[Source: Nick Catford]

The 2-4-0WT locomotive 'Ariel's Girdle' poses at North Greenwich & Cubitt Town station sometime prior to 1878 when it was withdrawn. In the form seen here, the locomotive had been rebuilt from its original 2-2-0WT form in which it had appeared at the Great Exhibition of 1851. The name was originally carried on plates, according to a contemporary engraving, on the sides of the boiler but appear to be absent in this view. 'Ariel's Girdle' is believed to have derived from Shakespeare's The Tempest and perhaps intended to impress at the Great Exhibition. In original form, the locomotive is sometimes misdescribed as a Crampton but although somewhat similar in appearance it was not a Crampton. It was not until 1880 that the dock insurers relented and allowed locomotives to work the entire North Greenwich branch, so this view dates from Millwall Extension Railway days hence the tram-like trailer which would have been horse drawn in the immediate vicinity of the docks. Despite the presence of the spark arrestor on the locomotive's chimney, the reason for the pre-1880 prohibition was, mainly, the fear of fire to ships sails. Details of the tramcar-type trailer have proved elusive, however it is known there were four of them supplied by Starbuck of Birkenhead in 1871/2. Assuming all four were identical, they had a 6-wheel railway-type underframe enabling the car to use standard railway platforms and, it would appear, railway-type buffing gear. The car would thus have been relatively heavy by tramcar standards and would have required at least two horses to pull it. Under as close an examination as this picture permits, the bodywork displays the hallmarks of Starbuck with rounded window tops, camelback roof and central clerestory section. How it was driven, when drawn by horses, and how passengers entered and exited is something of a mystery as there are no obvious signs of end platforms despite the presence of extended roof ends and footsteps at each end. Note the gentleman on the platform, far left, possibly the stationmaster or other senior official. He represents the perceived stereotype of Victorian London. Ariel's Girdle warrants a rather more detailed description but before delving into her history, certain of her features deserve a mention. She has what look like Salter type safety valves and the pipe curving over the boiler behind the dome is probably the boiler feed pipe. The object with the appearance of a flattened-out tyre is the steam pipes to the cylinders, most likely pipes within some sort of protective covering. Close examination of this and other pictures of the locomotive reveal the water tank is slung below the boiler, thus the peculiar tubular, lidded device on the bufferbeam can be assumed to be the filler pipe. Why the pipe needed to be so tall can perhaps be explained by water towers being designed for locomotives with conventional tanks above the frames and thus with much higher filler caps. After all, Ariel's Girdle did not come brand new to the North Greenwich branch so some adaption would have been necessary. The filler tube, if that is what it is, appears to be detachable and can be fitted to a second filler connection on the other end of the bufferbeam. Also of note is the screw coupling, presumably same was fitted at the other end of the locomotive. The cylinders are quite small but without knowing boiler pressure and other details is it difficult to judge performance capability although this particular detail would have been purely academic on the North Greenwich branch. Ariel's Girdle is said to have been built by Messrs. Kitson, Thompson & Hewitson of Leeds sometime in the 1850/1 period. This company was ultimately to become better known as Kitson & Co. However, investigations suggest a possibly slightly different story. William Bridges Adams had set up, on an unknown date, a workshop in Drury Lane manufacturing carriage springs and this business was moved to Fairfield Road, Bow, in 1842. The following year Adams established Fairfield Works, a true railway works, and among his specialities were steam railmotors. Fairfield Works was adjacent to and on the north side of the Eastern Counties Railway and on the east side of Fairfield Road. The site was shared by a motley collection of other businesses producing a variety of goods. The location eventually became the site of Messrs. Bryant & May match factory, which was also known as Fairfield Works, and is today Bow Quarter. At the time, Messrs. Kitson, Thompson & Hewitson produced complete locomotives but their speciality was supplying locomotive components and as one of Adams' specialities was railmotors, this being the form in which Ariel's Girdle first appeared, it is quite possible components were supplied from Leeds and the railmotor was actually constructed at Bow.
Photo from Eric Pemberton collection

Last updated: Thursday, 07-Sep-2017 09:05:53 CEST
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