|Designer||Avonside Engine Company|
|Company||Portbury Harbour Railway|
|Driving Wheels||4ft ½in|
|Cylinders||Outside – 14½in x 20in|
The Avonside Engine Company received an order in December 1916 from the British Government for a batch of nine B4-class engines for use by the War Office.
Portbury and another engine from the same batch were delivered from the Filwood Road works in 1917 to Sheephouse Farm, Easton-in-Gordano, some six miles west of Bristol along the Great Western Railway branch-line to Portishead. It was to be used on the construction of a new shipyard intended for the building of cargo vessels to replace those being lost during the First World War. The locomotive was painted battleship grey with I. W. & D. 34 on the sides of its watertank.
Managed by the National Shipyard Company set up by the British government in July 1917, the construction of Portbury Shipyard was well advanced when the war ended in 1918. Over 1,000 troops of the Royal Engineers had worked on the project which cost £238,000; a workers’ accommodation camp, railway sidings and a station had been constructed. No ships were ever built there but the construction camp and railway sidings were subsequently used during the 1920s as a government central stores depot. Sales of surplus wartime and government equipment, including I. W. & D. locomotives, were held there from time to time.
Four of Portbury’s B4 classmate were shipped to France by the War Office.
The Bristol Corporation Docks Committee (known after 1926 as the Port of Bristol Authority) was responsible for managing three dock systems: the City Docks, Portishead Dock which was opened in 1879, and the Avonmouth and Royal Edward Docks which opened in 1877 and were extended in 1908. The Great Western Railway worked all rail traffic in the City Docks, but the Bristol Docks Committee maintained its own fleet of shunting locomotives to move freight and passenger trains about within the docks at Avonmouth and Portishead.
Locomotive number 34 was acquired by the Docks Committee in February 1919 for the sum of £1,940 and was given the name Portbury.
In 1925 the locomotive had a new copper fire-box which was supplied by rival Bristol company Thomas Peckett & Sons rather than Avonside Engine Company.
By 1939, the Port of Bristol Authority locomotive fleet comprised some 28 engines. Every engine was worked to the limits of its capacity; Portbury still bears the evidence of damage and wear-and-tear sustained in more than 40 years of hard work in a busy port. In 1947 the Docks Engineer reported ‘gross overloading’ of all the Port’s locomotives as they hauled heavy trains round the small radius curves of the docks railway system. Portbury, together with four other Avonside locomotives, made up the second of six classes of engine then in use at the port. These were being overloaded the most by 67 per cent, regularly pulling 30 oil tank-wagons instead of the maximum of 18 which the Avonside Engine Company’ specification indicated they could cope with.
Portbury was remembered by Port engine crews in later years as displaying a tendency to ‘go off on her own’. It was not uncommon for a steam locomotive to move off if left unattended, particularly if the regulator valve was worn and the valve-gear needed adjustment. Portbury was therefore usually parked in the locomotive shed at Avonmouth between other engines to make sure that it stayed put until needed for the next shift.
The Port’s steam locomotives worked alongside, and were then replaced by a fleet of diesel engines during the 1950s. By 1964 Portbury was parked with one of the Port’s Class 1 Peckett engines, Henbury, in ‘E’ Shed – a tea warehouse at Avonmouth – having been donated to the City Museum’s Technology Collection.
During the 1970s Portbury was moved several times, first to Radstock in November 1971, then to the West Somerset Railway at Washford in March 1975 and then back to Avonmouth in 1980. The plan had been for the team of volunteers from the Somerset and Dorset Railway Trust to restore the locomotive.
However, they were unable to attend to it and so in 1985 Portbury was brought by road to the Industrial Museum which had been established in 1978 to house and display the City Museum’s Technology Collection.
In July 1986, the team of volunteers from the Industrial Museum’s Bristol Harbour Railway erected a temporary workshop at the back of the museum and dismantled Portbury. Considerable amounts of time, ingenuity and some £14,500 were expended to refurbish and rebuild every part of the locomotive including re-tubing the boiler. The work was completed during the spring of 1988 and Portbury worked in steam again for the first time for almost 30 years in June, 71 years after it was built.
Portbury was painted in a lined blue livery during the 1990s, before its overhaul in 2001, when it was repainted into the battleship grey of IW&D (Inland Waterways and Docks) it was delivered in.
The following information has kindly been provided by Paul Stanford
On 21st December 2001 Portbury hauled the three coach reopening train of the Railtrack line from Bristol’s Parson Street Station to Royal Portbury Dock (the place it was built to work). I was on the train as I helped reopen the branch line, as I worked for Railtrack (I was the person that did the deal to reopen the branch line); I also helped get Portbury certificates to run on the national rail network for two days only (20th and 21st December 2001). The 20th was a rehearsed for the little engine to ensure it had enough coal and water.
After the expiry of its 10-year boiler ticket, Portbury was overhauled once more, partially at M Shed with work also carried out at South Devon Engineering at Buckfastleigh, and reintroduced into service in 2013.
The livery carried has been altered to more accurately represent its 1917 condition, with black wheels and without nameplates.