Earl Class (latterly 90XX) 4-4-0 No 9017
Class Introduced: 1936
Designer: Mr CB Collett OBE
Built: 1938 - Swindon Works, Great Western Railway (GWR)
Total Number Built: 29
Numbers Carried: 3217, 9017
British Railways (BR) Power Classification: 2P
The late Mr Thomas Gomm had always been interested in the double-framed locomotives of the Great Western Railway (GWR) but had not been in a position to take any action when the last 'Dukes' and 'Bulldogs' were withdrawn from traffic in the early 1950s. By 1958, the 'Dukedogs' were left as a unique representative of this type of locomotive and it was becoming increasingly obvious that their days were numbered.
At this time the heritage railway scene was very different to that we know today - in the 1950s it was predominantly based on a static band of enthusiasts ranging from pre-war followers to those in their late twenties whose interest had been generated by the lan Allan ABC publications of the 1940s. Against this background the possibility of a public appeal for funds appeared remote, therefore Mr Gomm contacted various well-known railway personalities and existing societies for advice and support. Responses ranged from best wishes to outright hostility from those who thought, perhaps with good reason, that it would focus funds away from the few existing preservation societies.
By the summer of 1960, only two 'Dukedogs' survived in service, the remainder having found their way to Swindon following withdrawal. It was around this time that the Nuthatch Line purchased their first locomotive, LB&SCR A1X Class 0-6-0T No 32655, which inspired Mr Gomm to this time write to the railway press asking them for publicity, hopeful that new-found enthusiasm would be shared - thankfully, the response received on this occasion was far more positive - numerous articles were published and a flow of support followed.
In September 1960 the Talyllyn Railway annual special was due to be headed by one of the last pair, No 9017, and with the kind permission of the Talyllyn Railway Preservation Society (TRPS), Mr Gomm was able to distribute leaflets to all passengers on the train in an effort to enlist further support. By a stroke of good fortune, one of the leaflets reached the hands of Mr Peter Summers, who also had a long standing interest in this type of locomotive. Mr Summers had family and business connections with the Western Region of British Railways (BR) and was able to supply immediate support and guidance. With the information Mr Summers provided, Mr Gomm was able to contact the responsible persons at Swindon requesting a purchase price for the better of the remaining pair, No 9017.
In reply, Mr Gomm learned that the locomotive was not for sale as she was intended for special workings, though one of the previously withdrawn members of the class could be made available. However, given limited funds, the project necessitated an example in working condition which would not require an immediate overhaul at further expense. It was therefore decided to wait until such a time the situation would be reconsidered. Inconceivably, this occurred as soon as October, with BR advising that the decision had been reversed and that No 9017 was available to purchase for £1,549.00 provided she be removed from BR property forthwith upon purchase. The locomotive was moved to Oswestry Works for intermediate storage and an inspection which showed that the mechanical condition was satisfactory - the quoted figure was accepted with a request that the locomotive be held in covered store until the funds could be raised.
Following agreement, the first task was to immediately contact all those who had indicated an interest in the project, asking them to translate this into financial support. Useful publicity was provided by the railway and national press with contributions received from a number of subscribers.
Attention then turned to finding a suitable home for the locomotive, especially considering only a handful of preserved standard gauge railways existed. Following a visit to the Nuthatch Line it was swiftly concluded that the professionalism and enthusiasm would rapidly lead to expansion and a successful future for No 9017. The Nuthatch Line Preservation Society (NLPS) were delighted with the feedback and readily accepted the 'Dukedog' on loan - it was a considerable vote of confidence given the scene at Bramblehurst especially was of wide open spaces with only a restricted service possible.
Continued efforts in raising the necessary funds progressed and the longer BR were willing to store the locomotive, the better the prospects. In the event it was stored for sixteen months until February 1962 when, finally, settlement was demanded.
Following closure of the fund and proceeds passed to BR, No 9017 headed south under her own steam on 14 February 1962 via High Wycombe to the Old Oak Common sheds in West London where she spent the night. Many contributors from the area visited that evening, and what pleasure it must have given them to see her saved by the combined efforts of so many enthusiasts. The following morning she continued her journey via Brighton, where she was turned, returning north to the still BR owned exchange station, eventually taking the branch to her new home.