Q Class No.541 (30541)

Q class 541 (30541)

The Q class was the last of Richard Maunsell's loco designs. The intention was to produce a simple, modern replacement for some of the elderly pre-grouping locos that the Southern Railway was using for light goods and mixed traffic work. They were equipped with a steam reverser, which made shunting a lot easier than on many other locos. Twenty were built in 1938/39, and 541 is the sole survivor. They have often been unfairly compared to Bulleid's extremely powerful Q1 class locos, but these were designed to fulfil a very different role – a bit like comparing a GWR Manor to a King class loco.

When first introduced there were complaints of poor steaming. Bulleid's modification – fitting a Lemaître multiple-jet blast pipe – helped; six locos were later fitted with a BR standard chimney and blastpipe, which cured the problem. Our 541 is one of the engines fitted with these modifications and has proved to be a useful loco, capable of handling all the Bluebell's traffic.

Built at Eastleigh, 541 was initially allocated to Guildford before moving to Three Bridges in 1947. It was numbered 30541 on nationalisation, spent a few months at Stewarts Lane in 1953, then moved to Bournemouth for ten years. Many photos exist of it in use on the Swanage Line and the Lymington Branch. After spending a couple of months at Basingstoke it returned to Guildford in March 1963, where it was withdrawn in November 1964.

In 1942 it was derailed near Betchworth as a result of a bomb exploding close to the line. The boiler currently fitted was damaged by enemy action on a separate occasion, with two patches on the exterior of the firebox still visible under the cladding

30541 arrived at Barry scrapyard in February 1965. Purchased in 1973 for £3,250 by a Gloucester-based group of enthusiasts, some restoration work was undertaken at a site owned by Dowty Engineering at Ashchurch, Gloucs. A move to the Bluebell Railway in October 1978 followed a merger between the owning group and the Maunsell Locomotive Society. This led to a renewed impetus in the restoration project and the locomotive returned to steam in November 1983, in SR black, with Maunsell lettering as 541, as it would have first appeared in 1939. The restoration work included the forging of two new connecting rods, and these were machined in the Bluebell’s workshop by the Society's Chairman, Ray Bellingham.

541 proved to be economical and reliable, and simple to operate and maintain – all important virtues for working on a preserved railway. The loco remained in use until July 1992, when it was withdrawn for a full overhaul. The Bluebell Railway completed this work over the ensuing 22 years and it returned to traffic in April 2015. This time it was returned to traffic in BR black as 30541, as it appeared when it was last at work on the Southern Region. It continues to be a popular loco with crews and has made visits to the Mid-Hants, Nene Valley, Great Central and Severn Valley railways.

At the end of 2022 the engine had to be withdrawn from traffic when a routine exam revealed that some firebox stays had failed. This was unfortunately a few years before the expiry of its ten-year certificate, but it is not unusual for a boiler to develop problems after a long spell of fairly intensive use. The Society is however hopeful that Bluebell’s management will agree to a fast-track repair, as 30541 is in otherwise very good condition with so much work having been done during its previous overhaul. In addition to the boiler work it is believed that the only other major work required will be attention to its tyres, after which the engine can re-enter traffic at the railway.