Friday, 14 October 2011

When there's a Wall there's a Way.

Check out the web album for more photos
Removing the offside tank was simple enough.  However, the nearside tank is tricky as the locomotive is standing next to the wall.  There's certainly not enough space to squeeze a forklift in the gap, so a home made section of track was used to roll Woolwich past the meddlesome internal wall (this method was at the time deemed preferential to demolishing the wall).

The last time we shifted the 8.5 ton* loco, it required the use of a JCB digger.  This time around, we enlisted an ex-Royal Navy truck to do the towing.  We're lucky that the floor of the engine room is perfectly level.

The time came to remove the offside tank.  Most of the securing bolts had already been removed, so only a couple were left to undo before the lifting began.

The forklift truck was good at this as it had practised on the other tank - it lifted off quite smoothly.  The ex-navy truck was once again summoned to push Woolwich back to bed.

If this operation is difficult to imagine, take a look at our online photo album for 11 photos of the tank removal in glorious technicolour.

If shifting a loco is challenging, the volunteers can rest safe in the knowledge that one day she'll be able to roll out of here under her own steam.

* None of us are 'metricated'!

Thursday, 29 September 2011

Taking apart the Jigsaw Puzzle

After the successful removal of the cab, we had another challenge for our forklift drivers.  We had more parts of Woolwich to remove to get even closer to the boiler.

The offside and nearside tanks flank the cylindrical boiler that runs horizontal through the loco.  Removing one of these tanks is necessary at this stage to assess the condition of many working parts.

View all the photos!  Find the link at the bottom of this post!
Unsurprisingly, these original tanks are rusty and currently incapable of holding water.  To restore the loco to full running order, we can either replace or restore the tanks.  The cheapest option is a replacement, but we'll re-use the original castings still fit for purpose.

Unseen parts are exposed as the tank is lifted away:  the footplate is in very good condition, and at a glance the balanced wheels might be in a reasonable condition as well.

Now we are able to get the boiler properly inspected, and we'll start to have an indication of the true scale of this unique restoration project.  Woolwich is 96 years old and has been in the elements for most of her life.

This completely changes the external shape of the loco.  Return visitors to Crossness Engines on Open House Day (Sunday 18 September) could have assumed they were looking at a different loco!

View the process in pictures here.

Friday, 26 August 2011

Off with her Cab!

To get access to the boiler, first the cab has to be removed. The cab is bolted and riveted to the tanks. The condition of the boiler has to be inspected and issued with a safety certificate before it can be used.

Although this is labour intensive, it's quite straight forward, barring a few rusty fixings. The cab was not particularly heavy, but it was a delicate manoeuvre requiring sensitive control of the forklift.

The preparatory work - unbolting and dismantling - took the most time.

Many hours of work have gone in so far, but this is the first time that the Woolwich has been visibly altered.

The next job is the removal of the offside side tank - so watch this space!
View the stage-by-stage process on our online album.  

Wednesday, 17 August 2011


As we begin to strip down and rebuild a loco, let's cast our minds back to where it all started.  Take a look at some of the research and new graphics we have on display on our open days.

Scroll to the bottom of the Royal Arsenal Railway page and check out our map of the entire RA railway system.

....And there's a few colourful images and information at the end of the About the loco page

Sunday, 14 August 2011

Obstinate Nuts.

Here's how we deal with the rusted nuts on the cab of Woolwich.  The loco is undergoing preparation work for the removal of the cab and the right-hand tank this week - the cab extension added by Bicton Railway is still in place.  

Thursday, 11 August 2011

Hidden for Years - the steam chest

 This week, we unveiled a part of the engine that possibly hasn't been seen since 1954.  The volunteers at Crossness Engines Trust were lucky enough to take the first peek at the inside of Woolwich's steam chest.

We wanted to inspect the condition of the 'slide valves' that allow admission and exhaust of steam to and from the cylinders.  The only thing to stand in our way was a thick and heavy plate covering the steam chest, secured by 14 very substantial studs.     

Don't be fooled: this job was by no means easy!  The outside of the cover was corroded and removal was risky - loose dirt and grit could damage the valve, and the joint between the cylinder and the cover can't be damaged in any way.  It is a delicate operation.  
What did we find?  All is revealed!  Take a look at the photo story online.

Thursday, 28 July 2011

Work Begins...

Now the hard work starts - the task of getting WOOLWICH back on the rails and moving under her own power again.

We're looking forward to meeting our new restoration volunteers on Sunday, so if you'd like to get involved or simply know more, it's not too late.  Read all about it here, and don't forget to let us know if you're coming!

Sunday, 24 July 2011

JOIN US: Sunday 31 July

From mechanics and engineers to lawn mowers, floor sweepers and everyone in between, we need you!

We are searching for regular volunteers at Crossness Engines to maintain and restore the site, as well as the locomotive.

We're grateful for all help.  So if you fancy taking on some admin or painting the odd wall, we can certainly make that dream into reality.  If you've been thinking about it, then we urge you to make the leap.

We are inviting new volunteers to learn more on Sunday 31 July.  If you'd like to be a part of it, you must let us know in advance: Crossness is on a working site and we are obliged to make the necessary security and safety arrangements.  Email or leave an answerphone message on 0208 311 3711.

*Didn't catch the interview on BBC Radio London?  Watch it here on Youtube.  You can double-click the video to view the images full screen.*

Monday, 18 July 2011

Steam Engines and Social Media

If you need a further Woolwich fix, here's some wonderfully vivid photos of the day she was transported across London.

Thanks to Ian for sharing his Flickr album with us.

Saturday, 16 July 2011

Second Chance: WOOLWICH on the small screen

Woolwich has been captivating Crossness Engines visitors since her arrival on site this year, bringing a tangible delight to young and old.

At every step we're made aware of the gravity of this project, particularly to locals with a deep rooted bond to the area: we've heard from people all over the country with a family connection to the Royal Arsenal's railways.

So it is with great delight that we can share the loco's small screen debut.  For those of you who missed the original broadcast, we have acquired the footage shown on the BBC News in May when Woolwich was transported to the Crossness Engines Trust.  Double-click the video to watch it full-screen.

You can listen to a candid history of the Royal Arsenal on BBC iplayer.  This radio programme features a comprehensive interview at about 33 minutes into the recording.  Catch it now - it's only available for the next six days.

We will shortly be inviting the new volunteers to Crossness for a special introduction day - get in contact if you'd like to hear more!  

Wednesday, 13 July 2011

New Posts and Old Brass

The Wikipedia article on the Royal Arsenal Railway has been recently edited by Mark Smithers.  Is there no limit to this man's knowledge?  A big thank you to Mark for taking the time to do this.

We've also got some new images from Ian Bull, a Crossness Engines Trust member and one of the faces behind The Railway Project.  The brass name plate and works plate from the last surviving Royal Arsenal NG loco is shown below.

Monday, 4 July 2011

The fate of THE WOOLWICH

This is the last of six parts delving into the history of the narrow gauge railway at the Royal Arsenal.  Read all six parts here.  Don't miss the next gem: subscribe by email to this blog on the right of this page.   

The only survivor of the class, WOOLWICH was put into storage in around 1954 on sidings at the Royal Arsenal, before being disposed of in 1960 to dealers Messrs E.L. Pitt & Co. of Brackley, Northampton, having been extensively overhauled and possibly a new boiler fitted during her last days at Woolwich.

During her time in the yard at Northampton, the conical spark arrestor chimney was replaced with one of conventional design. In April 1962 she was put back into steam, on blocks by J & W. Gower of Bedford, prior to sale and moved to Devon on 11th April 1962. There she was to assist with track laying and run on the newly constructed 18" gauge line at The Bicton Woodlands Railway.

During her life in Devon an air braking system was fitted to be compliant with HMRI regulations, which is fed from a steam driven Stuart pump mounted on the rear of the cab. To accommodate the air reservoir the rear cab wall has been extended back some 6". The believed original RAR livery of green lined out with yellow was changed to blue with yellow lining.

Unlike so many of our heritage locomotives that have rusted to oblivion, or have been cut up for scrap, WOOLWICH was well cared for in the last 40 years and has now returned to a Heritage Industrial site at the Crossness Engine Trust. It is likely that 100 years of working steam will be witnessed yet again to celebrate the durability of British Engineering in the post Victorian era.

Text (c) by Robin Parkinson and Mark Smithers.

Monday, 27 June 2011

Crossness Open Day: WOOLWICH meets the public

Yesterday saw the first public appearance of The Woolwich at the Crossness Engines Trust Steaming & Historic Transport Day. 

We welcomed a constant stream of visitors into the engine shed, where The Woolwich rests on rails and where our display showed just how special this loco is to the area.  We had a few visitors interested in restoring the engine; if you would like to work on The Woolwich then take a look at the get your hands dirty page.  Thank you to those who left a donation to kick start the restoration.  

View photos of The Woolwich at the open day here

More than 900 paying visitors, some accompanied by children, came to see the beam house in full steam.  Crossness Engines Trust Members were out in force as well, and a great atmosphere could be felt. 

Our voluntary catering team served hundreds of sandwiches, quiches, ploughmans, cakes and drinks with very little fuss and a high level of service.  Given the searing temperatures, they could have done with ice creams to sell as well!

Some more shots of the Crossness Steaming & Historic Transport Day here.

The next open day will be in conjunction with Open House London in September... Watch this space for details.

Tuesday, 21 June 2011

The end of steam at the Royal Arsenal?

This piece is the penultimate part delving into the history of the narrow gauge railway at the Royal Arsenal.  Subscribe by email to this blog (on the right of this page) to catch the final installment.

At the Arsenal
In the mid 1920s after the First World War, manufacturing had declined at the Royal Arsenal and work was dispersed to other MOD sites across England.

During the mid 1930s the advent of diesel and the expansion of the standard gauge lines in the Arsenal meant that many narrow gauge locos were sold off or scrapped.

After World War II, manufacturing again declined and by 1947 NEWCASTLE and COLCHESTER were taken out of service and scrapped; MANCHESTER followed a similar fate in 1951.

Text (c) by Robin Parkinson and Mark Smithers.

Thursday, 16 June 2011

The Royal Arsenal and Narrow Gauge

This piece is the fourth of six parts delving into the history of the narrow gauge railway at the Royal Arsenal.  Subscribe by email to this blog (on the right of this page) to read the further installments. 

All the Class were constructed with outside frames to accommodate the 25in. dia wheels, at the Arsenal gauge of 18in. and the now standard axles centres of 3ft. 3in.

Operating at a steam pressure of 160 lbs/sq. in. Walschaerts valve gear was employed to the 8½ dia. by 12in. stroke cylinders.

The oil-fired units had a side tank water capacity of 260 gallons, a balance pipe connecting the two tanks, boiler feed by two Craven & Chesham injectors.

The rear portion of each tank sectioned off for 50 gallons of light fuel oil, which was preheated via a steam coil before atomisation through a Kermode burner. It is presumed that on the coal fired units; this 'oil tank' would have served as coalbunker.

Overall the Charlton’s were a sturdy and presentable locomotive, with a tractive effort of 4,980 lbs. They were quite happy to work around curves of 35ft. radius and could manage a tight bend of 25ft. if required.

Text (c) by Robin Parkinson and Mark Smithers.

Monday, 13 June 2011

Avonside Engines come to the Royal Arsenal

This piece is the third of six parts delving into the history of the narrow gauge railway at the Royal Arsenal.  Subscribe by email to this blog (on the right of this page) to read the further installments. 

In 1915 the Ministry of Munitions placed an order with Avonside Engine Company for sixteen locomotives of the Charlton Class (O-4-OT). These were to be the final class of narrow gauge steam locomotive to be used on the Royal Arsenal Railway.

The first six, BRISTOL, GLASGOW, LIVERPOOL, NEWCASTLE, DERBY and WOOLWICH were oil-fired and allocated to work in what were classified as “Danger Buildings” such as the Magazine and Filling Factories. The remaining ten coal fired locos were allocated to duties in Non-Danger areas such as coal and passenger haulage.

All of this class were fitted with Conical Spark Arrestors but there were other subtle physical differences. Initially, rear sandboxes were fitted below the footplate then moved to the tank tops; on MANCHESTER and ENFIELD, the front sandboxes were fitted on tank tops although these look ungainly. The first four units had small water tank cut outs; on later units this was made longer. On SHEFFIELD, CHARLTON and DERBY a wooden toolbox was mounted on the left tank top, which may have been an in-house modification.

Text (c) by Robin Parkinson and Mark Smithers.

Thursday, 9 June 2011

...You read it here first

We're on page 5 of the Bexley Times today, with The Woolwich taking centre stage in front of the old Royal Arsenal buildings.

Wednesday, 8 June 2011

Avonside Engine Co - the second chapter

This piece is the second of six parts delving into the history of the narrow gauge railway at the Royal Arsenal.  Subscribe by email to this blog (on the right of this page) to read the further installments. 

In 1882, Edward Walker of Fox Wheeler Locomotives set up a new ‘Avonside Engine Company’ and it remained a respected name for a further fifty years, moving in 1905 to new premises at Fillwood Road, adjoining Fishponds station on the outskirts of Bristol.

In 1934 the business was taken over by the Hunslet Engine Company of Leeds and the Fillwood Road works closed, only a few years short of the centenary of the start of locomotive engineering in Bristol.
Text (c) by Robin Parkinson and Mark Smithers.

Monday, 6 June 2011

Avonside Engine Co - the beginning

This piece is the first of six parts delving into the history of the narrow gauge railway at the Royal Arsenal.  Subscribe by email to this blog (on the right of this page) to read the further installments.    

The sturdy, reliable and much liked Avonside Locomotives of the ‘Charlton’ Class were introduced first to the Arsenal in 1915.  WOOLWICH Wks. No.1748 of 1916, is the only remaining example of her class and is now on long term loan to us from the Waltham Abbey Royal Gunpowder Mills, Essex.

The Woolwich was a product of the Avonside Engine Co. Ltd. at Fishponds, Bristol, specialists in strong and dependable Industrial and Shunting Locomotives. The first company was founded in 1838 by Henry Stothert to supply the ever-expanding market caused by the expansion of the Great Western Railway; the original Avonside Ironworks factory was in the St. Philips district of the city.

In 1841 the company’s technical expertise was boosted when Edwin Slaughter – one of Brunel’s Assistant Engineers from the Great Western Railway - joined as a partner, the new firm of Stothert and Slaughter became well known at home and abroad. It was re-named The Avonside Engine Company in 1864 and prospered, only to become bankrupt by the end of the decade, due to a failure to adapt to the changes in industry.

Text (c) by Robin Parkinson and Mark Smithers.


Thursday, 2 June 2011

Sad, alone and forgotten!

WOOLWICH in a sad state circa 1961 at the yard of E. L. Pitt & Co. Brackley, Northampton.  Note the conical chimney still intact.

Sunday, 29 May 2011

A sneak preview.

If you can't wait for The Woolwich to be moving under her own steam, then look no further than Youtube. 

There are a couple of videos of the Bicton Woodland Railway up on the site.  The Woolwich and The Carnegie (now at the Royal Gunpowder Mills) were in regular service.  This one was shot in 1976:

Wednesday, 18 May 2011

The beginnings of the journey.

This morning at 7am we set off from Bexley to the Royal Gunpowder Mills at Waltham Abbey. 

Our truck was ready and waiting for us, with the crane extended to lift the locomotive onto the back.

Our unusual cargo caught the Woolwich ferry across the Thames, providing a spectacle to the other drivers.  One passenger even felt inspired to sing!  You meet all sorts. 

An emotional moment: back into the Royal Arsenal site itself to be greeted by the Woolwich Historical Society and many passers-by with camera phones.  You don't see sights like The Woolwich every day!

The BBC sent a crew to capture the day and our assembled historians, steam enthusiasts and people caught in the moment.

A couple of miles down the road and through the gates to the Crossness Engines site.  Greeted by the members, who donned their hard hats for the lengthy task of unloading.

The locomotive was carefully lowered onto a short section of narrow gauge track.  A JCB was enlisted to move the sheer bulk of The Woolwich into the engine shed, an example of the Victorian gothic architecture on the Crossness site.

It was a long day, but we got home in time to catch ourselves on the London edition of BBC's 6 o'clock News.  You might find it on BBC iplayer. 

Check out the photos on our online album - there were many people with cameras today so we'll try and get others to add images to this page as well.

Thursday, 5 May 2011

Steam trains come to Crossness!

An explosive piece of local history is moving to the Crossness Engines Trust.  The steam engine The Woolwich has been very kindly loaned to the Crossness Trust for a period of seven years to restore to its former glory.

The locomotive was originally a working part of the Royal Arsenal site, the 1,300 acre ammunition factory formerly adjacent to the Crossness Pumping Station.  The engine is currently owned by the Royal Gunpowder Mills, Waltham Abbey.

In the future, the 'Crossness Experience' will begin the second the visitor steps onto the platform, with the sights and smells of the steam train transporting visitors directly to the colossal beam engines next to the Thames. 

The steam engine will take several years to restore, but in the meantime, visitors can follow the progress by visiting Crossness or can really get their hands dirty by joining the Trust. 

Watch this blog for the project diary, related links, articles and full colour photographs.