Britannia

1951 - 2017

As she passes her 66th birthday, explore the remarkable history of Britannia with us.
Brought to you by the Royal Scot Locomotive & General Trust.

No. 70000 was completed at the British Railways Crewe Works on 2nd January 1951. She was initially painted in a plain black livery without name plates, in an effort to disguise the fact she was a member of a brand new class.

No. 70000 stands at Crewe before she became Britannia. Photo courtesy David Ward Collection.

British Railways

Britannia was named on 30th January 1951 at a ceremony at London Marylebone station by the Minister for Transport Alfred Barnes.

She spent the first years of her life based in Stratford - now home to the 2012 Olympic Park - and hauling trains from London Liverpool Street to Norwich and other destinations in East Anglia. In 1952 she had the honour of hauling the funeral train of King George VI from King’s Lynn in Norfolk to London.

Britannia worked the funeral train of King George VI into London Kings Cross.

Britannia shared the funeral train duties with 61617 Ford Castle. She appears briefly at the end of this clip.

In January 1959 she was moved to Norwich Shed for four years before once again being moved. This time saw her change regions from BR Eastern to Midland, with her new depot being Willesden in London. In the final years of her career she was based at Crewe and finally Newton Heath in Manchester.

Britannia was in service for just 15 years and was retired by British Railways on 28th May 1966. She was a spectacular performer throughout her lifetime, mainly working the express passenger trains for which she was designed but occasionally to be found at the head of lesser trains.

Entering Preservation

It was originally planned for Britannia to become part of the National Collection, a collection of historic railway locomotives and rolling stock that now numbers some 289 pieces.

Being the first member of the class, Britannia featured a number of differences to other members that some feared would make her preservation overly complicated. No. 70013 Oliver Cromwell was chosen instead, at least in part because of her role in hauling the final steam hauled passenger train on 11th August 1968, she can now be seen operating on the mainline just like Britannia.

No. 70013 Oliver Cromwell at Doncaster in 2013. © Geoff Griffiths

Britannia did not become part of the National Collection.

The NRM is part of the Science Museum Group and are custodians of the UK's National Railway Collection.

Learn more about the NRM

Return to steam

Fortunately, in 1969 Britannia was saved by a group of enthusiasts. She was was moved to the Severn Valley Railway where she was eventually returned to steam in the mid 1970’s.

In 1981 she moved to the Nene Valley Railway where she was to remain for the next few years. It was here that she was first fitted with air brake equipment, a feature which she retains to this day. In the late 80’s she was moved to Steamtown in Carnforth for an overhaul to mainline condition.

She only made her return to the mainline in August 1991, some 25 years after hauling her last mainline train. Operated by a dedicated support crew she proved a powerful and reliable locomotive, hauling trains all across the national network.

Britannia was one of the first locomotives to break the Southern Region steam ban.

In the video we see her storming her way through Surbiton on her way to Waterloo in November 1994.

New chapters

Britannia continued to run on the mainline until 1997 when boiler problems forced her withdrawal from service. In need of extensive repairs she was sold to the Waterman Railway Heritage Trust in 2000, with the hope of returning her to steam. Sadly the repairs proved too costly and in 2006 Britannia was again sold, this time to Jeremy Hosking.

Her overhaul commenced that same year and took over three years to complete. In the intervening years the standards for locomotives on Network Rail had changed dramatically. In addition to a complete overhaul of the boiler and ‘bottom-end’ of the locomotive Britannia had to be fitted with TPWS and OTMR safety systems to supplement the original BR Automatic Warning System.

Britannia hauling the Torbay Express. Shot by Andrew Shapland.

Britannia became part of the Royal Scot Trust in 2009.

She joined Royal Scot and now forms part of a line up of six locomotives that represent the original big four railway companies and of course, British Railways.

Learn more about the Royal Scot Locomotive & General Trust

Britannia made her return to steam in late 2010 and hauled her inaugural excursion on April 7th 2011 from Oxford to Canterbury, including a spectacular run along the White Cliffs of Dover. She has since travelled across Great Britain, from Carlisle to Penzance and has visited numerous preserved railways.

Setbacks

After just three years back in service, Britannia was involved in an accident at the North Norfolk Railway in March 2013. While running through a station in foggy weather she shunted into another locomotive, causing significant damage to her front buffer beam. This was compounded weeks later with revelations that some of the copper boiler stays used in Britannia - and many other engines - might not have been of the correct standard.

She re-entered traffic in the Autumn of 2013, working a number of trains before being withdrawn from service again with flats spots on some of her steel tyres! In March 2014 she returned to the mainline and sadly another problem was identified. It seemed that one of Britannia's leading driving wheels had slipped on its axle, causing significant vibrations throughout the locomotive.

The complex nature of the repair work necessitated a prolonged period out of service whilst parts were prepared and paperwork percolated through the system.

Back in action

It was with delight that we saw Britannia return to service in April of 2015, working the first two legs of the prestigious Great Britain railtour from London to Plymouth and back to Bristol.

She has since worked over the Settle and Carlisle railway once again and we can't wait to see her back in action on the Torbay Express and other fantastic trains in the south west this summer!