SR Merchant Navy Class

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Rebuilt 35024 East Asiatic Company at Exeter St Davids, 1962 with Atlantic Coast Express headboard.

The Southern Railway (SR) Merchant Navy Class is a class of 4-6-2 steam locomotive designed by Oliver Bulleid for express passenger work. Thirty were built incorporating a number of novel design features, including an oil bath for the chain-driven valve gear, oval smokebox door and an unusually shaped smokebox. The SR considered naming them after cathedrals, then victories of World War II (a mocked-up nameplate "Graf Spee" was produced). They were eventually named for the major shipping companies of the time, a few of which still exist.

Construction history

The SR number adapted the UIC classification system where "2" and "1" refer to the number of leading and trailing axles respectively, and "C" refers to the number of driving axles - in this case three. All the locomotives therefore carry the prefix 21C. The final batch of ten engines was built after nationalisation and never carried an SR number: their BR number is shown below.

The class were built in three series:

  • 21C1-21C10: Completed 1941-1942
  • 21C11-21C20: Completed 1944-1945
  • 35021-35030: Completed 1948-1949

The novel features mentioned earlier caused trouble, and BR, under RG Jarvis, set about rebuilding the entire class. The first, 35018 "British India Line", emerged from Eastleigh in 1956. The last, 35028 "Clan Line" was outshopped in 1960.

The last few engines in traffic survived until the end of steam on the Southern Region in the summer of 1967.

The SR West Country Class and the identical SR Battle Of Britain Class were lighter versions of the basic Merchant Navy design.

List of Engines and their names

BR No. SR No. Name Builder Built Withdrawn Scrapped Preserved/location Notes
35001 21C1 Channel Packet
35002 21C2 Union Castle
35003 21C3 Royal Mail
35004 21C4 Cunard White Star
35005 21C5 Canadian Pacific Y Mid-Hants Railway
35006 21C6 Peninsular & Oriental S. N. Co. Y
35007 21C7 Aberdeen Commonwealth
35008 21C8 Orient Line
35009 21C9 Shaw Savill Y East Lancashire Railway
35010 21C10 Blue Star Y Colne Valley Railway
35011 21C11 General Steam Navigation Y Binbrook industrial estates
35012 21C12 United States Lines
35013 21C13 Blue Funnel
35014 21C14 Nederland Line
35015 21C15 Rotterdam Lloyd
35016 21C16 Elder Fyffes
35017 21C17 Belgian Marine
35018 21C18 British India Line Y
35019 21C19 French Line CGT
35020 21C20 Bibby Line
35021 - New Zealand Line
35022 - Holland America Line Y Southal, London
35023 - Holland Afrika Line
35024 - East Asiatic Company
35025 - Brocklebank Line Y Great Central Railway
35026 - Lamport & Holt Line
35027 - Port Line Y Southall, London
35028 - Clan Line Y steward lane, London
35029 - Ellerman Lines Y National Railway Museum (sectioned)
35030 - Elder Dempster Lines


Many of the class have survived into preservation thanks to the famous Barry Scrapyard, where steam engines which had been bought from British Railways for scrap were stored rather than cut up. One engine, 35028 "Clan Line", was bought by the Merchant Navy Locomotive Preservation Society direct from BR in 1967.

35005, 35006, 35010, 35011, 35018, 35022, 35025, 35027, 35028 and 35029 still exist, although it is very unlikely that all of them will ever steam again.

External links

Locomotives of the Southern Railway
Maunsell: H15 - Lord Nelson - N15 (King Arthur) - N15X - Q - V (Schools) - U - U1 - W - Z
Bulleid: Leader - Merchant Navy - Q1 - USA - West Country/Battle of Britain