Possibly the strangest locomotive operated by Colonel Stephens was the tiny tank engine Gazelle. This had been built in 1893 by Alfred Dodman & Company of Kings Lynn [9] for the private use of Mr William Burkitt (shown in the adjacent photograph), [2][8] a prominent local businessman, who was able, at least on one occasion, to persuade the main-line railway companies to let him travel over their lines using it. It was a 2-2-2WT with seats for four passengers fitted where the coal bunker would normally he found. The footplate had no cab or weather-board and the passenger ‘compartment’ was also without any sort of roof. Its dimensions were: Driving wheels, 3ft. 9in. diameter; Leading and trailing wheels, 2ft. 3in. diameter; Wheelbase, 10ft. 6in.; Cylinders, 4ft. by 9in.; Height to top of chimney. 7ft. 9in.; Length over buffers, 17ft. 2in.; Weight, 5 tons 6 cwt. The only concession to comfort was that the wheels were of the Mansell type with wooden centres to reduce noise. [1]

Gazelle was very small but not the smallest standard gauge steam locomotive. If one is pedantic and includes the very early days, Ericsson’s NOVELTY and Burstall’s PERSEVERANCE were two and three tons lighter than GAZELLE respectively. All the original locomotives of the Liverpool & Manchester Railway were lighter, moreover.” [7]

There is no complete record of Gazelle’s travels in Mr Burkitt’s ownership, but it is known to have reached Chesterfield on one occasion. Burkitt grew up in Chesterfield and as a young man he boasted that one day he would travel from the East Coast to Chesterfield and back in a single day in his own railway engine. He grew up and prospered in his subsequent career and moved in due course to West Norfolk, retaining close connections with the family firm in Chesterfield. [2]

In 1892, William Burkitt remembered his youthful ambition to travel on his own engine, or perhaps was reminded of it by his friends, and as one of the wealthiest men in West Norfolk was well placed to fulfil it. It is not certain what prompted his action at this time, but it may be significant that it was in 1892 that work began on the central section of the Lancashire, Derbyshire & East Coast Railway. Planned as a route from Boston to Warrington, to link the coalfields of Nottinghamshire and Derbyshire to deepwater ports, only the central portion from Lincoln to Chesterfield, together with various branches, was ever built. Williams brother Samuel not only ran the Chesterfield business but also farmed 385 acres on the route of the new railway, and so William Burkitt would have taken a close interest in its progress, not only as an enthusiastic amateur but also as a prospective customer. [2]

In 1897 Gazelle ran a round trip from Kings Lynn to Chesterfield! Birkitt was able to use his engine on the railway network by virtue of being a director of a railway – the Kings Lynn Docks & Railways. It is possible that this was one of only two rips on the wider rail network. The first is referred to below  – a trial trip from Lynn to Downham Market and back. The Colonel Stephens Society is skeptical about the regular use of Burkitt’s engine on the main-line:

“Did William Burkitt decide to have an engine built for himself for any reason other than the whim of a wealthy man? Modern references to Gazelle have given the impression that she was intended for business travel around East Anglia – the nineteenth century equivalent of the company car or even the executive jet. There is some contemporary support for this view; the Lynn Advertiser refers to Gazelle as being “intended for the owner’s use between Langwith and Mansfield”, and the Derbyshire Times to her having “been specially designed by himself for use in his extensive works and docks on the Eastern coast”.

Nonetheless, it is doubted that Gazelle was seriously used in this way. While travel on the open footplate might have been exhilarating on the occasional pleasure trip but the novelty would have quickly palled for a man of nearly seventy, even if he were an enthusiast, in the vagaries of East Angolan weather. If Mr Burkitt had wanted a private train for travel on business, he would surely have ordered something more along the lines of the Duke of Sutherland’s Dunrobin and its carriage, or more practically a private saloon to be hauled by a GER engine.

Again, inspection of the board minutes of the GER and the M&GNJR for the period has failed to show any reference to an agreement with Mr Burkitt. While a private locomotive might be allowed to make occasional test runs under the personal supervision of a senior official of the company, as a special favour to a valued customer, its regular use would surely have called for official approval and an agreed scale of charges.” [2]

Perhaps the most clear indication that the engine was only used very sparingly comes from the papers provided when the locomotive was advertised for sale by T.W.Ward Ltd in 1910. Gazelle was described as having made “two trial trips”. In short, William Burkitt wanted an engine that was capable of occasional demonstration trips with a few passengers, but with no more refinements than were necessary, and that is what he got. [2]

Alfred Dodman (1832-1908) of King’s Lynn was a local engineer and ironfounder. He set up his business in King’s Lynn in 1854. [6]  “He built his first traction engine in 1872, and was also a manufacturer of engines for marine purposes. In 1875 he moved to the Highgate Works, adjacent to Highgate Bridge and with a siding connection to the dock railway. The firm was reorganised as a limited company in 1897, and in fact long survived its founder’s death, continuing to trade until 1975. Dodman seems to have been working on the designs for Gazelle, as the engine was called, as early as March 1892, and in August 1892 Mr Burkitt paid him £150 on account.” [2]

Dodman’s had considerable experience with road traction engines and occasionally repaired shunting engines for local companies such as the West Norfolk Farmers’ Manure & Chemical Co. Ltd. However, Mr Burkitt’s was the first, and probably the only, order they received for a new railway locomotive. For the general design and proportions, advice was sought from a Mr S. Stone of the GER’s Stratford locomotive works, while the details, apart from the wheels, were worked out by Mr Dodman himself, who made use of traction engine components wherever possible. [2] Rodney Weaver, writing in the Industrial Railway Record of December 1969, suggests that Dodman’s had experience in making small locomotives as they also supplied fairground equipment, and Frederick Savage, a neighbouring King’s Lynn engineer, was well known as a builder of the tiny asymmetrical steam locomotives that used to run on small circular tracks as fairground amusements in the late 19th century. [3]

As Dodman’s were suppliers of fairground equipment, Gazelle is just what one might expect if they received an order for a standard gauge engine and had in stock parts for a circular railway locomotive on 2ft 0in or 2ft 6in gauge. However, Dodman’s are not known to have supplied any of the genuine fairground asymmetrical locomotives, but their neighbours at King’s Lynn – Savage – were well-known in this field. [7]

R.H. Clark, in “A Short History of the M&GN Joint Railway,” states that Gazelle was the second of of two similar 2-2-2 well tank engines built by Alfred Dodman & Sons Engineers of Kings Lynn. The first was for the West Norfolk Farmers’ Chemical & Manure Works, and eventually found its way to Australia! [4] However, there is no evidence of this locomotive in the records of the Australian Railway Historical Society. [5] Clark repeats his assertion that Gazelle was one of two locomotives built by Dodman’s in “Steam Engine Builders of Norfolk.” [7][10] But the Colonel Stephens Society, as we have already discovered, believes that Gazelle was the only steam engine made by Dodman’s. [2]

“By mid-January 1893, Gazelle was complete, and could be seen standing at King’s Lynn GER station, where it attracted much attention. A trial trip was run on Sunday 5 February 1893, from Lynn to Downham Market and back, with Mr John Wilson, the District Locomotive Superintendent of the GER at King’s Lynn, as driver. The eleven-mile trip was run in 30 minutes, including two stops to check the machinery. The return was non-stop. The average speed of 45 mph claimed for the return is likely to have been an exaggeration, although there is better evidence for a mile covered at an average speed of 43 mph, still very good going for an engine as diminutive as Gazelle.” [2]Gazelle, is seen at King’s Lynn as a 2-2-2WT. The picture was taken immediately after the trial referred to above. The cameraman was Dr Tice F. Budden, who had taken up railway photography as an undergraduate at Cambridge in 1889, and had evidently been tipped off that there would be a chance to record an unusual event. Gazelle is posed alongside No. 0706 of the Great Eastern, a rebuild of a Sinclair compound 4-4-0 and a regular performer on the Cambridge main line at that period.  [2]

“After the trial in 1893, Gazelle underwent some minor modifications but then seems to have been little used for the next four years. Mr R.H. Clark has suggested that she was used on the King’s Lynn to Hunstanton branch, and perhaps even as far afield as Cambridge, but no details of any such trips seem to have been recorded. Surprisingly, Gazelle ‘was offered for sale on account of death’ in The Engineer of 16 February 1894. There were evidently no takers, and the engine seems to have passed out of public attention.” [2] However the time had now come for William Burkitt to realise his boyhood dream. The first part of the Lancashire, Derbyshire & East Coast Railway (LD&ECR) opened for goods in December 1896, and with the official opening throughout to Chesterfield on 8 March 1897. William Burkitt was able to undertake the epic journey, which he promised some sixty years before. [2]

In 1900, two years after Birkitt’s death, Gazelle was advertised for sale once more in the Locomotive Magazine “to railway superintendents, inspectors, &c. A beautiful and highly-finished locomotive engine, 4-inch cylinders, with car to hold four persons, on six wheels…. Two trial trips of 80 miles, running perfectly smooth and remarkably steady. Highest speed 45 miles per hour. To be sold on account of a death.” [2]

William Birkitt’s brother Samuel died in 1906 leaving an estate valued at £219,501. The business was taken over by his nephew, William Burkitt Jr, who was also the principal executor of the will. Gazelle was not his first concern and it was not until about 1909 that the locomotive that had been his uncle’s pride and joy was sold to the machinery and scrap dealer Thos. W. Ward & Co. of the Albion Works, Sheffield. They advertised Gazelle for sale in January 1910 and in February 1911. [2] The loco was purchased by Colonel Stephens in February 1911 for use as an inspection engine on the Shropshire & Montgomeryshire Railway (S. & M.R.), which he was reconstructing at the time. After a short period of inspection service Gazelle was sent away to W.G. Bagnall Ltd. at Stafford for conversion to an 0-4-2WT. [1]Gazelle immediately after purchase is seen standing at Kinnerley before being sent to Bagnall’s for its conversion. [1][2]

“Gazelle returned to the S. & M.R. in July 1911 and continued in use as an inspection engine. Although the S. & M.R. ‘main line’ had reopened from Shrewsbury to Llanymynech in April 1911 the branch line from Kinnerley to Criggion had remained closed while a new viaduct was built over the River Severn at Melverley. The branch line was reopened for goods traffic in February 1912 and for passengers in August 1912. Traffic on the branch was rarely substantial and Stephens felt that Gazelle could provide an adequate service when numbers were particularly light.” [1]

The vicar of Criggion, Reverend R Brock, thought otherwise, as his letter of complaint of 23rd November 1912 to the Board of Trade shows:

“Preceding to the branch to Criggion I was put with another man and two women into the back part of an engine with only a screen between us and the fire – no roof and the sparks and smuts falling over us – one spark nearly got in my eye – with danger of being blinded – my clothes too injured by the same.” [11] 

Reverend Brock continues…

“I have occasion to use the Railway for my wife and daughter and friends from London and of course I cannot subject them to such risk and barbarous treatment”. [11]

Colonel Stephens wrote to the Board of Trade in answer to the complaint to explain that with traffic levels on the branch being so low, Gazelle was ideally suited to the provision of a passenger service. W.F. Marwood, writing on behalf of the Board of Trade, did not agree. The Board of Trade insisted on the provision of a carriage. Stephens however came up with a different solution, Gazelle was returned to W.G. Bagnall to have a cab and passenger compartment fitted. The work did not produce a thing of beauty. “The cab was distinctly utilitarian with a shallow curved roof and bereft of all ornamentation apart from a pair of round spectacle glasses at the front and a spindly whistle protruding from the roof. The passenger cabin had all the welcome appearance of a portable prison cell. It was fitted with round spectacle glasses at the front and two small square windows at the rear. The original half height rear door was retained but the rest of the doorway remained open to the elements. Baggage could be carried on the roof which was surrounded by an incongruously ornamental pair of luggage rails. None of this did anything for Gazelle’s appearance since the passenger cabin was a foot or more shorter than the driver’s cab and its roof was curved at a much sharper radius.” [1]Two views of Gazelle after its alteration had been undertaken. [1]

It is not entirely clear how often Gazelle served as a miniature railmotor in this form. There appear to have been no more letters of complaint from the Criggion vicarage and it may well be that Gazelle was only pressed into passenger service when absolutely necessary.

In 1915 or 1916 a more acceptable solution to the problem of lightly loaded passenger services on the Criggion Branch was found in the purchase and adaptation of a horse tram. This is reputed to have come from London County Council. and was originally a double-deck vehicle. The top deck, stairs and end platforms were removed and the running gear made suitable for operation on railway track. In this form it made an ideal light trailer for Gazelle which is unlikely to have been capable of hauling a conventional carriage. [2]

“The tramcar became No.16 in the Shropshire & Montgomeryshire stocklist. The idea of using a tramcar in this way was almost certainly borrowed from the narrow gauge Torrington & Marland Railway which had adapted two such cars, also reputedly from London County Council, in 1909. Stephens travelled on this line in August 1909 in connection with his application for the North Devon & Cornwall Junction Light Railway Order in November that year. The Torrington & Marland cars were slightly smaller than No.16 and retained short end platforms so that they could be entered from the lineside.” [1]

Gazelle and the tramcar continued to operate the Criggion Branch passenger service until the late 1920s. By October 1928 a service was only operating on Saturdays and by October 1932 this was only running as far as Melverley because of subsidence to the piers of Melverley viaduct.

Garrett and Morgan say that “by this date Gazalle had been taken out of service and the tramcar relegated to a siding at Kinnerley. There does not appear to be any record of when Gazelle and the tramcar were taken out of service nor of the means by which the Criggion passenger service was provided in their absence, though it is possible that the S & M.R.’s Ford railmotor set was used between trips on the main line. By May 1932, Gazelle had been partially stripped down in Kinnerley.” [1]In 1915 or 1916 Gazelle finally got a carriage in the form of a modified horse tram. This picture purports to show that tramcar with Gazelle in 1937. [11]Also taken at Kinnerley, this time in 1939, (c) L.W. Perkins. [9]This and the next picture are of interest because the tramcar is clearly different from the first two images immediately above. Garrett and Morgan say that this was taken during the 1920s. Tonks offers an explanation below. [1]This image is dated August 1926. [12]

In 1936 W H Austen decided to reinstate it as an inspection engine and in June 1937 it emerged from Kinnerley repair shop in a smart green livery. To accompany it, the old Selsey Tramway Wolseley Siddeley railmotor body was fitted to the under frame previously used by the tramcar to form a new inspection saloon. [2]

Tonks comments: “The original tram body had rotted away beyond repair, but as the frames were all right the body off the Wolseley-Siddeley railcar set (or it may have been one from the West Sussex Railway) was fitted. The unit was then used for inspection trains and private parties. The latter was chartered locally at Bank Holidays mainly but on Sunday, 23rd April 1938, the Birmingham Locomotive Club ran what is believed to be the first-ever enthusiasts’ railtour over a minor railway in this country, using Gazelle and her coach. Attendance was limited to twenty-two and an overflow tour took place the following week. It is almost impossible to convey adequately the pleasure of this delightful trip, which was unique and quite unrepeatable; but the lucky participants will remember it to the end of their days.” [9]

Gazelle survived to serve the Armed Forces when they took over the railway in 1941. The War Department acquired the S & MR in 1941 for conversion into a military railway serving a series of ammunition storage sites, and introduced a large fleet of locos, mainly “Dean” 0−6−0’s at first. Gazelle was found a job – to run over the main line before the first train left Kinnerley, to ensure that all points were correctly set and to counteract the efforts of possible saboteurs. Teh loco was repainted light green with black frames and red motion, and in this form outlived all the other S & M stock. [9]  It was also used at times to move ammunition. [11]

Eventually Gazelle’s duty was allocated to a Wickham railcar and her last public showing was in 1945 in connection with a National Savings campaign. She was then stored at the end of a siding by the pond at Kinnerley, where she suffered some collision damage from a “Dean”; earlier she had lost the top of her chimney on a trip to Criggion and the remainder had been sawn off level and a crude lip riveted on. [9]

In 1947 a member of 161 Railway Construction Company was surprised to find Gazelle hidden under a pile of corrugated sheets. The soldier who found the locomotive later said.

“I just couldn’t believe it when I first saw her very dirty etc, more like a toy than a small engine”. [11]

During the army period, Gazelle seems to have become something of a mascot for them. In May 1950 the remaining Shropshire & Montgomeryshire rolling stock was transferred to British Railways. Nearly everything was immediately condemned but Gazelle was saved and placed on permanent loan to the War Department. It had previously been despatched to Bicester works for a repaint and then to the Longmoor Military Railway arriving for their open day in  September 1949. It was subsequently placed on display by the parade ground, where it was  painted in Longmoor blue. After the closure of that railway in 1970, Gazelle was reclaimed by its custodians, the Science Museum, and for the next twenty-five years was displayed at the National Railway Museum, York and the Museum of Army Transport at Beverley. [1]Gazelle on display in the Museum of Army Transport at Beverley in August 1995, (c) Ben Brooksbank. [13]

Gazelle’s remarkable travels were not at an end and speedy action by enthusiasts on the closure of the Beverley museum in 2003, brought Gazelle into the care of the Colonel Stephens Railway Museum – a most appropriate home. It is shown in the adjacent image just after its arrival at the Museum. [2] It has become a prized exhibit in the Museum, its longevity a tribute to its original builder. On display at Tenterden, it is a fitting memorial to those two “bustling individuals” of nineteenth century King’s Lynn, Alfred Dodman and William Burkitt, the opportunism and enthusiasm of Colonel Stephens and William Austin and the affection of the army and enthusiasts for such a wonderful English eccentricity. [2]

The loco is shown in the adjacent picture , once more in army livery at Tenterden in 2017, (c) David L Quayle. [14]



  1. Stephen Garrett & John Scott-Morgan; Colonel Stephens’ Railmotors;  Irwell Press, Clophill, Bedfordshire, 1995.
  2., accessed on 20th July 2019.
  3. Rodney Weaver; Industrial Railway Record, December 1969.
  4. R.H. Clark; A Short History of the M. & G.N. Joint Railway; Goose & Son, 1967.
  5., accessed on 20th July 2019.
  6., accessed on 20th July 2019.
  7., accessed on 20th July 2019.
  8. The Railway Engineer; August 1893; p257.
  9. Eric S. Tonks;, accessed on 20th July 2019.
  10. R.H. Clark;  Steam Engine Builders of Norfolk; G T Foulis & Co Ltd., 1988.
  11.; February 2012, accessed on 20th July 2019.
  12., accessed on 21st July 2019.
  13., accessed on 21st July 2019.
  14., accessed on 21st July 2019.

2 thoughts on “Gazelle!

  1. Pingback: Holiday Reading! | Roger Farnworth

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