Steam Locos of a More Leisurely Era – ‘Big Bertha’ and the ‘Decapod’

Big Bertha – Fowler 0-10-0 Banking EngineThe  engine as running soon after construction, in 1920.  H.C.Casserley.

The closing weeks of 1919 saw the appearance from Derby works of what was by far the largest locomotive to be built for the Midland Railway, which had remained a ‘small engine’ line during the period when most other railways had gone in for much larger and more powerful machines.

No.2290 was a four cylinder 0-10-0 engine built especially for banking up the Lickey incline with the three miles of continuous 1 in 37 ascent, and which had hitherto seen nothing larger than 0-6-0Ts on this duty.  It was, moreover, the only ten-coupled engine in the country at the time, its only other predecessor in this respect having been the GER ‘Decapod’, and it was not until 1943 that any further engines with ten wheels coupled appeared in Great Britain.

The new Midland locomotive had Walschaert’s outside valve gear, and the two piston valves for the two cylinders had outside admission, the parts inside the cylinders being crossed.  The cylinders were steeply inclined.

The famous Lickey Incline banker, locally known as ‘Big Bertha’ MR No. 2290 (here renumbered 22290) stands at Bromsgrove in May 1948 with steam up in readiness to assist a train up the 2¼ mile 1 in 37 gradient. H.C.Casserley

To facilitate drawing up to the rear of a train in darkness, preparatory to banking, it was later fitted with a powerful electric headlight.  It spent almost the whole of its life on the duty for which it was built, although it made one or two early trials on mineral trains between Toton and Cricklewood.  It remained the only representative of its class, and in order to ensure as short an absence as possible on its visits to shops, it had two boilers, which could be interchanged on these occasions.  After 36 years of heavy pounding up the bank it was withdrawn from service in 1956.   In 1947 it was renumbered 22290, and under the BR regime it became 58100.  It went locally by the name of ‘Big Bertha’.  Fortunately the impressive sound of its throaty exhaust has been preserved on a gramophone record by an enterprising firm specialising in railway recordings.

Driving Wheels – 4’  7½”,  Cylinders (4) 16¾” x 28”,  Pressure 180lbs.

Tractive Effort 43,315lbs. Weight 73 tons 13 cwt.

‘Decapod’ – J.Holden 0-10-0TThe ‘Decapod’ as built – H.C.Casserley

This startling engine which was built in 1902 to the designs of J.Holden was totally unlike anything else which had appeared previously on the GER or any other line.  It was indeed believed to be the most powerful locomotive in the world at the time.

No.20 had an enormous boiler with a firebox extending the full width of the frame (as on GNR Atlantics of the same year) and the water was carried in a well tank beneath the bunker.  It was the first ten-coupled engine in this country, and apart from two very early machines of 1846 and 1868 it was the first to be fitted with three simple-propulsion cylinders.  The middle pair of driving wheels was flangeless.

Its purpose was purely experimental, to ascertain whether steam haulage was capable of attaining as great a rate of acceleration as electric traction for suburban working.  The electrification advocates maintained that they could produce a train of 315 tons which could be accelerated to 30 mph in thirty seconds.  The new engine, with a train of 335 tons, actually exceeded this target on test; as a result the question of electrifying the Great Eastern suburban lines was shelved for another decade.  Unfortunately the necessary strengthening of track and bridges was also postponed on account of cost, and in the event was never carried out.  Owing to the permanent way restrictions, the ’Decapod’ was never able to be used in ordinary service, and in 1906 was reconstructed as a 2-cylinder 0-8-0 tender engine with a smaller boiler, and was used on freight trains.  It was finally scrapped in 1913.LNER Info.

It was unfortunate that the engine was so much before its time and never had the opportunity of completely justifying itself.

As 0-10-0T                                      As 0-8-0

Driving Wheels                 4’ 6”                                        4’ 9”

Cylinders                        (3) 18½” x 24”                         (2)  18½ x 24”

Pressure                             200lbs.                                    180lbs.

Weight                                 80 tons                                    54¼ tons


5 responses to “Steam Locos of a More Leisurely Era – ‘Big Bertha’ and the ‘Decapod’

  1. For the record: the cylinders of Big Bertha have NOT been preserved. Destined for preservation; all track of them was lost when the locomotive was cut-up at Derby in 1957.

  2. Three locos of the 1950’s should have been preserved. No 10000 LMS diesel. The LNER. Garrett class Ui. And BIG. BERTHA. But alas ’twas not to be

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