With the announcement that the Lynton & Barnstaple Railway is to build two new Manning Wardle 2-6-2Ts, THOMAS BRIGHT examines the original quartet.
Yeo, Exe, Taw and Lew define the Lynton Barnstaple Railway. They are to the L&B what the George England saddle tanks and double Fairlies are to the Ffestiniog, and the Beyer Peacock 2-4-0Ts are to the Isle of Man.
The Manning Wardle 2-6-2T quartet is forever entwined with the rise and fail of the legendary 19-mile 1ft 11½in gauge railway and - Lew aside - was the primary motive power on the L&B from its opening in May 1898 until its closure 37 years later, in September 1935.
Lew is particularly famous (or infamous?), for just over ten years after it was built in 1925, the last surviving L&B Manning Wardle was shipped off to South America, never to be heard of again. Its mysterious fate cemented Lew and its brethren's place in railway folklore, adding to the already tangible aura that surrounds this most-lamented of narrow gauge railways.
As the tracks of the L&B were being laid over Exmoor in 1896, the directors invited tenders from various locomotive builders to supply the line with motive power. The Hunslet Engine Company submitted designs for 4-4-0Ts and 2-4-2Ts, and the Brush Electrical Engineering Company tendered for three locomotives.
The minutes of the L&BR company board meeting on August 21 that year read: "After considerable discussion it was resolved that the Engineer [Frank Chanter] obtain the necessary specifications, plans and tenders for the construction of locomotives." On September 22, the secretary minuted: "On report on tenders for locomotives it was resolved that the tender of the Brush Electrical Engineering Company be accepted and that three locomotives be ordered at £880 each." On November 9, however, "The Chairman [Sir George Newnes] reported that he had inspected locomotives and that the lowest tender (except that of the Brush Electrical Company) was that of Messrs Manning & Wardle for £1,100 each for three engines and that subject to Board's approval he had arranged for same." The board then "resolved that the arrangements made by the Chairman be adopted and confirmed"
L&B press officer and historian Tony Nicholson says: "Why the board Initially accepted and then rejected the Brush tender I have never been able to establish. Perhaps they concluded that the Brush locomotives would not be powerful enough over such an arduous route. They also accepted the Bristol Wagon & Carriage Company's tender for 16 carriages when the Brush tender was lower. "Intriguingly, the Manning Wardle Build Book gives the date of the locomotive order as October 24 1896: presumably the L&B directors were merely ratifying on November 9 a decision they had already made elsewhere."
Named after three-letter Devon rivers (Yeo, Exe, and Taw), the three locomotives (Works Nos. 1361-3) were delivered to the L&B in November 1897, but in February 1898 it was decreed that they would not be sufficient for the expected summer traffic on the line, so a fourth engine was ordered. However, the national 'locomotive crisis' that had arisen as a result of the Amalgamated Society of Engineers' strike in 1897 for a 48-hour, six-day week, meant that all domestic manufacturers had full order books and thus could not fulfil the L&B's wishes. It is for this reason that the railway looked overseas, with the Baldwin Locomotive Works supplying the unique 2-4-2T Lyn in July 1898.
Unusually for narrow gauge engines, the Manning Wardle trio were fitted with Joy valve gear, at that time extensively used on the LNWR. The compact nature of Joy gear was ideal for the L&B locomotives, as their small 2ft 9in diameter driving wheels meant that the motion was very close to the ground.
These wheels, coupled to a pair of 10½in x 16in cylinders and a boiler pressure of 1601bs/sq. in, gave Yeo, Exe and Taw 7,2701bs of tractive effort - perfect for a line with a ruling gradient of 1-in-50.
A newspaper report of the train laid on for journalists by the L&BR Company before the railway opened praised the "bright green tinted engine [Yeo], with the panels relieved by black and red lines*. The famous hand-coloured postcards produced by the company to promote the railway in 1905 were personally approved by General Manager Charles Drewett and are therefore presumably a pretty accurate representation. They show the locomotives in apple green with a single yellow line.
The dark holly green traditionally associated with the L&B locomotives in independent days did not appear until the eve of the First World War. They then received a black border with orange lining, with chocolate-coloured frames also lined out in orange.
This, combined with the polished brass chimney caps, domes and safety valves, made Yeo, Exe and Taw as pretty as the North Devon scenery through which they ran.
All four L&B locomotives (including Lyn) worked chimney-first to Lynton, and the Manning Wardles were reportedly very reliable. The only major modification made was to their cabs in the years just before the First World War.
As originally built, they sported side windows ahead of the front spectacle plate which, coupled with a forward overhang to the cab roof, trapped steam from the safety valves, obscuring the crew's view of the line ahead. To address this, the cabs were effectively moved backwards, deleting the forward side windows and overhang, and encompassing the coal bunker, resulting in an elegant (if unusual) stepped rear end.
Tony says: "The exact date is unknown in the absence of many dated photographs from that period but I imagine they were altered one at a time over successive winters. Taw, for example, was recorded unmodified on August 27 1910 but altered on September 7 1912; Yeo, on the other hand, was still in its original form on July 12 1912."
It would be another two decades before a fourth Manning Wardle 2-6-2T joined the fleet. After the Southern Railway took over the beleaguered line following the Grouping in 1923, it invested heavily in the line's infrastructure, and in 1925 ordered a fifth locomotive of similar specification to the Manning Wardle triumvirate to supplement the existing stud. This was Lew, and although ostensibly similar to its predecessors, it did away with the largely vestigial rear coal bunker and had a completely flat rear.
It says much of the original design that not only did Yeo, Exe and Taw work more or less unaltered for nearly 40 years, but they were so good and the SR so impressed by them that, rather than opting for a modern off-the-shelf design from another manufacturer, the SR ordered another one that was all but identical to the initial trio.
Under SR ownership, Yeo, Exe, Taw and Lyn received numbers for the first time, becoming Nos. E759-62, while Lew was numbered E188, formerly carried by an ex-LSWR Adams '02' 0-4-4T which had been transferred to the Isle of Wight that year (becoming No. W23 Totland in the process).
For some years after the Southern takeover, they kept their L&B livery, save for the replacement of the Manning Wardle worksplates on the cab sides by Southern Railway numberplates. In the mid-1920s, Yeo and Exe (but not Taw) received an 'intermediate' Southern livery replacing the scallop-cornered lining with square corners, but were otherwise unchanged. When they became due for repainting again in the late 1920s, they received the full Southern livery (carried by Lew from the beginning): Exe in the winter of 1928-9, Yeo in the winter of 1929-30 and Taw at about the same time.
All were then painted in Maunsell olive green with black borders, and the word 'Southern' emblazoned on their side tanks in the company's universal compressed serif font.
Despite the Southern's investment in the L&B, traffic (and revenue) continued to decrease until the end finally came on September 29 1935, with Yeo and Lew double- heading the final train to Barnstaple.
On November 13 that year, an auction was held at Pilton Works just outside Barnstaple to sell off the line's locomotives and equipment. Yeo, Taw and Lyn were sold as scrap for £50 while Exe - which had a steel firebox rather than a copper one - fetched only £34. All were scrapped on-site within a few days.
Lew, by virtue of being younger and therefore in better condition than its stablemates, was sold for £52 and later bought by Sidney Castle, the contractor brought in to dismantle the 19 miles of railway between Lynton and Barnstaple.
By the end of spring 1936, the L&B had been all but obliterated and on September 16 that year - almost 12 months after it had hauled the final passenger train on the line - Lew was craned off L&B metals for the last time and taken by rail to Swansea. There, less than a fortnight later on September 28 - almost a year to the day since the L&B closed its doors - Lew was shipped to South America aboard the merchant vessel SS Sabor.
Its destination, and what subsequently happened to the last L&B Manning Wardle after it crossed the Atlantic, has never been firmly established, but that mystery is part of why these locomotives - and indeed the line they once ruled - have remained in enthusiasts' hearts for the last eight decades.
The L&B's resurrection is one of preservation's greatest miracles; a mission improbable that many assumed would never succeed. Now not only does the revived railway boast a beautifully restored station and recreated rolling stock, it can finally field an authentic locomotive of its own in the form of the new-build Baldwin 2-4-2T Lyn (see Steam Railway, Issue 470).
And while the replica Manning Wardle built at Boston Lodge on the Ffestiniog Railway in 2010 - No. E190 Lyd - is a delightful homage to the original quartet, it arguably doesn't quite stir the soul in the same way that Yeo. Exe. Taw and Lew did and still do.
Their appeal has not diminished since 1935, and the news that the resurrected L&BR will once again echo to the exhausts of a pair of 2-6-2Ts on a permanent basis - bearing those names forever imprinted upon our collective conscience - will no doubt gladden the heart of every enthusiast. Let's make it happen.
With thanks to Tony Nicholson.