The big read: How three steam engines are being built in Sheffield in a 'piece of history'

Talk about the city of steam in the 21st century – three magnificent steam engines are being built in Sheffield using local companies and are bringing jobs in engineering and manufacturing to the city.

Thursday, 5th August 2021, 9:24 am

Two steam locomotives are currently being built by CTL Seal in Ecclesfield, whilst another is being constructed in Killamarsh, all using local workers and expertise.

A team of local volunteers are overseeing the £3.5 million Clan Project, which is funded through donations and memberships, to build one of the engines, known as the Hengist.

Geoff Turner, aged 65, is a retired design engineer who joined the Clan Project as the engineering director in 2003 after hearing about it at an exhibition.

B17 locomotive number 61661 Sheffield Wednesday. Note the ball and the stripes under the nameplate, which were painted blue and white in Wednesday's colours. Please credit “Picture: BRIAN MORRISON”

Speaking to the Telegraph as work was carried out at CTL Seal on Monday, he said: “I’m a volunteer but I’m working on the project for about 30 hours a week, and it does feel like work.

"The project has been going since the mid-1990s. A new management team took over in 2011.

"We ordered parts from CTL and then asked them if they would build a chassis. Then we asked if they wanted to build the whole locomotive.

“We are building a piece of history.”

B17 locomotive number 61649 Sheffield United. Note the ball and the stripes under the nameplate, which were painted red and white in United’s colours. With many thanks from The B17SLT, copyright Ian McCabe

The Hengist is being constructed from plans which date back to 1954, for a class of engine that was never completed as diesel models became more popular at that time.

When the locomotive is complete, in roughly five to eight years time, it will be used to pull charter trains for tourists and enthusiasts.

Geoff added: “We are building a locomotive that would have been at the front of technology at its time.

"We are building new parts from original drawings, or reverse engineering from existing parts on other locomotives.

Engineering director Geoff Turner stands in front of the chassis for the the Hengist.

"The project is providing more employment opportunities, we are marketed as made in Sheffield.

"We want to put the word out there that Sheffield still has those engineering skills.

"I started my apprenticeship at Dormer Drills in the 1970s. In the 1980s industry started going downhill and people were let off in the tens of thousands. We are helping to return engineering skills to Sheffield.”

The use of steam engines on British rails petered out during the 1950s and 1960s, but Geoff explained why they still have such an appeal.

Several of the volunteers, all local men, who are overseeing the Clan project. Left to right: Geoff Turner, Chris Jones, Ashley Shimwell, Bob Ife.

He said: “For me it’s like a living, breathing machine.

"You can see it move, you can see the smoke, you can see the wheels go round, you can see the pistons, you can see the fire.

“A diesel locomotive is like a box on wheels.”

Geoff hopes that the team will also be able to build the boiler for the Hengist in the UK so that every part of the locomotive is British-made.

Geoff added: “We are now looking for corporate sponsorship to increase our funding income to improve the progress of the project.

"The rate of progress of the project is all dependant on fundings levels. The greater the funding, the sooner 720101 Hengist is completed.

Work taking place in front of the steam box, part of the Hengist locomotive.

“Diamond Rail Services are first corporate sponsor.”

The second locomotive being built at CTL Seal is provisionally known as the Spirit of Sandringham. It is a B17, a class of 73 B17 locomotives with several named after stately homes and football teams, and designed by Sir Nigel Gresley of the Flying Scotsman fame.

Known as The Footballers, there was a B17 locomotive number 61661 Sheffield Wednesday, where the ball and stripes under the nameplate were painted blue and white in Wednesday's colours.

There was also a B17 locomotive number 61649 Sheffield United, where the ball and the stripes were painted red and white in United’s colours.

All of the B17s, which mainly hauled express trains from London to East Anglia but were seen locally, were scrapped by the middle of 1960, but the B17 Trust is aiming to bring one of them back to life.

Brian Hall, chairman of the trust, said: “The B17 was quite an elegant machine, it was prevalent all over East Anglia. It ran through Sheffield on its way to Manchester.

“We are building from scratch wherever we can. We are implementing design improvements as well.

"Its amazing that new technology is being used to build them, with computer operated machines etc.

The cost of building the Spirit of Sandringham is estimated at £3.4 million and the plan is that it will be operating, hauling heritage trains around the main line in Britain, by the end of the decade.

Assistance has also come from the engineering department at Sheffield University and some local schools.

Brian added: "We are a bunch of enthusiasts.

“We’re funded by members but non-members donate too. We sell things like pens, mugs and railway books to raise some money."

The third locomotive being rebuilt is by far the oldest design; originally built in 1908, the last model is believed to have been scrapped after 1931.

The Gowrie Locomotive Trust was established to recreate this model in 2018, using engineers who had worked on early 20th century locomotive restorations. The Gowrie will be a tourist attraction on the Ffestiniog & Welsh Highland Railways line when complete.

To donate to the B17 trust visit here: https://www.b17steamloco.co.uk/how-to-help/donating, for the Clan Project, visit here: https://www.theclanproject.org/Clan_Donate.php, and for the Gowrie Locomotive Trust, it’s here: https://www.gowrielocomotivetrust.com/donate.

Inside the CTL Seal workshop where parts for two steam locomotives will be made.