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A Manor of History; We Look At the Careers of the Collett 78xx

It looks like we took the hobby by surprise with the announcement of our OO gauge model of the Manors on Monday. We're delighted to bring the Accurascale experience to steam modellers for the first time.

But, what is the background of these interesting locomotives? Our Senior Project Manager Gareth Bayer, with the assistance of Mike Romans, looks back at thee the history of these go-anywhere heroes of the Great Western Railway...

Arguably one of the most attractive locomotives to emerge from Swindon Works, the Great Western Railway 78xx Manor class was the final 4-6-0 design to emerge during the Collett era. Introduced in 1938, the Manors were go-anywhere replacement for the 43xx Mogul and other older 4-4-0s and even re-used some components from withdrawn locomotives. With a new boiler design (Standard No.14) they were over 5 tons lighter than a Grange and nearly 13 tons lighter than a Hall with accompanying tender and their maximum 17t 5cwt axleload brought them nicely under the GWR’s ‘blue’ classification allowing them to be used on important weight restricted routes across the network.

The first 20 locomotives, Nos. 7800-7819, were delivered between January 1938 and February 1939, and they were named after notable Manor houses or estates within the GWR’s operational sphere. A second order of 20 locomotives was clearly in consideration at the time as the first batch were honoured alphabetically from A-H, although 7800 was actually delivered with the name Torquay Manor due to effective lobbying by MP and railway enthusiast Sir Francis Leyland-Barrett! The second set of names released in 1939 would have covered Manors in the H-W series but the order was cancelled following the outbreak of World War II.

Initially deployed to a diverse selection of sheds, including Banbury, Bath Road, Croes Newydd, Neyland, Oxley, Shrewsbury, St Philips Marsh, Westbury, and even Old Oak Common (albeit quickly transferred away), they were regulars on freight, express freight services such as milk and fish, and passenger duties, in Great Western days with only the South West not seeing Manors often, and even then they were not unknown visitors on summer Saturdays. The class was particularly common on key ‘blue’ routes such as the challenging Banbury-Cheltenham section on trains like the heavy Newcastle-Swansea ‘Ports-to-Ports’ express and London-Bristol semi-fasts via Devizes.

In 1940 the Cambrian line between Oswestry/Whitchurch and Aberystwyth/Pwllheli was reclassified from ‘yellow’ to ‘blue’ and sporadic Manor use began from the end of that year. From 1943 Oswestry gained its first examples, while another pair moved to Aberystwyth (outbased from Machynlleth) in 1946, and the class’ association with this beautiful route only increased from there, with every Manor being a regular at some point by the end of their lives.

At the onset of nationalisation the 20 Manors were principally allocated to Banbury and Bristol and Cambrian line sheds, with single examples dotted around the Midlands and other parts of Wales. A requirement for further locomotives with a low axleload resulted in the recently formed British Railways ordering ten new Manors from Swindon and Nos. 7820-7829 were delivered between November and December 1950. Just like the first order, the new engines were all partnered with secondhand tenders, usually Churchward 3,500gal types of various vintages, with at least one of the first 20 gaining a tender dating from 1903. Curiously only one name, Ramsbury Manor, survived from the originally planned second batch. The order was also of note because of the Manors’ infamous reputation as poor steamers, not solved until they were redraughted from 1952, after which they became firm favourites with railwaymen and enthusiasts alike.

By early 1951, with all 30 locomotives in traffic, over a third of the class was now based in Wales, with Chester, Plymouth (Laira), Newton Abbot and St Blazey all receiving their first Manor allocations after 1948. During BR days, Cardiff (Canton/East Dock), Didcot, Penzance, Reading, Swindon, Truro and Tyseley, all acquired Manors for long periods, with the west of England examples famously being used to assist larger 4-6-0s on heavy summer trains which were often loaded to 15 coaches. No. 7804 was even painted unlined green for its regular duties on the ‘Cornish Riviera’ between Newton Abbot and Plymouth. The Manors were associated with other named trains, the most famous being the ‘Cambrian Coast Express’ to Aberystwyth and the ‘Pembroke Coast Express’ to Pembroke Dock.

As well as GWR metals, the class could be spotted on other regions with early visits to Nottingham and Portsmouth all being recorded for posterity. From September 1939 they were common on the Southern working passenger services between Reading and Redhill, a duty that was still a regular Manor turn well into the 1960s, while the war years saw them regularly taking trains direct to Southampton and other Southern destinations, which continued into BR days. Laira-based members of the class, usually in spotless condition, were also used on the ‘exchange’ workings between Plymouth and Exeter, a wartime innovation that saw GWR locomotives working the Southern route and vice-versa for crew familiarisation, that lasted until the end of steam. The BR period also saw them visit the London Midland Region from time to time, particularly on the Shrewsbury-Crewe route.

The longevity of the class was legendary, possibly related to their relative youth and near domination of services on former Cambrian lines, especially after the exodus of Manors from the West Country after dieselisation. The first withdrawals didn’t take place until 1963 – long after other 4-6-0s had suffered inroads – with the retirement of 7809 in April, while the next example to be removed from traffic didn’t take place until a year later. By the start of 1965, their final year of operation, some 19 were still working, 11 of which were nominally LMR engines due to 1963 regional boundary changes, with the final pair, Gloucester Horton Road’s 7808 and 7829, being condemned that December.

Fortunately nine were preserved, with 7808 being purchased in working order directly from BR. This ran charters in private ownership on the national network between 1966 and 1979, its most famous appearance being the Rainhill ‘Rocket 150’ Cavalcade in August 1975. The remainder were all saved for posterity after a trip to Woodham Brothers’ scrapyard at Barry, with 7802, 7812 and 7819 all having been main line registered for periods after restoration.

Can you find room for a Manor in your collection? Place your pre-order via your local stockist, or direct with a £30 deposit. Prices are £169.99 for DC and DCC ready, and £259.99 for DCC sound fitted. Due in Q4 2021. There are ten different locomotives to choose from, covering the wide variety of liveries these pretty engines carried throughout their careers.

Click here to browse the range and place your order. 

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