This locomotive was built in 1916 by Andrew Barclay for Vickers Ltd to work at the National Filling Factory at Morecambe. It was a fireless locomotive which means that it had a steam accumulator rather than a boiler and was charged up with steam from a stationary boiler. It also meant that there was no chance of it starting a fire.
It was delivered in June 1916. It had 15 inch x 18 inch outside cylinders and 3 feet diameter driving wheels. It was one of three such locomotives supplied by Andrew Barclay to Vickers to work at Morecambe – Works Nos 1471-3 of which 1472 and 1473 have been preserved.
The Construction of the National Filling Station at Morecambe started following the passing of the 1915 Munitions of War Act which was passed in order to expand the production of munitions for the First World War beyond the three existing sites at Waltham Abbey, Enfield Lock and Woolwich.
Construction of the National Filling Factory at White Lund, Morecambe, began in November 1915 on a 400 acre site. The site needed to be so large because explosive safety was a key issue and the site used parallel production facilities in separate small, wooden huts to reduce the risk. The NFF filled a range of shells with Amatol, a mixture of TNT and ammonium nitrate, but they also produced gas shells. Vickers produced filled shells for only 15 months before the site was almost entirely destroyed by fire and an explosion.
By September 1917 the plant at Morecambe employed 4,621 of which nearly 65% were women.
In October 1917 a fire started in an area which contained a large amount of explosive material (TNT). The lower floor of the unit the fire started in contained partly filled 12 inch shells which shortly exploded but the largest explosion of ammunition occurred four and a half hours after the fire had started. The blast from this killed four people, who were mainly firemen. Casualties were reduced as the employees were on a meal break at the time of the outbreak of the fire.
The force of the blast blew out windows in Morecambe and shrapnel was found several miles away.
Several acts of bravery were subsequently rewarded. Mary Agnes Wilkinson, a telephonist at the Exchange in Cable Street, Lancaster, was awarded the British Empire Medal. Four men were awarded the Edward Medal for their bravery including Thomas Kew, a train driver, and Abraham Graham, who shunted 49 ammunition trucks holding 250,000 live shells out of the danger zone to prevent further explosions.
It took three days to secure the site but the factory never re-opened. Workers were paid off and given a fortnight’s extra wages.
Following this the locomotive moved to West Thurrock in Essex where it was employed by Hedley & Co who manufactured detergents and soaps at the site. Hedley & Co were subsequently acquired by Proctor and Gamble. The locomotive remained at West Thurrock until 1975.
The locomotive then appears to have been acquired by Mr J R Price who retained ownership of the engine but presented it to Bressingham Steam Museum for displaying. In 2013 the owner died and the following year his son gifted the locomotive to Bressingham.
The locomotive has been called Robert Kett and Bluebottle at different times.
Robert Kett was the leader of a rebellion which had its origins in the hardship inflicted by the extensive enclosures of common land and by the general policy of Edward Seymour, 1st Duke of Somerset. A commemorative plaque erected in 1999 states.
“Seeking a fairer society in Norfolk, Robert Kett supported by his brother William, led a rebellion of more than 15000 people in 1549. The rising was crushed and over 3000 died. On 7th December1549 Robert was hanged for treason at Norwich Castle and William from Wymondham Abbey’s west tower.”
The locomotive is currently awaiting restoration at Bressingham.