Little Loco Group
The Little Loco Group was formally formed in 2017 from former members of the Wainwright Villas Gang and supported by the Fenchurch Fund in the effort to fund & support the overhaul & restoration of the Bluebell Railway’s historic fleet of smaller engines and the railway’s collection of pre-grouping engines & projects representing this era of locomotive history.
In line with these aims and those of the Bluebell Railways Locomotive policy the group aims to help keep an example of one of our two LBSCR A1X terriers as well as one of the three SECR P tanks in an operational condition at all times.
Since 2001 the Fenchurch Fund has been raising funds towards the restoration of SECR No.27 Primrose after successfully fundraising towards the restoration of LBSCR No.72 Fenchurch. With the completion of Captain Baxter’s restoration in 2010 some of the former members of the villas gang, with the aid of the Fenchurch Fund, have taken on the task of seeing the forgotten P No.27 Primrose’s return once again to steam.
The Fenchurch Fund is part of the Bluebell Railway Preservation Society originally formed as the Chip Wood Fund as a memorial to a young Bluebell Railway locoman (Matthew Wood) who died in 1991 at the age of 24. The fund was used at that time to help restore his favourite locomotive LBSCR No.72 Fenchurch.
To facilitate this, the group became the Fenchurch Wheel Appeal, later becoming the Fenchurch Fund. The fund raised enough money to help with casting a new set of driving wheels to replace the original cracked wheel and provided funding for much more work to be carried out.
Having raised the money and seen Fenchurch returned to traffic in 2001 the Fenchurch Fund decided to focus its attention on raising money to help see SECR No.27 Primrose, the forgotten P, run once again.
Since then the Fenchurch Fund has helped to raise just over £40,000 of the expected £150,000 restoration cost towards the return of SECR No.27 Primrose back into active service.
The Villa’s Gang has its origins in 1973 when Jock McKay formed a volunteer team to repair No 3 Baxter, which had lain out of use since 1961. Many volunteers helped on this job, especially in its earlier days, but the workforce settled down to a core team of Jock McKay, Nick (“The Wrench”) Payne, Phil Heelis, and Lewis Nodes.
Overlapping the Baxter job was another volunteer team working on the “North London” comprising Brian Spurle, Paul Russell, Geoff Stringer, and John Dunsford, and another team working on No 55 “Stepney”, comprising Martin Payne, Trevor West, Andrew Wilkens, and Clifford Wood.
Towards the end of the Baxter job the teams started to merge somewhat, and after the North London was completed in June 1984 a new team was formed, with the intention of carrying on a program of repairing some of our more interesting locomotives, starting with No 488 (“Adams”) and at the same time support the railway’s steam crane.
Since these early days the Villa’s team went on to restore Fenchurch in Matthew Woods memory finished in 2001, Led by Lewis Nodes and funded by the Fenchurch Fund, as well as Baxter for a second time sponsored by the Bluebell Railway trust and completed in 2010.
The Little Loco Fleet
LBSCR A1X class No 55 "Stepney"
Built & out-shopped from Brighton Works in 1875 she was first allocated to New Cross shed serving the growing East London commuter lines.
25 years on and with an increase in traffic load on the inner London lines Stepney, along with her other class mates, found new work further south running on Col Stephen’s Light Railways & serving the famous Hayling Island line based out of Fratton.
Come the late 50’s, with the end of steam looming on the horizon & the rise of the preservation era, Stepney became the fledgling Bluebell Railways first engine! Immortalized soon after through the Thomas the tank engine books by Rev. W. Awdry “Stepney the Bluebell Engine” the old East London Girl has become a world recognized name with many a youngster seeking her out whilst on a visit to the Bluebell.
Current Condition: On Static Display
LBSCR A1X class No 72 "Fenchurch"
The first of Stroudly’s famous “terriers” Fenchurch was out-shopped from Brighton Works on the 7th September 1872. Based out of Battersea she served the South London Lines clocking up an impresive milage of over 600,000 miles before taking on a more subdued life in 1898 having been acquired by the Newhaven Habour Company to under take shunting duties around the docks.
Come the grouping & the coming of the Southern Railway Fenchurch acquired her new number 2636. Over the next 40 years Fenchurch had a varied carrier spending time at her old haunt’s at Newhaven but also venturing out on Hop Picking Specials as well as working the South Kentish lines. Finally after a final tally of 1,109,513 miles to her credit the pioneer “Terrier” was withdrawn by BR on the 4th of January 1964. But luck would have it that in May of 1964 Fenchurch found a new Home and a fresh start at the Bluebell Railway making her way to her new home with ex LBSCR fruit van No 270 on the 13th May 1964.
Current Condition: Under Overhaul
SECR P class No 27 "Primrose"
Built at Ashford Works No.27 was out-shopped on the 28th of February 1910 and was initially allocated to the Isle of Sheppey Light Railway as a comparison to the former LBSCR Terrier Waddon currently at work there.
From the 24th April 1915 until 30th October 1916, No.27 together with No.753 were engaged in military work being shipped across the Channel for war service at Boulogne. Whilst there she was painted olive green and re-numbered as ROD No.5027. Post war No.27 found her calling working the docks at Dover becoming No.1027 during the Southern Railway era & finally No.31027 under BR.
No.27 arrived at the Bluebell in 1961, the Railway’s third engine, and for two years carried the name “Primrose”. In 1963 she was repainted into full SECR passenger livery and was a mainstay of the Bluebell’s operational fleet for much of that decade into the early 1970s.
Current Condition: Under Overhaul
SECR P class No 323 "Bluebell"
Out-shopped from Ashford works in 1910 No 323 has long been the flagship of the Bluebell’s fleet, painted blue and named “Bluebell” since 1961. In 2009 it was decided as a priority to get the engine running for the Railway’s 50th anniversary for which the Bluebell Railway’s Trust agreed to fund the work.
So in September 2009 the loco entered the works with the aim of completing the overhaul for the 50th anniversary celebrations. Unfortunately this was thwarted by the discovery of additional boiler repairs with the loco finally returning to service just in time to put in an appearance at the Branch Line weekend of 2011 in “Bluebell Blue” livery based closely on the SECR’s Edwardian green livery.
Following its 2019 annual boiler inspection, “Bluebell” has been withdrawn from service, and awaits both major boiler work and a major mechanical overhaul, having run 78,000 miles in Bluebell service.
Current Condition: On Static Display
SECR No 178 "Pioneer II" / "Nettle"
No.178 was built at Ashford works in 1910 being first allocated to Ash a sub shed of Reading. With the outbreak of war, No.178 was allocated to Margate where she worked local passenger trains before being sent to Hastings. January 1917 saw her allocated to Bricklayers Arms for two years and then a transfer to Tonbridge followed spending several years operating the Westerham branch.
In 1926 all the P Class locomotives were withdrawn from passenger duties and No.1178 was transferred to Folkestone and then to Dover. Re-numbered 31178 under BR her final allocation was to Stewarts Lane Battersea and withdrawn surplus to requirements she was sold to Bowaters and re-named Pioneer II.
In 1969 she was purchased by the Bluebell Railway and moved to Sheffield Park & after an extensive restoration she was returned to traffic in February 2010 seeing out her first 10 year boiler ticket serving the Bluebell Railway.