'Calbourne' – the Isle of Wight Steam Railway's Flagship Tank Engine Content from the guide to life, the universe and everything

'Calbourne' – the Isle of Wight Steam Railway's Flagship Tank Engine

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The Isle of Wight Steam Railway:
The Isle of Wight Terrier Engines | Adams O2 W24 Calbourne

The Adams O2 Class tank engine W24 Calbourne is the flagship locomotive of the Isle of Wight Steam Railway. The Island's award-winning heritage railway that exists today began as a schoolboys' campaign to preserve her, the last of her class, aided by artist David Shepherd CBE1. The Adams O2 Class dominated the Island's railways, with a total of 23 engines serving on the Island from 1923 until the end of steam in 1967.

William Adams

The Adams O2 tank engine was designed by William Adams (1823-1904), who had 42 years' experience as Locomotive Superintendent of three of Britain's railways and is also known for designing the Adams radial bogie, which improved stability at high speeds. Born in London, he first became involved with railways in 1853 when he met HD Martin. Martin is known as the Father of the Isle of Wight Railways having been director, engineer and contractor of the Cowes & Newport Railway and Ryde & Newport Railway, which later merged to become the Isle of Wight Central Railway, and the line from Newport to Ventnor. In 1853 he was hired to survey potential railway lines on the Isle of Wight.

In 1854 he became Locomotive Superintendent of the North London Railway, also overseeing the construction of carriages. The Isle of Wight Steam Railway now owns one of his carriages built in 1864 that came to the Isle of Wight in 1898 as Isle of Wight Railway no. 462. In 1873 he became Locomotive Superintendent for the Great Eastern Railway and in 1878 he replaced WG Beattie as Locomotive Superintendent of the London & South West Railway (LSWR). There he expanded the railway's locomotive works at Nine Elms, moved the carriage works to Eastleigh, and designed his greatest locomotives. These locomotives included new mixed-traffic tank engines designed to handle suburban traffic. Initially, there was the larger T1 class, and this was followed by the smaller O2 class, both of which were 0-4-4T.

The Adams Family

Of all the engines that he designed, the only survivors are:

415 'Radial'4-4-2T488/305831885Bluebell Railway
O20-4-4TW24 Calbourne1891Isle of Wight Steam Railway
T334-4-05631895NRM Shildon
B40-4-0T96/30096 Normandy1893Bluebell Railway
B40-4-0T102/30102 Granville1893Bressingham Steam Museum

In addition a T1 boiler has survived and is stored at the Avon Valley Railway. There have been proposals suggesting it could be used as the basis of a new-build T1, but this would require a lot of time and money to complete.

The O2 Class

In 1888 it was realised by the London & South West Railway (LSWR) that the existing small Beattie tank engines that were working the increasingly-busy London suburban services were in need of replacement. At first Adams designed a large tank engine for heavy traffic; this was the T1 created in 1888. Then the design was improved to create a smaller, lighter engine with smaller wheels and added power. Thus the O2 class was born, capable of working on the lighter rails of smaller lines and with remarkable acceleration.

The O2 had small 4'10" wheels and were plain, extremely economical, sturdy and reliable tank engines. They represented a simple design based on sound engineering practices realised through superb workmanship. The first ten proved so successful the class grew to 60 in total, built during 1889-1895 and numbered 177-236, with the design evolving to encompass a few minor modifications along the way.

By the turn of the century more powerful engines were introduced on the London suburban lines, followed by more of LSWR's lines being electrified in order to compete with the Underground. Far from being redundant, the O2s were too useful and adaptable an engine to be abandoned and so found themselves running on numerous branch lines across the network.

Early Days: LSWR 209

The engine destined to become W24 Calbourne had its creation ordered on 6 August, 1890 as part of the fourth batch of O2 engines. She was completed in December 1891 having cost £1,625 to build, and was assigned to Fratton Shed in Portsmouth. In 1903 the Isle of Wight Central Railway enquired to see if they could purchase her, offering £750. They approached Adams' successor Dugald Dummond, who agreed to sell the engine for £1,285. This would include an overhaul, spare parts and the Westinghouse brake equipment as well as delivery to the Isle of Wight. However Drummond, having had experience with the Isle of Wight railway companies before, insisted on cash in advance. This stopped the deal from going ahead.

For two decades the engine worked on the mainland, initially based in Exeter but later predominantly at Eastleigh.

W24 Calbourne

The 1921 Railways Act amalgamated Britain's railways into four companies, with the three Isle of Wight railways becoming part of Southern Railway. It was apparent that the Isle of Wight needed newer, more powerful engines and so in 1923 two class O2 engines were trialled on the Island. These, W19 and W20, immediately proved themselves successful, economical engines and so another batch of six were ordered. After a general repair at Eastleigh, fitting of the Westinghouse Air Brake, and painting in Maunsell green, they arrived on the Island between late 1924 and early 1925, with Calbourne being part of this batch. Calbourne was originally fitted with motor-train equipment to allow her to run a push-pull service on quieter branch lines if needed; however, the existing Terrier engines were more than capable of handling the quieter routes and so the equipment was removed in 1930. By 1928 all the Island's engines had nameplates attached and the number of O2 engines on the Isle of Wight had increased to 14. There were 23 on the Island by 1949.


Calbourne was named after the West Wight village of Calbourne, which is known to have existed in 826AD when King Egbert of Wessex granted 30 hides of land there to the see of Winchester. More recently it is known for its particularly picturesque thatched cottages, and especially Winkle Street which overlooks the Caul Borne stream that the village is named after. Another local attraction is Calbourne Mill, the last working watermill on the Island that is also a rural museum. It can trace its origins back to the Domesday Book in 1086.

There was a railway station on the Freshwater, Yarmouth and Newport Railway line named Calbourne & Shalfleet which was located between the two villages, 1½ miles outside Calbourne. This served the area from 1889 until the line closed in 1953. The station has since been demolished.

Calbourne's Early Years

Calbourne was based at Ryde St John's Road running the Ryde to Ventnor mainline. As the daily distance travelled was over 200 miles, a larger coal bunker was needed. This was designed for the O2 Class engines by the Southern Railways' Island Manager AB MacLeod, more than doubling their coal capacity from 1½ tons to 3¼ tons. In 1933 all the O2s were also fitted with cab doors.

During the Second World War, Calbourne was stored in Newport and worked the Cowes-Newport-Ryde line. After the war, on 1 January, 1948, the railways were nationalised and British Railways was formed. Unlike British Railways' locomotives on the mainland which were all renumbered, the Isle of Wight's engines retained their Island W numbers, although they were now painted in black BR livery. The last O2s arrived on the Island in the early days of BR, while their mainland equivalents began to be withdrawn from service and scrapped.

British Railways and Breakup

By the early 1960s up to 64,000 passengers a day were embarking on Ryde Pier Head; however, from 1960 the last class of steam engine left on the Island was the O2 class. 15 O2s were used in the summer, but only seven were needed for the winter timetable. It was often proposed to replace the Island's O2 engines with Ivatt Class 2 2-6-2T tank engines, but in the end the decision was made to close most of the Island's lines. The Island's rail network went from having 55 miles at its height in 1949 to only the 8½mile Ryde to Shanklin line being left by 1966. This line was being electrified and to assist in the work Calbourne was fitted with a new boiler. Calbourne and Chale helped to run the electrification works trains, shunting the new electric stock and taking the engineers' trains. A Hunslet Class 05 diesel, D2554, was imported to the Island in October to take over the engineer train-working duties4. During this time, Ken West was Calbourne's main driver. He drove the last train from Cowes on 19 February, 1966 and the first electric train from Ryde to Shanklin on 21 March, 1967.

Passenger steam services officially ended on 31 December, 1966. On 3 January, 1967, Calbourne was the last engine to travel beyond Newport, travelling to Cement Mills Siding towards Cowes. In March 1967 Chale and Calbourne had finished their duties and looked likely to be scrapped too. The last steam engine running on the Island was Merstone, which shunted her sister engines to the scrapyard on 18 April, 1967, only to be the first engine scrapped.

We Are the O2 Preservation Society

In early 1967 a group of 12-15-year-old schoolboys, Ron Strutt, Iain Whitlam and David Perry, first publicised the idea of preserving an O2 locomotive on the Island as a memorial to the Isle of Wight's railways. This idea quickly gathered pace and with a generous anonymous donation (later revealed to have been from David Shepherd) in April the newly-founded Wight Locomotive Society had raised £900, enough to save one engine. As Calbourne had had a new boiler fitted, it made sense for it to be the engine saved. Tragically Chale was scrapped in September 1967 as the society had been unable to raise enough money to purchase her too. This left Calbourne as the very last survivor of her class.

Calbourne was stored in Ryde at the end of the siding known as Number Two Coal Road and covered in tarpaulins. However, the society did not have permission to store her there and needed to transport her to Newport. The only problem was that the direct line had been removed. At first the society investigated the possibility of liaising with the Tramway Museum Society and Royal Engineers with regards to transportation5 but this plan fell through. With no company on the Island able to carry the locomotive, various mainland firms were contacted for quotations, but to no avail.

In August 1969 Terry Hastings, the society's secretary, saw a heavy haulage company's lorry parked near a pub. Popping inside he learned that they, along with a 70-ton transporter, had been hired to visit the Island to work at East Cowes' Kingston Power Plant. Contacting the haulage company's main office on the mainland, he hired the transporter to carry the 38½ ton locomotive from Ryde to Newport after it had finished the job at East Cowes and while it was still on the Island. On Friday 15 August the engine was moved from Ryde to Newport Station6.

Calbourne was not to stay at Newport long - on Wednesday, 20 January, 1971, the Wight Locomotive Society were informed that they had to leave the station site, which was being demolished, and that all the remaining track on the Cowes-Newport-Ryde line was due to be removed on 25 January. They would be able to move Calbourne by rail from Newport to a new home at the former Havenstreet Station, however. Temporary repairs were made to the line at Wootton while it still existed, and on Sunday 24 January Calbourne hauled all the Wight Locomotive Society's possessions four miles east. The society had raised enough funds to buy Havenstreet Station and 1½ miles of track between Havenstreet and Wootton. Thus the Isle of Wight Steam Railway was born.

The Isle of Wight Steam Railway

By summer 1971 the Isle of Wight Steam Railway began operating services from Havenstreet once more. Sadly it became apparent that reopening Wootton Station at its original position was impossible due to the unstable clay subsoil, so a new station would have to be constructed at a new site nearby. Calbourne took pride of place both in the inaugural year and in 1972, but it was apparent that the engine was in need of an overhaul. However, the new railway society did not have any workshop facilities, so this resulted in Calbourne being dismantled and repaired on the track outside the signal box. Despite the incredible inconvenience, Calbourne was up and running again in August 1975, in time to celebrate the centenary of the opening of the Newport to Ryde line of which the Isle of Wight Steam Railway's mile between Havenstreet and Wootton was a part.

On 22 January, 1976, the Isle of Wight Steam Railway had a royal visit from His Excellency the Governor of the Isle of Wight, Admiral of the Fleet, Earl Mountbatten of Burma. Calbourne, fitted with the Royal headboard in order to receive the Queen's cousin, was expected to pull the carriage that would transport Lord Louis Mountbatten towards Wootton and back. However, Mountbatten had other ideas. He climbed straight into the cab and when given the signal to proceed, drove the train to Wootton. Driver Ray Maxfield was quoted as saying:

He had obviously handled an engine before so I let him get on with it.

Sadly, Mountbatten, the last Governor of the Isle of Wight as well as the first Lord Lieutenant of the Isle of Wight, was assassinated by terrorists in 1979.

In 1978, Calbourne briefly became LSWR No 209 while Havenstreet Station became an unlikely double for Charing Cross Station in order to film scenes for an adaptation of PG Wodehouse's The Smile That Wins. In 1980 Calbourne was the first engine in the newly-built locomotive workshop, when her paintwork was redone on her left side, where it had deteriorated more quickly due to the position of the sun. On 27 September, 1981, Calbourne's 90th birthday was celebrated with cakes, with Calbourne herself enjoying special cake-shaped briquettes in her firebox.

I Now Declare This Station Open

On 31 May, 1987, the new Wootton Station was officially opened when Calbourne broke the ribbon across the track at the entrance to the station. Four years later on 20 July, 1991, she had the honour to open the extension to Smallbrook Junction, where the steam railway connected with the Island Line service, once again breaking the ribbon across the tracks. The first electric train to stop at Smallbrook Junction was driven by Ken West who, after he retired in 1993, promptly volunteered at the Isle of Wight Steam Railway to work with Calbourne.

For much of the 1990s Calbourne steamed in olive green livery with her original bunker restored, to represent her appearance when she first came to the Island. More recently, in 2010 she was restored to BR black with the extended bunker though following her next overhaul is expected to return to Malachite green in 2021. On 20 August, 2001, HRH The Duke of Edinburgh had a ride on Calbourne's footplate7.

As Calbourne is fitted with the Westinghouse Air Brake she is incompatible with mainland railways which are fitted with vacuum brakes, and so has returned to the mainland only twice since 1925. In 2012 she toured Bodmin and Wenford Railway, Swanage Railway, the Watercress Line and Quainton Road Railways Station. In March 2019 she visited the Bluebell Railway for the an Adams family reunion. There she was reunited with fellow tank engines 415 'Radial' class 30583 for the first time in 120 years as well as B4 class 96/30096 Normandy. Between them the engines are 388 years old.

The Isle of Wight Steam Railway encourages visiting children to develop a love of Calbourne. A Calbourne ride-on can be found outside the gift shop, and when the Train Story Discovery Centre opened at Havenstreet in 2014 it contained a replica hands-on Calbourne that children can pretend to be driving, complete with pretend coal and whistles.

O2s on the Isle of Wight

All the O2 engines were named after places on the Isle of Wight.

NumberNameBuiltLSWR NoOn Isle of Wight

Many of these engines' names had previously been used by different engine types on the Island before: engines Alverstone, Ashey, Calbourne, Chale, Godshill, Merston, Ningwood, Seaview, Shorwell, Totland and Whitwell were all new names, but the other 12 names had been used at least once before.

1Railway enthusiast and conservationist David Shepherd later founded the East Somerset Railway.2After its restoration and return to service in 1986, this carriage won first prize in the Association of Railway Preservation Society's Best Preserved Carriage competition.3In 2015 it starred in a theatrical production of The Railway Children.4The Isle of Wight Steam Railway acquired this engine in 1984, when it was named Nuclear Fred.5The Tramway Museum Society wanted to use a tank transporter to carry a tramcar from Prague to Derbyshire and it was hoped that the Wight Locomotive Society could use this too, but the Czechoslovakian political situation prevented this.6Although Newport Station is long gone, it still existed then as a company called Sadler Vectrail hoped to operate railbuses on the Ryde to Newport to Cowes line. Sadly this never materialised. By the end of 1970 Vectrail collapsed.7When his wife the Queen visited in 2004 to open the carriage and wagonworks, she sat in a carriage pulled by Freshwater.

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