ACE Trains Maunsell 4-6-0 Lord Nelson Class Locomotives
The Southern Railway’s (SR) ‘Lord Nelson’ class of 4-6-0 locomotive was designed by R. E. L. Maunsell. They were the SR’s largest passenger engine built within strict weight restrictions but at the same time designed to maximise best possible power ratios in order to haul 500 ton trains at an average speed of 55mph. A total of just sixteen were built over a three year period between 1926 and 1929 as the SR had committed to electrify large parts of its London suburban and south east coast routes. The view taken by many commentators was Southern’s management board was mistakenly too focused on electrification taking the view that they didn’t require a large fleet of main line locomotives leaving a void in terms of large locomotive development as other Big Four competitor railways forged ahead in the 1930s. This was not to be rectified until wartime with the introduction of Bulleid’s Pacific Merchant Navy class and subsequent smaller West Country and Battle of Britain classes in the second half of the 1940s.
The Lord Nelsons however, for a brief period of time were the most powerful class of British locomotive until the advent of Great Western Railway’s (GWR) ‘Kings’ in 1927. The Lord Nelsons though were not a total success story since they had problems with draughting which was to be later modified by Bulleid in the late 1930s. Shortly before his retirement Maunsell had No: 857 Lord Howe reboilered with a large tapered boiler that required fitting of bevelled smoke deflectors. Bulleid from 1938 was able to leave his mark on the Lord Nelsons by modifying and much improving the locomotive by redesigning the cylinders with larger piston valves and with the provision of Lemaître multiple-jet blastpipes and large stovepipe diameter chimneys. No: 863 Lord Rodney was one of the first locomotives to receive this attention. As noted above in their earliest form Lord Nelson locomotives appeared without smoke deflectors.
From their introduction the SR Lord Nelsons were used to haul heavy passenger loads especially boat trains which involved the movement of significant consignments of luggage. A number of locomotives were allocated to Battersea shed for this work; this included the prestigious ‘Golden Arrow’ Pullman service often worked by No: 850 Lord Nelson and No: 864 Sir Martin Frobisher whilst No: 858 Lord Duncan provided the motive power for the ‘The Continental Express’ with its daily journey between London and Dover. No: 854 Howard of Effingham and No: 855 Robert Blake were based at Dover shed during the mid-1930s and hauled the ‘Night Ferry’ in its early years before 4-4-0 double-heading took over. Indeed, the inaugural Night Ferry up service was hauled by Robert Blake.
Further west on Southern metals Lord Nelsons and in particular No: 851 Sir Francis Drake and No: 852 Sir Walter Raleigh were regularly associated with the ‘Bournemouth Belle’ in the 1930s. During this period Nine Elms shed based Nelsons – typically the unique large-boilered No: 857 Lord Howe – were responsible for hauling the Waterloo to Salisbury and sometimes continuing with the Exeter leg of the multi-portioned ‘Atlantic Coast Express’ which ensured that through running became the order of the day. Apart from the ACE where Lord Nelsons had been associated since 1927 they also worked the line east of Exeter to Waterloo hauling services made up of new Maunsell and sometimes older Pullman coaching stock.
However, as noted above Lord Nelsons throughout their working lives were closely associated with boat trains. After WW2 this included dedicated Pullman ‘Ocean Liner’ specials to Southampton where they were often headed by Nelsons including No: 860 Lord Hawke. The Lord Nelsons were particularly suited for hauling the heavy laden boat trains but because of their overall weight Nelsons were restricted on some Southern routes. A weight restriction prohibited their use on the line west of Exeter although a certain anomaly occurred in August 1934 when No: 859 Lord Hood was showcased at the annual Devonport Navy Week but had to get there courtesy of the GWR Exeter route! Throughout their lives the Lord Nelsons were considered to be a rather lucky class of locomotive since potentially dangerous accidents involving the engines resulted in minimal damage and little hurt to life and limb.
In the second half of the 1940s the Lord Nelsons, like the ‘Arthurs’, saw less service on premier hauled SR/British Railways (BR) Southern Region services following the introduction of new West Country, Battle of Britain and Merchant Navy ‘Light Pacific’ locomotives. Despite this Lord Nelsons were frequently called upon for peak period work or to provide cover for failures: Throughout the 1950s Lord Nelsons were used extensively on the Waterloo, Southampton to Bournemouth West route but also could be seen hauling ancient ex-SR non-corridor stock on the stopping services between Weymouth and Bournemouth Central and Eastleigh and Bournemouth West. Pooled locomotives for these routes included No: 30864 Sir Martin Frobisher, No: 30862 Lord Collingwood, No: 30861 Lord Anson, No: 30854 Howard of Effingham and No: 30857 Lord Howe. Lord Nelsons were also used on the Southern leg of certain inter-regional workings such as the Bournemouth to Newcastle express service. No: 30864 Sir Martin Frobisher could be seen on this service hauling the train as far as Oxford as early as 1953 whilst No: 30860 Lord Hawke as late as 1961 hauling a mix of ex Stanier LMS and LNER maroon stock.
The entire class of Lord Nelsons were eventually allocated to Eastleigh shed in 1959 almost entirely dedicated to working boat trains to and from Southampton docks. From 1952 to their withdrawal some ten years later this association would include nine famous ocean liner boat trains ‘Cunarder’, ‘The Statesman’, ‘Union-Castle Express’, ‘Holland American’, ‘South American’, ‘Greek Line’, ‘Arosa Line’, ‘Springbok’ and ‘Sitmar Line’ and two cross-channel ferry title bestowed services ‘Normandy Express’ – Waterloo to Le Havre and ‘Brittany Express’ – Waterloo to St Malo. No: 30856 Lord St Vincent regularly hauled ‘The Statesman’, No: 30864 Sir Martin Frobisher the ‘Holland-America’ service and No: 30857 Lord Howe the ‘Greek Line’ train. Boat trains services continued to be hauled by Lord Nelsons up until 1962 which interestingly would contain Pullman cars and also painted in BR green livery a former Hastings gauge Pullman that was converted for use as a buffet car. These boat train services could often be in excess of 450 tons and could comprise up to four vans for luggage (two at the front and two at the rear) and up to eight Pullman cars. In 1959 No: 30857 Lord Howe regularly worked the late morning Waterloo to Bournemouth West service resplendent with Mk1 BR green coach stock. At the same time on the west of England line No: 30863 Lord Rodney often worked the Waterloo to Salisbury leg which also included the ‘Atlantic Coast Express’ service.
The ‘Light Pacific’ rebuilding programme in the late 1950s coupled with their increased reliability meant that the Lord Nelson class days were numbered and they were gradually phased out of service. Six members of the class were withdrawn in 1961 and by June 1962 the rest of the class had succumbed to the fate of the torch cutter apart from No: 30862 Lord Collingwood (which had spent much time based at the Weymouth shed to provide early morning up services) and No: 30850 Lord Nelson being the only two engines of their class left in operation. The only class survivor is No: 30850 Lord Nelson which is preserved as part of the National Collection.