GWR Locos on the Tube

This photo appeared in a recent box of old photos I bought at auction. It’s a modified version of Great Western 77xx Pannier tank, this is a 1933 built 97xx condensing loco.

It appears that it may be at the end of of its working life, its numberplates have been removed and it’s in a siding up against buffer stops. It was built in 1933 and scrapped in February 1965.
The 97xx class were an offshoot of the very successful 57xx class of Great Western Pannier tank, several examples of which are preserved and in regular use on UK heritage railways. There’s a comprehensive page about GWR Pannier Tanks on the GWR Modelling site.

The 11 locos of the 97xx class were specially built for working one route, between Paddington and Smithfield Goods Depot in central London. The goods services they pulled over London Transport’s Metropolitan Underground line consisted of mixed goods as well as insulated wagons carrying meat to Smithfield Wholesale Meat Market, directly above the depot and accessed via lifts and a rotunda ramp.
The market opened in 1868 and the depot a year later.

The depot was a busy place, in the 1920’s and 30’s it employed over 600 staff and dealt with 10-15 trains each day. In the depot shunting was done by hand, using small wagon turntables and capstan winches.
These photos show typical goods trains on this service, the white wagons are “Mica B” refrigerated meat vans. This railway modellers blog post gives some insight into the traffic at the depot.

The locos were built with the exhaust steam being condensed and returned to the water tanks, to prevent steam being expelled in the tunnels. The pipes over the top of the boiler return the water to the tanks. A pump was fitted to fill the boiler water as steam injectors won’t work if the incoming water is too warm. There were various issues with the system, as explained by a former driver in Didcot Railway Centres blog post on the subject.


This 1935 map shows the siding into the Smithfield depot, although it is a hugely simplified map. The section of lines around Farringdon & The Barbican has a complex history, Ian Visits managed to get a look round when works were being undertaken for the Thameslink upgrade.
There’s a good history of the market at the Wholesale Markets site of the City of London Corporation, who operate it, along with Billingsgate and New Spitalfields Markets.


The gradual movement of freight from rail to road increased in the post WW2 era and in August 1962 the Smithfield Depot finally closed. Today it is used as an underground car park, with the original rotunda ramp still providing access.
The market site is undergoing a transformation, with the Museum Of London relocating there over the next few years. Redevelopment work has been slowed by Covid, and the complexity of the project, as well as a dispute between the market traders and the City of London Corporation, who own & operate the site.
As this article in the FT states, the opening of the museum could be delayed until 2026

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