In Great Northern Railway (GNR) locomotive development, following Nigel Gresley’s arrival, the N2 was a development of Henry Ivatt’s very successful N1 class. The main differences were that the N2 carried a superheated boiler and was fitted with piston valves rather than slide valves to the cylinders. This latter change necessitated the boiler being raised in the frames with in consequence a shorter chimney and dome. The resultant locomotive had a less elegant but much more punchy and purposeful appearance which combined with a throaty bark gave the locomotive an impressive personality. The new class also had larger cylinders and a greater water capacity in the side tanks. The locomotives had condensing gear in which the spent steam from the cylinders was passed through condensers in the water tanks thus eliminating the steam being sent through the blast pipe and out through the chimney. This reduced the suffocating conditions that the footplate crew would have otherwise had to endure through the close confines of the Moorgate tunnels.

1744 in the snow on 19th January, 2013 - D Jones

The N2 was designed for local passenger train work, essentially for the Kings Cross workings. It was able to lift a rake of non-vestibule stock up the gradient from the Cross with a minimum of fuss. The service was fairly intense and demanded no delay. Often the N2 hauled locals would leave their platform at the same time as an express hauled by a Pacific. The N2 would be away from a stand more sharply than the Pacific, its small wheels and less load behind the drawbar giving it an advantage. As the main line train was got under way it would catch up and run alongside, eventually leaving behind the local service as it gained speed. It could be quite an exciting event to watch from the cab of the main line locomotive or from a leading carriage in the train.

A total of sixty N2s were built up to 1929, the last emerging from the Yorkshire Engine Company on a site now occupied by Meadow Hall shopping centre. While principally used on the Kings Cross Metropolitan services, many were allocated to Scottish sheds. Those built specifically for Scottish allocation had a taller chimney and no condensing gear. They were not particularly well liked there. Though they worked their trains satisfactorily they allegedly caused damage to the track. Similar troubles occurred when a number were placed at Colwick for local passenger services in the Notts/Derby area. Though some of the cause of this may be attributed to the N2 having no carrying wheels at the front, the relatively poor condition of the track was a major cause in these two areas. After the building of the Gresley V1 2-6-2T locomotive, many of the Scottish allocation went to the Great Eastern Section. During World War II one found its way to Mexborough shed where it was used to bank goods and mineral trains from Wath to DunfordBridge. A few could also be found among the N1 class which they had displaced at Kings Cross, now working locals in the West Riding. The demise of the N2 came with the introduction of diesel locomotives. From June 1959 the entire service was diagrammed for diesel operation and other than for failures, initially quite frequent, there was nothing more for the N2 to do. The final twelve were withdrawn in 1962.

The Gresley Society’s locomotive is one built by the North British Locomotive Company in 1920 and is the only Gresley designed tank locomotive to survive into preservation. It is a right hand drive locomotive. Later builds in the LNER period were left hand drive and had larger coupled axle journals. The locomotive carries the NBL works number 22600. It entered traffic in February, 1921 numbered 4744 and was re-numbered 9523 in 1946 and 69523 in 1949.

On delivery from Glasgowit was first allocated to Kings Cross shed where it remained until May, 1962 after which it spent its last few months in traffic at Peterborough New England shed. It was withdrawn on 16th September, 1962.  The locomotive was purchased for preservation by the Gresley Society in October 1963. It was moved from Doncaster Works to Harworth Colliery for storage. After steaming at the colliery it was moved to the Keighley and Worth Valley railway were it gained fame by appearing as the Scotch Flyer in the film The Railway Children. No.4744 did little work after that as a boiler tube failure necessitated considerable boiler work. The Main Line Steam Trust offered to undertake this work as the N2 was ideal for the Great Central Railway. The locomotive moved to Quorn & Woodhouse on 21st November, 1975 and entered traffic in LNER black on 16th April, 1978. For the next ten years the engine saw regular use, and was repainted as No. 69523 on November 14th 1987. Following a ten yearly boiler overhaul, and a major rebuild of the motion, the engine first ran on April 3rd 1994 and returned to traffic on April 16th 1994. A visit was made to Amersham from April 30th 1994 until June 3rd 1994 for running between Amersham Watford and Harrow as part of steam on London Transport. The engine made another visit the following year.

The locomotive then entered a prolonged overhaul with the intention of returning it to as near GNR condition as possible. A thorough strip down of the locomotive took place. No.1744 now has a boiler built in the 1940s and with Ross pop safety valves, not the original Ramsbottom type, so while not totally achievable, some of the changes made over the years have been reversed during this overhaul to enable appearance in GNR livery to be reasonably authentic. Strangely, for many years No.1744 had LNER Group Standard buffers. A Stirling tender in the NRM yard provide two of the appropriate GNR barrel buffers. Two more will need to be made.

The foundation of any steam locomotive is its main frames. Very often these are subject to cracking at some time over their life. A close study of many of those in preservation will reveal welds and patches. “Flying Scotsman” is a prime example of this. Slower moving locomotives have not suffered the same stresses and strains of express locomotives and this is the case with the N2. The frames are in quite good condition and thus needed relatively little work except, in the case of one of the hornblocks, to overcome the botched job done during a previous overhaul. The cylinders were bored out and perhaps for the last time needed no liner fitting. New piston valve liners were made inserted into the chamber using liquid nitrogen to shrink them to go into the bore. Wheels were in good condition, no need to re-profile the tyres or skim the journals. Axleboxes, as normal had to be re-metalled and machined to size. It was interesting to see on the inside of the wheel centres, the foundry details and GNR in the raised letters with them. The locomotive frames were re- wheeled in January, 2007.

The major problem was then and always has been the boiler. This was, as stripping proceeded, found to be in a far worse condition than initially estimated. There was need for a new inner firebox. Despite the best efforts of the GCR assisted by the Gresley Society, a source of arsenical copper plate could not be found within a reasonable timescale and at a reasonable cost. There is another problem with arsenical copper. It seems that it could be purchased only from South  Africa and in billet form. On purchase, this needed to be rolled to the thickness required for the particular application. No one in the UK or Europe was prepared to handle arsenical copper. Only China would do that. Consequently the cost became excessive. The reluctant decision was made to have a steel firebox brought about the ordering of this by the GCR from Israel Newton. It came to Loughborough much later than the agreed delivery date, thus upsetting the programme for the boiler repair. Ultimately the GCR made the decision to award a contract to Tyseley Locomotive Works for the completion of the boiler work, the shop at Loughborough not having the time or the capacity to do the work in house. At the end of February, 2008 the old shell and the new inner firebox were taken to Tyseley. The boiler arrived back at the GCR on 11th February, 2009. The boiler was tested for fit in the frames on 17th February, 2009. Along with the new inner firebox, there are new half sides to the outer, a new throat plate and good half of a new back plate. The foundation ring has been renewed and, of course, the whole boiler has been re-stayed. We now have a boiler which is in a much better condition than for many years and this should enable repair costs and time at the next overhaul to be at a minimum.

With the locomotive re-assembled the complex fully lined GNR livery was applied, its original number 1744 reinstated, and the locomotive returned to traffic on 20th June, 2009. Since that time it has performed well on the GCR and has visited many other preserved railways.

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