[Sir] Ernest John Hutchings Lemon

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Terry Jenkins, Sir Ernest Lemon: the production engineer who modernised the LMS railway and equipped the RAF for war. (Oxford: Railway & Canal Historical Society. 2011) completely changes our picture of Lemon both literally (in that the book contains several portraits) and figuratively. It also sheds fresh light on the engineering of Sir Henry Fowler out of the driving seat. In the first chapter Jenkins notes Frank Pope's Times obituary and a letter from a Margaret Porritt nee Stirling congratulating Lemon on his knighthood: Porritt is an unusal name and the Who's Who database shows that she was the wife of Benjamin Dawson Porritt, Director of Research, Research Association of British Rubber Manufacturers, since 1920.. Margaret Stirling was from Darvel. In the letter she notes happy encounters with Ernest in "their youth" at Darvel and at Machrie on the Isle of Arran; presumably on the golf course.

The Jenkins biography casts a considerable amount of light upon his subject's interactions with many significant people both on the LMS and elsewhere and with LMS developments although some are significant for being absent (notably the turbine locomotive developed with ). One possibly unexpected link is with Lord Reith, who shared Lemon's experience at the North British Locomotive Company. Lemon's papers refer to Reith as an "old friend".

Cox (Locomotive Panorama V.1) entitles his chapter (4) on Lemon Interregnum. This provides a sharp portrait: "short, dark, abrupt and exceedingly experienced and competent in all aspects of production and administration.", but of "locomotives he was largely ignorant". Lemon had instigated Cox's transfer to Euston and thus was a key indirect influence in the way that later steam locomotive evolution and our historical perception of this period.

Lemon was born in Okeford Fitzpaine in Dorset on 10 December 1884 (Cook: gave date as 9 Decemebr) and was educated in the village school until being mentored by the Rector (John H. Phillips) and his daughter Helena Agnes and her husband Professor Malcolm Laurie. They took Ernest Lemon to Kirkintilloch and arranged an apprenticeship with the North British Locomotive Co. in Glasgow starting in 1899.  Beteween 1905 and 1907 he worked in the drawing office of Brown Brothers, Hydraulic and Mecanical Engineers of Rosebank Ironworks in Edinburgh. Whilst there he studied at Heriot Watt College in Edinburgh. After which he worked for the Highland  Railway and for Hurst Nelson of Motherwell from May 1908. In 1911 he returned to railway service as Chief Wagon Inspector of the MR. In 1917 he became Carriage Works Manager at Derby and at Grouping was appointed Divisional Carriage & Wagon Superintendent at Derby, with control also of Newton Heath and Earlestown. Distinguished as an organiser, he developed the application of production line methods to carriage and wagon construction and repairs, following on the pioneer work of his predecessor, R.W. Reid. On page 96 of LMS 150 (Whitehouse and Thomas) the period spent on the Highland Railway is described in the following way: "the year's footplate and running shed experience with the Highland Railway at Inverness, of which he could occasionally be persuaded to reminisce both affectionately and entertainingly". The piece called him a career mechanical engineer.

In 1931 Lemon was appointed CME in succession to Fowler. As far as he knew, he had been appointed CME until retirement, but the Board may have had his promotion to Vice-President already in mind. In the event J.H. Follows, a former Chief General Superintendent who had become Vice-President, Railway Traffic, Operating and Commercial, retired early due to ill-health, and Lemon was appointed to succeed him after less than a year as CME. Under his direction as Vice-President, the LMS undertook a major programme of modernisation of motive power depots. He was the driving force behind the major acceleration of passenger trains in the 1930s, and he was also responsible for the establishment of the LMS School of Transport at Derby.

H.A.V. Bulleid's Master builders of steam takes a slightly different approach:

One day in October 1931 Lemon and Sir Harold Hartley* asked Stanier to lunch at the Athenaeum and talked about water-softening: Stanier's contribution was merely that they must know how well they were managing with Loch Katrine water in the Glasgow area, and surely this proved the importance of water treatment. Shortly after, Hartley again asked Stanier to lunch, this time at the Traveller's Club, more appropriately. Stanier told Collett about these cloak-and-daggerish invitations, received the green light, duly lunched, and was definitely asked if he would be prepared to take over as C.M.E. of the L.M.S. Railway. He expressed surprise that this approach had not first been made by Sir Josiah Stamp to Sir James Milne. Formalities were duly exchanged, and the upshot was a chat with Stamp who expressed concern at the number of different locomotive types on the L.M.S. and emphasized the need for a standard range of generally more powerful engines. Stamp then hesitated somewhat, and Stanier, though a sturdy 55-year-old, tactfully suggested that a medical examination might be de rigueur. This modest last hurdle cleared, Stanier took over as C.M.E. of the L.M.S. on January 1st 1932.
* Sir Harold Hartley reported "After looking over the possible field when Lemon became a Vice-President, I decided that Stanier was the man to get our locomotive programme straightened out. The number of different types we had inherited was appalling. I had no second string, and so I went ahead on my own with Stamp's blessing. I knew something of the Churchward tradition."

And on page 172:

Whereas Fowler was inclined to be casual and aimiable when he got his Works Superintendents to take him round the Works, a different technique was adopted by E.J. H. Lemon, Engineering Vice-President, whilst he was Chief Mechanical Engineer during the year 1931. He was decidedly more critical and quick to make positive but rather superficial proposals for improvements. These were not always well received, and on one occasion at Derby after Lemon had told Ivatt and the foreman how a job could be done faster and better the foreman, on recovering his breath, ran after his two bosses and insisted on explaining in embarrassing detail why the proposal was entirely impracticable.

A.J. Pearson Man of the rail (1967) p. 46:

Sir Ernest Lemon was about medium height, suave, sallow, restless, ambitious and with ideas. A mechanical engineer by training, he turned a sharp eye on the traffic departments and set about reducing costs and improving methods. He poked his nose into everything, found out how each part worked and tried to refit it in more economical fashion. Naturally there was a great deal of hostility. Railways are worked by well-established rules, and people spend all their lives in learning and operating them. Fundamental changes are not easily accepted. But hostility did not deter Lemon, and in any case he had the authority. Unfortunately, however, his domestic life became unhappy, and this seriously affected him and his work. But although I saw him run up and down the gamut of his fortunes, I always liked him, and he had many successes.

shows that his domestic affairs were well-known (strangely, Pearson pays a great deal of attention to the female staff supervisors, and married one after his first wife died).

From the summer of 1938 and for a time during World War 2, until April 1940  Lemon was seconded from the LMS to be Director General of Aircraft Production, and was knighted for his services. This was a highly demanding task and led to a breakdown of health. He retired from the railway service at nationalisation, and died in Epsom on 15 December 1954 at the age of 70.

His marriage to Amy Clayton on 15 October 1912 and they had two sons, but the marriage fell apart due to Ernest's affair with Hermione Mervyn, an LMS senior employee which must have had serious consequences within the company. Nevetheless, Amy did not seek a divorce and used to title Lady Amy, In late life Lemon had another affair with Doris Challis, and there is  hint of wild living which may have led to the several breakdowns in his health. Another key influence was Lemon's diligent personal assistant, H.G. Smith.

That extraordinary biographical rag-bag the ODNB includes Lemon with a biography by Harold Hartley (which in itself is interesting) and this was revised by Ralph Harrington (a name which requires more research)

Chacksfield in his biography of Ron Jarvis includes an interesting anecdote:

I recall being present on the 3-car train when it was inspected by various chief officers, including W.A.S. and E.J.H. Lemon, then Vice-President. Some point was raised when W.A.S. was a little distance from the others, and Lemon whistled him up and called, 'Stanier, come 'ere'. He went like a lamb. I couldn't help remarking to one of the smaller fry with me there: 'How would you like to be able to whistle up the CME like that?'


Discussion at meeting of Diesel Engine Users' Assocaition meeting on 14 April 1937 when by T. Hornbuckle was its President. A general review of the development of the diesel engine in 1936. (copy IMechE Library)

In my opinion, the field for the employment of the diesel engine on railway work is fairly limited.The experience of the LMS Company has been that, whilst the diesel engine is suitable for light rail units, the main difficulty is in the scope of selection of areas in which it can be profitably employed under the conditions existing in this country. Experiments have proved that the diesel engine is also very suitable for shunting work but, even here, there is no economy unless the unit is working for more than twelve hours per day. The maximum economy arises, of course, where the diesel shunting unit is rostered on 24-hour shifts, but the economy is in the main a saving of man power – one man being employed instead of two – and not so much a saving in fuel or in other phases of operation. We commenced with ten diesel units with a variety of types of mechanical drive, but, generally speaking, they have not been very successful; the electric drive holds out more promise.
Looking to the future it would appear that on the LMS system there is scope for not more than one hundred diesel locomotives, the economy being, as I have said, largely the halving of labour costs.
The steam engine has still a low initial cost and its simplicity – which pre-supposes reliability – is such that we experience comparatively few failures.
I wish to dispel the idea that the railway field is a very rich one to attack from the point of view of diesel engine development; moreover, the steam engine is constantly being improved, and a good deal of the actual economy even in shunting comes from the greater availability of the unit. The diesel engine has a much higher thermal efficiency than the steam mgine, but the capital cost per h.p. of the diesel engine is higher and the only advantage rests on the availability and the saving in manpower.


GB 363,887 A reserved seat indicator with George Lenthall. Applied 13 February 1931

GB 311,437 Pneumatic suspension of vehicles with Dunlop Rubber Co, and Wallace Henry Paull and Frank Fellowes. Applied 13 January 1928.