Spooner, Charles Easton

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b. 1818 Maentwrog, Merioneth (now Gwynedd), Wales
d. 18 November 1889 Portmadoc (now Porthmadog), Wales
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English engineer, pioneer of narrow-gauge steam railways.
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At the age of 16 Charles Spooner helped his father, James, to build the Festiniog Railway, a horse-and-gravity tramroad; they maintained an even gradient and kept costs down by following a sinuous course along Welsh mountainsides and using a very narrow gauge. This was probably originally 2 ft 1 in. (63.5 cm) from rail centre to rail centre; with the introduction of heavier, and therefore wider, rails the gauge between them was reduced and was eventually standardized at 1 ft 11 1/2 in (60 cm). After James Spooner's death in 1856 Charles Spooner became Manager and Engineer of the Festiniog Railway and sought to introduce steam locomotives. Widening the gauge was impracticable, but there was no precedent for operating a public railway of such narrow gauge by steam. Much of the design work for locomotives for the Festiniog Railway was the responsibility of C.M.Holland, and many possible types were considered: eventually, in 1863, two very small 0–4–0 tank locomotives, with tenders for coal, were built by George England.
These locomotives were successful, after initial problems had been overcome, and a passenger train service was introduced in 1865 with equal success. The potential for economical operation offered by such a railway attracted widespread attention, the more so because it had been effectively illegal to build new passenger railways in Britain to other than standard gauge since the Gauge of Railways Act of 1846.
Spooner progressively improved the track, alignment, signalling and rolling stock of the Festiniog Railway and developed it from a tramroad to a miniaturized main line. Increasing traffic led to the introduction in 1869 of the 0–4–4–0 double-Fairlie locomotive Little Wonder, built to the patent of Robert Fairlie. This proved more powerful than two 0–4–0s and impressive demonstrations were given to engineers from many parts of the world, leading to the widespread adoption of narrow-gauge railways. Spooner himself favoured a gauge of 2 ft 6 in. (76 cm) or 2 ft 9 in. (84 cm). Comparison of the economy of narrow gauges with the inconvenience of a break of gauge at junctions with wider gauges did, however, become a continuing controversy, which limited the adoption of narrow gauges in Britain.
Bogie coaches had long been used in North America but were introduced to Britain by Spooner in 1872, when he had two such coaches built for the Festiniog Railway. Both of these and one of its original locomotives, though much rebuilt, remain in service.
Spooner, despite some serious illnesses, remained Manager of the Festiniog Railway until his death.
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Bibliography
1869, jointly with G.A.Huddart, British patent no. 1,487 (improved fishplates). 1869, British patent no. 2,896 (rail-bending machinery).
1871, Narrow Gauge Railways, E. \& F.N.Spon (includes his description of the Festiniog Railway, reports of locomotive trials and his proposals for narrow-gauge railways).
Further Reading
J.I.C.Boyd, 1975, The Festiniog Railway, Blandford: Oakwood Press; C.E.Lee, 1945, Narrow-Gauge Railways in North Wales, The Railway Publishing Co. (both give good descriptions of Spooner and the Festiniog Railway).
C.Hamilton Ellis, 1965, Railway Carriages in the British Isles, London: George Allen \& Unwin, pp. 181–3. Pihl, Carl Abraham.
PJGR

Biographical history of technology. - Taylor & Francis e-Librar. . 2005.

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