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The front of a restored WW1 fireless locomotive outside The Devil's Porridge Museum.

Fireless Locomotives

By News

Outside The Devil’s Porridge Museum is a wonderful survival from the World War One factory which used to exist near here.  It is a Fireless Locomotive called Sir James, built by Andrew Barclay of Kilmarnock.   There were originally fourteen fireless locomotives that moved the volatile ‘devil’s porridge’ across the Factory site (a further 24 locomotives were used to transport cordite from the Factory to shell filling factories).  Fireless locos had no fire on board (which caused sparks) and were charged up with steam before setting off and so, were safer.

The layout of the original Factory (it spread nine miles from Dornock in Scotland to Longtown in England).

Sir James, the Fireless Locomotive.

In 1924, Sir James was sold to The Metropolitan Electric Power Supply Company at Brimsdown Generating Station.

In 1982, Sir James was transferred to Lakeland and Haverthwaite Railway.

In 2011, the Museum acquired the locomotive and it underwent extensive restoration work.

Sir James is delivered to his home at The Devil’s Porridge Museum where he still stands to this day.

It recently came to our attention that there are other Fireless Locomotives in Museum across the UK.  The Bo-Ness and Kinneil Railway/The Scottish Railway Preservation Society have one dating from 1931.

Another former HM Factory Gretna locomotive that we know of is at the Buckinghamshire Railway Centre.  It was also made by Andrew Barclay and is a 1916 0-4-0 (smaller than ours which is a 1550).  They used to have their World War One locomotive running at one time.

The two pictures below show a steam locomotive which was restored at Skipton.  It was photographed sitting at the end of Central Avenue, Gretna and eventually ended up working on the Nidd Valley Light Railway.

With thanks to Davie Wilson for this information and the above photos.

If you would like to know more about the Factory railway systems, the following may be of interest:



Newspaper article about an ammunition wagon for Foxfield restored at Her Majesty's pleasure.

Letter to the Museum

By News

We were very pleased to receive this letter to the Museum recently.  It came from a couple who live in Cumbria.  The letter expressed their appreciation for the Museum (which is always nice to hear) and they also included an interesting article about a World War One ammunition wagon.

Sir James, the Fireless Locomotive outside the Museum.

The Museum has a World War One fireless locomotive outside which our visitor referenced in their letter.  This loco is called Sir James.  It was used at HM Factory Gretna in World War One.  Some of the Museum displays focus on the use of railways within the Factory site – over 120 miles of railway track were laid and 16 stations were built within a complex which was nine miles in length.

Excerpts from the letter below…

And, below, the article which was shared (which also includes a look at female munitions workers, The Devil’s Porridge Museum also considers the lives and experiences of 12,000 women workers).

We are always happy to know more about munitions work in World War One and the actions taken by different heritage sites and groups to preserve anything relating to this work.  Thanks so much to our kind visitor for donating this article to our archive. 

The following books from the Museum’s online shop may be of interest to you:

HM Factory Gretna’s Unique Railway System Booklet

Gretna’s Secret War

The Devil’s Porridge Museum Guidebook

Sir James Postcard

An ARP whistle.

Donation of ARP whistle

By Collections blog

A recent object donation led to the uncovering of a lot of interesting information…

An Air Raid Precaution (or ARP) whistle from World War Two was recently donated to Museum.  It was found in 1964 by the donor, an avid trainspotter, when he was just 14 years old.  He found it at the bottom of a railway wagon (in a pile of old grease).

The railway line as seen from the Signal Box (photo courtesy D.Wilson).

The rolling stock had been left on a railway siding near Shankend on the Old Waverley Line, eleven miles South of Hawick and had interesting markings on the side of it which is why he thought the whistle should be donated to The Devil’s Porridge Museum with its focus on the history of Longtown, Gretna, Eastriggs and surrounding areas in both World Wars and beyond.  On the wagon was written “W.D.Ordnance Gretna” with faded red “Explosives” warnings on each side of it.

In World War Two, Eastriggs and Longtown were the site of ammunition stores (or depots) and we know munitions were transported from them to the North African Campaigns, to Normandy for D-Day and to the USSR via the Atlantic Convoys.

Munitions storage at either Eastriggs or Longtown depot (photograph probably after World War Two).

The Arctic convoys transported items to the USSR (including munitions which had been stored at Eastriggs and Longtown).

It seems munitions regularly travelled north from our region as the object donor writes,

“…during WW2, at night freight trains came up from Gretna Munitions Depot, and the wagons full of various Munitions were hidden in the…[mile long] Whitrope Tunnel…to protect them from being bombed…”  The whistle was found in a wagon that had been abandoned after derailing during the War, it may have belonged to one of the workers from Gretna who came to reload the train after the accident.

ARP display within The Devil’s Porridge Museum.

We certainly found it interesting to place the work done here in the context of the wider war and one of our volunteers shared another interesting bit of information about this section of railway line.  It is located near Stobs, which was a World War One POW internment camp.  Several years ago, a BBC Sound Recordist went to the railway to record steam engines but when he listened back to his recording he could hear German voices on the tape and was amazed to discover he had been standing near the cemetery where German POWs had been buried all those years ago.

For more on Stobs POW camp see:

If you are interested in the History of World War Two in this region, this book (available from our online shop), may be of interest to you:

The Solway Military Coast book


A train outside Gretna Church.

World War One locomotive

By Collections blog

The Devil’s Porridge Museum has the photo below in its collection.  It shows a train near St Andrew’s Parish Church in Gretna.  A railway line ran through here during World War One.

train outside gretna church

The locomotive was built in 1916 by Hudswell Clark and sent to the munitions works at Gretna.

It was sold by the Ministry of Munitions in 1922 and consigned to the scrap yard in 1957.  It somehow survived and was eventually bought by Mr Stephen Middleton, who has restored it to working order on the Embsay and Bolton Abbey Steam Railway (near Skipton).

Thanks to Davie Wilson, one of our volunteers, who shared this information and these photographs with the museum.


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