London to Brighton in a 1927 steam wagon

Posted by Chris Graham on 25th June 2024

Bob Moorman tackles this year’s HCVS London to Brighton Run in his 1927 Foden 6-ton steam wagon, following a 34-year restoration!

Photography: Peter Love, unless otherwise stated


HCVS London to Brighton

HCVS London to Brighton Run: Bob and his Foden C-type on 12 May heading towards Brighton and going well.

The London to Brighton run for commercial vehicles has been held annually at the beginning of May since 1962 when 52 vehicles set off from the ill-fated British Transport Museum at Clapham. Number one in the programme was a 1916 Foden 5 ton steam wagon No. 6368 Pride of Edwin owned at the time by Fodens themselves and now part of the Science Museum’s ensemble at Wroughton Airfield. Since then, the run has started in numerous places in London including Battersea Park, Purley Way and Crystal Palace. At one time a transport rally was held to coincide with the run at Battersea Park and also at Crystal Palace.

The Foden as bought at King’s sale in May 1988, at Bishop’s Lydeard. (Pic: Bob Moorman)

These days eligible vehicles have to be over 20 years old and the run attracts commercial vehicles of all types and ages. This year the oldest was 1901 Fowler B5 crane engine No. 9177 The Great North with Ian Langley at the controls, while the youngest was a 2001 MAN roll-on/off rigid belonging to Wayne Pyke.

New start venue
The run this year started from Brooklands Museum in Weybridge. The change of start was forced on us mainly by the fact that Crystal Palace is now in the Mayor of London’s ULEZ zone which would affect a large portion of the entrants. Having settled on Brooklands, which is near Junction 10 of the M25, all looked set until the Highways Authority put a spanner in the works when they decided to close a section of the M25 between Junctions 9 and 10 to install some new bridges at the long-term road works at Junction 10 the same weekend as the run. Help! You might say, but in the end it didn’t affect us as first thought as we were on the road so early.

Ready to leave for Brooklands on Peter Denham’s Freightliner. (Pic: Bob Moorman)

Over the years I have taken part in the run several times, mainly in a 1929 Commer market garden lorry but also in two Sentinel steam wagons, a Ford E83W van and a Hallford bus. This year I had entered my 1927 Foden C type 6 ton 3-way tipper steam wagon, which as we have recounted in Old Glory I have restored over 34 years from a very rusty hedgerow condition hulk purchased at the May 1988 WJ King sale.

HCVS London to Brighton

The Foden on arrival at Brooklands, all in good weather and so far so good! (Pic: Bob Moorman)

Planning ahead
Taking an old vehicle on a 60-mile run from a starting point nowhere near your home base and a finish which is even further away requires a degree of planning compared to a more modern petrol or diesel lorry. With a steam wagon it is much worse, due to such things as coal and water, you can’t just call in a petrol station on route, so you have to take it all with you and plan. The Foden consumes a 25kg bag of coal, costing £15, about every five miles and will use 150 gallons of water in about 25 miles. We decided to lowload the wagon to the start venue and back from Brighton.

HCVS London to Brighton

The Foden with Jimmer Marsh’s Foden London Pride which was driven to the start from near Horsham. (Pic: Bob Moorman)

The plan was to take the Foden to Brooklands on Saturday afternoon and then return early on Sunday morning to raise steam and do the run. I had enlisted the help of two friends; fellow Foden owner Dave Main and professional steam engineer Brian Hope. Dave had kindly volunteered to stay at Brooklands Saturday night and raise steam in the morning, lighting up at 4am ready for a 6am start. Another friend, Barry Lucking, dropped Brian and me off at Brooklands at 5am. There were several entrants all staying the night though not many were up at 5am.

HCVS London to Brighton

Brian Hope warms the engine through.

On the road
The Searle trio of steamers were already on the road with Ian Langley setting off with The Great North at 3am, the McLaren Boadicea and Burrell Gold Medal tractor End to End at approximately 4am and then most of the other entrants between 7-9.30am.

HCVS London to Brighton

The crew: Dave Main, me and Brian Hope at 6am, just about to start. (Pic: Barry Lucking)

Dave had done a good job and with Brian warming the engine up we were ready to oil up, followed by moving the wagon around to one of the hangers to the hose pipe where we topped up the water tank. It wasn’t long before we set off at 6am, passing Concorde on our way out and through the Mercedes-Benz World entrance with the sun just trying to break through the cloud in places.

HCVS London to Brighton

Filling up with water just before leaving Brooklands.

The route all entrants had to take took us to Leatherhead via Cobham, down the A24 to Dorking then along the A25 to Reigate and Redhill to join the usual route on the A23 to just north of Crawley. From here the route went down the Balcombe Road to Cuckfield, Burgess Hill, Hassocks, up Clayton Hill then rejoining the busy A23 just north of Brighton, through Brighton to Madeira Drive on the sea front, a total distance of 60 miles. We were told to be at the finish before 2pm and this was certainly our objective.

HCVS London to Brighton

Passing through Cobham before anybody was up.

The weather was good, dry and warm, the sun did not come out properly until mid-morning and the roads were quite empty for the first half, which was good. We passed several entrants driving to the start the other way! I had surveyed the route in my car a few weeks before to look for sources of water and stopping points. We planned to pick up water near Horley, which was 26 miles from the start. We reached it by about 8am, the wagon went well but you have to keep it on the boil to get the best out of it.

Nice empty roads on the Leatherhead by-pass.

Filling up
It took us about 20 minutes to fill the tank with 150 gallons, before we had finished Simon Webb came along with his 1932 Foden tractor No. 14078 Mighty Atom towing the fine Foden trailer, he also wanted water. While filling up we refilled the coal bunker and had an oil around, the bunker only holds about 2½ 25kg bags of coal, so had to be refilled several times during the run. We had a stock of 16 bags of Welsh coal on the back, which was burning well with little smoke compared with some other coals around at the moment.

Coaling-up fairly early on

The next section of the route took us along the Balcombe Road to Cuckfield, the road is like a switchback ride up and down hill. Up to this point we had only had one hill, at Redhill, that required us to change down to second gear; the Foden C type has three gears, but you try and stay in third as you have to stop to change gear and it is much quieter in top!

The Foden just after our first water stop at Horley.

By the time we reached Cuckfield we were starting to see other entrants overtake us, most managed it by, but now and again we slowed down to allow them to overtake. The next planned stop for water was at Hassocks, which we reached by about 11am, we pulled into a layby to fill up with water again. This time we used the lifter to empty the 100 gallon tank which was on the back, we also coaled up and oiled around. While doing this Simon Webb caught us up again, but this time he roared past us, his engine sounding very good.

A good action shot early on producing a bit of smoke after adding some coal on the fire.

The next challenge was Clayton Hill, which is a long steep drag of a hill. We changed down tto second and went up with no problem, changing back to third at the top ready for the long downhill section before joining the busy A23 at Pease Pottage. The traffic going into Brighton was as bad as ever and we crept along. Luckily Fraser Clayton, the run organiser, had arranged for all the entrants to use the bus lanes which were a great help. Driving a Foden in heavy traffic is hard work, but all went well, we eventually reached the sea front and Madeira Drive at 12 noon, having taken six hours to cover the 60 miles from the start.

HCVS London to Brighton

Arriving at the finish on Madeira Drive.

Brighton finish
With much relief we crossed the finish line and were welcomed by Bryan Sharpe and others as we parked up in our class with the rest of the steam entrants. Jimmer and Sarah Marsh were the first to finish at about 10.30am with Foden C-type No. 13138 London Pride. The only one to finish after us was Malcolm Rogers with his 1929 Super Sentinel No. 7954 which knows its way here from Edgar Shone days and was on its 14th run here.

HCVS London to Brighton

Just reversing into our parking space alongside Mighty Atom.

We had had a very good run with no mechanical faults, the only problem had been the potholes, at one point we hit one hard causing the whole wagon to bounce, when we next looked in the back, the water tank and coal, weighing a ton between them, had moved forward 6in! It was certainly warm at Brighton with no breeze from the sea.

The crew at Brighton – it was certainly a hot day, one way or another. (Pic: Bob Moorman)

All the exhibits have to stay on Madeira Drive until after the prize-giving, so everybody can have a good look at the vehicles. There are several prizes awarded, such as ‘Best in Class’ and overall winner, along with ‘Best Leyland’ and others. We managed to win ‘Best Steam Vehicle’ for which you get a rather tired cup for a year and a small, engraved shield to keep for posterity.

The winner of the steam class, Bob Moorman with the well-worn cup.

Homeward bound
After prize giving the vehicles queue to leave for home, we drove down the very far end of Madeira Drive where Peter Denham was waiting with his Freightliner low-loader outfit. It was 6pm by the time we left the sea front and the Foden was back in its shed by 8pm. As we had been up from 2.30am it was a long tiring day, but a successful one helped by the good weather. We had burnt 10 bags of coal, including lighting up, and used 300 gallons of water, which is 5 gallons per mile! It gave me great satisfaction that all the hard work restoring a total wreck had paid off and I would like to thank my crew for all the time and effort they put into making the day the great success it was.

Time to go home is always mayhem at Brighton, but the wagon was safely put to bed in its shed at 8pm.

This feature comes from the latest issue of Old Glory, and you can get a money-saving subscription to this magazine simply by clicking HERE


Subscribe & Save today!

Subscribe to Tractor & Machinery today and pay just £3.44 an issue!