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Balmforth Brothers

By the middle of the nineteenth century steam locomotives were beginning to be developed specifically for use on industrial railways, primarily on the standard gauge, although the first narrow gauge locomotives appeared about 1860. However on many purely internal systems in places such as quarries the expense of a conventional tank locomotive could not be justified, particularly when the trackwork was of a poor standard and the rails of a very light section. Such operations tended to continue to rely on horses or men to move the wagons but there was an obvious demand for a suitable, cheap, light locomotive if anyone could make something available. A number of general engineering firms, which were already building plant such as pumps, cranes, winches and stationary steam engines, soon realised that it would be relatively easy to use their experience in these fields to build a simple vertical-boilered locomotive. As such a locomotive could probably incorporate many parts common to their other products the cost could be kept low, as many existing patterns and drawings could be adapted. Inevitably these locomotives gained the name ‘coffee pots’ in view of their shape. Quite a number of companies turned them out over some seventy years from 1850 on, with the majority being built in the last quarter of the nineteenth century. The best known of such builders is DeWinton of Caernarvon, which built a number of ‘coffee pots’ for the North Wales quarries. However, in this short article we look at one of the less well known, William Balmforth and his sons, who traded from the Peel Ings Foundry at Rodley, a small village on the north side of Leeds.

Large and small So far in this series we have considered one locomotive builder per issue but in a number of instances this will not always be possible as we are looking at narrow gauge locomotive production. Ironically this means that it can be difficult to write a full length piece on some of the biggest names in the business, as they were primarily concerned with building locomotives for the main line, whether at home or overseas. Admittedly some countries, notably in Africa, used either metre or 3ft 6in as their national railway gauge. However, although such systems could be described as ‘narrow gauge’, the reality is that their locomotives and stock were as big, if not bigger, than that we are used to on our own network in the UK. Again, there are many small concerns that only built a handful of locomotives but are still of great interest. Beginning with this issue, we have therefore decided to include several shorter articles of varying length until the aim of achieving a reasonable coverage of Britain’s narrow gauge locomotive builders has been completed.

Balmforth set up his own works in 1864 after partnerships with various other people had not worked out. Ironically two of them, Thomas Smith and Joseph Booth, went on to found their own firms in Rodley and became well known crane builders. Balmforth also built cranes but his business was always relatively small. However, at some point in the mid 1870s he decided to extend his activities by building a range of small vertical-boilered locomotives. Only a very few were actually built and all shared a number of common characteristics. All were 0-4-0s with outside frames, outside sloping cylinders and round section connecting rods with marine big ends, but the coupling rods were of conventional flat pattern. The cylinders and slide bars were cast as one unit and the valve chests on top of the cylinders had Stephenson’s link motion off the front axle, actuated through a rocking shaft via a long rod outside the frames. The boiler had a conical top with a stout riveted water tank mounted at the front of the locomotive. It is difficult to trace exactly how many of these locomotives the Peel Ings

Foundry built, but at least two, one of three-foot gauge and the other of standard gauge, both with seven-inch bore cylinders, appear to have been constructed in William Balmforth’s lifetime. He died about 1880 and for a time the firm was managed by his executors until his two sons Joseph and John took over in 1897 when it was restyled Balmforth Brothers Ltd. The new firm is known to have built at least two more three-foot gauge locomotives, this time with eight-inch diameter cylinders. One of these, built about 1897, was bought by Sheffield Corporation Waterworks for use on the construction of Langsett reservoir from 1900 to 1906 where it carried the name The Donpainted on the water tank. Its subsequent career after being sold in 1906 is unclear. However, there is some evidence that it was acquired by a Glasgow contractor and used on a contract at Peel Harbour in the Isle of Man, and then possibly on the construction of the Foxdale branch, before being put up for sale in 1911. The other two known Balmforth threefoot gauge locomotives are far better known as both spent many years working on the rail system that served the Piel & Walney Gravel Co Ltd on the remote Walney Island, reached by a causeway passable at low tide, just off the Cumbrian coast near Barrow. The older of the pair was built by William Balmforth and apparently arrived on the island in 1896, being joined by the second Balmforth Brothers locomotive that came new about 1898. Although these two ‘coffee pots’ were quite similar, the newer machine had the bigger cylinders and thus in earlier years it was used the most, but by the early 1950s its boiler was almost worn out and it did little work. Rather than scrap the locomotive it was subjected to an ingenious rebuild, by replacing the vertical boiler with one from a


The two Balmforth locomotives on Walney Island assumed an even more extraordinary guise in the mid-1950s when each had its vertical boiler replaced by one from a traction engine. Both were scrapped in 1960. (Frank Jones)

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