No.27 - p136-143

© OCTOBER 1969



    At the end of the 1880's and during the early 1890's light railway construction in France began in earnest. In almost total contrast to Britain narrow, usually metre, gauge railways were developed to provide the feeder services for the main line system, being found in virtually every Département. Networks were to be found around all the principal towns and cities of the country and on market days, above all, they conveyed multitudes of country housewives to do the weekly shopping. Although locomotives of many other types and gauges were interspersed, the metre gauge six-coupled tank was to dominate Corpet's production from 1893 until the outbreak of the First World War. In France the railways suffered from the competition of the road vehicle between the two World Wars just as their counterparts did elsewhere. Corpet Louvet resumed production of metre gauge locos early in the 1920's but orders and deliveries became less and less frequent. The last six-coupled loco to leave their shops for a metre gauge light railway in France was Works No.1761, a 2‑6‑0 side tank, the last of an order for five, which was despatched on 21st March 1930 to the Compagnie des Chemins de Fer Départementaux, Réseau de la Vendée, their No.505.

    The classic Corpet metre gauge type was a six-coupled side tank with outside cylinders and outside Walschærts valve gear. Cylinders varied in dimensions, 300mm by 450mm being a popular variant, whilst the most common diameter for driving wheels was 1000mm. 0‑6‑0 side tanks were far and away the most numerous but 0‑6‑2 side tank examples appeared early on and later variants included 2‑6‑0 side tanks and 4‑6‑0 side tanks, the pony and bissel trucks being used to gain stability on track which was not only winding, but at times uneven too. At a conservative estimate there were almost two hundred metre gauge light railways spread throughout the length and breadth of France and of these one without a Corpet six-coupled tank was unusual. It is not practicable to give a full list of all the lines on which Corpet-built locomotives saw service, but reference will be found in the ensuing paragraphs to a few of them.

    Choosing representative systems has presented several possibilities, and I have decided to limit them to some which owned Corpet tanks subsequently sold for industrial service. The light railways system in the Ardennes Département was comparatively late in being built, as for many years the military authorities were not prepared to give their permission for defence reasons. When eventually they gave way it was on condition that an unusual gauge was employed so that the lines could not be easily incorporated in any network laid down by an invading army in support of military operations. The gauge chosen was 800mm and fourteen locomotives, delivered between 1895 and 1906, were built to this gauge. In the meantime the decision was rescinded, presumably because the military experts considered that in the event of an emergency and invasion by Germany, conversion from 800mm to 600mm or metre gauge would be relatively straightforward. From 1901 onwards locomotives were delivered for service on lines built to the metre gauge and ultimately the whole system (including the 800mm gauge locomotives) was converted. Between 1901 and 1904 Corpet & Louvet delivered nine six-coupled tanks of the classic Corpet type; these were numbered 31 to 39 on the Ardennes system and all are believed to have been named after local rivers. Two series of 2‑6‑0 side tanks followed, numbers 51 to 66 delivered between 1904 and 1909 (Works Nos.1023/24/37/38 of 1904, 1147-51 of 1907, 1160/68-70 of 1908 and 1204-06 of 1909) and numbers 71 to 85 delivered in 1924 and 1925 (Works Nos.1636 to 1650). All were named after towns and rivers in the area. From 1933 onwards lines were closed for all too familiar reasons but some were given a further lease of life by the shortage of petrol in the Second World War. Two lines, Asfeld to Rethel and Montcornet to St Erme via Renneville, Dizy-le-Gros and Sissonne, survived until the late 1950's. When the latter was closed by the Chemins de Fer des Ardennes, the section from Sissonne to Montcornet was taken over by the Sucrerie de Montcornet together with four of the Corpet Louvet 2‑6‑0 side tanks. These were ultimately replaced by four Moyse four-wheeled diesel-electric "tracteurs". (For further details see NF 5 and NEF 7.)


Two late nineteenth century types of 0‑6‑0 side tank.

Upper - No. 2 VOUZIERS, Corpet & Louvet 629 of 1895, an 800mm gauge locomotive for the Chemins de Fer des Ardennes.

Lower - 1445mm (standard) gauge No. 7 BIARRITZ, Corpet & Louvet 670 of 1896, was built for the Chemin de Fer de Bayonne à Biarritz.

    A line of totally different character and nature was the Chemin de Fer de St Victor à Thizy. Located in the Rhône Département and only six kilometres in length, compared with the 378 kilometres of the Ardennes system, the line was opened in 1882. The first two locomotives (0‑6‑0 side tanks) were delivered by Cail in the same year, followed by another 0‑6‑0 side tank from Pinguely et Compagnie in 1892. 4 LE RHIN, 5 LE RHÔNE and 6 LA LOIRE which completed the stock were of the classic Corpet type and were delivered in 1898, 1901 and 1911 (Works Nos.739, 858 and 1365). The railway was closed to passenger traffic on 1st April 1932 and to all traffic on 31st May 1934. At a so far unknown date, about 1936, LE RHÔNE was sold to Société des Forges de Gueugnon, Saône et Loire (CF 33), but details of its subsequent disposal have not been established.

    One of the nearest metre gauge railways to Paris was the line from Meaux to Dammartin in the Département of Seine-et-Marne. It had a chequered history and its operation was at one time or another the responsibility of four different concessionaries. From 16th January 1931 until closure as a public railway in 1938 the Compagnie des Chemins de Fer Départementaux, a large organisation responsible for the operation of fifteen systems in several parts of France, was the concessionary concern. On closure the line from Meaux as far as St Soupplet, a distance of fourteen kilometres, together with the stock of seven steam locomotives, was taken over by the Société d'lndustries Agricoles de Meaux, Nantes et Algérie, which had a sugar factory at Meaux (CF 48). Of the seven locos four were Corpet & Louvet 0‑6‑2 side tanks (Works Nos.1211 to 1214) bearing CFD numbers 01 to 04. CFD 01, 02 and 04 were renumbered SIAMNA 01, 02 and 04 and were used until the end of the 1958-59 sugar beet campaign when the line was finally closed; they were scrapped about April 1959. CFD 03 was never renumbered and was rarely, if ever, used. She lay derelict on site for many years and was cut up in May 1957.

    Three members of the classic Corpet type ended their active service with one industrial concern, Lambert Frères et Compagnie, at their quarries at Vaujours, Val d'Oise (CF 61). Lambert Frères 3 (Corpet & Louvet 1294 of 1910) was acquired in December 1926 from the Chemins de Fer Économiques des Charantes, while 4 and 5 (Corpet & Louvet 1232 and 1234 of 1909) were obtained at an unknown date from Tramways à Vapeur d'Ille et Vilaine. Rail traction at the site had ceased by April 1961 and the locos were still there in June of the same year. Corpet & Louvet 1234 was acquired by the Féderation des Amis des Chemins de Fer Secondaires and later in 1961 was moved to the Malakoff Tramway Museum in Paris where she is now preserved after restoration by FACS members. The museum already houses four locomotives and negotiations are in hand for the purchase of three more.

    Another Corpet & Louvet metre gauge six-coupled tank is preserved at the Municipal Museum, Verneuil, Marne. The mayor of Verneuil is a keen FACS member and locomotive amateur whilst the museum principally contains exhibits relating to the First World War. Two metre gauge locomotives are preserved there and it was hoped to acquire three more. The Corpet & Louvet is Works No.1097 of 1906, formerly of Transports de l'Aisne, AISNE No.1, and originally Chemins de Fer Secondaires du Nord Est, No.1. This system played a vital part, along with others, in keeping the French Army supplied during the infamous battles of the Marne. (Towards the end of 1968, I learned with regret that the Verneuil collection must be dispersed, and the FACS are seeking a new home for the two locomotives.)

AISNE 1, Corpet & Louvet 1097 of 1906, was built for the Chemins de Fer Départementaux de l'Aisne. A metre gauge 2‑6‑0 side tank, it was photographed at the Verneuil Museum on 2nd September 1965.

(C. G. Down)

CAMBRAI, L. Corpet 493 of 1888, at the Loddington Ironstone Co Ltd metre gauge system in Northamptonshire. This locomotive was built new for the Chemins de Fer du Cambrésis and is now preserved at Towyn on the Talyllyn Railway. Cylinders: 300mm x 450mm. Coupled Wheels: 900mm.

(F. Jones)

    It seems reasonably certain that at least two Corpet six-coupled metre gauge locomotives will rest preserved in their native country for many years to come, representatives of a once very numerous type. It is very doubtful indeed if any are still in active service although some may exist on site whilst their ultimate fate is decided. One such is Corpet Louvet 1679 of 1925, an 0‑6‑0 side tank belonging to the former Chemins de Fer des Côtes du Nord, their number CdN 36. This was an even bigger system than the C.F. des Ardennes and at its zenith used twenty Corpet 0‑6‑0 side tanks out of a total steam stock of forty-five locos. When last heard of, CdN 36 was standing near to St Brieuc SNCF station awaiting a decision on her destiny - one alternative is that she may go the museum at Malakoff.

    The two members of the type best known in Britain must surely be Corpet 493 of 1888 and Corpet & Louvet 936 of 1903. The former is not a true example of the classic type as she has outside Stephenson valve gear but was in fact one of the earliest Corpet deliveries to a light railway. She left the shops in the Avenue Philippe-Auguste, Paris, on 6th November 1888 for the Chemins de Fer du Cambrésis where she carried the number 5 and was named CLARY after a small town on the line. In 1936 the Cambrésis closed a number of lines because of falling receipts and scrapped or sold several locomotives. Corpet 493 was purchased by Thos. W. Ward Ltd and resold to the Loddington Ironstone Co Ltd, Northamptonshire. At some stage in the meanwhile, possibly immediately before purchase, it seems that she received an extensive overhaul. I have an official drawing of her in original condition from which it is clear that she was built with a very austere cab, which provided only minimum protection from the weather. An all-over cab of typical Corpet aspect had been fitted by the time of sale and it looks as if the tanks had been changed too. Partial confirmation comes with the change of name from CLARY to CAMBRAI; the latter being the name of another, older, Cambrésis loco which was sold for scrap on 1st September 1936. It does not seem unreasonable to conclude therefore that her tanks were fitted to Corpet 493 in making the latter serviceable before sale. It is noticeable too, that neither of the original works plates is carried. Written in French they would normally be on the cabsides, but instead a substitute cast plate with words in English was supplied and fixed to the inside of the cab back-plate. CAMBRAI remained at Loddington until March 1956 when she left to join Corpet & Louvet 936 at Waltham, Leicestershire.

    936 was a classic Corpet metre gauge 0‑6‑0 side tank, identical with scores which were supplied to light railways in many parts of France. According to the official Corpet Louvet records she left their shops on 31st July 1903 for the Chemins de Fer de la Loire Inférieure where she became their number 54 NANTES. The name of this system has given cause to speculation amongst some light railway amateurs as reference to it, other than in the Corpet order book, has proved very elusive. One of the two groups of metre gauge lines in the Loire Inférieure Département (now Loire Atlantique) was operated by the Compagnie Française de Chemins de Fer à Voie Étroite, which was a concessionary for lines in more than one district of France. There seemed little doubt that it was to this organisation that 936 was delivered and this was subsequently confirmed by the makers. The precise date of closure of the system is not known but the whole was acquired in 1934 by Société d'Entreprises et d'Opérations Industrielles et Maritimes (SEDIM), Paris, for dismantling and scrap. NANTES was sold in turn to Thos. W. Ward Ltd and subsequently to the Waltham Iron Ore Co Ltd, Leicestershire, probably in 1934 but confirmation is needed. I have corresponded with SEDIM, which is a subsidiary of Ward, but they say that all their pre-war records were "lost" during World War 2 (an all too familiar tale) whilst Ward's, too, cannot give the date the loco arrived in this country. NANTES remained at Waltham for the whole of her working life in England. The quarries there were closed "temporarily" in February 1958 and the two Corpets remained out of use on the site for another two years. A full account of their final days was given by Eric Tonks in RECORD 1 so there is no need for me to dwell on the circumstances whereby CAMBRAI went to Towyn (Wales) for preservation in December 1960 instead of the more typical NANTES, which was broken up a month earlier.

54 NANTES, Corpet & Louvet 936 of 1903, of the Waltham Iron Ore Co Ltd in Leicestershire. This metre gauge 0‑6‑0 tank was built new for the Compagnie Française de Chemins de Fer a Voie Étroite, Chemins de Fer de la Loire Inférieure. Cylinders: 280mm x 380mm. Coupled Wheels: 950mm.

Two metre gauge locomotives built between the two World Wars.

Upper  -  101 SELUNE, Corpet Louvet 1689 of 1925, for the Chemins de Fer de la Manche, is an example of the final version of the classic Corpet type. Cylinders: 315mm x 450mm. Coupled Wheels: 906mm.

Lower  -  Corpet Louvet 1692 of 1925 for the Mines d'Albi, Tarn, LESCURE. Cylinders: 390mm x 480mm. Coupled Wheels: 1000mm.

    Great Britain is not the only foreign country in which Corpet metre gauge 0‑6‑0 side tanks finished their life. Apart from those which went to French possessions in Africa and elsewhere, some ended their days in Portugal and in May 1955 one was noted at Sernada. She was at that time owned by the Vale do Vouga Railway and numbered 12 in their stock. No works plates were carried but according to a French amateur she was Corpet & Louvet 1105, despatched new on 30th October 1906 to the Société Franco-Algérienne Minière d'Arzew for use at Arzew, Algeria. The Vale do Vouga Railway is said to have had two or three Corpet metre gauge six-coupled tanks and it may not be without significance that three of this type were supplied to the Arzew Company, the two others being Corpet & Louvet 1020 and 1021, both despatched on 14th December 1904. How and when they came into the possession of the Portuguese concern has not yet been discovered.

The largest locomotive built by Corpet Louvet, 1908 of 1949, was a 1445mm (standard) gauge four-cylinder compound 4‑6‑4 for the SNCF, 232.U.1. Cylinders : 455mm x 100mm (high pressure) and 680mm x 100mm (low pressure). Coupled Wheels: 2000mm.


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Chapter Three