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SR Maunsell W class 2-6-4T

photograph: Mike Morant collection

W Class N°31913 photographed at Norwood on 14th July 1963.

One feature of Southern freight workings in the London area was the regular transfer freights exchanging goods traffic with the other companies/regions. With the electrification of the suburban area such workings had to fit in between tightly timed multiple unit services. Other demands placed on these often heavy freight workings were to be able to haul up (and down) the sharp inclines of flying junctions, regularly doing so starting away from a signal check, and also to be comfortable around tight curves. To meet this requirement a reasonably fast, powerful (not only in terms of haulage but also of braking power) sure-footed locomotive design was needed. With the bad experience of the K "River" class tanks the Southern had not designed any further tank locomotives except for the Z class 0-8-0 which was primarily a yard engine. However a 2-6-4 tank design was selected as suitable for this purpose and thus the tanks and bogies made surplus by the K class rebuilding could be re-used. Richard Maunsell also resorted again to his inventory of standard parts to put together this design.

To provide high starting torque three 16.5 in diameter 28 in stroke cylinders were employed driving the centre coupled axle, the outer pair being controlled by Walschaerts valve gear. To provide effective braking all coupled wheels were provided with a high percentage braking force operated by steam plus the unusual use (for a British railway) of brakes on the bogie. Vacuum braking apparatus was also installed for controlling fitted vehicles. The same boiler as employed on the classes N, N1 and U1 was used working at 200lb psi and employed superheating. At 85 percent of working pressure the resulting tractive effort was 29,376 lb. The engines weighed 90 tons 14 cwt in working order carrying 2000 gallons of water and 3.5 tons coal. The driving wheels were of 5ft 6in diameter and a noted feature of the class was the heavy footsteps to the rear of the outer cylinders which gave ready access to the tank fillers.

The first five engines numbered 1911-1915 (renumbered to 31911-31915 by BR) were built at Eastleigh in 1932. These emerged in black livery with green lining and yellow lettering. This first batch was right hand drive and had gravity sanding arrangements until converted to steam by BR in 1959/60. A further ten, 1916-1925 (31916-31925) were built at Ashford between 1935 and 1936. This batch emerged in unlined black livery (the first five later being repainted to conform), were left hand drive and had steam sanding from new.

The W class was another type which was unglamorous and unsung yet spent its entire life doing what it was designed to do reliably, efficiently and effectively. Being a dedicated freight engine it was rare to see a W even working empty passenger stock. However in order to compare its performance with LMS 2-6-4Ts employed on the Central and Eastern sections as part of the locomotive exchanges in May 1948 31918 was selected to work special passenger trains between Ashford and Tonbridge and between Victoria and Tunbridge Wells West. However these are the only known regular passenger turns worked by the class. Ws were based at Hither Green, Norwood Junction and Stewarts Lane for most of their lives.

The class spent its entire life in some form of black livery and their appearance hardly changed, the notable modification being the removal of the smokebox snifting valves as happened on other Maunsell types. The first member of the class 31923 was withdrawn in 1963, the last 31914 in 1964. Regrettably none is preserved.

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  • 31914
    Old Oak Common
    N°31914 off home territory and photographed near Old Oak Common during 1960.
    Photograph: A. E. Durrant/Mike Morant collection.
  • 31913
    Nr Clapham
    N°31913 with a goods working near Clapham during 1960.
    Photograph: A. E. Durrant/Mike Morant collection<.
  • 31923
    N°31923 pictured at Feltham in August 1962, possibly in a line of condemned locomotives since this was the first of the class to be withdrawn.
    Photograph by Alan Robinson.
  • 31912
    N°31912 captured at Feltham in 1963.
    Photograph by Keith Harwood.
  • 31914
    N°31914 captured at Feltham in 1963.
    Photograph by Keith Harwood.
  • 31924
    N°31924 was photographed at Feltham during 1963.
    Photograph by Keith Harwood.

Technical Details

Driving Wheel:
Pony Wheel:
Trailing Wheel:
Total Weight:
Water Capacity:
Cylinders (3):
Boiler Pressure:
Tractive Effort:
Coal Capacity:
Power Classification:
Dec 1931
5 ft 6 ins
3 ft 1 ins
3 ft 1 ins
44 ft 0¼ in
90 tons 14 cwt
2,000 gals
16½ in x 28 in
200 lb sq in
29,452 lb
3 ton 10 cwt *


SR N° BR N° Builder Built Withdrawn
1911 31911 Eastleigh Dec 1931 Oct 1963
1912 31912 Eastleigh Jan 1932 Aug 1964
1913 31913 Eastleigh Jan 1932 Mar 1964
1914 31914 Eastleigh Jan 1932 Aug 1964
1915 31915 Eastleigh Feb 1932 Oct 1963
1916 31916 Ashford Apr 1935 Jul 1963
1917 31917 Ashford Apr 1935 Jan 1964
1918 31918 Ashford Jun 1935 Aug 1963
1919 31919 Ashford Jun 1935 Nov 1963
1920 31920 Ashford Aug 1935 Jul 1963
1921 31921 Ashford Oct 1935 Jun 1963
1922 31922 Ashford Nov 1935 Aug 1963
1923 31923 Ashford Jan 1936 Jan 1963
1924 31924 Ashford Feb 1936 Jul 1964
1925 31925 Ashford Apr 1936 Nov 1963

This page was last updated 6 August 2011

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