History of Kimbolton

Limited archaeological finds in the vicinity of the airfield suggest that there may have been a small Roman settlement, but Kimbolton’s name is Anglo Saxon, meaning “Cenebald’s Ton” (or estate). The physical setting will have dictated the site of the present village – the protection of the small surrounding hills; the route crossing; the river crossing; the gravel terraces overlaying the clay to encourage building. By Domesday, the population was about 500, second only in the county of Huntingdonshire to Huntingdon itself. The Lords of the Manor were responsible for the steady development during the mediaeval period – the enlargement of the church, the relocation of the castle and the layout of the town. This plan was probably the result of the market charter granted in 1200 by King John to the then Lord of the Manor, Geoffrey Fitzpiers, Earl of Essex; from this period dates Newtown (first mentioned in 1279) and the diversion of the main road through the High Street Market Place, hence the notorious bends. East Street, previously known as Back Street, acted as the service area for the market.

Kimbolton Castle

Katherine of Aragon’s brief sojourn at the castle (1534-1536) following her divorce from King Henry VIII, coincided with one of a series of rebuilds which it has undergone, the most significant of which, by Vanbrugh and Hawkesmoor in the early 18th century, left much the same appearance as we see today. Other notable inhabitants of the castle include Sir John Popham, the presiding judge at the trials of Guy Fawkes and Sir Walter Raleigh, and the second Earl of Manchester, who led parliamentary forces in the Civil War until Cromwell’s succession. The Manchester family, having lived in Kimbolton since 1615, finally sold the castle to Kimbolton School (an early Tudor Grammar School) in 1950, and the surrounding estate to Boots pension fund in 1976.


Kimbolton Castle had another claim to fame, it being the name given to a loco built in 1927. The Kimbolton Castle was a B17 4-6-0 locomotive, built for LNER and was one of about 70 in the Class which served both on the Great Central (Marylebone – Manchester) and the Great Eastern (East Anglia) lines until the 1960s. Locomotive ‘Kimbolton Castle’ (right) about 1955 at Crescent Junction, Peterborough, believed emerging from Nene carriage sidings (The Wharf) preparatory to running on the 0938 service from Peterborough East to Lowestoft, which 61633 would work as far as Norwich. (Photo and info. courtesy of Bill Becket)          This locomotive was built in 1931 and entered service on 17 June 1931.   It was condemned at March depot on 4 September 1958 and scrapped at Doncaster in October 1958.

The total number of B17 class locomotives built was 73 and all were scrapped by the middle of 1960.


The B17 locomotives were designed to meet a requirement for a new express passenger locomotive for use in East Anglia. The design specification was prepared by Sir Nigel Gresley and the locomotives were built over a nine year period from 1928.

The first class was named Sandringham after the Royal Family Norfolk Estate and henceforth the whole class were known as “Sandringhams”. There were seventy three locomotives built and all were named after country houses/estates, football clubs and county regiments associated with the routes and geography of the LNER. All locomotives were scrapped by 1960 and none were saved for preservation.

East Anglian Links

Within East Anglia twenty six locomotives were given local names: five each for Suffolk and Essex and sixteen for Norfolk. These names included twenty three country houses, two local regiments and Norwich City Football Club. Oddly Kimbolton was on the ex Midland Railway line from Huntingdon to Kettering, that became part of the LMS. It was somewhere that B17s never went.

This locomotive was built in 1931 and entered service on 17 June 1931. It transferred to East Anglia in October 1938 and remained there until the end of its working life.  It was withdrawn from service on 4 September 1958 and scrapped at Doncaster in October 1958.

The B17 Steam Locomotive Trust

Established in 2011 as an organisation with charitable trust status the B17SLT is building a full size working example of a London North Eastern Railway (LNER) B17 express passenger locomotive for use on the main line network and heritage railways. The locomotive is to be known as 61673 Spirit of Sandringham.

As a charitable trust there are obligations for public benefit so in addition to the prime objective of building a new B17 the B17SLT is undertaking to maintain and develop traditional engineering skills in the UK. This is being achieved by engaging UK firms to manufacture the locomotive and to provide education and skills training for people in apprenticeships and other schemes associated with engineering, science and technology.

Project Status

The new build locomotive is being designed and manufactured by UK companies and individuals with the necessary specialist capability. When parts are manufactured they are then delivered to The Llangollen Railway Engineering Services workshops for assembly.

To date all framework parts for the static chassis have been manufactured, delivered to Llangollen and assembled.

The next task is to complete the design and manufacture of all the components such as wheels, tyres, axles and bearings required (to develop the static chassis into a rolling chassis) and the boiler and firebox.

Can you help?

Through this article, the Trust are looking to expand our local knowledge of the history and geography associated with the naming of Kimbolton Castle.

The B17 SLT would welcome assistance to achieve their aim to recreate this East Anglian railway icon.
If you are able to support this scheme in any way, please contact The Trust:-

Email: b17slt@googlegroups.com

Tel: 07527 670436

Write to: B17 SLT, c/o 171 Clifton Road, Shefford, Beds SG17 5AG

For more information please visit www.b17steamloco.com