Saturday, 22 March 2014

Robert Stephenson's Egyptian Specials

 A note on the Egyptian “specials” of Robert Stephenson by Robert Forsythe
The National Railway Museum has as one would expect an extensive Robert Stephenson collection. It is introduced here. Soon I suspect I will need to be consulting this. This follows up some work I am undertaking based around the Mining Institute, Discovery Museum and Stephenson Quarter in Newcastle. Along the way this has spun me into the REMARKABLE story of three of the most extravagant railway engines ever built (I mean that). An essay follows. Please comment.

Since three of these extra-ordinary locomotives were built, and one survives and since numerous issues of interpretation follow, a note is provided about these engines.

Robert Stephenson was personally recruited to build the first element of the Egyptian Railway System by the ruler of Egypt, one Pasha Abbas. They met in Cairo very late in 1850. The system was laid out over the ensuring six years. During 1854, his nephew Sa'id Pasha succeeded. Inaccurately or otherwise the company history by Warren in 1923 refers to these gentlemen as Viceroys.

As the contract came to a close, Sa'id Pasha determined to have some very special trains. Initially two were ordered from the Robert Stephenson Works at the same time, they were works numbers 1181 and 1182. They were both built in 1858 but were not delivered and so taken into Egyptian stock until 1859 (that is one little area of confusion). The project to build these engines would have seemed extremely prestigious to Robert Stephenson. There is direct contemporary evidence for this. The Newcastle Courant in its issues in December 1858 and early 1859 carried adverts announcing the exhibition of these trains.
A transcription is given of the 7th January advert. “By permission of Messrs Robert Stephenson and Co. and the directors of the North Eastern and Newcastle & Carlisle Railway companies will be exhibit (ed – sic), for a few days, in the beginning of January next, at the Central Station, Newcastle, the MAGNIFICENT RAILWAY TRAIN constructed by that eminent engineering firm for His Highness SAïD PASHA, Viceroy of Egypt; consisting of THE EXPRESS ENGINE AND CARRIAGE, For the Pasha’s personal use, THE EXPRESS ENGINE AND TENDER, and the DOUBLE SALOON CARRIAGE Built by Messrs J. & H. Burnup, Fitted up in the most sumptuous manner for the Pasha and the Ladies and attendants of his suite. The exterior of the train is decorated with arabesque designs of black, white and gold, in the first style of art, from the designs of Mr Digby Wyatt. The proceeds of the exhibition to be applied to the funds of the Shoeblack Brigade.”

Matthew Digby Wyatt was in his day the first Slade Professor of Fine Art at Cambridge University, the secretary to the Great Exhibition of 1851 and renowned as an Egyptologist. To commission him was to commission the very cream of Victorian talent. His DNB entry does not mention the Stephenson engines at all! Something to change.

At the time photography was in its infancy. Warren in 1923 was able to show all three Egyptian specials with photos. It is not clear when or where these were taken but the implication would be that they were ex works and for such a prestigious job, turning to a photographer makes sense. It is not clear using Warren that any previous Stephenson product had been photographed at the works. His book has photos of Stephenson engines in service that could predate 1858.

Additionally in undertaking the present research, a new photo, unknown to the Robert Stephenson Trust before has surfaced thanks to Les Turnbull. This shows 1181 and its carriage outside the Newcastle Central Station and must have been taken that winter[i].  The December adverts had thrown in for good measure “………THE EXPRESS ENGINE AND CARRIAGE , on the same frame. For the Pasha’s exclusive use, capable of obtaining a speed, exclusive of stoppages, of 70 miles an hour; THE MILITARY ENGINE AND TENDER, constructed to draw a weight of Two Thousand Tons and the DOUBLE SALOON CARRIAGE……….” Surely some hyperbole here? The Military Engine and tender must refer to the 2-2-2 1182. 1181 was the 2-2-4WT and in effect a very early steam railcar, a few others of this concept appeared in the period, a private runabout.

Bill Fawcett’s 2008 History of the Newcastle and Carlisle Railway also discussed 1181. The N&CR suffered from staff abstraction tempted by the prospect of steam trains in the sun. To illustrate it he used the Tuck colour postcard 9274 published in March 1906 in the Railways of the World set. The description on the card was The Khedives Special. That terminology has stuck and is used in the Cairo Railway Museum although I am told the term was not applied in the life of these locos (however Clothier page 35 seems to evidence otherwise in 1903). Fawcett ascribes the decoration of 1181 to the leading London decorator John Cruce. This raises a clear issue. He further says the train was tested on the Newcastle & Carlisle (your author imagines it speeding through Prudhoe, just one of a succession of pioneering Newcastle made trains tested down the line).

Whilst 1181 was entirely self contained, the 1858 photo at Central clearly shows a similarly styled four wheeled carriage attached. Once in Egypt, 1181’s life was terminated by an accident in 1879. Alan Clothier describes the three engines in pages 34-35 and elsewhere in his Robert Stephenson Abroad Egypt 1847-1859 volume. 

There (and in Warren) we are introduced to 1295 which came from the works in 1862. This was another 2-2-4WT. It has a more substantial rear cabin or Kiosk as they came to be called in Egypt. In Arabic Almloinh is kiosk, as applied to signal cabins. I think we can see how the word works. Clothier and Warren both assert 1295 was decorated by Matthew Digby Wyatt. I see no reason to doubt that but add that in 1858 the local newspaper linked him to 1181.

1182, the fabulously detailed 2-2-2 was returned to Black Hawthorn at Gateshead for a rebuild in 1870. Without all the decoration, she lasted until 1907. According to Clothier the Pasha drove both Kiosk 2-2-4Ts with special silver controls. So by 1908, only 1295 was left. For the 1933 International Railways Conference, the Cairo Railway Museum at Ramses Station was constructed and opened. When you measure this with the progress of the York Railway Museum and other British efforts inter-war, the Egyptians were absolutely out in front. Pride in the railway remains important in modern Egypt.

The new museum was stuffed with Stephenson artefacts and has remained so ever since. My prime source is the 1979 English language catalogue of 134 pages plus illustrations. 1295 has had pride of place, a quick Google search will readily find her in recent imagery. I am advised that the unrest of the very recent past has brought about a temporary closure of the museum although special parties are evidently still seeing 1295 in 2014. My Facebook shows one such party. In addition to 1295, a Stephenson 0-6-0 running number 142 of 1867 is preserved there. There is a large scale model and drawings of running number 1, a Stephenson 2-4-0 of 1852. There are also models and imagery of the specials. Exhibit 78 in 1979 was a workshop model of the Khedival train. This includes a model of the 2-2-2 and a statement that it remained decorated until 1887.  There was then an officer’s saloon, the original built in Egypt in 1868. Then there was “The Princesses Carriage” by Wright and Co. of 1858. This was four wheeled and the catalogue says the original was made in Birmingham (yes indeed, by an ancestor of Metropolitan Cammell, the coach is shown and written up in Metro-Cammell 150 years of Craftsmanship page 4ff). This is not the vehicle behind 1181 in the photo, six windows in the photo at Central, seven in the catalogue. Then in the catalogue is described and illustrated the 1858 SIXTEEN WHEEL Mason saloon from America. About the most amazing railway carriage that could ever have been made!

After that the catalogue moves to the Robert Stephenson made Family Saloon of 1863. That should not be the one with 1181 in 1858. Next, followed another Wright’s product, the Family Carriage of 1855. Perhaps this is the vehicle at Newcastle in 1858? Alan Clothier thinks not and I am minded to agree. Items were supplied by Stevenson which are not in the model exhibit in Cairo. Alan has access to photos taken by T. Worden of Newcastle and it really would seem these were commissioned to be taken at the works and that Warren had access to them in 1923. They are definite candidates for the first photos taken at the work's instigation. Whether they connect at all to our header photographer is unclear, but one of Worden's images clearly shows a four wheeled double saloon as described in the adverts. Its windows and ventilators correspond to the coach in the header photo. Alan has also scoured the Newcastle Journal, Newcastle Courant and Carlisle Journal. It is clear that in the early months of 1859 a lot was written about these trains and they were "run in" on the Carlisle line. There are clearly many more original items of considerable interest in Cairo to top this. Just alighting on one more, the catalogues reveals that the original contract between Pasha Abbas and Robert Stephenson survived.

The tale of these three Stephenson locomotives cannot be bettered I judge in railway history for its fantastical nature, nor for the manner in which it evidences the Stephenson effect in selling an entire railway system to a place far removed from Newcastle and in a manner self consciously extravagant in its execution. That it then enters the story of a pioneering railway museum which has safe guarded the key artefacts through difficult times and then in exploring the subject some fascinating issues of historiography are raised in the immediate vicinity of the works means that this tale still has all the power of intrigue that one assumes Geordies on a cold January day in 1859 must have felt as they took in these wonderful creations.

More discussion of this photo and story is taking place in the Robert Stephenson Facebook group here.

[i] This photo may inter alia be the earliest photo of the Newcastle Central station, one of the earliest of a Robert Stephenson Works product ( I rather think others were done of these specials) and in potentially showing first generation Newcastle & Carlisle semi open stock, it has the potential to be a landmark railway photo.