Review of Hornby 'H' Class no. 263 [R3648]

The Hornby Wainwright 'H' class 0-4-4T loco first became available in late 2017. In 2019, a special Hornby club member edition was produced, representing no. 263 as preserved on the Bluebell Railway.
Here, we review this special edition.


Built as the standard loco for the South Eastern and Chatham Railway's (SECR's) suburban services, the H-class was a popular loco in later years for services on rural branch lines in Sussex, especially after the withdrawal of the LBSCR D3 tanks. No. 263 survived on the East Grinstead to Three Bridges line until the last push-pull services on that line were withdrawn in January 1964.

No 263 was purchased from BR by the H-Class Trust and was initially stored at Robertsbridge. It was soon moved to the South Eastern Steam Centre at Ashford, where the engine appeared at various open days. In 1975 the Trustees decided that the locomotive would have much more scope for running if it was based on the Bluebell Railway. In 2008 ownership was transferred to the Bluebell Railway Trust, which funded an overhaul which started in March 2009, with the loco returning to service on 28 July 2012, its third period in steam on the Bluebell.

The following cine film was taken by Paul Plowman on 28th February, 1976 when no. 263 was first run on the Bluebell Railway:

The Model

The Hornby model is delivered in their standard packaging:

The box also contains a small plastic bag containing brake rigging and name boards to be fitted by the user. The usual instruction sheet is also supplied, containing routine maintenence details.

Initial Appearance

Probably the best way to describe the appearance of the model is through pictures.

The model captures the shape and character of the prototype perfectly. We understand that the livery is 'as preserved' in fully lined out SECR green.

Buffer Heights

One of the checks we do on all new models is to compare the buffer heights on both ends. 0-4-4 arrangement locos have historically presented a challenge for manufacturers due to the need to balance weight over the driving wheels. This has meant that 0-4-4 arrangements have tended to be put in the 'too hard basket'. Today, we are infinitely further ahead and on the 'H' class, we see that the rear bogie is load carrying - as per prototype. We are pleased to report that this results in buffer heights at both ends of this loco being at the same correct height.


Dismantling the loco to fit a decoder is an extremely simple process: two screws under the cab are removed, followed by two behind the front buffer beam.
It was at this point that we observed our only disappointment with the model - a strategically placed screw, right behind the buffer beam which prevents a chain hook coupling being threaded through the buffer beam and having a spring fitted:

During dismantling, we also noticed what appeared to be pickups on the rear bogie:

However, as can be seen, the pickups do not touch the wheels. When we adjusted the pickups to touch the wheels, we found that they do work electrically but we were unable to find a setting which didn't cause the wheels to periodically 'lock'. Although the bogie is load carrying, it isn't carrying sufficient weight to overcome 'pickup friction'. We are of the view that this scenario justifies the use of split axles with current being collected through bearings as this is the only way to remove friction interferring with wheel rotation.

Decoder Fitting

Fitting a decoder requires the blanking plug to be removed to reveal a 8 pin socket:

Fitting a decoder is a breeze, however we would suggest an integral plug/decoder type as there isn't much space to accomodate wiring, although we did manage a 'wired' decoder without a problem.


This loco seems to be a departure from the Hornby locos we have seen over recent years in that instead of a sealed can motor, it has an 'open' motor. Be that as it may, it runs extremely smoothly. When we first ran it, it was very hesitant and jerky in reverse, however, after 10 minutes of running in, it settled down and was equally smooth in both directions.


This is a superb model. It appears to be accurate in all dimensions and captures the character of the prototype extremely well. It is well designed and constructed and runs as good as good as it looks. Detail is absolutely spot on.

The model is a 'must have' for all SECR and 'Bluebell Preservation' layouts. Highly recommended.

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Graham Plowman (23/7/2019)

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