James Holden, S.D. Holden, A.J. Hill & F.V. Russell

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See also GER locomotives

The date for James Holden's death was 26 May 1925  (not as shown below) at his daughter's home in Bath (The Times 30 May): it may be noted that the initial short biography made much of his dormatories for footplate crews
According to Marshall James Holden was born in Whitstable, Kent on 26 July 1837 where according to Holcroft The Armstrongs his uncle , Edward Fletcher, was working on the Canterbury & Whitstable Railway. He died in Bath on 29 May 1925. The nephew was apprenticed to Edward Fletcher at Gateshead Works and then according to Holcroft probably joined Armstrong & Addison at their works in Sunderland. It was through John Armstrong and his brother Joseph that Holden in 1865 joined the GWR where he eventually became chief assistant to William Dean. In 1885 he was appointed locomotive superintendent of the GER, and is remembered mainly for his handsome and effective Claud Hamilton 4-4-0, his pioneering work with oil fuel, and his unique Decapod. This last was an 0-10-0WT built under Holden in 1902 to forestall an imminent scheme for an electrified railway out of London to suburbs served by the Great Eastern. Since the proponents of the scheme had a slogan about electric trains accelerating to thirty miles an hour in thirty seconds, Holden resolved to obtain the same performance with steam traction. Most of the design was accomplished by his chief designer (F.V. Russell). A massive boiler with Wootten firebox, three cylinders each with its own blastpipe cone, and ten smallish driving wheels ensured a lively acceleration. On trial it did rather better than 30 mile/h in thirty seconds, accelerating at 1-46 sec/sec: This performance put an end to the electrification scheme even though (as Holden had known all the time) the regular use of so massive a machine would never have been permitted by the civil engineer.

Holden's first oil-burner of 1893, Petrolea, was a 2-4-0 and burned waste oil that the Railway had previously been discharging into the River Lee. It was largely inspired by Urquhart's success in Russia (see p. 259) and was eventually followed by more than a hundred additional oil-burners. A Quaker, Holden had no use for trade unions and believed employers should spontaneously look after their men; he played his part by erecting the first hostel (1890) for enginemen arriving in London with late trains from the provinces, and by providing commodious side-window cabs. He held office from 1885 to 1907, being succeeded by his son Stephen (1908-12). The latter enlarged the Claud Hamilton type into the capable 1500 4-6-0 design.

Allen (History of the Great Eastern Railway) notes that "While to some extent his work consisted in improving the designs of his predecessors, Holden was responsible for several noteworthy designs of his own. But his outstanding genius was seen in the complete reorganisation of Stratford Works, which, together with a considerable degree of standardisation, brought Stratford to a exceptionally high position among British locomotive works in the speed and efficiency of its locomotive production. Some of the extensively-built locomotive classes that came into existence under his aegis may not have been outstanding in performance on the road, or in fuel economy, but they were rugged in design and with their massive working parts have paid handsome dividends in reliability and ease of maintenance. So much so, indeed, that at the time of writing, 47 years after Holden's retirement, many of his engines are still in active service.

For the first thirteen years of his reign Holden displayed no interest in locomotive bogies. His predecessors had vacillated between 0-4-4 and 2-4-2 tanks for suburban and branch services, and between both 2-2-2 and 4-2-2, and 2-4-0 and 4-4-0 tender types for express passenger service, but Holden came down firmly on the side of single axles with side-play rather than a leading or trailing bogie. Indeed whereas at his accession to power the GER owned some 75 bogie single or four-coupled engines, by the end of 1897 their number had dwindled to twelve. Then, just as the bogie appeared to be doomed to extinction on the Great Eastern, he changed his mind, and in no more than three years had brought out new 4-2-2 and 4-4-0 passenger and 0-4-4 tank classes.

As to externals, Holden continued for thirteen years to fit his engines with stovepipe chimneys, and also with the capacious Worsdell cab, with its gracefully curved side-sheets. But while for a time he continued also the Worsdell three-ring boiler barrel, with 106 the dome on the middle ring, before very long he designed a two-ring boiler with the dome on the front ring, immediately behind the chimney, a practice which, with the stovepipe chimney, helped to give most of his engines a very distinctive appearance. Internally, he substituted Stephenson link-motion for the Joy motion to which Worsdell had been so partial.

On his arrival at Stratford, Holden lost no time in getting to work. In his first year, four separate locomotive classes were put in hand 2-4-2 tanks, 0-6-0 tanks, 0-6-0 freight engines, and the first of a new 2-4-0 express passenger type. This was No. 710, prototype of the well-known "T19" class, which was to prove the mainstay of Great Eastern main line passenger service for many years. While the new engine closely resembled one of the Worsdell "Gl4s", the boiler was slightly larger, with 1,230 as against 1,200 sq. ft. heating surface, and 18.0 as compared with 17.3 sq. ft. firegrate area; cylinders were 18 in. by 24 in., and weight in working order 42 tons. Building of these engines continued for eleven years, from 1886 to 1897, until there were 110 of them in all. The first sixty, numbered from 710 to 779 inclusive, had the older three-ring boiler with the dome on the middle ring and a pressure of 140 lb.; then in 1892 there followed Nos. 700 to 709 and 781 to 790, in 1893 Nos. 1010 to 1019, in 1895 Nos. 1020 to 1029, and in 1897 Nos. 1030 to 1039, with the two-ring boiler and the dome well forward. Not until the last ten did the boiler pressure rise to 160 lb., but in course of time all the engines of the class were fitted with 160 lb. two-ring boilers. When rebuilt in 1900, No. 758 acquired an extended smokebox of curious appearance, for it was of smaller diameter than the boiler barrel, and with a flange round the outer edge of the extension it looked exactly like the inner tube of a telescope party drawn out.

Holden developed oil-burning initially in stationary boilers at Stratford Works, but subsequently on suburban locomotives and finally on express locomotives. See Michael Rutherford (Backtrack) and subsequent extensive letter by Lyn Brooks. When Holden introduced his oil-burning equipment, Nos. 712 and 759 to 767 inclusive were fitted with it, and their tenders acquired on top two cylindrical tanks, arranged longitudinally, to accommodate the oil fuel; No. 760 received the name Petrolea in honour of this change. Nos. 762 to 767 and 1030 to 1039 also had their tenders fitted with water-scoops in preparation for the non-stop running over the 130 miles between Liverpool Street and North Walsham of the summer Cromer Express (later the Norfolk Coast Express), which began on July 1st, 1897, water-troughs having been laid down both at Halifax Junction, Ipswich, and at Tivetshall for this purpose. The engine chosen for the inaugural run was No. 1037.

Awarded Gold Medal at Paris Exhibition. Locomotive Mag., 1900, 5, 145

Other distinguished services rendered by "T19" 2-4-0s included the working of the funeral train of the late Duke of Clarence from Kings Lynn to Windsor by No. 755 on January 28th, 1892, and of the honeymoon train of the then Duke and Duchess of York. James Holden was a Quaker and this led to a rather paternalistic type of management where trade unionism was not encouraged. His most lasting contribution was that of standardization which Greley wisely did not disrupt leaving the Great Estern lines with standard locomotives many of which lasted to the end of steam, almost to the end of much railway activity in Esat Anglia.

The Decapod developed mainly under the Chief Draughtsman Russell was an extraordinary endeavor to develop a steam locomotive which could perform at the level of electric traction. W.O. Skeat (Newcomen Trans., 28, 169) gave a very full account of this locomotive.

An exce;;ent obituary appeared in the Locomotive Mag. (31 page 198) Died on 26 May 1925 in his eighty-eighth year. James Holden, had been locomotive, carriage and wagon superintendent of the Great Eastern Ry. from July, 1885, to December, 1907. Holden started his railway career under his uncle, Edward Fletcher, on the York, Newcastle & Berwick Ry. Subsequently, for about twenty years he held various positions on the G.W.R. at Chester and Swindon. He succeeded . T.W. Worsdell on the G.E.R. at Stratford, and soon reorganised the methods of production in the works, by standardisation of parts, and consequent interchangeability. So efficient was the system that on 11 December, 1891, a six-coupled goods locomotive and tender, No. 930, was erected in nine and three-quarter working hours. Perhaps the most successful of Holden's engines were the small six-coupled side tanks, with 4 ft. wheels, and 16½ in. by 22 in. cylinders. First built in 1890, they have ever since worked the bulk of the Walthamstow, Enfield and Palace Gates trains with almost unfailing regularity, although the service is one of the most exacting. For their size it is doubtful if any engines have done more useful work than Mr. Holden's coupled engines of the 710 class, and the corresponding single wheelers of the 1,000 class each having 7 ft. wheels and 18 in. by 24 in. cylinders. During the twelve to fourteen years they worked the main line services they took marvellous loads, the coupled engines working particularly heavy trains to the East Suffolk line in the summer, whilst the singles gave excellent results on the 130 miles non-stop run of the Norfolk Coast express between London and North Walsham.
The increasing weight of the trains, however, demanded larger engines, and the more powerful and more generally useful 4-4-0 machines of the 1900 class were introduced in 1900, the first of which named Claud Hamilton in honour of the chairman of the G.E.R., being exhibited at Paris in 1900.
Amongst other activities connected with his profession, Holden supervised preparation of the drawings and specifications for the Railway Clearing House standard wagons for private owners, and also formed one of the Standards Committee for Indian locomotives. In 1887, Mr. Holden commenced his experiments with the burning of liquid fuel, and fitted an express locomotive, No. 251, to burn this fuel. Subsequently a large number of engines were fitted and performed a great deal of very heavy main line work with great success. This apparatus has been found of the utmost service in times of coal shortage due to stoppages at the mines. It is only the prohibitive price of oil fuel in the country that has prevented its general adoption here. Other inventions connected with Holden's name include flexible stays for fireboxes, and some details which were incorporated in his famous decapod locomotive, designed with the object of proving how far a steam locomotive could compete with electrification. Holden was also the pioneer in the adoption of wider carriages for suburban trains to seat two additional passengers in each compartment.

Ellis, C. Hamilton. Famous locomotive engineers. XX. James Holden. Locomotive Mag., 1942, 48, 110-15.
Excluded from Author's Twenty locomotive men. Includes a portrait, much about the Decapod locomotive and little indication as to why he was excluded

Contributions to Association of Railway Locomotive Engineers (via Hughes)
Meeting in November 1907: the Railway Fires Act was prominent in the discussions, with the associated question of spark arrestors. Holden reported that all Great Eastern locomotives now had them but that firemen complained about the large quantity of ashes which had to be removed from smoke boxes. On this evidence he believed that spark arrestors were effective.


1815/1891 [Oil firing] with A.M. Bell, J.C. Taite and T.W. Carlton
28,946/1902 Improvements in locomotive engines. Applied 31 December 1902. Accepted 3 December 1904. with Frederick Vernon Russell
Locomotive connecting-rods made with a forked opening to clear the intervening axle so as to enable the centres of cylinders and driving-axle to be placed in the same horizontal plane. The axle has cranks where it passes through the connecting-rod, so that the opening in the rod may be made smaller.
708/1903 Improvements in or relating to apparatus for distributing sand beneath the driving wheels of locomotive engines and other motor vehicles on railways and tramways. Applied 10 January 1903. Accepted 26 November 1903. with Frederick Vernon Russell.
Linked driving wheels to prevent wheel slip (illustrated on 0-10-0). USP 742,653 (applied 26 February 1903): see Railway Age, 1903, 1 May, pp. 794-5
21837/1910 Improvements in and relating to liquid fuel apparatus for the furnaces of locomotive and other boilers. Applied 20 September 1910. Accepted 15 June 1911 with Frederic Jocelyn Davis and John Charles Taite. 
6642/1904 Improvements in and relating to spark-arresting apparatus. Applied 18 March 1904. Accepted 19 January 1905 with Edmund Spenser Tiddeman

References to

See: Ellis, C.H. Famous locomotive engineers No. 20 James Holden Locomotive Carriage and Wagon Review, 1942, 47, 110-15.
Note this one was not republished in Twenty Locomotive Engineers
Transactions of the Newcomen Society, 28, 169-85.
Nock, O.S. Railway enthusuast's encyclopedia

Stephen Dewar Holden

According to Marshall Stephen Dewar Holden was third son of James Holden and was born at Saltney on 23 August 1870 and died in Rochester on 7 February 1918. He was educated at University College School and was a pupil under his father at Stratford. He had several posts on the GER in the running department and succeeded his father as Locomotive Superintendent in January 1908, but resigned in October 1912 to be succeeded by A.J. Hill. One major problem for categorizers is that the excellent 1500 class of 4-6-0 is normally "attributed to S.D. Holden". The patent is for the "Holden" superheater.


with Edmund Spenser Tiddeman and Edmund Spenser Tiddeman.
8028 Improvements relating to heat interchangers. Applied 3 April 1912. Accepted 3 April 1913.

Alfred John Hill

According to Marshall, Alfred John Hill was born in Peterborough in 1862 and died in Bexhill on 14 March 1927. He succeeded Holden as CME of GER. Educated at Waternewton Rectory, Northamptonshire. 1877 apprenticed at the GER Stratford Works, London, first under William Adams and later Massey Bromley. In 1882, in the year T.W. Worsdell became Locomotive Superintendent, Hill. was transferred to the drawing office. He obtained a Whitworth scholarship at the GER mechanics institute at Stratford. At the beginning of 1890 Hill became assistant works manager and in 1899 works manager. Following the abrupt resignation of S.D. Holden in 1912 Hill was appointed Locomotive Carriage & Wagon Superintendent, his title becoming CME in 1915. After 35 years on the GER it was to be expected that Hill would continue the traditions established by James Holden. At the same time he greatly increased the size and power of the locomotives. His first design was a large and very powerful 0-4-0T shunter (LNER class Y4). In 1915 he introduced the efficient 0-6-2T class L77 (LNER class N7) of which 22 were built, the last ten after the grouping in 1923. Next were 25 0-6-0s class T77 (LNER class J19) in 1916-20; 25 0-6-0s class D81 (LNER J20), 1920-2, on which he used the same boiler as on the 1500 class 4-6-0, producing the largest 0-6-0 in Britain. In 1922 came the splendid 'Super Claud' 4-4-0. the ultimate GER development of the 'Claud Hamilton' type with large superheated Belpaire boiler. With their blue livery and shining brasswork they were regarded by many as the most handsome British 4-4-0s.

Awarded Silver Medal at Paris Exhibition. Locomotive Mag., 1900, 5, 145

In WW1 Hill was active in various national services. In 1917 he visited the USA on behalf of the British government in connection with the supply of raw materials. When the workshops became involved in munitions production Hill became chairman of the southern group and later, when on the priority branch of the Ministry of Munitions, he represented the whole of British Railways. For these services he was awarded the CBE. Under Hill's supervision the Stratford works were greatly extended. Bogie rolling stock, both for main line and surburban traffic, was standardised. Hill was president of the ILE in 1914-15, and from 1920 until his retirement acted as chairman of the C & W supts meetings at the RCH. Became MIME 1901, MICE 1910. At the ICE in 1895 he read a paper on 'Repairs and renewals of railway rolling stock' which was awarded a Watt medal, a Crampton prize and a Telford premium. Another on 'The use of cast steel in locos' in 1887 was awarded the Miller prize.

In 1892 he married Margaretta, daughter of John Bressey of Bournemouth. Hill was keenly interested in ambulance work and for many years was hon sec for the organisation of the many GER ambulance corps. He was also JP for West Ham, London. At the Grouping Hill retired at the age of 60 and lived at Bexhill, Sussex where he was again made a JP. Hill died suddenly on Bexhill golf links.

Retirement presentation (4 April 1923) at Great Eastern Hotel. Locomotive Mag., 1923, 29, 97
Obituary: J. Instn Loco. Engrs, 1927, 17, 283-4. Locomotive Mag., 1927, 33, 135-6.


Questions affecting the cost of repairs and renewals of rolling stock. J. Instn. Loco. Engrs, 1914, 4,

Repairs and renewal of railway rolling stock. Min. Proc. Instn Civ. Engrs., 1894, 122, 224-64.(Paper 2820)

The use of cast steel in locomotive-engines. Min. Proc. Instn Civ. Engrs., 1887, 90, 358-65. (Students' Paper No. 218)


1669/1905. Applied 27 January 1905, Accepted 11 January 1906. Combined pneumatic turbine and speed reducing gear for driving a drill or other rotatory apparatus
18,130/1907 Applied 10 August 1907, Accepted 9 July 1908. Improvements in brake apparatus for vehicles, such as railway wagons and the like. with Thomas Oswald Mein
4550/1908. Applied 28 February 1908, Accepted 3 Decemebr 1908. Improvements in and relating to means for electrically igniting gas burners or lamps with Frederick Cyril Duncombe Mann
15.048/1908 Applied 15 July 1908, Accepted 1 July 1909. Improvements in and relating to bolt-screwing machines. with William Francis McDermid
17,895/1911 Applied 27 July 1910, Accepted 29 June 1911. Improvements in and relating to hinges.

Contributor to discussions

Hill contributed to Hookham, J.A. (Paper No. 126). Comparison between superheated and non-superheated tank engines. J. Instn Loxco. Engrs, 1922, 12, 578-603. Disc. 578-603; 604-33.
Results from trials with an 0-6-2T. A.J. Hill (616-18 and 631-3) noted that the large number of stops in suburban work led to a high cost in superheater repairs for the 0-6-2Ts; and A.J. Hill (631-3 including side elevation of 0-6-2T) noted that suburban working provided little opportunity for notching up.

Frederick Vernon Russell

Born Nunhead, London on 7 May 1870. Died 15 July 1942. Educated Christ's Hospital and King's College, London. Chief Draughtsman at Stratford and responsible for many of the "Holden" designs. The Decapod developed mainly under Russell was an extraordinary endeavor to develop a steam locomotive which could perform at the level of electric traction. W.O. Skeat (Newcomen Trans., 28, 169) gave a very full account of this locomotive. Promoted to be Superintendent of Operation in 1915 who reported directly to the Chief Traffic Manager: see Locomotive Mag., 1915, 21, 120. On the LNER he became Technical Assistant to the General Manager and was charged with the examination of suburban electrification. Who Was Who. Nock British locomotives of the twenieth century. V. 1 (pp68-9) comments upon this latter part of Russell's railway career. Awarded Bronze Medal at Paris Exhibition. Locomotive Mag., 1900, 5, 145  

A comparative review of heavy suburban traffic operation by steam and lectric traction. Great Western Railway (London) Lecture & Debating Society meeting on 1 February 1923 (No. 157).
Ottley 10307


28,946/1902 Improvements in locomotive engines. Applied 31 December 1902. Accepted 3 December 1904. with James Holden
Forked opening for connecting rods
USP 742,653. Locomotive engines. Applied 26 February 1903. Patented 27 October 1903 with James Holden
Appears to coincide with above British patent:
28,915/1908 Improvements in or relating to valve gear for locomotive and other reversible steam engines. Applied 7 November 1908. Accepted 23 September 1909.
Valve-gear.-Slide valves, having a greater lap than usual, are opened and closed quickly by reversible link-motions, in which the forward and backward eccentrics are made with unequal throws, or unequal angles of advance, or with both unequal throws and unequal angles of advance. In one arrangement, a valve eleven and a half inches long and having a lap of one and a quarter inches, is operated by a gear worked from eccentrics which have throws of seven inches and five and threequarter inches respectively, and angles of advance of one hundred and ten degrees and one hundred and twelve degrees respectively. The engine may be started by the means described in Specification No. 437, A.D. 1907.
US Patent 1,889,297. Drawbar for vehicles. Publication date 29 November 1932 with Monarch Door Control Co.
1,485,442. Railway signaling apparatus. Filed 24 July 1920. Published 4 March 1924 with Edmund Spenser Tiddeman and W.R. Sykes Interlocking Signal.

See Rly Gaz., 1933.
Short biography in Nock, O.S. Railway enthusuast's encyclopedia

Note on Decapod patents

Steve Church noted that he was led to the U.S. Patent by a reprint of Baldwin Locomotive Works booklet "Number 56, 1906" -- "The Atchison Topeka & Santa Fe Railway" which includes the "1226 Class" of four cylinder balanced compound 4-6-2 locmotives and mentions on pp 16&18: "As the cylinders are all in the same horizontal plane, the inside main rods are built with a loop which spans the leading driving axle."

Note the inside high-pressure cylinder heads in a plane with the outside low-pressure heads and, on each side, both cylinders are below a single valve head between them. He thought this loop construction was strange, but was unable to find any details until, years later, he discovered the U.S. Patent. He has since tracked down further information in Railway Age both on the Oregon Railroad & Navigation Company's balanced compound locomotive (appended shows bifurcated inside main rod and in this American periodical on the Holden/Russell 0-10-0T which shared this design feature

Updated: 2020-09-15