The long awaited Hornby Hobbies Collector Club exclusive, ex-South Eastern & Chatham Railway (SE&CR) H Class 0-4-4T No 263 #R3648, is now available having initially been expected in Oct'18.
The H Class has already proved extremely popular having been introduced as part of the 2017 range - the initial release consisted of three versions which have all subsequently sold-out. No 263 #R3648 is a limited edition of 1,500 with only one per customer currently permitted due to expected popularity.
Between Nov'1904 and the end of 1915 sixty-six H Class locomotives were constructed at Ashford Works to meet the continual growth in traffic at the beginning of the twentieth century. Initially allocated across the SE&CR region from Bricklayers Arms to Hastings, allocations and duties remained constant through to grouping in 1923. Post-grouping services expanded to include Brighton, Eastbourne, East Grinstead and Horsham however the commencement of World War II saw passenger workings condensed and the introduction of carriage piloting/shunting duties. The loan of three engines to the London, Midland and Scottish Railway (LMS) also occurred, receiving the 2P designation for Arbroath local services.
Wartime conditions led to the write-off of two locomotives for use as spares, however the remaining sixty-four entered service with British Railways (BR) at nationalisation in 1948. Withdrawals of D3, R and R1 classes in Mar'49 led to a shortage of locomotives available for motor-train services and therefore salvaged equipment was fitted to the H Class between 1949 and 1961. Nonetheless, with widespread introduction of suburban electrification in Kent, withdrawals began as early as 1951 with the majority following in 1959. The area of operation narrowed to the Three Bridges and Tunbridge Wells West line and by Jan'64 the final three engines were withdrawn.
A single example was saved for preservation, No 31263 (formerly No 263), built in 1905 – at withdrawal she was estimated to have run 1,849,668 miles during the course of her fifty-nine year mainline career. The H Class Trust purchased the locomotive directly from BR, basing her first at Robertsbridge and then the Ashford Steam Centre prior to the Bluebell Railway in 1976. Ownership was transferred to the Bluebell Railway Trust in 2008 which funded her most recent overhaul commencing in 2009.
Hornby have encapsulated the character of the prototype well - the pagoda-style cab, a recurring feature introduced by SE&CR's chief mechanical engineer Mr Harry S Wainwright, immediately prominent along with the polished brass effect dome. Detailing throughout is to a high standard however a small section of pipework in front of the cab is absent, as are two prominent areas of rivets from the smokebox. Multiple tooling variations have been considered, one of which includes differing bunker styles; prior to withdrawal No 263 was fitted with a flared bunker which was retained in preservation and is rightly included.
Livery application is crisp and compares well against the Hattons Model Railways P Class however two small sections are missing on the flanks of the cab roof, as is the cab’s red lining. Deemed to be its most complex livery to date, it is unclear as to why either element has been excluded.
Provided within the accessory/detail pack are two etched brass headboards worn at the Warley National Model Railway Exhibition'17 when No 263 was in attendance.
The five pole motor and all-wheel electrical pick-up ensures a smooth performance, even at low speeds, whilst remaining exceptionally quiet.
It is a shame that the only difference between No 263 #R3648 and the original release of No 308 #R3538 in 2017 is a simple renumber, especially considering the delayed arrival. Whilst the aesthetic issues can be overlooked, it is to fair to make comparisons with the recent release of the ex-London, Brighton and South Coast Railway (LB&SCR) Class A1/A1X 'Terrier' 0-6-0T where detailing and livery has come under scrutiny. It is debatable whether this is budget or competition driven (prevalent more so to the Terrier), but simple oversights undermine what could be one of Hornby Hobbies’ benchmark locomotives.
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