This FA class locomotive was built by Peckett & Sons in 1937 to work at the Port of Bristol Authority’s docks at Avonmouth. It remained there for all of its working life.
For over seventy five years, from when these docks opened in 1877, the railways were the essential means of transporting both goods and passengers through the port. Every warehouse was designed specifically for railway, not road, transport. The Port Authority always had over twenty steam locomotives and many hundreds of its own wagons in daily use in addition to all those supplied by the main-line railway companies. Several port engines were fitted with vacuum brake equipment so that they could work boat trains into the passenger terminals at east, and later south, piers.
After the Second World War there was a decline in the use of railways for moving freight.
The locomotive appears to have been a popular engine with the port’s locomotive crews, having a reputation for free steaming. It was, therefore, one of the engines kept in good working order until the diesel locomotives took over in the early 1960s. Parts from other port engines were cannibalised to keep engines like Henbury running. In 1960 it was fitted with a five-year-old boiler which had previously been attached to another member (works no 1244 Mackenzie) of the same class of locomotive
In 1962, Henbury, by then designated port locomotive S9, was given a final major overhaul so that it was still in reasonably good mechanical condition when withdrawn from service in 1964.This boiler has been described as one of the best in the country to be found on a preserved steam locomotive
In the early 1960s the Port of Bristol Authority replaced its steam locomotive fleet by diesel engines. These remained in use until the port’s railway system was closed in 1983. At that time whilst rail-freight to the port would be handled by British Railways while the majority of internal freight movement within the port was done by road vehicles.
The port’s fleet of ‘common-user’ railway trucks was scrapped in 1981. Nine of these trucks and vans were preserved by the Bristol Industrial Museum and many more were saved by other railway museums and preservation groups throughout the country.
During the 1960s, plans were drawn up for a new museum and art gallery building in Wine Street in Bristol. This was to have included space for a range of local industrial exhibits, so arrangements were made by the Bristol City Museum to acquire one example of a locomotive by each of the locomotive builders in Bristol: Fox-Walker & Company (Works No 242), the Avonside Engine Company (Works No 1764 Portbury) and Thomas Peckett & Sons. Two port steam engines, Henbury and an Avonside 0-6-0, Portbury, were, therefore, put into store at Avonmouth in 1964 pending restoration and display by the museum. Plans for the new museum and art gallery complex were abandoned in the early 1970s and the problem of housing and restoring these engines had then to be resolved.
Henbury was moved in 1972 to Radstock for restoration by the Somerset and Dorset Railway Museum Trust. It was fitted with a steam ejector to work train vacuum brakes and was in steam successfully, there, in 1972 and 1973, giving brake-van rides. The trust had to transfer its operation in the mid-1970s to Washford Station in Somerset and Henbury was not used for several years. However, it was subsequently rebuilt to full working order in February 1978 and used to perform the opening ceremony of the Bristol Industrial Museum in March 1978.
The locomotive was returned by rail to its original home at the Port of Bristol Authority locomotive shed at Avonmouth Docks, in 1980, to undergo a further major overhaul organised by Mr D. A. Martin of the Bristol Magpies Henbury Locomotive Group. The wheels were re-turned by the Severn Valley Railway Company at Bridgnorth. By March 1981 many other important jobs had been done including the overhaul of the valve motion, main bearings, connecting rod bearings, renewal of pipe-work, re-lagging the boiler and general re-painting. The engine was painted green with yellow and black lining, very similar to the standard livery once used by the Port of Bristol for its steam locomotive fleet. The boiler was examined and tested both by British Engine Insurance Company and British Railways’ inspectors, before the engine returned by road to the Industrial Museum to resume giving brake van rides in April 1981.
The Industrial Museum site is adjacent to a large coal depot on Wapping Wharf, first established in 1872 and presently operated by the leading solid-fuel distributors in the south and southwest of England, the Western Fuel Company. The depot receives daily deliveries of up to one thousand tons of coal, mainly from the South Wales coalfields, which travels to the site via the Severn Tunnel, Ashton Junction and the former Bristol Harbour railway line which crosses the New Cut over Ashton Swing Bridge-opened in 1906. Western Fuels have been using their own diesel locomotive for a number of years to work the coal trains between Ashton Exchange Sidings and their Wapping depot. The Company’s Hudswell-Clarke diesel engine was scheduled for a major overhaul in September 1981 and Henbury was hired from Bristol City Council’s Arts and Leisure Committee as a replacement engine.
In September 1981 the locomotive was hired by Western Fuels to haul freight between the Ashton Exchange Sidings their Wapping depot as their own diesel locomotive was undergoing an overhaul. Henbury then hauled coal trains of 450 tons for three weeks and became the first privately preserved steam locomotive to work a scheduled commercial freight operation on British Railways.
In 2006 the Bristol Industrial Museum closed in 2006 and re-opened as the M Shed in 2011. The Bristol Harbour Railway runs for approximately one mile from M Shed along the harbour passed SS Great Britain to B Bond Warehouse.
The locomotive is now housed at the M Shed where it operated until it was withdrawn for a 10 year overhaul in July 2014. It is now being overhauled.