Double Fairlie steam locomotives – Class Information

Earl of Merioneth at Porthmadog
Credit: RailAdvent

This week we turn to a narrow gauge class of steam locomotive for Class Information. This week, we turn to the Double Fairlie’s, which are based at the Ffestiniog Railway.

We will look at the background of the class and then move onto the preserved members and what their current status is.

There are lost locomotives, preserved members and new builds featured in this Class Information. We hope you enjoy!

Firstly, if you have any suggestions for classes you would like to know more about, then please comment below! 

Double Fairlie Class

Little Wonder
Credit: FR Co

The Double Fairlie design was built to the Fairlie’s Patent design of Robert Francis Fairlie. The design uses two articulating power bogies, one boiler and the crew in the middle.

Robert Francis Fairlie wanted to design a locomotive that was equally usable in either forward or reverse. He also wanted a locomotive that would go round the sharp curves efficiently, something of which the Ffestiniog Railway had plenty of.

The basic dimensions of the Double Fairlie class of locomotive varied slightly on each locomotive. They were all around 32ft 6in (except David Lloyd George, which is 31ft 6in and Taliesin, due to her being a single Fairlie). All Double Fairlie’s had a wheel arrangement of 0-4-4-0T, again, except Taliesin (preserved) which is a single Fairlie and has a wheel arrangement of 0-4-4T

Production Series

Here is the production series for the Double Fairlies found on the Ffestiniog Railway, however, the first real narrow gauge Double Fairlie was built in Queensland in 1866.

  1. George England & Co (1 produced)
  2. Avonside Engine Company (1 produced)
  3. Boston Lodge Works, Ffestiniog Railway (4 produced)

Performance in Service

Merddin Emrys
Credit: Unknown

The first Double Fairlie to be built was Little Wonder, which was built by George England & Co, and entered into service in 1869 to help to take the empty trucks from the port at Porthmadog back up the mountain to Blaenau Ffestiniog to be filled back up with slate (Double Fairlies could take more trucks back up the incline the George England’s like Princess, Prince, Palmerston, meaning they were more efficient).

Little Wonder had a very successful working life, this is due to the fact it was built with two separate fireboxes, which stopped the earlier drafting problems. Little Wonder was later joined by Merddin Emrys and James Spooner to help take the trucks to the quarries in the ‘Slate Capital Of The World’.

Decline and Withdrawal

Unfortunately, due to the drying up of slate business, they became less and less need for a big engine to haul the wagons up the incline.

Withdrawal of Little Wonder came in 1881-1882 when a series of problems, including the crack in the centre bogie and the boiler being described as ‘leaky’. Little Wonder was unfortunately withdrawn from service and condemned in 1882, with the remaining usable parts being used on Little Giant, Palmerston and Prince.

James Spooner was withdrawn in December 1928 after a number of overhauls. Parts were dismantled and was finally condemned in 1933.

Preservation

Thankfully, a short while after the Ffestiniog Railway closed due to no traffic, either passenger or freight (due to the slate being cheaper elsewhere), the Ffestiniog Railway Society formed and soon needed engines to haul passenger services.

This means that 2 Double Fairlies are currently in steam, 1 is a static exhibition, 1 has just been withdrawn from service, 1 is a new build project, and one is the third variant of a locomotive with the same name.

  1. Palmerston and Merddin Emrys at Porthmadog
    Palmerston and Merddin Emrys // Credit: RailAdvent

    No. 10 Merddin Emrys – currently in service. Merddin Emrys was built in 1879 and was the first locomotive to be built at the Boston Lodge Workshops at the Ffestiniog Railway. It was never really withdrawn but entered passenger service in preservation in 1961 however, problems found after entering service meant it fully entered service in 1963. Merddin Emrys has since been a popular member of the Ffestiniog Railway, with its Stanier Hooter – it is a favourite amongst staff and visitors.

  2. No. 3 Livingston Thompson – static exhibition at the National Railway Museum, in York. Livingston Thompson was built in 1886 and worked for many years on the Ffestiniog Railway, and even entered service on the preserved railway for 20 years, when, it was found out that the locomotive was worn out from many years of service. In 1988, the locomotive was cosmetically restored and is now on a long-term loan at the National Railway Museum.
  3. Earl of Merioneth - Mountain Prince
    Earl of Merioneth – Mountain Prince

    No. 11 Earl of Merioneth – withdrawn awaiting a possible overhaul. Earl of Merioneth was built at the Boston Lodge Works in 1979, after a 9-year build. Known amongst enthusiasts as ‘The Square’ due to its squared-off tanks, this one is certainly a favourite amongst everyone. This Earl of Merioneth was built after the first one was withdrawn after the boiler had reached the end of its life. In 2018, Earl of Merioneth hauled its final train ahead of being withdrawn ahead of a possible overhaul. This locomotive was withdrawn due to it also being worn out and the Ffestiniog Railway deciding it was more financially viable to build a brand new Double Fairlie (James Spooner II below).

  4. David Lloyd George at Porthmadog - Vintage Weekend 2015
    Credit: RailAdvent

    No. 12 David Lloyd George – currently in service. David Lloyd George entered service in 1992 and was built at the Ffestiniog’s Boston Lodge Works. This locomotive had a major overhaul in 2002 and an overhaul in 2013. David Lloyd George is in service alongside Merddin Emrys. These are the only two locomotives currently available to haul the peak 10/11 coach trains from Porthmadog on its own.

  5. No. 8 James Spooner II – currently under construction. James Spooner II will be the newest Double Fairlie and is currently under construction at the Boston Lodge Works. It is estimated that James Spooner II will enter service in 2020. It replaces Earl of Merioneth who has already been withdrawn. Latest news is that the boiler construction has begun. You can read more on this locomotive in the Project Information here.
  6. Linda and Taliesin at Porthmadog
    Linda and Taliesin at Porthmadog

    Taliesin III – currently in service. The only Single Fairlie in use, Taliesin was built at the Boston Lodge Works in 1999. Taliesin is rated to 7 carriages, so is used often on early morning or evening trains. It is also often seen at Vintage Weekends with the shuttles. It is also able to combine with Linda or Lyd to haul bigger trains if a Double Fairlie is unavailable.

That’s another Class Information completed, time for the next Sole Survivor in a week’s time. We hope you have enjoyed this week’s Class Information (and new Lost Class series, more information here), stay tuned for next week’s article.

Michael Holden avatar
I have had an interest in Railways for as long as I can remember. I am a member of a number of heritage railways and actively volunteer at 2 of them. I enjoy all types of railways, real life, model and simulations. I started RailAdvent in 2014 and am the main editor of the site.