British Railways steam, 1948-1970. Stroud: Amberley. 2015. 224pp.
This is an interesting book which was reviewed very thoroughly by Phil Atkins in Backtrack, 2015, 29, 446:
Why this book is subtitled 1948-1970 is unclear, given that the 20,000 steam locomotives inherited by British Railways on 1st January 1948, plus the 2,500 more it put into traffic over the next twelve years, had all been retired before 1969. It examines BR's changing traction policy, the remarkably rapid demise of its large steam locomotive fleet and the underlying reasons for it, together with the question as to whether, and how, steam working might have been sustained for longer in the UK. All these questions are competently tackled, although one cannot always agree with the author's views. For instance, while the justification for designing and building certain of the BR Standard classes was indeed questionable, the suggestion that more Peppercorn A2 4-6-2s (with 22-ton axle load putting them in the top Route Availability 9 category) should have been built for the ever weight-restricted Great Eastern Section, instead of the BR 'Britannias' (at only 20¼ tons and RA7), is surely not realistic. If there had been any potential mileage in it, how was it that no Gresley 4-6-2s or V2 2-6-2s (which were dimensionally the closest equivalent to the 'Britannias') were ever tried thereon, even experimentally, before 1951? Particularly interesting is his analysis of the unique Duke of Gloucester and the ensuing chapter which discusses locomotive availability and utilisation. He deplores the flagrant wastefulness of resources in the early 1960s, citing as an example 'Castle' No.5082 receiving a double chimney in late 1961, only to be withdrawn nine months later. It was actually far worse than that: the recipients of nine out of ten new 'Castle' boilers built as late as 1961 were all retired in 1963, by which time there was no prospect of these seeing any further use. (Much the same happened on the Eastern/North Eastern Regions regarding brand new-boilers for the A4 and V2 Classes.) A virtue of this book is that it also looks at contemporary issues on overseas railway administrations and is particularly well illustrated in this respect the author is clearly very well travelled! On certain points of detail, the ambitious but ultimately abortive North British Loco. Co. coal burning gas turbine locomotive was ordered (in 1952) by the then Ministry of Fuel & Power and not by the Ministry of Transport. The last two 'LMS' Caprotti Class 5 4-6-0s, Nos.44686/7 built in 1951, retained their double chimneys to the end (the reviewer recalls seeing them both in simultaneous ex-works condition at Llandudno Junction in 1961). Also, the double chimney type fitted by Swindon to BR Class 4 4-6-0 No.75029 in May 1957 was fitted to that engine alone and furthermore was changed for the later 'Brighton' double chimney pattern less than three years later (at Swindon, in February 1960), not post-1968 as suggested. In lieu of Britannia, BR still officially preserved No.70013 Oliver Cromwell, now in the National Collection, in view of its superior condition. The author has trawled interesting relevant material at the National Archives at Kew, but one suspects that, also notwithstanding the writings of the late E. S. Cox, already 50 years ago now, the full story has yet to emerge, if indeed it ever will
KPJ has bought his own copy as it was not purchased by the Mills & Boon library service and an initial inspection shows many serious errors in the captions and an obsession with the J72 class built at Darlington in 195? and less concern with the clearly corrupt GWR orders for pannier tanks from outside contractors
There are many features about this book which require to be challenged. Firstly, Gresley was far less profligate in avoiding standardisation than implied by Summers. Boilers were interchangeable between classes in a way which was not achieved by the LMS, nor by Riddles: it was avbsurd that three different boilers were required for the Britannias, Clans and the 9F: a 2-8-2 would have been far more standard and could have been fitted with two sizes of boiler, if the Clan was inevitable. Summers does not appear to have read Langridge who is most interesting in his observations on the BR Standards. The Government (as represented by the LMS) had turned towards diesel electric shunters during WW2 as they were more economical: why was construction of the 84XX/94XX allowed to continue. Summers makes much of the J72; and rightly so, but this was a drop in the ocean. Summers fails to grasp the unique nature of the Southern Region which mainly went its own way after Nationalisation due to the need to keep services running. Here the dominant form of traction was electric and as long as steam did not geet too much in the way it was tolerated..
Swindon steam: a new light on GWR loco development. Stroud: Amberley.
Reviewed very thoroughly by Phil Atkins in Backtrack, 2014, 28, 510:.
The author is a regular contributor to Backtrack, in which some of the chapters of this book have already appeared as individual articles. Unusually for one who is an unabashed devotee of Great Western Railway locomotives, he nevertheless stands back and takes a dispassionate and critical look at Swindon locomotive policy under George Churchward, Charles Collett and Frederick Hawksworth. The book is imaginatively partly illustrated with computer generated 'photographs' of locomotive projects which did not materialise, which include the proposed compound 'Castle' 4-6-0 of 1926 and the much debated Hawksworth Pacific of1946.
Early on a seemingly inordinate amount of space is devoted to the mysterious Dean 4-2-4T No.9, built in the early 1880s, which only appears to have run a matter of yards before derailing into a turntable pit at Swindon Works, and which was later converted into a 2-2-2 tender locomotive. However, particularly interesting is the discussion of links, both real and possibly imagined, between certain GWR locomotive classes and engines elsewhere in Britain, Ireland, Egypt, Australia and the USA. The author sees a considerable resemblance between lames Holden's TI4 express 2-4-0 on the Great Eastern Railway and two classes of 2-4-0 on the GWR. Holden was an old GWR man, but he was also the nephew of Edward Fletcher, and the reviewer for his part has also detected a certain affinity between the TI4 and Fletcher's flamboyant '901' 2-4-0s on the North Eastern Railway, of which NO.910 is preserved.
The Churchward marque made its debut in 1903, closely modelled on contemporary American locomotive design practice, and thereafter remained in regular production, little changed, until 1950, long before which US locomotives themselves had developed out of all recognition. The author validly questions why, on its numerous and enduring otherwise enlightened 4-6-0s in particular, both with two and four cylinders, Swindon stuck with inaccessible internal Stephenson and Walschaerts valve gear respectively throughout, instead of later adopting external Walschaerts gear for all, and likewise slavishly holding to low degree superheat, once established (on The Great Bear in 1908) until as late as 1943. Much of the blame could undoubtedly be laid at the door of Churchward's successor after 1922, Charles Collett, but even Frederick Hawksworth remarkably persisted with inside Stephenson valve gear on the new 'County' 4-6-0 introduced as late as 1945.
There is extended debate concerning the putative Hawksworth 4-6-2, a favourite topic of the author. He later makes the suggestion that by the 1950s a better proposition would have been to build a narrow firebox four cylinder 4-8-0, with high superheat, double chimney and external Walschaerts valve gear, extrapolated from the 'King' 4-6-0. Never achieved, designing a large-wheeled 4-8-0 within the confines of the British loading gauge always posed major problems accommodating the firebox and this would have been provided with a mechanical stoker (shades of the outstanding Chapelon '240Ps' in France), which he retrospectively advocates should also have been routinely fitted to the 'Castles' and 'Kings'. This suggestion disregards the discouraging, previous albeit very limited, experience with mechanical stokers in Britain, briefly on one Southern 'Merchant Navy' 4-6-2 during 1949-50 and on three new BR 9F 2-10-0s a decade later, on which these proved to be distinctly wasteful at a time when coal was becoming increasingly expensive and in short supply. After the golden pre-1939 years when the GWR had Best Welsh steam coal on tap, post-war this was particularly a problem on the Western Region which, although not mentioned here, largely for this reason, together with running shed staff recruitment difficulties, in 1955 had made the unilateral decision to eliminate steam working altogether by 1968 ironically, as it turned out, a surprisingly early deadline then undreamed of by British Railways as a whole! Oil burning was considered (a particular 'Castle' was even scheduled) and one pannier tank was experimentally converted in 1958, but the reviewer was surprised to read that other 0-6-0PTs were also actually altered (in 1960 it was proposed to convert 30 '94XXs').
The justification for the BR Standards is discussed in another chapter and it is difficult to disagree with much of this. The author is highly dismissive of Robert Riddles and bemoans the fact that Sir William Stanier was not appointed instead to the top post responsible for motive power on the newly formed British Railways. However, in January 1948 Stanier was 71 years of age, one year older than Collett had been at his long overdue retirement as CME from the GWR in 1941 and therefore, despite his eminence, was hardly a plausible candidate. The author expresses his astonishment at E. S. Cox having allegedly recorded that five 'Clan' 4-6-2s were at one time scheduled for the Western Region, on which the 'Britannias' had earlier not been well received. The reviewer has not been able to locate this statement.
Finally, the author moves on to Swindon's typically idiosyncratic post-steam traction policy. He implies that Hawksworth decided to experiment with gas turbine locomotives only following a visit to Switzerland in mid-1947, when he inspected the world's first example there. In actual fact, the Chairman of the GWR had publicly announced its potential interest in gas turbines more than a year earlier in March 1946 (at which time the LMSR was also seriously investigating this option) very soon after which firm orders went to Brown Boveri in Switzerland and Metrovick in Manchester for experimental units rated at 2,SOOhp and 3,000hp respectively. later, around 1955, to replace steam the WR was allegedly attracted to the superior power to weight ratio of diesel-hydraulic locomotives when compared with diesel-electric, but the reviewer once heard it suggested, but does not ever recall seeing this in print, that a more prosaic reason was Swindon's extremely limited experience (compared with many of its contemporaries) of electric traction/ transmission and therefore lack of existing associated in-house maintenance facilities.
This is an interesting, thought-provoking book to add to the existing copious and far less critical literature devoted to Swindon Works and its products.
See also letter from author on page 637
This is an interesting book which was reviewed very thoroughly by Phil Atkins in Backtrack, but the review copy which KPJ had hoped to review never reached the Reviews Editor of the Railway & Canal Historical Society; thus KPJ was forced to make a purchase of what is indeed a stimulating book. One of its strengths is the exploitation of the computer enhancement and manipulation of images in an attempt to establish historical practice.