Later rebuilt and renumbered into the 4400 Class, the small class of 11 tank engines that formed the 3100 Class was designed and built between 1905 and 1906. They were among the last locomotives to be constructed at the GWR Wolverhampton works.
When he moved into the post of the Great Western’s Chief Mechanical Engineer in 1902, George Jackson Churchward set about dragging the venerable railway company into the 20th century—kicking and screaming if necessary! His first act as CME was to design and commission three new types of locomotive, bringing the latest ideas together and setting the pattern for the GWR “look” henceforth.
One of the new designs used a wheel pattern of single axle pony trucks at front and rear, with three driven axles between them—2-6-2, using the Whyte arrangement designation— plus side tanks. A coned boiler with Belpaire firebox was also new, as well as the outside cylinders driving the wheels. The end result was a tidy, purposeful-looking prototype tank engine. After running on various parts of the network, it was decided to produce more of these engines, and the first would have small 4ft 1-1/2in diameter driving wheels in order to give it a wide route availability on the many small branch lines the served the deeper parts of Cornwall.
Eleven, including a prototype, were built. The embryonic “GWR house style” was there, but also odd choices, such as the tiny bunker. Numbered in the 3100 series, the class would eventually be joined by similar locos with 4ft 7-1/2in driving wheels, and they would all be renumbered into the 4400 Class, and subsequently know to enthusiasts as the Small Prairies.
After World War One, the class was subjected to various modifications. The bunkers were gradually enlarged, finally reaching the classic GWR “bustle”. The cabs acquired steel roofs, and boilers were enlarged and superheated, until the classic GWR Prairie look was achieved.
Working their entire lives on the branch lines of Cornwall, these attractive little engines were finally scrapped in the early 1950s.
The model was constructed from a Malcolm Mitchell etched brass and nickel silver kit to 7mm scale (1/43rd) and ScaleSeven standards. The kit, billed as a 4400 Class, is still available through MM1 Models. Various parts had to be remodelled or scratchbuilt to more accurately represent the first iteration of the design. A new boiler front ring and smokebox was created, a new cab roof made, and various other modifications were made. Inevitably, some compromises crept in, such as adjustments to the brake rigging to suit the real thing’s arrangement. Some areas, particularly the tops of the side tanks and cab fittings, have been open to some conjecture. Certainly, it seems the original builds of the class featured neat and tidy tank tops and all the washout plugs on the boiler cladding covered. Gradually, over their service lives, the locos acquired all the fiddly extras and clutter to replace the Edwardian simplicity and elegance of the original builds. The finished model was painted by Warren Haywood.
I have several more loco commissions to get through, including the Large Prairie cousin of this little engine. Once they’re cleared through, I shall be concentrating on coaches and rolling stock commissions. Find out more about my work on my web site, and you can follow some of my antics on Twitter. The link can be found on the web site.