John Frederick [Freddie] Harrison

Born in Settle, Yorkshire. Educated at Malvern Wells and Wellington College. Joined the GNR at Doncaster in 1921. In 1923 became a pupil of Gresley. From 1926 to 1929 he was in charge of the former GCR sheds at Wigan and St Helens and in 1930 became Assistant to the Works Manager at Gorton. In 1937 he became Assistant to the Works Manager at Doncaster under Thom, but moved back to Gorton as Locomotive Works Manager in 1938. Thompson promoted him to be Mechanical Engineer of the Great Central Section and in 1945 he was transferred to Cowlairs as Mechanical Engineer (Scotland). Peppercorn made him Assistant CME of the LNER in 1947. Upon nationalization he became Mechanical & Electrical Engineer, Doncaster, E&NER. In July 1951 he was moved to a similar position at Derby in siuccession to H.A. Ivatt; and in October 1958 he became Chief Mechanical Engineer to British Railways in succession to Riddles. He retired on 14 September 1966. He was the major architect of the Duke of Gloucester photograph see with Riddles, etc .

Cox states that Harrison had been one of Gresley's young men, and had throughout his career an admiration and indeed an affection for his master's products, particularly the A4. Cox shows an outline drawing for a Harrison Pacific: some of the ideas from which were incorporated in Duke of Gloucester. This included the fork type big end (illustrated Cox Figure 21 p. 110). The second volume of Langridge's Under ten CMEs has an entire chapter devoted to Harrison, but Langridge appears to have been remote from most of the action and was little involved in the development of the Duke of Gloucester and appears to have little contact with Harrison.


The application of welding to locomotive boiler copper fireboxes. J. Instn Loco. Engrs., 1952, 42, 176-95. Discussion: 195-222. [Paper 511].
The technique was introduced to the UK on the GWR and spread to the LMS. The technique was used for the repair of damaged boilers at Gorton Works where Harrison was Mechanical Engineer. It was used for the insertion of new or three-quarter side firehole mouth pieces, both the solid ring and dished types, for making good wasted flanges, and tube plate crown flange cracks and tbeplate bulges for O4 class boilers. 700 fireboxes were repaired, and there were 17 (2%) failures (tabulated).

The gathering of the new crop. J. Instn Loco. Engrs., 1961, 51, 336-56. + plate. 16 illus. 4 diagrs.(Presidential Address)
Includes an appreciation of the Gresley Pacifics.

It is worth noting that from the day that Gresley obtained the Board authority to proceed with the design of this locomotive and its train (28th March 1935) to the day it worked the first Silver Jubilee train, was no more than 25 weeks, and that the first four streamlined A.4 Class locomotives took up their duties straight out of Doncaster Works and worked for twelve months without a single locomotive failure. Not only does an engine of this type hold the world highspeed record for steam, but they have consistently performed highspeed running at over 100 m.p.h. During the war years No. 60005, “ Sir Charles Newton,” then known as No. 4901, “ Capercaillie,” fitted with double blast pipe, hauled the tremendous load of 730 tons for 25 miles level at 75 m.p.h. giving a continuous output of 2100 h.p., probably the highest drawbar h.p. per square foot of grate area figure recorded in this or any other country, at least so far as hand-fired locomotives are concerned.

Sir Nigel Gresley: a personal recollection. in Hughes, Geoffrey. A Gresley anthology. Didcot: Wild Swan/Gresley Society, 1994. pp. 51-7.
Harrison was a premium apprentice and pupil under Gresley. Gresley appointed him to be Assistant Works Manager at Gorton where Gresley expressed interest in locomotives fitted with Caprotti valve gear and in monobloc castings. At Doncaster Gresley demonstrated his brilliance as an engineer by sketching a device for a lever to close the valves in the event of a water gauge glass fracturing (a driver had been severely scalded and this was Gresley's immediate response). Harrison sketches Gresley's early designs (J6/K1/K2) and recalls driving a K2 with 17 coaches during the general strike on an all-stations train from London to Doncaster. He noted the long travel valves and nickel chrome rods fitted to the K3 class, both of which stemmed from The Pennsylvania Railroad's K4 class. The A1 Pacific 1470 was closely based on the PR Pacific. He noted the high mileages achieved by the Peppercorn A1 Pacifics: 228 miles per day per locomotive and that they were far cheaper to run that LMS locomotives, and noted the damage to the track inflited by continuous blowdown on LMS locomotives. He condemned the dominance of LMS people on early BR policiy and notes that he and Cocks, ex-LNER and Bulleid on the SR, designed 71000 Duke of Gloucester with Caprotti valve gear. \he criticised the Duchess Pacifics for their loose cylinders and poor steam passages and commends himself for the thermal efficiency of 71000! All Sir Nigel's achievements were created against a background of extreme financial stringency and this makes them all the more meritorious. Before Locomotive Committee meetings there was always a meeting of the Chairman, Andrew K. McCosh and the CME, and it was always 'Can't you do with less in number?' or 'Can we reduce the cost by buying abroad?' – anything to reduce the demand for money. I believe that when Nationalisation came, the LNER would have been bankrupt in another six to nine months.
Sir Nigel's great success generated and encouraged a great esprit de corps among all the staff from top to bottom, which certainly did not exist in BR days, nor does it appear to rear its head today to any noticeable extent.
What little I have said about Sir Nigel and his achievements in no way lessens the enormous admiration I had for him, hor in any way alters my personal view that along with Chapelon they were the two outstanding locomotive engineers of all time. I finish with a quotation Sir George Porter made at a Dimbleby Lecture on 'Knowledge itself is power', that while Faraday and Watt gave freedom and happiness to far more people than Abraham Lincoln, it was the pursuit of knowledge that made Sir Nigel Gresley outstanding.

Contributions to other's papers
Bond, R.C.  Organisation and control of locomotive repairs on British Railways. J. Instn Loco Engrs., 1953, 43, page 220. (Paper No. 520)
Mainly noted that the main bugbear to efficient overhaul was the "extreme shortages of raw materials".

Harrison also wrote a very brief Foreword for Martin Evans' Inverness to Crewe.

Updated: 2013-11-01