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Owned by the Midland and Great Northern Joint Society, the B12 is the flagship loco of the North Norfolk Railway. The loco is unlike any other British type preserved. Not only is it the only survivor of the B12 class (which was once 80 strong), but it is the only surviving example of an inside cylinder 4-6-0. This means that the cylinders (that drive the loco) are between the frames and hidden from view, and although many other types of inside cylinder locos have been preserved, none are of a 4-6-0 wheel configuration. The history of our B12, 61572, is told below. Including its service history for the London and North Eastern Railway (LNER) and British Railways (BR), the "Wandering 1500" railtour, and mammoth 17 year restoration. Then on to more recent times, at work on the North Norfolk Railway (NNR) and other preserved railways around the UK.
Construction, LNER and BR days
The first B12 was built in 1911 by the Great Eastern Railway (GER) and classified as a S69 (it wasn't until grouping in 1923 that the S69 were reclassified as a B12). The GER built a total of 70 locomotives. For more history on the B12 class go to the History page.
In the late 1920s a shortage in express passenger types in East Anglia meant that a stop-gap was needed before (Sir Nigel) Gresley could introduce his new B17 class. The LNER decided that a further batch of 10 B12s where to be ordered. Construction of these engines was contracted out to Beyer Peacock (Manchester). 8572 (works number 6488) as built in June 1928, as a B12/2. The B12/2 differed from the original B12/1 design in a number of ways; they had Lentz oscillating cam poppet valve gear, no decorative framing over the driving wheels, and their smokeboxes were slightly longer. 8572 was rebuilt to be reclassified as a B12/1 at the end of 1931, when the Lentz valve gear was removed.
Between 1932 and 1944 a rebuilding program was undertaken when all 10 of the "Beyer Peacock B12s" and 44 of the "original" B12/1s were rebuilt to B12/3. This rebuild improved the previous two B12 designs, making them more powerful to cope with heavier trains. The B12/3s had larger Gresley round top boilers, and long-travel Stephenson piston valves. 8572 was rebuilt at the end of 1933, five years after being built.
8572 was renumbered as 1572 in June 1946, under the LNER's renumbering scheme, and again in May 1948 to 61572, when it changed ownership to the newly nationalised British Railways.
61572 spent most of its working life in East Anglia, apart from a month at Grantham in February 1953. In October 1959, 61572 was transferred to Norwich but was soon withdrawn as a result of a cracked cylinder. However, as it was one of the last surviving B12s and Bill Harvey, the Norwich shedmaster, had an affection for the B12s, he discovered that it wasn’t a cracked block, but a pitted casting and the loco was soon reinstated. 61572 stepped out of the shadows to become a bit of a celebrity and very soon became the Norwich mascot engine. At a time when the rest of the B12 class were being withdrawn, Bill kept 61572 busy, and regularly worked the Lowestoft–Whitemoor goods train between Norwich and Kings Lynn (via Dereham). Passenger trains from Norwich to Melton Constable (coincidentally running over the line which is now its home), and a railtour for the Midland and Great Northern (M&GN) Society, later to be the engines owners. Had it not been for Bill keeping 61572 busy, allowing funds to be raised in order to buy the loco, it would have probably been scraped! 61572 was finally withdrawn on 20th September 1961 (outliving the rest of the B12 class by nearly two years) and was bought (along with J15 65462) by the M&GN Joint Railway Society in 1963 having been stored at Stratford works.
Wandering 1500 railtour
In 1963, two years after withdrawal from BR, 61572 embarked on the ambitious "Wandering 1500" railtour. The name "Wandering 1500" was chosen for the tour, this refereed to the fact that the B12 was away from its "normal" stamping ground (ie Wandering), and 1500 was the number series the class had originally received in Great Eastern days (and in latter years by LNER). The B12s were often refereed to as "fifteen-hundreds". The tour was organised by the M&GN Joint Railway Society (now the B12’s owners), and was one of the first railtours on British Railways with a privately owned loco (although it is doubtful if BR knew this at the time). The 260 mile tour would take the loco from London's Broad Street station to Bedford, Stratford-upon-Avon, Rugby and return. 61572 performed admirably throughout the tour for an engine that had been out of service for two years, topping 70mph on the return to Broad Street, arriving all but two hours late! The loco then went into storage at Devons Road in London and later at March in Cambridgeshire before moving to its new home in 1967.
The early years and restoration
The B12 arrived on the NNR at Sheringham in 1967. The loco was in a poor condition and much time and money would need to be spent to restore it to full working order. Also at this time there were serious concerns about the axle loading on bridge 303 and whether the B12 would be permitted to cross it. Because of this, it was decided, for the time being, to tidy the loco up, and make it look presentable. In the meantime the Society concentrated on the restoration of the J15. It then stood at Sheringham on public display. In 1977 when the J15 was recommmissioned, an appeal for £20,000 was launched to restore the B12 to full working order.
The eventual restoration of the B12 was one of the most complex in railway preservation history, and was to be plagued with pit falls and twists of fate. Initially the loco was to be restored at Sheringham, as had the J15. The tender was to be rebuilt by volunteers whilst a local boilersmith worked on the boiler. The target was to have it running by 1982. The boiler work sped ahead, but work on the rest of the loco ground to a halt, by which time the boiler certificate had already started to tick away. After several failed attempts to kick start the project it eventually got restarted in 1984 at Weybourne. While work was concentrated on the frames and wheels at Weybourne, the boiler was sent away to a specialist contractor in Essex. However, before much work was carried out on the boiler the contractor went bust. After much negotiating with the new owner of the company the M&GN Society were told to remove it or it would be sold and cut up for scrap!
At this time the Society was introduced to a Dutch contractor by "Steam Railway" magazine, who was looking for a flagship UK contract to kick-start business in the UK. He took over the boiler work and made arrangements for the frames and tender to be restored and the loco rebuilt at a works in former East Germany. So the unprecedented step was taken to ship the boiler to Holland where some significant firebox repairs were carried out prior to it being moved to Germany to meet up with the remainder of the loco.
The works in East Germany were at Kloster Mansfeld near Leipzig. The workshops still utilised traditional skills to maintain a small museum fleet of narrow gauge steam locomotives, that had been in daily use until the fall of the Berlin Wall the previous year. The frames arrived in September 1991 followed the next year by the boiler from Holland. Work soon started on the frames and wheels. Cracks were found in some of the driving wheels, and specialist welders had to be bought in from Holland to repair them.
At a time when the new united Germany set about reforming the inefficient industries in the East, the State owned works at Kloster Mansfeld was to be sold off. The contractor in Holland carrying out the work, said he would buy the works, but it was eventually bought out by the current management. Unfortunately though, the Dutch contractor never paid the Germans for any of their work, assuming he would buy the works. It was therefore not surprising that the new management were reluctant to carry out any further work on the B12 without guarantees of funding.
By now the loco was totally dismantled and in hundreds of bits. It was looking bleak for the B12, and during negotiations, the M&GN Society were told, in no uncertain terms, to remove the B12 from the workshops and "dump it in the North Sea on the way back to England!”. The society, in the form of the late Roger Heasman, worked very hard to gain the trust of the new management, and after much negotiation he persuaded the new company, "Malowa", to continue with the job of restoring the B12. Work began in stages, firstly on the tender, and then on the locomotive. Over the next two years work progressed steadily until in November 1994, the loco was finally completed.
Back at work
The B12 arrived back at the North Norfolk Railway in December 1994, resplendent in LNER apple green as 8572. There was still a little work to be done before the loco could enter traffic. But there was much relief and excitement, that after a long and difficult restoration, the loco was almost ready to run for the first time in 30 years.
The B12 was officially re-commissioned on 3rd March 1995, and dedicated
to Bill Harvey. Bill was the former Norwich shedmaster (see above), who
started and led the initial restoration of the B12 in the late 1970s.
Sadly Bill died before the loco was steamed again.
As had always been promised to the membership since the loco was purchased in 1963, the chosen livery on completion of the restoration in Germany was 1930s LNER apple green, and remained in this livery for five years. The B12 was repainted black in 1999. First into unlined 'North Eastern' (NE) wartime black for the NNR's popular 1940s weekend, and then shortly after it was changed to BR lined black, the livery that the loco still carries today.
After starring along side J15 65462 and N7 69621 at the North Norfolk Railway's 'Steam Dream' weekend, 61572's fire was dropped on Sunday 1st July 2007. After 13 years service the loco was withdrawn shortly afterwards as a number of small tubes in the boiler had started to leak and needed to be replaced. Due to the cost involved, it was decided that it wasn't cost effective with just 6 months remaining on the boiler ticket. The B12 is now undergoing its second heavy overhaul in preservation. Click here for latest news of the overhaul.
It is hoped that the overhaul of the B12 can be turned around quickly, thanks to the constant maintenance the engine has received since it's return to steam in 1994. The majority of the work will center on the boiler. While half of the estimated £200,000 has already been raised, we're asking for YOUR help in securing the loco's future by donating to the Boiler Appeal. Click here to read more.
With your help the B12 could be back in time to take a leading roll in the 50th anniversary of the M&GN closing in 2009, quite probably in LNER Apple Green, with a teak train…!
Written by Benjamin Boggis and Steve Allen
Photos (top to bottom): Benjamin Boggis, M&GNJRS Joint Line Archive, Dr Ian C Allen/Steve Allen Collection, Mike Morant, Peter Chatman/M&GNJRS Joint Line Archive, Steve Allen, Roger Heasman/M&GNJRS Joint Line Archive, Chris Milner/M&GNJRS Joint Line Archive, Peter Boggis
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