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Furness Railway No. 20 is the flagship locomotive of the Furness Railway Trust.

It is the oldest working standard gauge steam engine in Britain.

This page outlines its amazing story.

Furness Railway Number 20 was built in 1863 by Sharp Stewart & Co. of Manchester as one of a batch of eight 0-4-0 tender locomotives supplied between 1863 and 1866.

Copy of the Orignal Sharp Stewart Order Book for FR No 20 and its sisters.

This is the original Sharp Stewart order, number 440, dated 23rd December 1862.

It records that originally four locomotives were ordered: the last of these engines, Sharp Stewart works No. 1448 became Furness Railway No. 20.

The order includes a detailed technical description of the engines and their tenders.

It is believed the line struck through the page denotes the fact that the order had been fulfilled, and that the engines were on their way to active service with the Furness Railway Company.

Copy: Courtesy Mitchell Library.

The rapid growth of traffic on the Furness Railway in the 1860's resulted in these small four wheeled engines soon becoming obsolescent. In 1870 the first four of the class, F.R. Nos. 17, 18, 19 and 20 were sold to the Barrow Haematite Steel Co. at Barrow with 25 and 26 following in 1873. For many years it was assumed that the BHS Co numbers allocated followed the same sequence as the locomotives had had on the Furness Railway. This led to a riddle about the engine's true identity that lasted for a century. We now know that the FR Co.'s No. 20 become BHSC No. 7. This company, formed in 1864, had very close links with the Furness Railway and at the time possessed the biggest Iron and Steelworks in the world supplying steel rails to railways across the planet. F.R. locomotives Nos. 27 and 28 of the same class were retained by the F.R. until withdrawal in 1918.

It is believed that Sharp Stewart & Co. took the six, still very new, engines back to the works, to convert them to saddle tanks before delivery to the BHSC. In 1915 BHSC No. 7 (F.R. No. 20) was rebuilt with a new boiler and in the 1950's was re-wheeled. Unlike the rest of the former F.R. locomotives purchased by the steelworks, BHSC No. 7 retained its original wheel diameter of 4 ft 9 ins.

It continued in traffic until 1960 when diesel locomotives were introduced. Yes, that's right: 90 years service at the steelworks, and just 3 years short of its centenary!

FR No 20 in its guise as Barrow Steelworks Number 7

Photo: H.C. Casserley

Instead of being scrapped, the two remaining former F.R. machines (steelworks numbers 7 and 17, formerly FR numbers 20 and 25) were presented to local schools. BHSC No. 7 stood in the grounds of the George Hastwell Special School in Abbey Road, Barrow for over twenty years, until it was purchased privately in 1983 and moved to the Steamtown Railway Museum at Carnforth in Lancashire.

Restoration began, but it was cut short by the death of one of the owners. The dismantled remains were acquired by the Furness Railway Trust in 1990 to safeguard the future of the locomotive.

On 24th August 1996, to the day the 150th Anniversary of the first Furness Railway passenger train, it was announced that the Heritage Lottery Fund had awarded a grant of £97,000 to assist the restoration of No. 20 to its original Furness Railway condition as an 0-4-0 tender locomotive. Grants towards the £140,000 cost of the project were also received from the PRISM Fund of the Science Museum, The Idlewild Trust, Furness Building Society and Cumbria County Council.

FR No 27 at Barrow

Photo: Courtesy National Railway Museum

Copies of the original outline drawings for the loco were sourced from the Science Museum whilst further information was obtained from detailed study of four old photographs of F.R. Nos. 27 & 28, including this fine view of No. 27 at Barrow.

The Furness Railway Trust prepared detailed drawings for all the new components required and received help from as far away as Turkey where a similar, surviving, Sharp Stewart tender was located and surveyed!

The stripped down frames and motion of F.R. No. 20 were delivered to the Barrow-in-Furness workshops of Marconi Marine (V.S.E.L.) on 18th December 1996. After a total rebuild, including the construction of a new boiler and tender, the locomotive emerged two years later on 17th December 1998, resplendent in Furness Railway Indian Red livery. The new boiler, of mainly riveted construction, was made by Israel Newton & Sons of Bradford. Marconi Marine (V.S.E.L.) constructed the tender chassis and students and staff of Furness College, Barrow, built the tender superstructure which houses 1,200 gallons of water and two tons of coal. The tender is of welded construction, but dummy rivet heads were welded into position to get the "right look"; this expertise was shared in 2008 by the team rebuilding L&HR-based Fairburn tank No. 42085 at the Great Central Railway, Loughborough.

FR20 at Lakeside in 2004No. 20 was rebuilt by Furness Railway Trust volunteers and contractors, using facilities and assistance afforded by the shipyard.

A major milestone was achieved on 13th January 1999 when F.R. No. 20 passed its in steam boiler examination and made its first journey on the Lakeside & Haverthwaite Railway in Cumbria, its new home. It was formally re-launched into service by Lady Grania Cavendish at a ceremony at a very wet Haverthwaite station on April 20th 1999! The locomotive has since won many hearts in its native Furness and further afield.

For more information on Furness Railway Number 20, please see our book, "The Great Survivor", available from our sales page.

The other surviving Furness and Barrow Steelworks loco, BHSCo Number 17, is also in the FRT's collection.

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Furness Railway Number 20's story