When the chimneys and furnaces of Corby’s steelworks were demolished in 1981, the pain of a heart torn from the town meant that very few remnants of the town’s industrial heritage were preserved.
But a lasting reminder of our city’s steel past is the familiar yellow engine that has become the play equipment of generations of youngsters, first at West Glebe Park and in recent years at East Carlton Park.
The S&L locomotive has been neglected in recent years and is now a shadow of its former self. But now, a group of local volunteers have made it their mission to restore it so that our town’s founding industry can live on for generations to come.
Engine number 14 was delivered to Stewarts and Lloyds Steelworks in Corby in March 1934, a few months before the blast furnaces were to go into action.
As work expanded rapidly through the 1930s, it was one of many engines purchased to move heavy loads around the sprawling Corby site.
The green Hawthorn Leslie 0-6-0ST locomotive was in service for the next 37 years, although it was painted its familiar yellow in 1955 along with all the others in the steelworks to make them more visible to all men and women who worked there. .
Prior to 1960, the steam needed to run it was produced by coal, but it was converted to run on oil in 1960 along with a number of others.
Although three S&L locomotives are thought to remain in the country – at the Ribble Valley Museum in Preston and the Epping Ongar Railway in Essex – number 14 is the only remaining oil converted engine.
In September 1971, after it was decommissioned, Corby Urban District Council took delivery of the engine to West Glebe Park where it was used by children who took part in the summer vacation Play Leadership programme. It was painted the familiar green of so much playground equipment of that era and was played by thousands of children for the next 18 years.
It was one of two engines in the park at the time.
But, in need of some TLC and in light of health concerns relating to the potential for asbestos in the paint, in January 1989 he was taken to Vic Berry’s Scrapyard in Leicester to burn all his old painting at a cost of £10,000 to the Council.
He returned, in his bright yellow coat, 18 months later to East Carlton Park, giving another generation of children to imagine that they were real train conductors. In 2015 – although no one is quite sure why – it was painted gray and has remained that way ever since, fenced off for this generation of children.
Mike Murray, president of Friends of S&L Locomotive Number 14 and history teacher at Lodge Park Academy, said: “It was in the steelworks for just under 40 years, but in the parks for 50 years it has therefore spent more of its life as play equipment than it has as a motor.
“I wrote about it in my school’s history newsletter and there was a big reaction on Facebook.”
Mike met others in Corby who were interested in restoring the engine and they held their first official meeting in July last year and a Facebook group – Friends of the S&L Locomotive Number 14 – was set up.
The committee has spent the last few months formulating its plans for No. 14.
Mike said: “Our first objective is absolutely that there is no way No 14 will leave Corby.
“He has a place in the hearts of a lot of people here and he should stay here.
“We’re going to start restoring it to look like the part. It’s going to be yellow because it’s always been that color since it was converted to oil.
“We hope to cover it up in some way to preserve it and have a wall with photos of its history and of children climbing on it over the years. There must be thousands of them in the photo albums of the people.
“There will also be steps so people can get close to it so they can see it well.
“We should be celebrating Corby’s industrial heritage. We really want to bring it to life. Almost everyone in Corby will have some kind of motor memento.”
The group will be at Corby Pole Fair this summer recording the memories of steelworkers with the intention of using the recordings in future exhibitions. They are holding their next committee meeting on April 29.
They are also seeking funding for the project, which is supported by North Northamptonshire Council.
Anyone who wants to join the campaign, can help the group with old photos or has unique memories of the engine they want to share can email [email protected] or visit the group’s Facebook page.