When Richard Maunsell became Chief Mechanical Engineer of the newly created Southern Railway (SR) in 1923 he realised that it lacked locomotives powerful enough to haul heavy boat trains at speed between London and the south’s ports – Southampton, Folkestone and Dover.
Lord Nelson hauling the support coach and a rake of preserved Pullman carriages across Folkestone Harbour bridge having just left Folkestone Harbour Pier station on 28 July 2007.
He therefore set out to design an innovative locomotive that could handle the hilly terrain: the prototype was completed in 1926 and named “Lord Nelson”. With a big boiler and very long firebox the locomotive had ample power when fired well: but could be difficult with an inexperienced crew or poor coal. Lord Nelson’s uniqueness lay in the setting of the connecting rods between her four cylinders and the wheel cranks. Normally on a four cylindered locomotive the cranks are set 90 degrees apart and two pairs of cylinders act together. Maunsell wanted a more even drive to cope with the heavy loads so arranged the cranks to be 135 degrees apart, so each cylinder acts on its own. This worked well but with a great deal of machinery packed into very small space it meant that Lord Nelson was a complex machine and not a greyhound like the LNER Pacifics.
Eventually, only 16 Nelsons were built, all named after famous admirals. When Maunsell retired in 1938, his successor, Oliver Bulleid, (who had been Sir Nigel Gresley’s assistant) thought he could do better and built his “Merchant Navy” Pacifics instead.
The Nelsons were the only British passenger locomotives built with the 135 degree crank setting – which is why the prototype was saved for the National Collection after withdrawal in August 1962.
May 2007, now part of the National Collection, Lord Nelson is seen here with Ian Harrison of the Friends South of England Group (SoEG) leaning on the buffer-beam.
Along with numerous other locomotives, Lord Nelson was found temporary homes until the National Railway Museum was established in 1975. She was then offered to Sir William McAlpine’s “Steamtown” museum at Carnforth as a potential main line locomotive. She was restored in time to appear at the “Rocket 150” celebrations at Rainhill in 1980. After numerous main line runs, her boiler ticket expired in 1984 and in the absence of funds for rebuilding, she was left in store at Carnforth.
Meanwhile, in her home town of Eastleigh the Eastleigh Railway Preservation Society (ERPS) had completed a rebuild of 30828, an S15 mixed traffic locomotive. They had long hoped to bring “Nellie” back to Eastleigh and in 1997 the NRM agreed to allow ERPS to rebuild Lord Nelson at its own expense as SR No 850. It soon became clear that the task of fund-raising for such a mammoth project was extremely difficult but the newly formed South of England Group of the Friends (SoEG) was able to step in and help with various tranches of money, raised from its sales stand activities at many railway shows. The eventual total donated was of the order of £35,000.
The very long rebuild project of Lord Nelson was completed and she was re-named by HRH The Princess Royal on 3 May 2006.
Lord Nelson hard at work on the Mid Hants Railway at Chawton.
She was then engaged on various main line tours in 2006 and 2007 but unfortunately failed with leaking firebox stays in August 2007. After repairs, she went to the Mid Hants Railway (The Watercress Line) and stayed there, working service trains on that line until her boiler ticket expired in 2016. She is currently being re-built on the Mid Hants Railway to see further service in the future.
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