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For many years - over a century in fact - the engine everyone is talking about - Furness Railway Number 20 - was thought to be a different locomotive!

When the Furness Railway Trust applied to restore the old Furness Railway engine it had bought (see FR 20's story) everyone had been calling the engine Furness Railway Number 18. It was a myth that began in the 1870s and had lasted for 120 years...

Here's how the confusion began.

The FR bought four 0-4-0 locomotives from Sharp Stewart in 1863 - under batch 440. They were delivered in August of that year, as Sharp Stewart Works numbers 1434, 1435, 1447 and 1448. They were numbered FR Numbers 17-20 respectively. Hence FR Number 20 was the original Sharp Stewart 1448.

Four further locomotives were ordered of almost identical specification in two further batches, Sharp Stewart Nos. 1585/6 in 1865 and 1663/4 in 1866. In 1866 the FR ordered another four engines, but cancelled the order in favour of an 0-6-0 design because this would be a more powerful loco. Indeed 55 were ordered over 18 years and their arrival led to the premature demise of Number 20 and her classmates as mainline locos.

Six of the eight members of the class were sold off to the FR's sister company, the Barrow Haematite Steelworks Company, where they were rebuilt and given new numbers. FR Numbers 17-20, 25 and 26 became BHS Co 5/7/8/16/17/18. It was assumed that the numbering sequence on the Furness Railway was adopted by the new owners, so it was thought that the engine the Trust had bought - Steelworks Number 7 - had started life as FR Number 18.

For decades this supposition gained credence, and indeed when the FRT started the restoration, it was to restore what we fully believed was Furness Railway Number 18. To prove this point - have a look at the Heritage Lottery Fund's details of the project they so generously supported...! (Put in "Furness Railway Trust" in the "organisation" box.)

The real FR Number 18 was Sharp Stewart works number 1435. So, during the restoration, workers were expecting to find references to 1435 stamped on parts of the frames and motion. But far from finding this number, a different number kept cropping up - 1448. This was not entirely surprising to start with - locomotive parts were standard between the engines, and would routinely be swapped around between machines at overhaul. But the majority were clearly marked 1448 - including the slide bar support brackets which are riveted to the frames. So the scene was set for a big announcement - which came at the Trust's AGM in 1998. A century old misconception was blown apart, and now it seems odd to see anything in writing referring to FR Number 18....!

After this discovery, the FRT did get permission to examine the frames of the former FR25, which like 20 had survived after retirement in the steelworks. This locomotive, Steelworks number 17 and now part of the FRT collection too, was indeed proven to be Sharp Stewart Number 1585. The transfer to the steelworks happened in two batches: FR17-20 going in 1870, and FR25 and FR26 3 years later. It does therefore seem that when these two locos arrived, the steelworks did retain the numbering sequence from the FR 

You can read more about FR Number 20's amazing life by buying our book, The Great Survivor.

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The Riddle about FR Number 20's True Identity