Q Class No.541 (30541)

Q class 541

The Q class was the last of Richard Maunsell's loco designs. The intention was to produce a modern, simple, replacement for some of the elderly pre-grouping locos that were being used for light goods/mixed traffic work. They had a steam reverser, which makes shunting a lot easier than on many other locos. Only 20 were built between 1938/39 and 541 is the sole survivor. They have often been unfairly compared to Bulleid's extremely powerful Q1 class locos which were designed to fulfill a very different brief. A bit like comparing a GWR Manor to a King class loco.

As built there were sometimes complaints of poor steaming, Bulleid's modification of fitting a Lemaitre multiple jet blast pipe helped, six locos were later fitted with a BR standard chimney and blastpipe and this cured the problem. 541 has been fitted with a BR chimney and blast pipe and has proved to be a useful loco, capable of handling all Bluebell's traffic.

Built at Eastleigh, it was initially allocated to Guildford, it moved to Three Bridges in 1947, spent a few months at Stewarts Lane in 1953, before moving to Bournemouth for 10 years from September 1953. 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 After spending a couple of months at Basingstoke, it returned to Guildford in March 1963 and was withdrawn in November 1964.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 to 541 was damaged by enemy action on a separate occasion, with two patches fitted to the exterior of the firebox.

It arrived at Barry scrapyard in February 1965. Purchased for £3,250 by a Gloucester based group of enthusiasts in 1973, some restoration work was undertaken at a site owned by Dowty Engineering at Ashchurch, Gloucs. 541 was moved to the Bluebell Railway in October 1978 following 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 it would have first appeared in 1939. The restoration work included the need to have two new connecting rods forged and these were machined at the Bluebell Railway by the Society's chairman, Ray Bellingham.

It proved to be economic, reliable and simple to operate and maintain – all important virtues when operating a preserved railway. The loco remained in use until July 1992, when it was withdrawn for a ten year overhaul. The Bluebell Railway overhauled the loco and it returned to traffic in April 2015, after an absence of over 20 years. This time it has been returned to traffic in BR black, as it appeared when last in traffic. It continues to be a popular loco with crews and has made visits to the Mid-Hants, Nene Valley, Great Central and Severn Valley Railway.