Henry - 'Experimental' MR 'Faux-A1' / Stanier 'Black 5'

Sir Richard Hatt talks about one of the NWR's stalwart engines, and a source of trouble for his Great-Grandfather...

Of all of the engines that run on the North Western Railway, there are few with quite such an...interesting heritage as the 'green five' that runs our main line mixed traffic services. If you view Henry today, you'll see little about him that is unusual. He resembles a completely typical Stanier 'Black Five' locomotive, albeit in green with red lining, and has all of the resource you'd expect of such an excellent class of steam engine.


However, the more acute of you will be well aware Henry used to be a very different engine, and one that has a less than dignified heritage.


Henry came to Sodor in 1922. My great grandfather purchased him for practically nothing during what many have come to remember as the 'great locomotive crisis'. At a time when there were few railways wishing to sell stock, Sodor had no facilities for building locomotives, and the NWR was growing increasingly quickly. Sir Topham Hatt the First began searching left, right and centre for an engine - any engine - and was given the offer of a GCR 'Atlantic' - an excellent class of locomotive that would be perfect for the growing railway. Without getting an opportunity to view the engine, my great-grandfather took trust in the somewhat dubious deal.


When the sale took place, the 'trustee' selling the locomotive quickly disappeared, and instead of a Great Central pedigree, a mutt of less-than-satisfactory engineering arrived - seemingly from a rather back-handed piece of industrial espionage at Derby Locomotive Works.


When Gresley was designing his A1 Pacific, he drew up many considerations for his prototype - that would later become our A0, Gordon. Of these were varying firebox sizes, growing and shrinking pistons...and all of the blueprints for such were written off for the design we now know as successful.


These blueprints were taken by a group of engineers for the Midland Railway at Derby works. Not quite carrying the forethought of the great Sir Nigel, the locomotive was constructed and proved to be a nightmare.


The locomotive - Henry MK1, as we know him - was sent to an auction, to get rid of the rather shameful display of unethical locomotive construction - and was sold to a rather...unsavoury engine dealer, whose name has been lost to the sands of time.


Costing very little, and with a 'surprising' lack of paperwork, Henry proved a bad bargain for the growing Sodor network. He was a troublesome locomotive with a terribly small, shallow firebox, a poor draught and diabolical steaming.  


Breakdowns were common...but with no other offers available, the NWR had to make do. Unfortunately, Henry had a poor attitude to match his poor running. His naivety and lack of experience did not assist, and reached a breaking point when only a few months into his career he got quite sick of the rain and decided to wait it out. While pulling a train. Inside the Ballahoo tunnel. His excuse was not wishing to spoil his paint, and not a single person was satisfied with it. There was a terrible fuss as passengers, staff and engines tried to get him out, but all amounted to nothing.


My Great-Grandfather's somewhat erratic temper showed itself here as he told one of his engineering staff when hearing of the difficulties that "If Henry wants to be in that blasted tunnel he can jolly well stay there!" and ordered him to be bricked up inside.


This is by far the most famous story of Henry's career. I doubt I need to finish it for you - but Henry's rather colourful years on the NWR did not halt there.


Henry's stay in the tunnel did not serve him well. If he was a poor runner beforehand, he was now utterly deplorable. Coal did not burn well, he did not build steam and he became terribly unpopular, with engines, passengers and crews. The NWR was becoming a laughing stock, and my great grandfather, reaching the end of his tether, began writing up scrap values. Eventually, he decided to simply find out for himself.


Henry was unable to take generic, cheap English coal. The other locomotives had a fairly sized firebox, proportionate enough to take a poor quality fuel - but Henry's firebox, short and incapacitated as it was, felt crippled by it, and didn't build enough heat.


My Great-Grandfather conceded that an expensive engine was better than no engine, and organised the highest calorific coal available, straight from Wales. Henry was suddenly like a new engine, and made for a fine runner - and he didn't he know it! He became an aloof, arrogant sort, fuelled only by his growing similarities with Gordon.


He even reached the dizzy heights of priority services, and soon was chosen for the newly introduced 'Flying Kipper', an early morning train carrying the famous Tidmouth Fish across the Island and straight to Barrow, to be 'split' among the cities and towns of the mainland.


The Flying Kipper is one of the most famous non-passenger trains on Sodor, and is very difficult to run efficiently. Henry was doing a fine job, but antiquated signalling equipment was disrupted by the ice and snow, frozen points thus sending Henry onto a siding and into the back end of a waiting goods train.  Nobody was injured, but Henry suffered severe damage. The accident, taking place in 1935, was the largest the young NWR had seen - many items of stock written off completely.


My Great Grandfather reassured Henry the accident was of no fault of his and announced Henry was due to be completely rebuilt.

Now, allow me to shed some light upon the nature of Henry's rebuild. It is a complicated affair, and one nobody has ever really given much detail on in the past...


My Great Grandfather was apprenticed at Swindon Works at the age of fourteen years (from 1894 onwards) and struck up a firm friendship with the great William Stanier that continued throughout the career of both. The Hatt family would make regular visits to the Stanier's abode, and discuss their respective railways. Both had great respect for eachother, and Stanier was thrilled by the bizarre and often very handsome engines travelling on Sodor's metals.


Stanier soon learnt of Henry, and was frightfully embarrassed to hear of his heritage, it relating, of course, directly back to the London, Midland and Scottish Railway he was now at the helm of. Stanier told my great-grandfather that should we have Henry to spare, he will finally get round to the 'favour' he owed him.


The 'favour' that Stanier owed Mr. Hatt is a similarly unusual affair (Involving their time at Swindon's Draught offices, wherein a spilt cup of coffee ruined a set of plans hastily redrawn by the pair!) but the man was as good as his word - when Henry had his accident the engine was towed away, past NWR's Crovan's Gate works and to the mainland, until he reached Crewe. Plans had been laid out, agreements made and a handshake over cigar and whisky.


Henry was to be an indistinguishable locomotive no longer - he was built, instead, into a LMS 'Black Five' locomotive, one of Stanier's finest pieces of work. Thrilled, the NWR took Henry back very proudly, and Mr. Hatt even went so far to buy the head engineers at Crewe a round (A rarity in the Hatt family tradition!)


Since then, Henry has become one of the most dependable of our fleet. As well as carrying a substantially larger firebox, not to mention the other features of Stanier's handiwork, Henry was sent straight down to Earth by his accident. He is now a far more level headed locomotive, and perhaps one of the less arrogant of the Main Line fleet.


One of Henry's most famous achievements is the 'Super Rescue' in 1968, when he took on two failed diesel locomotives (One of which would come to the Railway as 'Bear', our Hymek!), both with trains, and successfully hauled the cavalcade under his own steam - a rare feat, considering he himself had a failed regulator and was running under his cutoff instead! It was here that Henry really proved himself as one of the most valuable members of our fleet.


His balance of power and speed, not to mention his talent in mixed traffic running, has made him a common sight on the longer, heavier trains that now exist on the NWR. He gives a fine service and rarely has a hiccup - as a matter of fact, those whom read the Railway Series will note he doesn't appear quite as often as, say, James or Henry. The reasoning is fairly simple - he rarely has anything to interrupt his busy lifestyle!


However, it is not all positive. I am sorry to say that of all of my locomotives, Henry is perhaps the worst treated by the television series so loosely based on my railway. He is portrayed as a worrier and hypochondriac - something that simply isn't the case.


Do not judge NWR No.3 on how the television puts him - he is a far superior locomotive to such tripe and I am incredibly proud of him.

If you come to Sodor and you see a long freight train pass through Tidmouth yard, you'll have no doubt it's No.3 responsible for it. If you see him resting...it won't be for very long!

A documentary on the history and development of the LMS Black 5s; mixed traffic locomotives built between 1934-51.


With a total of 842 constructed, these engines are arguably one of the most successful steam locomotive designs ever built.

Find out more about Henry and his origins on the internet's definitive Awdry Railway Series website - The Real Lives of Thomas The Tank Engine

The LMS Society - a group dedicated to the appreciation of the heritage of the London Midland & Scottish Railway.

Click the link above for relevant books and products about Henry and the LMS Black 5s!