This locomotive was built in 1898 by Hunslet Engine Company. It was the second of ten such locomotives ordered by the Manchester Ship Canal (MSC). It carried the name St John after Port Saint John in New Brunswick, Canada.
The MSC railway had a fleet of 70 locomotives which ran on one of the largest privately owned networks in the country. They were able to receive and despatch goods trains to and from all the UK’s main line railway systems, using connecting junctions at three points in the terminal docks.
The locomotive had a number of special features to enable it to work heavy trains round the tight curves of the extensive railway network. These included Cartazzi leading axle boxes and flangeless centre driving wheels. Leaf springs were fitted on the front two axles and coil springs on the rear axle. In a powerful locomotive with a short wheelbase, this resulted in a lively dancing ride which led to members of the class being referred to as a Jazzer.
In 1938 the locomotive was returned to Hunslet for a major overhaul which included the fitting of a new boiler.
During the First World War the MSC stopped using locomotive names and introduced numbers, 686 becoming No 14. One name plate was retained and fixed on the rear inside of the cab, where it can still be seen today.
In 1958 the locomotive was returned to Hunslet for repair. This included the fitting of a new fireboxand new tyres. It is believed to have worked in the Warrington area on the MSC railway after this.
The locomotive was withdrawn from service on the MSC railway in 1962.
In 1963 a locomotive at ICI Dyestuffs Division at Blackley Manchester was damaged in a runaway accident. The locomotive was a Hawthorn Leslie saddle tank (Works No 3455 named The Lady Armaghdale after the wife of a former Chairman of the company). Rather than repair the Hawthorn Leslie, the company opted to purchase 686 as a readily available working replacement. 686 was duly repainted in ICI crimson livery and acquired the name The Lady Armaghdale, although the locomotive was never popular at ICI.The locomotive was used regularly at Blackley for transferring coal from the BR exchange sidings on the Manchester-Bury electrified line.
By 1968, 686 had been withdrawn from service for a second time.
It was then purchased by the Warwickshire Industrial Loco Preservation Group and transferred to the Severn Valley Railway in July 1969. Following minor repairs the locomotive was returned to steam a month later.
Between 1972 and 1981 a heavy overhaul of the locomotive was undertaken . During the overhaul Vacuum brakes were fitted to the locomotive so that it could be used on passenger trains.
It entered traffic again in 1981 although its activities were limited. In 1989 it was withdrawn from service as it had leaking boiler tubes. During this period in service it accumulated 1,153 miles whilst in service.
The locomotive was then overhauled again, converted and registered as Thomas. It first ran as Thomas at Didcot in March 1994 where it was specially registered to allow it to run on BR metal from its delivery point at the nearby power station.
After visiting a number of heritage railways by October 1998 the locomotive was restored to running as Manchester Ship Canal No 14.
A quick overhaul of the locomotive was carried out which allowed it to run again as Thomas in 2002.
After being withdrawn from service in 2009 because of boiler problems the locomotive has been cosmetically restored and placed on static display in the Engine House at Highley.