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The Watford Tanks

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June 2002
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THE WATFORD TANKS

Rodney Weaver

At one time the LNWR said it ‘was not in the business of running suburban trains’ – they were not sufficiently profitable. As London and other cities spread, however, the demand for better communications became too powerful to ignore and they began to take it seriously. Early suburban trains were worked by small, retired main line locomotives hauling equally light, often elderly stock. In 1872 William Stroudley revolutionised LB&SCR Explain 'London, Brighton & South Coast Railway (LBSCR)' suburban traffic with his delightful ‘Terriers’ Explain 'Terrier Locomotive Class' which set a design standard that nobody could ignore (his carriages were awful!) and others including the LNWR began to take suburban traffic seriously. First came the small 4ft 6in Mansion House tanks  Explain 'Mansion House Tank Locomotive Class', then the larger 5ft 6in tanks based on Webb’s smaller 2-4-0s. Move to the photographs page

For Manchester suburban traffic the Lancashire & Yorkshire Explain 'Lancashire & Yorkshire Railway (LYR)' CME Explain 'CME' Barton Wright developed an extremely useful machine by taking a redundant 0-6-0, lengthening its frames Explain 'Frame' at the rear and adding a bunker Explain 'Bunker' to produce a locomotive the right length and power for cramped stations: the original 0-6-2 tank. Webb immediately saw the advantages of Barton Wright’s creation and performed a similar operation on a Coal Engine Explain 'Coal Engine 0-6-0 Locomotive Class', creating and putting into production the Coal Tank Explain 'Coal Tank 0-6-2T Locomotive Class', which found immediate employment in and around

 

Manchester. Several later LNWR classes were basically tank versions of the previous generation of tender engine Explain 'Tender Locomotive' and the lesson was not wasted on other CMEs.

The traffic explosion of the 1890s created the need for something much more powerful than the 5ft 6in 2-4-2 tank to work suburban traffic around London, Birmingham, Manchester and Liverpool; Webb therefore produced a tank version of his highly successful 5ft 2in Cauliflower Explain '‘Cauliflower’ 0-6-0 Locomotive Class' which might have been called the Cauliflower Tank had not the tender version become a legend in its own time. Instead it became the Watford Tank, reflecting the growing importance of outer London suburban traffic. Fewer Watford Tanks were built than might have been the case because a batch laid down were eventually turned out as the more useful tender version to supplement hard-pressed main-line power. The last survivors of these hard-working and most useful locomotives were withdrawn in early BR days, their grimy condition making it hard to imagine the gleaming black machines they once had been.

By the end of the nineteenth century, Webb had become convinced that the rapid growth of our cities would quickly make the traditional steam railway obsolete and he submitted to his Directors a remarkable report outlining his vision of

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