History of the Billington E2 Class

20 June 2013
imports_CCGB_bachmann-ho-thomas_52136.jpg History of the Billington E2 Class
Paul Lumsdon looks at the vintage locomotive that provided the inspiration for Thomas the Tank Engine. ...
It has to be said that the London, Brighton and South Coast Railway (LB&SCR) E2 Class 0-6-0T was in many respects a fairly unremarkable locomotive. Only 10 were ever built, primarily as shunting engines, between 1913 and 1916 and none have survived into preservation. So why do we find ourselves celebrating the 100th anniversary of the introduction of this rather modest workhorse?

The answer to this is to be found some decades later in the years immediately following World War Two. In 1945 The Reverend W. Awdry had his first book published in what was to become ‘The Railway Series’ for children. The book was called ‘The Three Railway Engines’ and told the story of Edward, Gordon and Henry, three locomotives living together in the same engine shed. The second book appeared a year later in 1946 and was called ‘Thomas the Tank Engine’. The book’s illustrator, artist Reginald Payne, created Thomas in the image of the LB&SCR E2. The success of this first ‘Thomas’ book spawned a series that became a worldwide phenomenon, with an incredibly popular children’s TV series and a hugely successful licensing programme, all of which helped to propel the humble E2 to almost iconic status, and instant recognition.

So to mark this anniversary let’s take a brief look at the history of the E2 Class and make sure you buy the July issue of Collectors Gazette to read more about the Thomas models inspired by this vintage loco.

Billington’s E2 0-6-0T
William Stroudley designed the original LB&SCR E1 class 0-6-0T for short-distance goods and piloting duties in 1874. By 1910 these were starting to show their age and Stroudley’s successor, Douglas Earle Marsh, set in place plans to rebuild some examples with a larger boiler. As things turned out only one E1X rebuild was ever completed before Marsh’s sudden retirement in July 1911, officially on grounds of ill-health, but also under a cloud of accusations of accounting irregularities!

His successor was one Lawson Billington who promptly reversed the rebuild strategy in favour of his own new design. This was known as the E2 0-6-0T shunting locomotive and five were produced between June 1913 and January 1914. The design was judged to be generally successful with the exception of the water tanks which were of insufficient capacity. A second batch of five locomotives was ordered but construction was delayed by the onset of World War 1. When they were eventually delivered between June 1915 and October 1916, they featured extended water tanks on each side to increase the water capacity.

Although primarily designed for short distance shunting duties, in 1914 two of the early E2s were nevertheless fitted out for passenger work. They were used in a push-pull configuration in the middle of a rake of six coaches and ran around the south London area. Unfortunately it was found that the locomotives had a tendency to oscillate unduly under acceleration, were unsteady at speed, and on occasion they were also known to throw the odd piece of live coal from their chimneys. As a result the experiment was curtailed and the E2s returned before the year was out to shunting duties.

Following the 1923 grouping the E2s passed into Southern Railways ownership and then in 1948 with nationalisation into British Railways ownership. Throughout World War 2 they were largely used for marshalling duties and during the 1950s they were tried out as shunters at Southampton docks where they were found to be very useful. Six from the class were successfully employed in and around the docks until they were replaced by Class 07 diesel shunters in 1962.

By April 1963 all of the E2 Class had been withdrawn from service and all were cut up and scrapped. At this point they could quite easily have been forgotten, were it not for the increasing popularity of the Reverend W Awdrey’s ‘Railway Series’ of children’s books and the tank engine called Thomas…..

To read more about the E2 class, buy the July issue of Collectors Gazette and sign up to our e-newsletter to get the latest collecting news delivered direct to your inbox every two weeks.
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