The History of the F5

Thomas William Worsdell was one of many renowned engineers within the Quaker Worsdell family. His Grandfather and accomplished coach builder, Thomas Clarke Worsdell (II) had built the tender for George Stephenson’s ‘Rocket’ and built the first railway carriages for the Liverpool and Manchester Railway which, unsurprisingly, resembled the road coaches of the time. William had spent ten years as Works Manager of Crewe with the London and North Western Railway before succeeding Massey Bromley as Locomotive Superintendent at the Stratford Works of the Great Eastern Railway in November 1881.

Massey Bromley and William Adams before him had been steadily re-organising and improving the facilities at Stratford and increased the number of new locomotives being built in house. William ensured that all new locomotive construction would be at Stratford during his short stay, some of which were to his own design. One such locomotive class was a 2-4-2T engine based on the success of a number of small engines from his days at the LNWR. These were built at Stratford between 1884 and 1887 and became the class M15. The M15’s had Joys Valve Gear that was notoriously difficult to set up and consequently the engines were poor performers with heavy fuel consumption, which gave the class the nickname ‘Gobblers’.

In 1885, William Worsdell left for the NER and continued to build the 2-4-2T in the form of the NER ‘A’ class, which was almost identical to the GER M15. These later became the LNER class F8. He was succeeded by James Holden, who built No. 674 with Stephenson Valve Gear as an experiment. This proved to be a success and all the locomotives were rebuilt with this valve gear by 1898. A second batch of M15’s (order no. P55) were built to this design between 1903 and 1909 although the Gobbler nickname stuck until their demise in the 1950’s. In all, 160 engines were built at Stratford but the original Worsdell designed engines were being withdrawn from 1913 and extinct by 1929. Stephen Dewar Holden followed in the footsteps of his father in 1908 and built a larger version of the M15 with a boiler of higher pressure in order G69. These also had an increased water and coal capacity, which raised the overall weight by 3 tons. Twenty of these engines were built by the GER and could be distinguished by the side windows in the cabs which later became the LNER class F6. Some of the Holden P55 engines were rebuilt with the higher-pressure boilers from 1911-1920 and became classified as M15R.

An F5 at Stratford in the 1950s.

After the grouping of 1923 the M15/M15R became LNER class F4 and F5 respectively, although two of the M15R locomotives had cabs with side windows like the larger G69 class and were designated F6 7789 & 7790 (renumbered 7218 & 7219 in 1946). British Railways only corrected this in December 1948 and the engines reverted to their correct route availability after a period of some 35 years. From December 1929 until February of the next year 8 F5’s and 1 F6 had trip cocks fitted for use over the East London line but this number later increased to 15. Further modifications for use on the underground included the decapitation of the stovepipe chimney.

In 1940 15 F4’s and 1 F5 were also converted for coastal defence during the war by the addition of armoured plating. These engines were later fitted with plaques to commemorate their war service, two of which sold for over £500 at recent auctions.

On nationalisation after the second world war 37 F4’s and all 30 F5’s plus the 2 engines with hybrid cabs, 7218 & 7219, passed into British Railways ownership and all were given the prefix ‘6’ to their number. Soon after, in 1949, 7 F5’s were fitted with vacuum push-pull gear. Of these, 67193, 67200, 67202, 67203 and 67213 were based at Epping to work the Epping to Ongar shuttle whilst 67199 and 67218 were based at Yarmouth. The Epping based locomotives were also fitted with trip-cock apparatus for safe working between Epping and Leyton 67218 later came to Epping and joined 67200 and 67212 to operate the last steam trains on the branch on 16th November 1957. (the book ‘Locomotives of the LNER’ does not mention that 67212 was fitted with push-pull gear although there is photographic evidence that this loco did work on the branch in 1957)

Some members of the F4 class even reached Scotland on the St. Combs branch. They had been introduced to the region in 1931 and fitted with obligatory cowcatchers for their new work. These locomotives were replaced by BR built 2MT class members in the 1950’s and the last of the F4 class was withdrawn from Kittybrewster shed in July 1956. The remaining F5’s continued on some of the smaller branches in the Eastern Counties and became extinct by May 1958.


Locomotives of the LNER, part 7, RCTS, 1964.
The Worsdells, a Quaker Engineering Dynasty, Geoffrey Hill, Transport Publishing Co, 1991
Locomotive Engineers of the LNER, BenWebb, Ian Allan Limited, 1946