on 11th January 1951 between Crewe and Carlisle, which was completed successfully. Following this run the locomotive was painted in the new BR standard livery of lined Brunswick Green and sent to Marylebone station for her naming ceremony on 30th January 1951.

"Britannia" class Nº70004 William Shakespeare working a "Golden Arrow" duty, date believed to be during 1951, was photographed at Sandling Shorncliffe.

photograph: Mike Morant collection

70004 at Salisbury
70004 on Golden Arrow A good "rods down" picture! Nº70004 on a further "Golden Arrow" duty, here captured at Folkestone Junction on what is believed to be another 1951 date.

photograph: Mike Morant collection

Now Nº70004 William Shakespeare is seen leaving Victoria with the "Golden Arrow" on 11th October 1954.

photograph by Mike Morant

70004 on Golden Arrow
70004 at Salisbury Here Nº70004 is seen on shed at Salisbury on 14th August 1966 before working the Westbury - Salisbury - Waterloo leg of the LCGB "A2 Commemorative" rail tour.

photograph by Dave Mant

The Britannias were mainly allocated to the Eastern and Western Regions of British Railways, with some going to the North Eastern and Scottish Regions, but two of the first batch, Nº70004 William Shakespeare and Nº70014 Iron Duke, were allocated to the Southern Region at Stewarts Lane, from where they worked the prestigious "Golden Arrow" and other boat train services, although Iron Duke is also known to have worked the "Bournemouth Belle". There is a brief clip of this loco taking the "Belle" through Basingstoke station during 1951 on the Ian Allan video/DVD "Decades of Steam, 1950s". A further loco appeared briefly on Southern metals when Nº70009 Alfred the Great was allocated to Nine Elms between May and November 1951, during which time it is known to have also hauled the "Bournemouth Belle".

These three locos were fitted with two middle position lamp irons welded to the brackets between the smoke box and the smoke deflectors for their sojourns on the Southern and 70004 and 70014 were also both, sometime in 1953, fitted with extended lamp irons (almost similar to the Brighton style) for the left and right buffer beam locations (the middle iron was not extended). It has been suggested this was to stop the lamps blowing out, perhaps this was something to do with the design of the Southern Railway style loco lamp. The extended irons can be clearly when comparing the disc positions in the first and second pictures above.

Nº70004 William Shakespeare once more, this time at Folkestone with full Golden Arrow regalia, duty number 4.

photographMike Morant collection

William Shakespeare and Iron Duke were not, however, destined to be Southern engines for long as in 1958 they were transferred away to Manchester, with their places being taken by two BR Standard Class 5s, Nº73041 and Nº73042.

No more Britannias were allocated to the Southern, although following the Crewkerne accident, which resulted in the temporary withdrawal of Merchant Navy class locomotives, a number of the Western Region's Old Oak Common allocated Britannias were drafted in to work Southern services during May 1953 in the MNs absence. These were:
70017 Arrow to Salisbury
70023 Venus to Salisbury
70024 Vulcan to Exmouth Junction
70028 Royal Star to Exmouth Junction
70029 Shooting Star to Exmouth Junction
70030 William Wordsworth to Dover
70034 Thomas Hardy to Stewarts Lane

The Britannias were the first of the BR Standards, and amongst the last as Nº70013 Oliver Cromwell remained in traffic to the end of BR mainline steam, not being withdrawn until September 1968.

Whilst generally a successful design, the biggest complaint about them seemed to be that they could be rather "rough riders" on anything but the smoothest of roads and there were also questions about their "pulling" ability with the Western Region having to double head them on heavier trains, and a propensity for slipping when starting, cured on the Western Region by replacing the Britannias' regulators with GWR ones - but then, the GWR/BR(W) always had to be different! The class' best work was, no doubt, performed on the Dover and Norwich roads.

70000 The first of the BR Standard locomotives, Britannia Pacific Nº70000 Britannia at the buffer stops at Portsmouth Harbour after hauling the LCGB "Vectis" railtour on 4th October 1964. The train had started from Waterloo and 70000 had taken over at Guildford, running via Reading, Basingstoke and Fareham. The train would return direct to Waterloo after the tour participants had savoured the delights of the Isle of Wight lines.

Some twelve and a half years earlier Britannia had pulled the train carrying King George VI's body on the final leg of its journey from Sandringham to Kings Cross.

photograph by Keith Harwood

70020 Nº 70020 Mercury was the selected Britannia for two Southern Region enthusiasts' tours which emanated from London in the 1960s. The first of those is depicted here as she creates a wonderful display of exhaust whilst passing Raynes Park station on the crisp morning of 6 December 1964.
The tour emanated from the unlikely source of the erstwhile Broad Street station and should have been hauled by 70020 from the outset, but the loco was found to be facing in the wrong direction and so the first leg, to Willesden Junction (HL), was endured behind a Type 2 diesel (D5009). Mercury took over from this point and proceeded via Olympia, Clapham Jct. and East Putney to Wimbledon whence she took the train to Fareham.
The return trip in the evening saw 70020 haul the consist, all ex-LMS stock, from Eastleigh Works, straight up the main line, to Waterloo. In the intervening period, 34079 141Squadron, had hauled the train from Fareham to Southampton Eastern Docks and USA tanks 30069 & 30073 performed as train engines thence to Eastleigh and the works.

And all of that for just £1. 18s. 6d !!!!

photograph by Mike Morant


Technical Details

  • Introduced: January 1951
  • Driving Wheel: 6 ft 2 ins
  • Bogie Wheel: 3 ft
  • Trailing Wheel: 3 ft 3½ ins
  • Length: 69 ft 9 ins
  • Total Weight - Loco: 94 tons 0 cwt
             - BR1 Tender: 47 tons 4 cwt *
  • Cylinders (2): 20 in x 28 in
  • Boiler Pressure: 250 lb sq in
  • Tractive Effort: 32,150 lb
  • Coal capacity: 7 tons
  • Water (BR1 tender): 4,250 gals
  • Power Classification: 7-MT

* As working on the Southern. Later batches had larger tenders.

Britannias based on the Southern
Name Built Transferred away
70004 William Shakespeare 1951 1958
70009 Alfred the Great 1951 1951
70014 Iron Duke 1951 1958

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This page was last updated 8 July 2020

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