The little Stewarts & Lloyds locomotive loved by generations in Corby - and the fight to restore it

The S&L 14 engine has been neglected over the years, but that's about to change

By Kate Cronin
Monday, 21st March 2022, 12:21 pm

When the chimneys and furnaces of the Corby steelworks were pulled down in 1981, the pain of a heart being ripped out of the town meant that very few relics of the town's industrial heritage were preserved.

But one enduring reminder of our town's steelmaking past is the familiar yellow engine that became the play equipment of generations of youngsters, first on West Glebe Park and in recent years at East Carlton Park.

The S&L Locomotive has been neglected in recent years and is a shadow of its former self. But now a group of local volunteers have made it their mission to restore it so that the founding industry of our town can be brought to life for future generations.

The engine arriving in its current position in East Carlton Park

Engine number 14 was delivered to Stewarts and Lloyds steelworks in Corby in March 1934, a couple of months before the blast furnaces fired into action.

As the works rapidly expanded during the 30s, it was one of a number of engines bought to move heavy loads around the sprawling Corby site.

The green Hawthorn Leslie 0-6-0ST locomotive was in service for the next 37 years, although it was painted its familiar yellow in 1955 along with all the others in the steelworks to make them more visible to all those men and women who worked there.

Before 1960 the steam needed to run it was produced by coal, but it was converted to run on oil in 1960 along with a number of others.

S&L Locomotive Number 14 in its original function at Corby steelworks

Although there are believed to be three S&L locomotives remaining in the country - at the Ribble Valley Museum in Preston and the Epping Ongar Railway in Essex - number 14 is the only remaining oil-converted engine.

On September 1971, after it was decommissioned, Corby Urban District Council took delivery of the engine to West Glebe Park where it was used by children who attended the summer holiday Play Leadership scheme. It was painted the familiar green of so much playground equipment of that era, and was played-on by thousands of children for the next 18 years.

It was one of two engines in the park at that time.

But, in need of some TLC and in light of health concerns over the potential of asbestos in the paintwork, in January 1989 it was taken to Vic Berry's Scrapyard in Leicester to have all of its old paint burnt off at a cost of £10,000 to the council.

The group is hoping to identify this group of children aboard the engine in West Glebe Park in 1971

It returned, in its bright yellow coat, 18 months later to East Carlton Park, giving another generation of children to imagine they were real train drivers. In 2015 - although nobody really knows why - it was painted grey and has remained that way since, fenced off to this generation of kids.

Chairman of the Friends of S&L Locomotive Number 14 and Lodge Park Academy history teacher Mike Murray said: "It was in the steelworks for just under 40 years but in parks for 50 years so it's spent more of its life as play equipment than it has as an engine.

"I wrote about it in my school history newsletter and there was a big reaction on Facebook."

Mike met up with others in Corby who were interested in the restoration of the engine and they held their first formal meeting in July last year and a Facebook group - Friends of the S&L Locomotive Number 14 - was set up.

The neglected engine now sits in East Carlton Park

The committee has spent the past few months formulating its plans for No 14.

Mike said: "Our first aim is absolutely that there's no way that No 14 will leave Corby.

"It's got a place in the hearts of many people here and it should stay here.

"We are going to set about restoring it so it looks the part. It's going to be yellow because it's always been that colour since it was converted to oil.

"We're hoping to get it covered in some way to preserve it and have a wall with photos of its history and of children climbing on it over the years. There must be thousands of those in people's photo albums.

"There will also be steps up so people can get closer to it so they can have a good look.

"We should celebrate Corby's industrial heritage. We really want to bring it to life. Almost everyone in Corby will have some kind of memory of the engine."

The group will be at Corby Pole Fair this summer to record the memories of steelworkers with the intention of using the recordings as part of future displays. They are holding their next committee meeting on April 29.

They are also looking for funding for the project, which has the support of North Northamptonshire Council.

Anyone who wants to join the campaign, can help the group with old photos or who has unique memories of the engine that they wish to share can email [email protected] or visit the group's Facebook page.