The Railways of J & A Brown

Next to the SMR, the railways of J and A Brown were the next most extensive coalfields system in Newcastle. Based at Hexham, the system almost outlived the SMR, in spite of having no locomotives of its own left to work the system, and having to borrow 10 class from the SMR to run the line. Alas, the last vestige closed in the late 70s.

The system was notable for having some of the ex Railways Operating Division locomotives built for the 1914-18 war, and hence were the target for many British rail enthusiasts. In 1967, the decision was made to stop major boiler work on the ROD locomotives and as these locos were withdrawn, they were supplemented by 10 class from the SMR. Fortunately, some of the RODs have been preserved, and you can read all about them in the ROD section.

The Hunslet Locomotive Co in England was requested at the time to evaluate the cost in reboilering both classes of locomotives. They decided 10 class to be a better proposition than the ROD. If it had been the other way, ROD locomotives would have worked SMR from 1970's onwards. Hunslet provided 6 sets of boiler pressings to allow the withdrawn 10 class to be returned to service for both railway systems. (thanks to Brian Andrews for some of this information.)

Locomotives on Loan

  • Image : dir=private/ page=JABrown 73377 bytes, pixels
  • Date : Aug 1973
  • Photographer : John Hurst
  • Medium : ?, slide number 3274
  • Description : Built by Beyer-Peacock in 1903, this loco originally saw service on NSWGR metals hauling suburban passenger trains (seeNSW 30 Class). It was sold by NSWGR to Richmond Vale Railways, who subsequently hired it to Hebburn Collieries Ltd in May 1967. Hebburn subsequently added the additional air reservoirs seen at the front of the loco. Some aficianados dislike them.


The Kitson 2-8-2 Tank Locomotives

Owen Brison writes:

A point about the rather nice 1973 shot 9-2 of one of the J&A Brown Kitson tanks. You mention being unable to identify it. I would say with fair certainty that it is No 10, "Richmond Main". The reason is that the shot clearly shows a lamp-iron on top of the smokebox. According to shots I took in Aug. 72, (see below), No 10 had the top lamp-iron while No 9 did not. The chances of anyone having gone to the trouble of adding a top lamp-iron to No. 9 between 1972 and 1973 must be very slim indeed.

I once had a letter published in the Bulletin of the ARHS drawing attention to the possibility that the J&AB Kitson tanks might have been a 2-8-2 tank version of the contemporary GCR Robinson 0-8-0 tender loco (of which the ROD 2-8-0 was a natural enlargement). Can't give you the reference to the Bulletin as I don't seem to have it in Lisbon, but it was probably late 70's, after an article on the Kitson tanks in the Bulletin by Brian Andrews. Many of the crucial dimensions of the Kitson tanks, such as coupled wheel spacing and boiler-tube/firebox heating surfaces, are identical with those of the GCR design. Kitson's had previously built a batch of the 0-8-0s for the GCR. I think that AE Durrant put the same idea in a book of his on Aus. steam.

So it looks like my following 3 photos of no.9 are in fact of no.10! Thanks to Owen for clearing up this mystery after 30 years!

  • Image : dir=private/ page=JABrown 87097 bytes, pixels
  • Date : 1973
  • Photographer : John Hurst
  • Medium : ?, slide number 2608
  • Description : One of the Kitson 2-8-2T tanks (number 9?) hauls a load of empties to the Stockrington No.3 colliery. There were three of the tanks, built by Kitson and Company of Leeds (UK), number 9 being built in 1908, and named "Pelaw Main".


  • Image : dir=private/ page=JABrown bytes, pixels
  • Date : 1973
  • Photographer : John Hurst
  • Medium : ?, slide number 3280
  • Description : Shunting at the Hexham exchange sidings, the Kitson tank is distinguished from its similar wheel arrangement SMR 10-class tanks by its more English profile. Unfortunately, it was too dark and too far away to make out its number.


  • Image : dir=private/ page=JABrown 121824 bytes, pixels
  • Date : 1973
  • Photographer : John Hurst
  • Medium : ?, slide number 2609
  • Description : One of the Kitson 2-8-2T tanks (number 9?) hauls a load of empties to the Stockrington No.3 colliery. Numbers 10 and 11 of this class were built in 1911, following the excellent performance delivered by number 9. (Number 11 was scrapped in 1968.)


  • Image : dir=private/ page=JABrown 52855 bytes, 800x524 pixels
  • Date : 18 Aug 1972, catalogued 30 May 2004
  • Photographer : Owen Brison
  • Medium : email digital image
  • Description : J and A Brown Kitson tank number 9 at Hexham


  • Image : dir=private/ page=JABrown 23610 bytes, 800x600 pixels
  • Date : May 1974, catalogued 29 Aug 2005
  • Photographer : Stuart Kean
  • Medium : email digital image
  • Description : Stuart writes:
    I do not have the exact date, but it was taken one Saturday morning in May 1974. We left Hexham at about 6:30 for a trip out to Stockrington, but stood just near the Minmi Rd bridge for about 15 minutes, for no clear reason, although years later the crews said that steaming problems sometimes caused them to sit there to get their breath back for the trip up the hill to the colliery. We were riding in the van, and so did not get much chance to talk to the crew, who were very vague. As I look back, I still marvel at the crews' willingness to place vans on these trains for people to ride, or allow single people into the cab. The slide was marked and I have had to do some minor surgery, but it still looks pretty good, I think.
    I did a bit more surgery on Stuart's pic, and removed a pole from the photo. Stuart wrote back, saying "I was rather proud of the pole! I actually believe that those things are put there by the developing laboratory, as I never see them when I take the photo." So I corrected this, and you can see the result here. Stuart's suggestion as to the new caption: "You could label it the proposed electrification of the Minmi line ran into financial difficulties when, due to political interference in the process, they only let tenders to place poles on one side of the line".


  • Image : dir=private/ page=JABrown 56625 bytes, 800x531 pixels
  • Date : 18 Aug 1972, catalogued 30 May 2004
  • Photographer : Owen Brison
  • Medium : email digital image
  • Description : J and A Brown Kitson tank number 10 at Hexham


The Railways Operating Department Locomotives

I wrote originally that I thought that one or two of these classic locos had been returned to the UK, asking for details from readers, and received the following informative replies:

Graeme Geraghty writes:

One of these locos (63601) survives in England and only returned to steam on the 25th of January 2000. Two more of the class survive at Dorrigo Steam Museum. There were 591 of these locos built in England in between the years 1911-1914.

(27 May 2000)

Jeffrey Mullier (Archive Officer, Richmond Vale Railway Museum) subsequently wrote saying:

BR No 63601 which has been returned to service on the preserved GCR is actually a GCR 8K loco ie a 'pre war ROD' built in 1912, having a copper firebox & boiler tubes and steam vacuum brakes the ROD's proper had steel fireboxes and boiler tubes and Westinghouse air brakes.

There were 521 RODs built of which 311 actually saw service in France during WW1. John Brown bought 13 as surplus between 1925 & 1927.

The 2 RODs at Dorrigo were originally sold in 1973 to English preservation groups No.20 to the Southport Locomotive & Transport Museum and No.24 to the ROD Group of the King Preservation Society. Due to troubles in raising the money for transport etc they were later resold to the Hunter Valley Steam Railway & Museum.

Coal & Allied kept No.23 for official preservation as No.21 and was stored at Hexham until 1978 when it was placed in a fenced off enclosure in a park at Freeman's Waterhole. In 1986 it was moved to Richmond Main Colliery for preservation by the Richmond Vale Railway Museum. The boiler has been lifted from the frames and fully detubed allowing a full assessment of the boiler's condition (it is the original 1918 GCR boiler) . A full set of 220 drawings have also been purchased from the National Railway Museum at York. But at this stage no further work has been carried out.

A good source of information on the J & A Brown RODs is the article by Brian Andrews in the March and April 1979 ARHS Bulletins, he also did a article in the February 1977 Bulletin on the Kitsons.

As for the sixty preserved non airs we have the sixty from Hexham plus another 15 at Richmond Main. We occasionally run 15 of them on a demonstration train. I also have a few photos of some of the 60 in 1989 while they were still stored at Hexham, if you are interested.

(31 Dec 2000)

  • Image : dir=private/ page=JABrown 39132 bytes, pixels
  • Date : Aug 1973
  • Photographer : John Hurst
  • Medium : ?, slide number 3275
  • Description : My one and only slide of the famous ROD locomotives (in Australia; see below): alas, I was too late to see them in operation!


  • Image : dir=private/ page=JABrown 81359 bytes, 800x533 pixels
  • Date : 23 June 1971, catalogued 04 Sep 2004
  • Photographer : Owen Brison
  • Medium : email digital image
  • Description : Owen writes:
    I am attaching a scan of a slide of J&AB No 13 at Hexham, 23 June 1971. Remarkably, it still carried its builder's plate!!


  • Image : dir=private/ page=JABrown 95984 bytes, 800x600 pixels
  • Date : 23 Jun 1971, catalogued 06 Jan 2005
  • Photographer : Owen Brison
  • Medium : email digital image
  • Description : Owen writes:
    Here's a closer-up view of J&AB No13.


  • Image : dir=private/ page=JABrown 67151 bytes, 800x533 pixels
  • Date : 23 June 1971, catalogued 04 Sep 2004
  • Photographer : Owen Brison
  • Medium : email digital image
  • Description : Owen writes:
    Attached is S5807X.JPG showing J & A Brown no. 15 at Hexham, 23 June 1971.


  • Image : dir=private/ page=JABrown 95144 bytes, 800x600 pixels
  • Date : 23 Jun 1971, catalogued 06 Jan 2005
  • Photographer : Owen Brison
  • Medium : email digital image
  • Description : Owen writes:
    Attached is another (ROD photo), showing the "scrapline" at Hexham, again 23 June 1971. The loco closest to the camera is No 22: it was the only ROD at the time facing away from Hexham.


  • Image : dir=private/ page=JABrown 126088 bytes, 800x600 pixels
  • Date : 30 Jun 1971, catalogued 28 Sep 2005
  • Photographer : Owen Brison
  • Medium : email digital image
  • Description : J and A Brown's ROD number 24 at Hexham


  • Image : dir=br/lner/ page=index 150162 bytes, 800x600 pixels
  • Date : Oct 2004, catalogued 28 Sep 2005
  • Photographer : Stewart Hughes
  • Medium : email digital image
  • Description : Stewart writes:
    I was just reading your ROD page and it refers to the transfer to the GCR of 63601. I sent you a picture of it standing alongside 7821, your ref: 7821+63601-1 on your GWR page. You might like to cross reference it. Or here's a better picture:
    These "O-4" class locomotives were built for the Great Central Railway dating from 1911-14. Designed by J.G.Robinson, they were used for heavy main-line goods traffic, classified as 7F, and delivering a tractive effort of 31325 lb. The design was so successful that it was used by the Railways Operating Division of the British Army during the First World War, and a total of 591 of these locos were eventually completed. Many of these engines became surplus to requirements, and found their way across the world after the war ended. Several (13) ended up on the railways of J & A Brown, q.v.


  • Image : dir=br/lner/a4/ page=index 122819 bytes, pixels
  • Date : 5 Apr 1980, catalogued 10 Apr 1998
  • Photographer : John Hurst
  • Medium : Kodachrome 64, slide number 8878
  • Description : LNER "Bittern" in storage at Dinting Railway Museum. And note what is behind her, too: a Great Central Railway 8K, the class that was the pattern for the famous "ROD" locomotives!


  • Image : dir=tourist/dorrigo/ page=index 122280 bytes, 800x600 pixels
  • Date : 1985-9, catalogued 26 Nov 2000
  • Photographer : Stewart Hughes
  • Medium : email digital image
  • Description : Stewart writes:
    Here's a shot of what can be seen from the road on the old "butter siding" in the Dorrigo Station goods yard. They used to ship butter, timber and cattle down this line - very little passenger traffic - a carriage was usually attached to a freight train.
    This photo I took on my first visit in the late 1980s. The scene is exactly the same today. The locos are regularly coated to protect them and even have bags of silica inside their boilers to remove the damp. This shot was taken in the morning.
    You're the expert but I can see 6039, 1904 and 1923. Would you believe they paid $5,000 for 6039 ?! They also own 6042 but I'm not sure where they keep it. 6039 is in working condition apparently. 5920 is out of sight behind the Garret. Not sure what the two in the foreground are - I think they are 2-6-0's so possibly 2408, 2414 or 2535 - you will know. There are some saddle tanks in there too - but they have so many.
    That's the goods shed on the right with the old station building behind it.
    The locos in the foreground are two RODs (Railways Operating Division), ex J & A Brown, numbers 1984 and 2003.
    Trevor Edmonds adds:
    The locos are on the Potato Siding. Butter was not a Dorrigo product. Several captions have this error (since corrected: ed). The line of locomotives (from the closest) is J&A Brown 20 (ex ROD 1984), J&A Brown 24 (ex ROD2003), SMR 14, J&A Brown 3, J&A Brown 2, Electricity Comission 7 (ex 2408), 1923, 1904 5353, 5132 and 5069. Then a gap to Garratt 6039. 6042 is currently stored at Forbes. We hope to move it to Dorrigo next year (2002).
    Yes, see also 6042 at Forbes


Along the Line

  • Image : dir=private/ page=JABrown 57716 bytes, 800x600 pixels
  • Date : 1973
  • Photographer : John Hurst
  • Medium : Kodachrome, slide number 2608?
  • Description : I love this photo. As a boy, playing with my Hornby tin plate (alas, now gone - a great collector's item were it still in existence) I had a 90 degree crossing, which was always a challenge to use realistically in any layout. I had never seen such a crossing in actual life until this day when I stopped by at the Hexham yards near Newcastle. The crossing was used to shunt hoppers from the transfer sidings across the Main North to the wharves for loading. Alas, I never saw a train using the crossing, and alas, alas, the crossing is now gone - just like my tinplate (:-(


  • Image : dir=private/ page=JABrown 122187 bytes, pixels
  • Date : May 1973
  • Photographer : John Hurst
  • Medium : Ektachrome, slide number 2611
  • Description : I threw this piccy in to show you where all thoseMTswere heading! This where all those "chauldrons" are loaded with B.O.M.B.s (Best Ordinary Mixed Blacks, for all you non-Goon fans (:-))


  • Image : dir=private/ page=JABrown 74239 bytes, pixels
  • Date : May 1973
  • Photographer : John Hurst
  • Medium : Ektachrome, slide number 2610
  • Description : I threw this piccy in to show you where all thoseMTswere heading! This where all those "chauldrons" are loaded with B.O.M.B.s (Best Ordinary Mixed Blacks, for all you non-Goon fans (:-))


Steve Zoneff writes:

I have included 2 pictures of that old hopper that I found about 2 thirds of the way along the Hexham to Stocky line. The first one is looking toward Stockrington and the other is looking back towards Hexham.] (Steve apologises for the `bad quality' of the second, but such historical pictures are always worthwhile!)

The photos where taken on 21st October 1997 (almost 10 years to the day of its closure). I have recently watched two good videos about the RVR (Hearts Of Fire and The Richmond Vale Railway) that were produced by NBN television about ten years ago and they state that "some 60 hoppers were saved". I think that I may have only actually seen about ten of them at various museums, etc., over the years.

I am indebted to Steve for the kind use of his photographs.

  • Image : dir=private/ page=JABrown 36174 bytes, 438x390 pixels
  • Date : 21 Oct 1997
  • Photographer : John Hurst
  • Medium : personal photo
  • Description :


  • Image : dir=private/ page=JABrown 31833 bytes, 567x368 pixels
  • Date : 21 Oct 1997
  • Photographer : Steve Zoneff
  • Medium : personal photograph, used with permission.
  • Description : see above


  • Image : dir=private/ page=JABrown 54732 bytes, 581x379 pixels
  • Date : late 1989, catalogued 25 Feb 2001
  • Photographer : Jeff Mullier
  • Medium : email digital image
  • Description : A 10 ton coal hopper owned by Hebburn Colliery at Hexham


  • Image : dir=private/ page=JABrown 44786 bytes, 589x395 pixels
  • Date : 24 May 1992, catalogued 25 Feb 2001
  • Photographer : Jeff Mullier
  • Medium : email, image location H1103
  • Description : Jeff writes:
    H1103 is a 10 Ton wagon owned by Hebburn Colliery (this wagon still has grease axleboxes and was originally owned by the Australian Agricultural Company (A.A. Co.) it dates from the 1890s), taken at Hexham as it was being lifted for transport to Richmond Main. This wagon was the last Non air removed from Hexham, all that is left at Hexham now is a handful of very overgrown sidings and a single line heading across the swamp.


For more pictures of the Hexham to Stockrington line, see also South Maitland Railways, as the SMR 10 class were used on the line when the RODs were withdrawn.

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