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Airedale was built in 1923 by Hunslets in Leeds, being their works number 1440. She was the first standard 15" Hunslet design of many, and consequently the class was also known as the 'Airedale' class. The official delivery date to 'Airedale Collieries Limited' is recorded as being 23/7/23. Airedale obviously proved popular as further locos 'Airedale No. 1' (delivered 28/12/39, HE1955) and 'Airedale No.2' (delivered 28/03/40, HE1956) were acquired.
The class can be distinguished from other similar Hunslets by a number of features. The inside cylinders have dimensions of 15" (diameter) x 20" (stroke), and the wheels are somewhat smaller that those on a 16" x 20" version, to which class Beatrice and Primrose belong. The water is carried in a saddle tank that stops short of the smokebox, like the 16" class, but differing to the more common Austerity class on which it continues over the smokebox. The distinguishing feature for identification purposes (amongst others) is the location of the sandboxes which sit on the running plate, practically beside the smokebox. The result of this arrangement is a powerful loco that found favour at many collieries, particularly in Yorkshire.
Although widely considered as the prototype, another loco was built in 1923, taking the works number 1439 and with the same specification was delivered on 19/3/23, named Leigh, to the West Leigh Colliery Company, Leigh, Lancashire. Later history of this loco is unknown, and it is assumed to have had some differences as otherwise it would have been considered the prototype.
Airedale was transferred to Acton Hall Colliery, Featherstone from West Riding Colliery, Normanton, in 1963, arriving with an underfeed mechanical stoker and gas producer system from an earlier visit back to Hunslets. The idea behind this system was one of efficiency, with a useful side-effect of reducing the amount of smoke produced. At Acton Hall she worked alongside fellow Hunslets S112 and Beatrice, which both survive at Embsay and are currently undergoing restoration and overhaul respectively. At Acton Hall her duties were shared with 'Acton Hall No.3', and saw her working at Snydale Colliery all week - the washers were used here despite the colliery itself no longer working in its own right. She was used along with S112 as the last regular steam before the arrival of diesels in 1970/71. Although towards the end of her career at Acton Hall (given the number S106) she was the smallest locomotive, she was popular and very good to work with, and hopefully she will get the chance to prove this at Embsay once overhauled.
Airedale arrived at Embsay on the 22nd of December 1975, complete with the gas producer system and mechanical stoker, although this seems to have been removed very early on. Although complete upon arrival, she did not move under her own power (although she was steamed once). Since this time she has been sat awaiting a thorough overhaul. Over the years, several new components have been fabricated and purchased, including a replacement bunker and tank. Spares are also available from sister engine Coronation (delivered 4/5/37 to Airedale Collieries Limited, Hunslets Works No. 1810) which arrived at Embsay at a similar time as just a rolling chassis.
In preservation, only one other 15" Hunslet has survived - King George (HE2409/42) which is based on the Gloucestershire and Warwickshire Railway and is in running order. Airedale will require work to the boiler, and repair to the rear of the main frames, but otherwise should not prove an impossible task by any means. Her 'guardian' at Embsay, Aaron, is keen to carry out work on her...
The replacement bunker has now been rivetted together, as per the original, and the loco is to be moved into the shed to be assessed by members of the loco department with a view to making progress on her overhaul. Any offers of assistance would help to speed this up and ensure this loco can be returned to service.