Robert Francis Fairlie, George England & Spooner family
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Fairlie was born in Glasgow on 5 April 1830 according to Geoffrey Hughes in his Oxford Dictionary of National Biography entry. He was the son of T. Archibald Fairlie (an engineer) and Margaret Fairlie. Ransom observed that the former DNB entry was inaccurate and relied upon the Archives of the Festiniog Railway. Fairlie trained at Crewe and Swindon, then joined first the Londonderry & Coleraine Railway as Locomotive Superintendent in 1852, and then the Bombay, Baroda & Central India Railway in 1856. He returned to England as a Consulting Engineer and joined the Honourable Artillery Company in 1859. In 1862 he was involved in a Court Case relating to his marriage license to Eliza Anna England, daughter of George England, with whom he had eloped, but the case collapsed as Eliza had been born out of wedlock. 

In 1864 Fairlie filed his patent (1210 13 May 1864 which Dewhurst described as the master patent) for what would later be known as the Fairlie locomotive. Dewhurst notes that John Cockerell of Belgium had anticipated the type with its Seraing. This was an articulated locomotive intended mainly for hauling heavy loads on twisting narrow-gauge railways. The first unit Pioneer was built in 1865 by James Cross & Co.for the Neath & Brecon Railway and had two pivoting power bogies and two boilers back-to-back (with smokebox and chimney at each end of the locomotive, a single firebox at the centre, around which was built the cab). This was the typical Fairlie 'double-ender', although single-boiler and other variants later appeared. Cross built another Fairlie for the Anglesey Central Railway known as Mountaineer. In the USA, Mason built his own version.

The Hatcham Ironworks became the Fairlie Engine & Steam Carriage Co. in September 1869, but ceased locomotive manufacture at the end of 1870. The Festiniog Railway obtained an 0-4-4-0 Little Wonder from there in 1868.

Fairlie was a great propagandist an engineers from as far away as Russia went to see his Little Wonder at work on the Festiniog Railway in Wales in 1870 (this railway still has Fairlie machines in service). The apparent potential of the idea boosted the construction of narrow-gauge lines throughout the world, and by 1876 forty three railways operated these locomotives. In general though, results were disappointing, only those units put to work m the Caucasus and in Mexico appearing to give long-term satisfaction. While the system provided a flexible coupled wheelbase, and freedom to include a large well-ventilated firebox, the flexible joints of the steam pipes tended to leak and the locomotives could only be safely used at low speeds because of overhang and other stability problems. He was taken ill whilst surveying in Venezuela in 1873/4. He died in London on 31 July 1885 (Marshall and Hughes).

Ransom observes that Robert Fairlie's character was more complex [than that of Spooner], and full of contradictions – at least, one supposes so for, although he was a great self-publicist in matters of business, he seems otherwise to have been most reticent. An ebullient, flamboyant person, he appears also to have been terribly prickly – anyone criticising him in the press could be sure of a vigorous letter to the editor in response. On occasion he could clearly charm the birds off the trees. Zerah Colburn became a complete convert. In Engineering Fairlie could do no wrong, even though the proposals of other engineers, such as Engerth, were rubbished. Yet it is evident that Fairlie could also rub people up the wrong way, and... make enemies. Scribner's Monthly in 1879 described him as 'an indefatigable controversialist'.

Some of Fairlie's ideas were very much constrained by the conventions of their period – those on part-loaded wagons for instance. Others were perceptive – he became the first British engineer to appreciate the value of Walschaerts valve gear, ignored in Britain ever since its first use in Belgium in 1848. Others again were way ahead of their time. His concept of making locomotives double-ended and mounting them on bogies became conventional only with widespread adoption of electric and diesel power.

Ransom gives an extensive account of the Russian delegation's visit to the Festiniog Railway.


1210/1864. Locomotive. 12 May 1864.
3185/1865. 9 December 1865.

See : R. A. S. Abbott, The Fairlie Locomotive (1970);
Dewhurst Trans Newcomen Soc., 34, 105. 39, 1 (postumous completed by H. Holcroft).
H.M. Le Fleming (Concise encyclopaedia)..
Gray, Adrian. Steam, bogies and passion. Backtrack, 2010, 24, 541-3.
RCTS Locomotives of the Great Western Railway Part 10 . (for standard guage type: e.g. as used by Burry Port & Gwedraeyh Valley Railway
Rutherford, M. Backtrack, 12, 333.
Ransom, P.J.G. Narrow gauge steam. 1996

George England

According to P.J.G. Ransom in Oxford Dictionary of National Biography was probably Baptised in Newcastle upon Tyne on 28 July 1811 and died in Cannes, France on 2 March 1878. Father-in-law of R.F. Fairlie. Locomotive manufacturer: supplied narrow gauge locomotives to Festiniog Railway, including Little England and earliest Fairlie locomotives. Not in Marshall but Rodney Weaver contributed short biography to Oxford Companion. Proprietor of the Hatcham Iron Works in New Cross, London. See also Lowe and entry in list of locomotive manufacturers.


8058 7 May 1839 Screw jack for raising, or moving heavy bodies vertically and horizontally (via Woodcroft)

Spooner family

James Spooner (born in 1789 and died in Porthmadog on 18 August 1856), his son Charles Easton Spooner (born Maentwrog in 1818 and died in Porthmadog on 18 November 1889) and his son George Percival Spooner, born in Beddgelert on 13 June 1850 (died in London 21 January 1917 (Marshall)), were closely associated with the engineering (both civil and mechanical) and management of the Festiniog Railway. The last-named Spooner was responsible (according to Weaver) for the design of the Fairlie locomotives. He went to India in 1879 and on return to England in 1894 he occupied himself with the construction of scientific instruments and organ building. By 1850, James Spooner had already laid heavier rails, suitable for steam locomotives and George England and Co. manufactured four steam locomotives delivered from the 18th July 1863. These were Mountaineer, The Princess, The Prince and Lord Palmerston.

Ransom, when comparing Fairlie with Spooner, noted that Charles Spooner's character was the more solid of the two: the one-time horse-tramroad engineer who, by advancing step by step, transformed his charge into a small-scale steam main line. He showed more than professional skill in his work, noted Engineering on 27th December 1872, 'he shows an earnestness and enthusiasm, we may almost say an absolute devotion for the Festiniog Railway'. More than that, he became famous for his willingness to share his experience with others.

Boyd, J.I.C. Narrow gauge rails to Portmadoc: a historical survey of the Festiniog-Welsh Highland Railway and its ancillaries. Oakwood, 1949.
Ransom, P.J.G. Narrow gauge steam. 1996 also entry in Oxford Dictionary of National Biography
Spooner, C.E. Narrow gauge railways. London: Spon. 1871.
2nd ed. 1879. Ottley 2256: see also Ottley 5698 for Descriptive account of the construction and working of the Festiniog Railway
Rodney Weaver Biography of family in Oxford Comapnion.
Adrian Gray biography of family in Chrimes (pp. 726-7): John Marshall gave individual entries for each major family member.
Nock, O.S. Railway enthusuast's encyclopedia

Charles Menzies Holland
Ransom's Narrow gauge steam (pp. 72-9) is the major source: he was closely involved in designs for the first locomotives to be constructed for the Festiniog Railway and liaised between Spooner and George England. He worked for F.T. Turner, Engineer to the LCDR.See also J.I.C. Boyd's Festiniog Railway. Probably contractor for Derry Central Railway: was later on Board of Wirral Railway. Patent GB 851/1867 Improvements in points and crossings of the permanent way of railways and tramways. Published? 23 March 1867..

James Cleminson