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A web-site by Rob Speare


75 years ago in the West ( - a 2020 view of the new West Country Class).

'Victory in Europe Day' (VE Day) on May 8th 1945 marked the ending of World War II in Europe, being declared a National holiday in the U.K.  Thre were great celebrations in London, and my Dad recalls getting the day off school at Bude, in rural Cornwall, but not having a party !

Sadly He wasn't able to enjoy a party in 2020 either, as the planned 75th anniversary, whilst celebrated, was somewhat muted by the Covid-19 lockdown; although I did enjoy some Victoria sponge cake, baked by a kind neighbour.

But another 75th anniversary that followed closely behind in May 2020 slipped by, almost unnoticed.

Despite the War time restrictions, the Southern Railway's Chief Mechanical Engineer - O.V.S. Bulleid, had managed to introduce a new breed of locomotive into service, the Merchant Navy class, describing them rather inaccurately as 'mixed traffic' locomotives.  In reality they were express locomotives, and the initial batch used many castings making them a bit overweight !

However, a pressing need was emerging for a new light express locomotive to fulfil operational needs of the Southern's 'withered arm'; the lines west of Exeter, running across Devon and Cornwall, servicing places like Ilfracombe, Barnstaple, Bude, Tavistock, Padstow and Plymouth.  The locomotives operating on these lines were old and tired, and had no assistance from the Merchant Navy class members, as they were restricted from working west of Exeter due to excess weight.

To address that issue Bulleid designed a slimmed down version, with much more emphasis on welding and fabricated parts, using a slightly shorter boiler, and reduced diameter cylinders.  This sister locomotive to the Merchant Navy class, shared much of the inner 'DNA', but was 5 tons lighter.

And so 75 years ago, within just a couple of weeks of VE day, the first of Bulleid's 'Light Pacifics' emerged from Brighton works.

Here was the needed solution for the South West; these new locomotives would be able to take over a train from a Merchant Navy class at Exeter, and work down most of the lines into Devon and Cornwall. 

Following the considerable restrictions of the War years, the Southern Railway was very keen to re-establish passenger travel, and particularly the important holiday routes to the South West.

So, in an inspirational move, and never missing the opportunity of good marketing, this new class of locos became known the 'West Country' class.  All were named after towns or beauty spots of interest to holiday makers going to the South West - places that were more or less within reach of the Southern's Railway network; a sort of mobile advertisement of the many gems worth travelling to the West to see.

Matching the new post-war optimism, the new locomotives, presented in their modern air-smoothed casings, were outshopped in vibrant Malachite green, a brighter shade than pre-war, with three bright yellow stripes, and the lower panels in gloss black.  This was a stark contrast to the war time black that had been applied to the Merchant Navy class, and some trials of a blue livery.

Following trials, new Class leader 21C101 was allocated to Exmouth Junction shed (Exeter), which remained its base until November 1957.

A note about the Southern's shed at Exmouth Junction 72A ( B.R. Western - 83D).

This was a major shed for the Southern Railway at Exeter, the second one built on the site (completed in 1929), and was constructed in ferro-concrete (situated next to the Southern's famous concrete works), at just a mile from Exeter Central station.

It was huge, with the North-light roofed running shed, measuring 270 ft long by 235 feet wide, with 13 roads.  The road on the North side had a tall roof (nick-named 'the Cathedral') that housed a travelling overhead gantry crane of 63 ton capacity, and the shed was fully equipped with machine shops and stores. 

To cope with the arrival of Bulleid's Pacific classes the 65 feet turntable was replaced by a 70 feet version in 1947, and the old water cranes were replaced by columns with swinging boom arms that could reach above the new high sided Pacific tenders.

As Exeter is a fair way from Brighton works where the majority of light pacifics were built (6 were built at Eastleigh), the staff had to get become proficient at being able to do some fairly major servicing on them.  A former Employee recently told me that many 72A staff developed a lot of their own special tools and ways of repairing this new breed of locomotive.

A 1947 Allocation list suggests that all 20 light Pacifics built in 1945 were based at Exmouth Junction, as well as a further batch 21C141 – 21C147, built at the end of 1946.

Keen to make very positive publicity from these locomotives, 26 of the Class, many of those named after West Country Towns or Cities served by a station, were given an 'Official Naming Ceremony' at the associated local station.

These occasions were advertised locally beforehand on brightly coloured posters, adapted from the 'First in the Field' poster, printed up to show the time and location of the event. 

As it is the 75th anniversary of the Class entering service, this article focuses on naming ceremonies for the eight Light Pacifics that took place in 1945. 

The first of which was for :

21C102 - 'Salisbury',  named on  9th July 1945  at Salisbury Station,  officiated by Councillor A Courtney (Mayor)

Curiously the first member of the West Country class to be official named, was 21C102 at a ceremony at Salisbury station on Monday 9 July 1945.  Local reporting suggested this was  "attended by senior management from the Southern Railway, including Lord Radnor who was Deputy Chairman, the designer Mr O V S Bulleid, and various councillors and officials from Salisbury.  The Mayor, Alfred Courtney, officiated with Salisbury being the first of its class to be named.  Both the Chairman of the Southern Railway and the Mayor referred to the great part the railways had played in supporting the recent D-Day campaign."

After the naming ceremony Salisbury travelled to Exeter to be put directly into service.  On Tuesday 10 July 1945 it was recorded as being the first of the West Country locomotives to reach Ilfracombe, on the 1.40 pm from Exeter.

21C101 - 'Exeter',  named on  10th July 1945  at  Exeter Central Station,  officiated by Mayor Alderman Vincent Thompson

Also on the 10th July, class prototype 21C101 was brought to the Southern's Exeter Central Station for the naming.  It was reported :

"The locomotive was stabled in Platform 1, the eastward-facing bay on the southern side of the station, and the area was packed with spectators.  Notable figures present at the naming were Bulleid and Eustace Missenden, the General Manager of the Southern Railway. 

The engine was Christened "Exeter" (hence the location of the ceremony), and unveiled upon No. 21C101's side was a shield depicting the towers of Rougemont Castle [Exeter], superimposed on the City of Exeter Coat of Arms."

For locomotives that had a naming ceremony, the air-smoothed casing was adorned on each side with a cast bronze shield, with an inset a vitreous enamelled crest.  As was the case for Exeter, Salisbury and Plymouth, the crest was a representation of the local Coat of Arms, but for some smaller Towns the Coat of Arms for the County was used.

The West Country class locos had very distinctive cast nameplates, which varied in length according to the name.  Unusually for the Southern, the background colour to the nameplate and scroll for Exeter is black, perhaps to tie-in with the black on the lower casing.  However, this was not popular, and from 1946 the background colour reverted to red, which continued into the early 1950s under British Railways.  Salisbury and Plymouth appear to have a red background colour on their nameplates.

The ceremonies followed a similar format, the locomotive drew into the platform with the nameplate and crest hidden behind curtains, until the ceremony was performed.  Afterwards, the Mayor (or Council Chairman) climbed up to the cab, and under supervision, took the locomotive for a short drive.

Following that, the dignitaries were treated to a special tea, served in a restaurant car [dining carriage] that had been prepared and brought to the station for the occasion. 

21C103 - 'Plymouth',  named on  11th July 1945  at  Plymouth Friary Station,  officiated by Alderman H G Mason (Lord Mayor)

Clearly enjoying a trip to Devon from London, and concluding the namings for that week, the third 'West Country' member was named on the following day in Plymouth.

Sixteen year old local resident Peter Bragg was present at the naming event, his father was a Signalman at Plymouth's Kings Road box, and one of a large railway family. 

He recalls the locomotive was parked up against the buffers of Platform 1 at the Western end of the station, often used as a fish bay, an area normally set aside to load the rear coaches of a train with collections of fish, and perfect for the occasion.  The photos of Plymouth are official Southern Railway, ones from Peter's collection.

Note the locomotive shield, displaying the centre part of the Coat of Arms - the Flag of Plymouth.  On a white background, this consists of a green diagonal cross separating four black towers, which represent the four forts surrounding and defending the City, dating back to the English Civil War era.  Apparently, the City's motto, turris fortissima est nomen jehova translates as the 'strongest tower is the name of Jehovah', and this refers to the city's successful resistance to the Royalist siege during that conflict.

Below the crest was the cast 'West Country Class' scroll, painted red, as fitted to the whole class.

Presentation Coffee Tables

But also, complementing each of the official locomotive namings, a small wooden coffee table was presented as a personal gift to the local officiating Mayor/Chairman (listed above) who represented a Town in each naming ceremony.  An inscribed plaque on the lower shelf recorded the date, locomotive name, and title of the dignitary. 

Here is a photo of the table that was presented to the Major of Salisbury, Alfred Courtney, for his role in the naming of the locomotive.  The crest depicted on the top of the table is the broadly the same same as the one used on the locomotive 'Salisbury', although the table is unusual for having a black painted surround to the central crest motif.

In several instances the table presentation was noted in contemporary newspaper articles about the locomotive namings.

Richard Green of the Bulleid Society brought these tables to my attention, and I decided to attempt to track down whether any of these coffee tables may have survived.  The photos shown on this page are some of the many tables I was able find, with the assistance of many kind people.

Several months passed before the next naming ceremony, which was for :

21C107 - 'Wadebridge',  named on  31st October 1945  at  Wadebridge Station,  officiated by C H Paul JP (Chairman Wadebridge RDC)

These photos were given to the Council Chairman C H Paul as a record of the occasion; the one of the new locomomotive is signed by Sir Eustace Missenden, Col Gore Brown, and O.V. Bulleid.  The official S.R. photo of the naming shows it was a good sunny day in Cornwall, watched by an attentive crowd. 

Also shown is the presentation table that He was presented with, which features a painted crest representing the Cornish 'Coat of Arms'. 

On November 1st 1945, the local newspaper reported on the naming ceremonies for 'Wadebridge' and 'Padstow'.  Representing the Southern Railway was the Hon. Clive Pearson, chairman of the Locomotive Committee of the Southern Railway.  He said that : 
"The West Country Class met the particular requirements of the West of England lines, and gave a lead in the the very latest of locomotives.  It was an engine of considerably greater haulage capacity than they had been able to employ in the West of England in the past".

He invited Mr C H Paul (chairman of the Wadebridge Council, perform the naming ceremony.  Mr. Paul wondered what their great Corishman Richard Trevithick would have said at the sight of the fine engine.  He congratulated the railway and designer of the engine on the excellence of their work.  Mr. Paul then drove the engine for a short distance.  Councillors and others were entertained to lunch.

Later the same day was the naming of a sister locomotive, an advertised 'Atlantic Coast Express' destination at the end of the same branch : Padstow.

21C108 - 'Padstow',  named on  31st October 1945  at  Padstow Station,  officiated by L H L Saunders (Chairman Padstow UDC)

This Southern Railway photo shows the afternoon naming event in Padstow station was also well attended  The fireman had to keep the fire just simmering while Mr Saunders unveiled the locomotive's new name.  As on similar occasions there was a steady stream of school children going through the locomotive cab, hopefully it made a lasting impression on some.

As with Wadebridge, both the locomotive Padstow and its associated table, displayed the Cornish Coat of Arms, this occured several times where no suitable local Town crest was available.  The duck-egg blue border was the common colour used for the majority of these tables, with the clear exception of Salisbury.

The 'Arms of the Duchy of Cornwall' were designed in the fifteenth century, and represent 15 gold bezants, the symbol of an association of Cornish pawnbrokers that supported King John in a war against France. 

Curiously the inscribed plaque on the underside of the 'Padstow' coffee table is inscribed 'Padstowe'.  Perhaps this resulted from a mistaken assumption in the workshops that it was spelt the same way as School's class 'Stowe' built just over 10 years previously. 

The dignitaries must surely have had their fill this day, before travelling back up the coast for the first of two naming ceremonies on the following day.

21C106 - 'Bude',  named on  1st November 1945  at  Bude Station  officiated by Chairman Cllr John Hallett

As with the previous two locomotives, 'Bude' displayed the Cornish Crest; until such time as the local Borough created one, and the arms were granted on September 11, 1947. 

Subsequently, a pair of new enamelled crests featuring the Bude-Stratton Coat of Arms were made, and these replaced the original ones on the locomotive in the early 1950s. 

The only time 'Bude' visited the Town was for the naming, as she was too long for the turntable, so had to run tender first along the branch line.

'Bude' achieved the highest mileage of any class member, at a recorded 1,099,338 miles run - that's to the moon and back twice - and not just floating, but under steam for the whole distance ! (- only classmates Exeter and Salisbury also managed more than a million miles each).

Sadly, despite being my original home town, I have been unable to track down the coffee table for 'Bude', which would have looked similar to the table for Padstow.

And later in the day, onto another naming ceremony; they must have gained a few pounds that week !

21C112 - 'Launceston',  named on  1st November 1945  at  Launceston Station,  officiated by Alderman G E Trood JP (Mayor)

Looks like a beautiful sunny day for late Autumn in Launceston, though many of those gathered are wearing warm coats and hats, while Mayor Trood enjoys the priviledge of naming the locomotive.

The table for 'Launceston' has retained its colour and detail very well.

These cosy sized coffee tables were 16 inches in diameter, standing 14 inches high on 3 wooden legs, with a small circular shelf to which the plaque was attached.  The images were painted onto the top surface, which was protected by a clear circular glass top.

Likely the gracious recipients of these tables didn't realise they were made by apprentices at Eastleigh works, and although certainly not a sophisticated design they were very nicely finished, and when new must have been quite something to show off. 

Also shown is the signed photo that was given to the Mayor showing the locomotive named in his ceremony.

On the following day, likely on the journey home for the S.R. officials, was the final naming ceremony of 1945.

21C104 - 'Yeovil',  named on  2nd November 1945  at  Yeovil Town Station,  officiated by Councillor W S Vosper (Mayor)

It's great to see these photos, happy occasions following some pretty bleak times - even if all the originals are black and white.  And yet as we can see from the tables, they were also very good times for colour.

The table for 'Yeovil' remains a cherished possesion and is well cared for.

The world has changed much in 75 years, and it was a fairly epic struggle to locate surviving examples, along with finding some had sadly been lost in house clearances, or through damage. 

And as with any furniture, the passing years have also had an effect on these tables, the main damage being marking of the paint through moisture; so they do vary in condition.  Many have out-lived the locomotives they represented.

Because these tables were made as required, spanning a number of years, and given as gifts, most have never been seen by the public, and certainly never together.  Yet in many ways they form an unusual, if a rather scattered collection of art pieces.

Whilst delighted to track down those, sadly I have been unable to locate the tables for Exeter, Plymouth, or my home Town of Bude; so if any reader does know of these, I would be most pleased to hear. 

Of the Light Pacifics built in 1945, three survive : 'Wadebridge', 'Sidmouth' and 'Bodmin' -  albeit 'Sidmouth' is only emerging very slowly from scrapyard condition at Herston works, Swanage.

In total there were 110 Bulleid 'Light Pacifics' split between 66 West Country class, and 44 'Battle of Britain' class members, although mechanically they were the same.  The last one was completed by British Railways after Railway Nationalisation - No. 34110  '66 Squadron', which was outshopped from Brighton in January 1951.