|THE INDUSTRIAL RAILWAY RECORD||
© OCTOBER 1969
A GENERAL SURVEY
If you were to ask the average French railway "amateur" what he most closely connects with the house of Corpet Louvet there is little doubt that his answer would be the six-coupled metre gauge tank locomotive for service on French secondary railways. During ninety-eight years of locomotive construction the firm built 1884 steam locomotives of which no less than 826 were six-coupled metre gauge tanks for light railway service in France or French colonies, whilst a further seventy were ordered but cancelled because of the declaration and events of the First World War. As many more were also built to standard Corpet designs for contractors and other private owners, the gross total must be close on a thousand.
To retrace the history of the firm it is necessary to go back to the year 1855 when the first four locos emerged from the shops of its predecessor, Anjubault, in the Avenue Philippe-Auguste in Paris. In 1868 Lucien Corpet took over the firm and although for a short time it was known as "Corpet et Bourdon" it is very doubtful whether any locomotives carried works plates bearing this title as the name "L. Corpet" was used from 1868. Lucien's daughter Marguerite married Lucien Louvet and on her father's death in 1889 it was Lucien Louvet who took over the management of the firm until the outbreak of War in 1914. (Before 1889 Lucien Louvet had been the Engineer of the Compagnie Meusienne de Chemins de Fer, at one time very good customers of Corpet.) "Vve L. Corpet et L. Louvet" ("Vve" is short for "Veuve", "Vve L. Corpet" meaning "Widow of L. Corpet") appeared on works plates from 1892, and until 1897 most plates had the dual inscription "L. Corpet - Vve L. Corpet et L. Louvet". Then in 1912 the business was moved to La Courneuve, part of the Paris conurbation, and the present limited liability Company formed - Corpet Louvet et Compagnie. Forty years later in 1952 the construction of steam locomotives ceased through lack of orders but the firm still exists, however, its principal products being "Caterpillar" earth-moving equipment and contractors plant manufactured under licence. In 1968 Jean Corpet, Lucien's son and a director of the Company, still went to work in the firm's offices every day at 07.00, although his nephew André Louvet (Marguerite's son) retired from his directorship in 1967. For a hundred years, therefore, the firm has been very much a family concern.
The table below gives an approximate indication of the works numbers applicable to each phase in the firm's history although, as some locomotives were not built strictly in works number order, there are believed to be a few deviations.
|Anjubault: Corpet & Bourdon||1 - 121|
|L. Corpet||122 - 565|
|Vve L. Corpet & L. Louvet||566 - 1415|
|Corpet, Louvet & Compagnie||1416 - 1962|
The firm's order books, which I inspected in 1960, are not always entirely legible and it is obvious that data relating to earlier deliveries has been copied from an earlier document. The early entries are all in the same hand and obviously written at the same time, whereas the later orders were entered item by item as they were placed, often written in a different hand using different ink and nibs. Mystery surrounds some locomotives as entries have been amended and the corrections are far from clear; some relate to the switching of deliveries to meet the urgent requirements of customers. In fact doubt surrounds the very first locomotives built by Anjubault as the order book entries read: -
|1||40||Standard||Cie d'Orsay||L'YVETTE||15- 4-1855|
|4||16||4||"||Est-Landon||Est No. 1||26-11-1855|
|4 bis||16||6||"||"||Est No. 1||18- 4-1858|
|5||16||4||"||"||Est No. 2||10- 1-1856|
|6||40||"||Cie d'Orsay||L'YVETTE||15- 4-1855|
When asked if they could account for the duplication of data for works numbers 1 - 2 and 6 - 7, no explanation could be offered except that a copying error must have taken place. All of the remaining locomotives by Anjubault were four-coupled, the majority being standard gauge and built for public works contractors who at that time were busy on railway construction all over France. Of the remainder, some were destined for service in other countries, including India, Russia, Spain, Switzerland and possibly elsewhere, whilst a small number went to industrial firms including Mines de Béthune (NF 51), de Wendel & Compagnie (NEF 46), Forges de Chatillon, Mines de Liévin (NF 58) and Mines d'Anzin (NF 24).
The first deliveries after Lucien Corpet took over the firm followed a very similar pattern but before long the number of types began to increase. In addition to a large proportion of four-coupled tanks as before, six-coupled types went to standard gauge light railways and to contractors, whilst in 1869 the first narrow gauge loco was supplied to a sugar estate in Martinique, a French colony in the West Indies. This was Works No.150, a four-coupled 1200mm gauge loco named LA PERLE for Usine de la Dillon, and she was to become the first of a long line; the last narrow gauge delivery to a West Indian sugar factory took place in 1931 when Works No.1819 was delivered to Usine Bassignac, Ozanne, also in Martinique.
Throughout the 1870's and 1880's Lucien Corpet continued to produce locomotives of several gauges for public works contractors, many of them metre gauge six-coupled tanks. The first metre gauge locomotives built specifically for light railways were, according to the firm's records, Works No.315 despatched on 8th January 1880 to the Chemins de Fer du Cambrésis, No.1 L'ESCAUT, Works No.330 despatched on 17th June 1881 to the same railway as their No.2 SEILLES (both six-wheeled), and Works Nos.341-344 despatched to Chemins de Fer de la Sarthe between 2nd August 1881 and 20th December 1881. These latter were 0‑4‑0 side tanks named LE MANS, LE GRAND LUCÉ, BALLON, and MONT-BISAN. At this time Corpet introduced a type of contractors' loco which was convertible from metre to another gauge and vice-versa. The first was four-coupled, named L'ABEILLE, and despatched on 1st November 1880 to a contractor called Ythier (Works No.321). Although production stretched spasmodically over ten years until Works No.513 was despatched on 21st April 1890 to a contractor called Béraud, the design does not seem to have been very successful as only fourteen of the 193 locomotives built during this period were of convertible types.
Corpet was much more successful with a series of types which were fitted with Brown valve gear - an indirect drive being employed in which the movement from the pistons is conveyed to the connecting rods through rocker arms. It was popular with the Swiss Locomotive Works at Winterthur and a full description of the gear is to be found in the proceedings of the Institution of Mechanical Engineers for January 1880. Initially supplied to contractors, the designs also proved popular with the owners of West Indian sugar estates. They were produced in quite large numbers over a period of at least 45 years (1881-1925), but it is not possible to be specific about the numbers built because the firm did not always record in their order book the type of valve gear fitted; in fact this information was only recorded in a minority of cases. I never saw a representative of any of these designs but examples of locos fitted with Brown valve gear are illustrated.
Two early metre gauge locomotives for the Compagnie Meusienne de Chemins de Fer.
Upper -No. 7 MARGUERITE, L. Corpet 535 of 1890. Cylinders: 280mm x 400mm.
Lower -11 BAR LE DUC, Corpet & Louvet 599 of 1894.
Two early locomotives with Brown valve gear.
Upper - 1 CHARLEVILLE, Corpet & Louvet 627 of 1895, an 800mm gauge contractor's locomotive delivered new to Entreprise Beldant Frères & Baert for construction work on the Chemins de Fer des Ardennes.
Lower - E. EUSTACHE, L. Corpet 536 of 1890, was built for Monsieur Bougenot and used on an 1167mm gauge system serving the Usine de Galion, a cane sugar factory in Martinique, West Indies.
Corpet 341 to 344 carried this gear and were amongst the earliest deliveries of this type. Corpet 502 of 1889 (illustrated on page 246 of Histoire de la Locomotion Terrestre - Les Chemins de Fer was delivered to Entreprise J. Marnay, who named her ONDINE, she was an interesting locomotive altogether. Apart from the Brown gear she was built with a cab at each end (albeit rather primitive affairs affording little protection) and is described in the order book as transformable [sic] from metre to 600mm gauge. Her weight for metre gauge was 6.7 metric tons and for 600mm gauge 6.2 metric tons. How long a life the West Indian machines enjoyed I have no idea but one metre gauge 0‑4‑0 side tank of this type survived the Second World War. Nine metre gauge locomotives were left lying at St Valery, Somme, at the end of World War 2. Nobody seems anxious to claim ownership and popular opinion is that the Organisation Todt (German Army Civil Engineers, roughly equating to some branches of our Royal Engineers) used them on the construction of defence works along the Channel coast. Eight of the locomotives were still there in various stages of dereliction in August 1955, amongst them an 0‑4‑0 side tank of this type. The works number was not established but the remains of seven locos were reported to be still there in May 1967 and some positive proof of identity might still be forthcoming, remote though this possibility seems to be. Corpet also supplied five 600mm gauge locos with Brown gear to the Minas de Aller in Spain (SP 47) between 1884 and 1891. They were all still in service in 1965 together with another built locally in 1955 to identical design.
Ceinture 5001, a 1445mm (standard) gauge 2‑10‑2 tank, was built by Corpet Louvet in 1928 (No.1749) and used on heavy suburban passenger and freight work in the Paris area. The SNCF 2‑10‑2 tanks of class 151.TQ were based on this design. Cylinders: 630mm x 660mm. Coupled Wheels: 1350mm.