A FISTFUL OF FIRSTS


The first standard gauge locomotive to pass from British Railways to private ownership in full working order was J52 0-6-0ST No 68846 at that time a pilot engine at King’s Cross Top Shed. Designed by H A Ivatt for the Great Northern Railway (GNR) she was built in 1899 by Sharp Stewart in Glasgow as works number 4492 and was numbered 1247 by GNR in their Class J13. At the Grouping in 1923 she became LNER No 4247 (Class J52), then 8846 in the LNER renumbering and eventually, at Nationalisation in 1948, BR No 68846.

Photo: Tom Greaves


68846 with class A headlights in the Hornsey area. It was based at Hornsey from March 1956 to February 1959. Photo: Tom Greaves

The perseverance of Capt. W G (Bill) Smith and the flexibility of Gerry Fiennes, the flamboyant General Manager (GM) of Eastern Region culminated on 7 May 1959 in a handover special train with 68846 hauling the GM’s saloon from Kings Cross to Marshmoor near Hatfield. The first privately owned steam locomotive to work over BR metals.

Her first main line outing, after being repainted in original GNR livery and bearing her original number 1247, was in July 1959, together with her former Top Shed mate Mallard, to Peterborough for the formal opening of the New England Freight Depot. 1247 was much in demand for rail enthusiast specials and on 1 April 1962 worked a special from London Bridge to Sheffield Park on the Bluebell Railway for the inauguration of the Association of Railway Preservation Societies. 1247 remained on the Bluebell Railway until 1965.

In 1965, with a ban on privately owned steam locos operating on BR lines anticipated, 1247 moved to Keighley Carriage sidings and worked the coaching stock to Haworth for the opening of the Keighley & Worth Valley Railway. A short period on loan to the Birmingham Railway Museum at Tyseley followed, before a move to Grosmont in 1974 for six busy years on the North Yorkshire Moors Railway.

1247 in GNR green is seen here on the North Yorkshire Moors Railway alongside NER Class T2 0-8-0 No 2238 Photo: NYMR Archives

In August 1980 Bill, a life member of FNRM, donated 1247 to the Museum - the first privately owned steam locomotive in full working order to be accepted for the National Collection.

Photo: NRM Archives


Donated in 1980 to the NRM, it is seen here in the Museum’s preparation bay receiving plenty of attention whilst Duchess of Hamilton steams in the background.


In 1991 it was displayed at Railfair 91 in Sacramento, California, and from 1995 to 1998, 1247 was at the East Somerset Railway where it was repainted back into British Railways lined black as 68846

Photo:© Philip Benham


Back from the East Somerset Railway, 68846 is at Locomotion, Shildon in black with red and white lining and the late BR crest and shed plate 34B (Hornsey).


In 2009 the Friends, through the South of England Group, paid for the locomotive to be repainted into original GNR livery once again after several years in ‘British Railways lined black’. Resplendent in the new colours, she was unveiled at Locomotion on 16 May 2009 by Peter Townend and Capt Bill Smith’s son, Andrew, Bill having passed away in 2007.

Photo:© Philip Benham


Back in original GNR green livery after eleven years in British Railways lined black, 1247 in pride of place at the front of the Collections Building in Shildon.


1247 is currently on display at the NRM, York


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Photos on this website are ©Philip Benham or ©National Railway Museum