Dunrobin – The Little Royal Engine

Whilst preparing some of our engineering drawings from our North British Locomotive Company collection for scanning recently, I came across this lovely drawing.


General Arrangement of locomotive Dunrobin – Duke of Sutherland Railway. Drawing Number 11220 North British Collection

In 1870 the 3rd Duke of Sutherland financed the extension of the Highland Railway line from Golspie to Helmsdale via his own Dunrobin Castle. In return he received his own private station for his castle (still in use today during the summer as a public station on the line from Inverness to Thurso). He also received the powers to run his own train on the lines owned by the Highland Railway. The 3rd Duke had his own carriages and locomotive built for the purpose.

25 years later the Fourth Duke of Sutherland decided it was time to order a new locomotive and carriages. He placed Engine Order number E1056 with Sharps Stewart & Co of Glasgow which was delivered to him in 1895. He named the locomtive after his castle Dunrobin. One of the unique features of the 0-4-4T locomotive was the enlarged footplate and enclosed cab with a 4 person upholstered seat set high up at the back. This arrangement allowed the Duke and his guests to shun the option of the saloon carriages and ride in the cab of the locomotive instead. Over the locomotive’s working life those riding in its cab included King Edward VII, King George V, King George VI, King Alfonso of Spain, Kaiser Wilhelm II and Sir Winston Churchill. Has any other tank engine in history ever been ‘cabbed’ by so many heads of state?

E1056 cab

Close up of cab of Dunrobin from general arrangement drawing, showing padded seat behind the footplate.

In 1949, the new British Railways revoked the powers of the Duke to travel in his own train and thus the arrangement that lasted nearly 80 years came to an end. Amazingly, both Dunrobin and two of the Duke of Sutherland’s saloons survive today. One of the saloons is part of our National Collection.

Dunrobin and the other saloon were sold in 1950 to the Romney, Hythe and Dymchurch Railway. The locomotive ran large parts of the 700+ mile journey under its own steam. 15 years later both locomotive and carriage were exported to Canada where the locomotive was restored and used as part of a living history museum. During its life in Canada the locomotive carried Queen Elizabeth II and Princess Anne in its cab – more names for the list of dignitaries it has carried.


Dunrobin upon arrival at the Romney, Hythe and Dymchurch Railway. Image courtesy of Beamish Museum ©2014 Beamish

This isn’t the end of the story though because in 2010 Beamish Open-Air Museum in County Durham purchased Dunrobin and the carriage and brought them back to Britain. They are currently in the process of restoring the locomotive back to working condition. Their current target is to steam the locomotive in 2015. You can find out more by visiting their blog and in this article.

You can find out more about our collection of Sharp Stewart Drawings and all of our archive collections by visiting the page of our Search Engine Library and Archives Centre.

About Christopher Valkoinen

I am a Copy Services Assistant in the Search Engine library and archives at the National Railway Museum in York. I am also the Inreach research service team leader.
This entry was posted in Research and archive. Bookmark the permalink.

1 Response to Dunrobin – The Little Royal Engine

  1. Julian Hills says:

    Dear Christopher,

    Thank you for that little gem of locomotive history. It reminds me of the story of Anerley station so named by a Scottish landowner who had his own station built as a condition of the railway company using his land in south-east London.
    It too was a grand affair built in the Gothick style but now demolished due to land grab opportunities by the then Railtrack.

    Julian Hills

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