The locomotive was built by the North British Locomotive Co Ltd in Glasgow and entered service in February 1921. It is the only Gresley designed tank locomotive to survive into preservation.
It is a right hand drive locomotive. Later builds in the LNER period were left hand drive and had larger coupled axle journals.
After entering service it was allocated to Kings Cross depot and remained based there until May 1962 when it transferred to New England. It was withdrawn from service at New England in September 1962.
The locomotive was purchased for preservation by the Gresley Society in October 1963. It was moved from Doncaster Works to Harworth Colliery for storage. After steaming at the colliery it was moved on loan to the Keighley and Worth Valley Railway in 1965 where it gained fame by appearing as the Scotch Flyer in the film The Railway Children. 4744 did little work after that as a boiler tube failure necessitated considerable boiler work. The Main Line Steam Trust offered to undertake this work as the N2 was ideal for the Great Central Railway. The locomotive moved to Quorn & Woodhouse in November, 1975 and entered traffic in LNER black in April, 1978. For the next ten years the engine saw regular use, and was repainted as 69523 in November 1987.
Following a ten yearly boiler overhaul, and a major rebuild of the motion, the engine first ran again in April 1994 and returned to traffic that month. A visit was made to Amersham from the end of April 1994 until June 1994 for running between Amersham Watford and Harrow as part of steam on London Transport. The engine made another visit the following year.
The locomotive then entered a prolonged overhaul with the intention of returning it to as near GNR condition as possible. A thorough strip down of the locomotive took place. By the 1744 had a boiler built in the 1940s and with Ross pop safety valves, not the original Ramsbottom type, so while not totally achievable, some of the changes made over the years have been reversed during this overhaul to enable appearance in GNR livery to be reasonably authentic. Strangely, for many years 1744 had LNER Group Standard buffers. A Stirling tender in the NRM yard provide two of the appropriate GNR barrel buffers.
The foundation of any steam locomotive is its main frames. Very often these are subject to cracking at some time over their life. Slower moving locomotives have not suffered the same stresses and strains of express locomotives and this is the case with the N2. The frames are in quite good condition and thus needed relatively little work except, in the case of one of the hornblocks, to overcome the botched job done during a previous overhaul. The cylinders were bored out and perhaps for the last time needed no liner fitting. New piston valve liners were made inserted into the chamber using liquid nitrogen to shrink them to go into the bore. Wheels were in good condition, no need to re-profile the tyres or skim the journals. Axleboxes, as normal had to be re-metalled and machined to size. The major problem was then and always has been the boiler. This was, as stripping proceeded, found to be in a far worse condition than initially estimated. There was need for a new inner firebox. Despite the best efforts of the GCR assisted by the Gresley Society, a source of arsenical copper plate could not be found within a reasonable timescale and at a reasonable cost. It was therefore decided to have a steel firebox which was ordered from Israel Newton. It came to Loughborough much later than the agreed delivery date, thus upsetting the programme for the boiler repair. Ultimately the GCR made the decision to award a contract to Tyseley Locomotive Works for the completion of the boiler work, the shop at Loughborough not having the time or the capacity to do the work in house. At the end of February, 2008 the old shell and the new inner firebox were taken to Tyseley. The boiler arrived back at the GCR a year later in February, 2009 and it was tested for fit in the frames later that month. Along with the new inner firebox other work on the boiler was undertaken with the aim of having a boiler of much better condition than for many years and this should enable repair costs and time at the next overhaul to be at a minimum.
The locomotive returned to traffic in June 2009 in fully lined GNR livery as 4744. Since than it has visited a number of heritage railways but remains based on the Great Central Railway where it is currently operational.
Early in 2017 the Gresley Society who own the locomotive said that “in principle” an agreement had been reached to operate it on the North Norfolk Railway where it would also run over the Network Rail line allowing trains to run from the North Norfolk line to Cromer. The fitting of the On Train Monitoring Recorder and Train Protection and Warning System gear as well as a GSM-R radio and speedometer will also enable the locomotive to be used on other parts of the main line. As the locomotive is 96 years old in 2017 it will be the oldest engine capable of working on the main line.
The locomotive was moved to Tyseley for work which included the fitting of new main steam pipes, valve heads and spindles, and repairs to the driving wheels. This work was expected to be completed in April 2017 before 69523 is transferred to the North Norfolk Railway but this date slipped by a month. The electronic equipment required to enable 69523 to work on the Network Rail track at the end of the North Norfolk Railway to Cromer will now be fitted later in 2017.
The boiler certificate was due to expire early in 2019 but it was planned that it would be overhauled and back in service for its centenary in 2021.
The locomotive was withdrawn from service in November 2018 due to a leaking foundation ring.
The plan remains to have the locomotive back in operation in 2021 when it is intended that it will operate on the main line.
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