GWR 4253 History

A1 4253 in Wale

Locomotive Details

  • GWR 42xx class, No.4253
  • Wheel Arrangement: 2-8-0T
  • Driving Wheel: 4ft 7.5 in
  • Pony Wheel: 3ft 2in
  • Length: 40ft 3in
  • Weight: 81t 12c
  • Water Capacity: 1800 gals
  • Boiler Pressure: 200 psi
  • Power Class: 7-F
  • Cylinders: Two outside
  • Cylinder Size: 19 in (483mm) x 30 in (762mm)
  • Tractive Effort: 33,170 lbs
  • Axle load class : GWR blue


The GWR 42xx class of 2-8-0T locomotive was designed by George Jackson Churchward and 4253 was built for the Great Western Railway in March 1917 with a principal role of hauling 1,000+ ton coal trains through the Welsh valleys.

This was a job which needed good steaming capabilities and formidable tractive effort, due to the heavy weight of the trains and the steep gradients. 4253 spent all her working life allocated to one shed, namely Newport (Pill).

From here she would have worked the short haul heavy coal trains from the pits in the Eastern and Western Valleys to the docks and the steelworks, as well as local mixed freight duties.

The 42xx tank’s duties were gradually taken over by diesels and so, in 1963, locomotive 4253 made its last journey as a British Railways engine from Newport to Barry where, like many of her class, she arrived at the infamous Barry Scrap Yard for cutting up.

Luckily due to the Beeching modernisation plan there was plenty of redundant rolling stock and track to be recycled and so 4253 languished at Barry, escaping the cutters torch.

In 1987 the locomotive was rescued and taken to The Pontypool and Blaenavon Railway. However owing to a lack of resources, the engine remained in an unrestored state until the present owners brought her to the Kent and East Sussex Railway in June 2011.

Restoration on Kent and East Sussex Railway

As a Barry wreck, 4253 is surprisingly complete in so far as most engines by the 1980’s were completely stripped. This engine has most of its original parts. Obviously all non-ferrous material along with all back head fittings are absent. Significant other missing items were the connecting and side rods (typical of all Barry engines), crossheads and rear brake shaft.

Inspection/assessment of parts has revealed that, at some time, the original 18.5” cylinders have been replaced by the later 19” type complete with external steam pipes and raised running plate section.

In terms of a steam locomotive restoration, it is difficult to be accurate about what needs to be replaced. The engine has been stored in the open since 1963 and so plate work such as cab, bunker and tanks are only suitable for patterns. This is a long-term project of 10 to 12 years.

Funds to finance the restoration come from the sale of shares in The 4253 Locomotive Company Limited. This means that by being a shareholder of the company you will in fact be a part-owner of the locomotive.

Future Role on Kent and East Sussex Railway

The plan is to rebuild the loco to support the future extension of KESR to Robertsbridge when larger motive power with more capacity will be required. A characteristic of the 42xx class was their large boilers, which were accommodated by designing narrow side tanks.

Due to the class’s heavy water consumption and limited tank capacity they were nicknamed “Water Carts” and had to make frequent stops for water. In its planned role on the KESR this is not seen to be a problem for 4253, which will be able to take a full five car train the length of the line with little difficulty.

Many of the lines in South Wales had sharp curves so the 42xx locomotives were constructed with side play in the trailing driving wheels via coupling rods fitted with spherical joints. Accordingly, as an eight-coupled engine, 4253 will negotiate any of the curves on the KESR with ease.

Although a heavy locomotive, she is well within the KESR constraints, weight being spread over five wheel sets making the load per axle little more than that of the present fleet. All this was confirmed when a sister engine, 4247, ran successfully on the KESR during the 2012 May Gala. 

Why Restore 4253?

The arrival of diesel and electric trains on British Rail tracks from the 1950’s onwards led to a rapid decline in the number of steam locomotives with the last steam services running on the network in 1968. By this time the great majority had been withdrawn from service and subjected to the cutter’s torch.

We are now approaching half a century on from that time and there is an increasing interest in steam railways for both the nostalgia of how travel used to be and the conservation of prime examples of British engineering that evolved from the early steam-driven machines responsible for starting the Industrial Revolution.


  • The 4200 series were the first 2-8-0 tank engines to be used in Britain
  • Only 5 of the 4200 engines survive of which 3 are running and 1 is only a ‘partial’ in a museum display
  • We believe 4253 to be the only 42xx left fitted with the larger 19″ cylinders and raised running plate making her the most powerful 4200 in existence
  • Possibly the last opportunity to help meet the challenge of returning a 103 year old locomotive to fully operational condition after having spent over half its life abandoned in the open
  • Although a freight locomotive, these were designed to operate at lower speeds than passenger service engines so are more suitable for operating on today’s heritage railways where speeds are usually restricted to c. 25mph

Read more of the story of 4253 by downloading the ‘History Report’ below.