No. 53 - p235-236

APRIL 1974


    "The locomotive, the firebox of which collapsed, was made by Mr. Thomas Peckett of the Atlas Works, Bristol, in the year 1885, and was called the "Bristol," from the place of its construction."

    The boiler "was 10 ft. 2 ins. in length. The barrel was 3 ft. 4 ins. in mean diameter and was made up of 3 rings of plates 3/8 in. thick. ... [The locomotive] was originally the property of Messrs. Meakin and Dean, contractors, Birkenhead, and was in 1888 under the charge of Mr. Alfred Paling, locomotive foreman to that firm, being worked at a pressure of 125 lbs. per square inch, and we have been told that both the safety-valves were ferruled to prevent that pressure being exceeded.

    "It was fitted with a new set of tubes in 1890, after which it was not used much until August 1893, when it was purchased for the sum of 350 by Mr. Thomas Wilberforce Davies, contractor for the Seacombe extension of the Wirral Railway, who had formerly been agent for Messrs. Meakin & Dean, and afterwards a partner in that firm. Mr. Davies engaged Mr. Paling as his locomotive foreman: he had known him previously, and had received excellent testimonials as to his character and competency. When the boiler was purchased Mr. Paling withdrew the fusible plug, and gauged the firebox at the aperture and found it 3/8 in. thick: he also gauged the furnace and found that it was in perfect circular form. Mr. Paling, whose duty it was to select the engine drivers for the various locomotives employed at the works, engaged Oliver Edwards, the driver in charge at the time of the explosion, originally as a fitter, but afterwards, in the second or third week of September, gave him the charge of the "Bristol". Mr. Paling has told us that he first knew Edwards when he was engaged as a fitter at the Manchester Ship Canal Works, that he was a skilful fitter and a careful and sober man who had been in the employ of a well-known firm, and that he had no hesitation in giving him the charge of the locomotive.

    "The boiler was fed from a tank on the locomotive which could be replenished from two other tanks stationed on the line containing town water of a good quality. The locomotive was at first worked at a pressure of 120 lbs. per square inch, at which pressure it could draw up the incline at the works seven or eight waggons laden with earth, but the train was usually made up of five waggons. In December 1893 Mr. Paling ordered the pressure to be reduced to 110 lbs. per square inch: his reasons for so doing were, to use his own words, because the men had been knocking the engine about, and trying to do too much work with her, and also on account of the date of her build, and the length of time she had been out. When this reduction was made Mr. Paling did not alter the position of the ferrules; and therefore if the nuts were screwed down there might still be a pressure of 120 lbs. per square inch. He, however, told Edwards that the locomotive was not to be worked at a pressure exceeding that of 110 lbs. per square inch, and this direction was repeated to him on the morning of the explosion.

    "Whilst Edwards was in charge, the lead in the fusible plug had melted on two or three occasions, according to Mr. Paling, twice in September and once in November, and Mr. Paling cautioned Edwards and threatened to discharge him if he lost his lead again. In December this plug was reported to be leaking. Mr. Paling renewed the lead and gave it to Edwards to screw into the crown of the firebox, after he had cleaned it with a file, for its corners had come off by the use of too large a spanner. Joseph Naylor, another engine driver who was in the fitters' shop at the time when the plug was given to Edwards, told us that Edwards said to him that he always liked to put a bit of iron in them, meaning fusible plugs, to keep the fire off the lead. Naylor thought he was joking, and did not report the matter thinking that he would do nothing of the kind. We, however, regret to say that this is what Edwards did do, for the fusible plug ... was entirely filled up with iron instead of lead, and it was therefore, of course, inoperative. On the 3rd January 1894, Mr. Paling being informed that the fusible plug was leaking, inspected it, and ascertained that the leak was of no importance, but probably caused by the presence of a little salt. According to the evidence of John Benrose, a rope runner, whose duty it was to couple and uncouple the trucks as required and to ride on the locomotive, Edwards was seen by him on occasions when the locomotive was going up the incline to hold down the lever of the safety-valve, presumably for the purpose of increasing the pressure of steam.

    "On the 4th January 1894, Edwards asked Mr. Paling if he might screw down the nuts on the safety-valves so as to work at a pressure of 120 lbs. per square inch. Mr. Paling answered in the negative and further said that if five loaded trucks could not be taken up the incline with 110 lbs. pressure of steam, they were to be divided and two journeys made instead of one. Mr. Paling has told us that on that morning he saw the safety-valves blowing off at a pressure of 110 lbs. per square inch, as indicated by the steam-gauge. The locomotive had made 8 or 9 journeys and at 11.30 a.m. was coming down the incline when Edwards put on the injector and at the bottom it was stopped for the purpose of getting up steam. Benrose, who was on the foot-plate, told us that the water was just then bubbling in the glass water-gauge, when the boiler exploded. Robert Brown, the fireman, was killed, and Edwards was severely scalded: he was taken to the hospital, where he died on the 12th January. ... The explosion was caused by the boiler being short of water, whereby the top of the firebox became heated and collapsed."

    (Information extracted from Boiler Explosion report No.710, issued by the Board of Trade. The locomotive in question was Peckett 439 of 1885, a class M3 0‑4‑0 saddle tank with 10in by 14in cylinders. According to Society records, she saw little service with her first owners, Daniel Edwards & Co, being returned to her makers in 1885. Her next owner was James Evans of Birmingham, contractor for the Parkgate to West Kirby extension of the LNWR/GWR joint line from Hooton opened on 19th April 1886, so presumably she worked on the construction of this line.

    Meakin and Dean, contractors, appear to be the third owners of the loco, seemingly now known as BRISTOL, and it is likely that they used her on their Wirral Railway contract. Three sections of this railway were opened in 1888:-

(a)   Birkenhead Docks (later known as Birkenhead North) to Birkenhead Park opened on 2nd January, and making an end-on connection with the Mersey Railway line from Hamilton Square, opened the same day.

(b)    Bidston to Wallasey, also opened the same day.

(c)    An extension from Wallasey to New Brighton opened on 30th March.

    Meakin and Dean were responsible for at least one and possibly all of these three sections. They applied to the Mersey Docks & Harbour Board on 27th May 1887 "for permission to run a locomotive over a portion of the Dock Lines to convey sleepers from premises occupied by Messrs Calder & Co. on the North side of the Great Float to the Dock Station of the Hoylake Railway." The inference from this is that they built the first section listed above.

    The Seacombe extension, the final section of the Wirral Railway to be built, was opened on 1st June 1895. Making a triangular junction on Bidston Moss with the New Brighton line it ran very largely in cutting for two and a half miles to the east. There was one intermediate station at Liscard and Poulton and fourteen overbridges. It is not known what locos T.W. Davies used on the contract in addition to BRISTOL although later in 1894, on 28th November to be exact, he also applied to the MDHB to run a locomotive on the dock lines, the reason not being stated.

    The Coroner's Inquest on Robert Brown took place at the Pool Inn, Poulton, on 5th January 1894. It was fully reported together with the explosion itself in the "Birkenhead and Cheshire Advertiser" the following day, under the headline "Fatal Boiler Explosion at Poulton" indicating that the explosion took place at the western end of the line. The inquest was adjourned to 26th January "so that a witness injured in the accident could attend." This was of course the driver Oliver Edwards who died in the meantime and probably avoided thereby a charge of manslaughter.

    The facts regarding the cause of the explosion, namely the faulty fusible plug, were brought out at the inquest by three witnesses, Mr Paling, a Mr William John Coe, consulting engineer of Liverpool and Mr Robert Watt, an inspector from the Board of Trade who produced the offending plug as evidence. In the absence of a culprit the jury returned a verdict of "accidental death".

    There are two other points of interest in the newspaper account. Throughout the hearing Brown is referred to as a rope-runner, not as a fireman as in the Report. Presumably his duties covered both activities. After the adjournment the foreman of the jury "suggested that they should visit the scene of the explosion and examine the engine. The Coroner said that they could not be too particular in the matter, and he thought it would be as well to inspect the place at once. The jury then walked along the cutting and carefully examined the engine." This shows, one feels, a commendable devotion to duty.

    The boiler explosion did not finish the career of Peckett 439, for she is next recorded as being owned by the contractors Topham, Jones and Railton with whom she was numbered 14. By this stage she was named PHOENIX and TJR are known to have used her on the King's Dock contract at Swansea. The choice of the name PHOENIX is logical after the explosion: it would be interesting to know how many engines have been so named in similar circumstances. PHOENIX was later owned by contractor H. Lovatt of Wolverhampton and finally by the Dulais Tinplate Co Ltd at Pontardulais. However, where Lovatt used her, the date of when she passed to Dulais Tinplate and her eventual fate do not appear 'to be on record. J.A. Peden)