Background

Gowrie was the final engine purchased by the North Wales Narrow Gauge Railways in 1908. The background to the purchase was given by J.C. Russell in his affidavit to the High Court, Chancery Division, sworn on 19th March 1908 in his role as Receiver and Manager, asking for £1300 to be released from 'Monies in Court':-

  1. It has become necessary to expend a sum not exceeding £1300 in the purchase of a new Locomotive in the place of one of the original Locomotives which has been running since the Line was opened in August 1877. In spite of the constant renewals and repairs one of the old Engines is quite worn out and the Engineer of the Company (Mr Aitchison) has informed me that it is impossible to renew it except by rebuilding it which is practically the same as acquiring a new Engine and that it would be less efficient, less powerful, and less economical in working than the proposed new Engine.

  2. I have carefully considered the matter with the said Engineer and have made enquiries from three Firms and have obtained a Tender from the Hunslet Engine Company Limited of Leeds and I find that the Engine proposed by that Company is the least costly and will prove very efficient and I submit that their Tender should be accepted.

  3. The Tender, and the Tracing No. 9992 referred to thereon, together with a letter from the said Hunslet Engine Company Limited dated 10th March 1908 to the said Mr Aitchison which accompanied them are produced and shewn to me at the time of swearing this my Affidavit and are fastened together and marked with the Letters “J.C.R”.

On 26th March the Court ordered that sufficient Consols (3% New Consolidated Stock) be sold to produce £1,300 which was transferred to the Company from the Paymaster General. A charge to renewals reserve of £1,298 in the last half of 1908 was undoubtably the cost. Delivery was in September 1908.

The original locomotive referred to would have been either Moel Tryfan or Snowdon Ranger, almost certainly the latter. Despite the comments in the affidavit, Hunslet supplied a new set of frame plates for Snowdon Ranger in 1908, and further spares until 1913 (and for Moel Tryfan until 1919). The last spares order by the NWNGR to Hunslets was in January 1916.

Construction

Built by Hunslet (works number 979), the basic design of Gowrie was the manufacturer's, but Gowrie C. Aitchison exerted influence to the extent that the single Fairlie bogie arrangement was used. Unlike the Spooner designed Fairlies the steam pipe on Gowrie travelled from the dome down the outside of the boiler to a ball joint below the bogie pivot. This resulted in a much longer steam pipe. Many features such as cab, boiler mountings and firebox outline were similar to Russell and a number of components were the same as those used on other Hunslet locomotives. Gowrie was the only single Fairlie to be built by Hunslet and the last built for UK use, until the Ffestiniog Railway built the replica Taliesin.

Gowrie was delivered to the NWNGR in September 1908.

In NWNGR service and subsequent sale

The locomotive reputedly suffered from being short of steam. A possible reason for this is that although the capacity of the locomotives cylinders to consume steam was greater than that of the earlier Fairlies its boiler was smaller. It also suffered from the steam pipe fracturing due to its inflexibility, the pipe was later rerouted to include a spiral round the dome in an attempt to increase the flexibility but the orders for spare parts continued, the last from Hunslet in December 1915 for piston rings and January 1916 for brake blocks.[1]

Tradition has it that the engine was not a success, and after the combining of Moel Tryfan and Snowdon Ranger into one good loco in 1917, Gowrie was sold, probably in 1918. A paragraph headed North Wales Narrow Gauge Railway in a Magazine of 24 May 1919 said "We have heard it on the highest authority that last year the Locomotive ‘Gowrie’ was sold to the Government and that the two Locomotives ‘Moel Tryfan’ and ‘Snowdon Ranger’ have been dismantled and rebuilt as one locomotive with dimensions etc. about the same as the separate Locomotives before rebuilding."[2]

Later years

From May 1919, and for several years, Gowrie was advertised for sale (at one point for £375) by J.F. Wake at Darlington with a 1918 Wakes rebuild plate. Robert Williams was sent to inspect it in steam and report on it for the FR in 1923, but this was not pursued. Also in 1923 an attempt was made to sell it to the Vale of Rheidol Railway fo £600, they declined and forwarded the offer to the FR who also declined (again). Spares were supplied by Hunslet in 1924. It was still in Wake's yard at Darlington when photographed in 1926, and continued to be advertised by them until the end of 1927.

At the beginning of 1928 the Wake's advertisements stopped and several of the engines, including Gowrie, were advertised by Hughes Bolckow Ltd, The Aerodrome, Marske-by-Sea, North Yorkshire, apparently sold to them. Several Royal Arsenal locomotives are reported to have gone the same route. Hughes Bolckow were shipbreakers, based at Battleship Wharf, Blyth, but also acted as scrap merchants. In early 1921 the firm had acquired 30 acres of land and 4 concrete hangars at the decommissioned Aerodrome from the MoM, Disposals Board, from which initially to dispose of stores of material from dumps in France purchased by the firm.[3]

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