Archibald Sturrock

See also Sturrock locomotives

There is a new biography: Vernon, Tony: Archibald Sturrock - pioneer locomotive engineer. Tempus, 2007. This has still to be seen, and may change the nature of this page, especially as the same author has contributed a very interesting article on Sturrock's steam tenders to Backtrack.

Dow: and Marshall: Archibald Sturrock was born at Petruchie, Angus on 30 September 1816, two years after Ramsbottom, whom he outlived by twelve years. The Sturrocks were a properous Dundee family. Archibald Sturrock's father, John, possessed the Pitreuchie Estate near Forfar, but was described as a Burgess of Dundee and was a banker. He had married Christian Ramsay in 1803, and she was the daughter of Silvester Ramsay who had been with the United East India Company in Bengal. Sturrock's daughter Georgina, who died late in 1951, aged ninety-nine, was interviewed towards the end of her life by Lt. Commander Frank Theodore, R.N. (Ret'd.), sometime civil engineer on the London and North Eastern Railway. Miss Georgina told Theodore that her grandfather, John Sturrock, a banker in Dundee, was horrified when his son Archibald asked parental permission to train as an engineer. 'What?', retorted John Sturrock, 'you mean you want to become a blacksmith!' There was an element of truth in the worthy banker's remark. Most of the earliest locomotives reveal more traces of blacksmith's work than of metal machinists, such as fitters. Georgina Sturrock clearly remembered her father entertaining Isambard Brunel just before the latter's death in 1859. Miss Sturrock was then aged seven.

Nevertheless, Sturrock became an apprentice at the East Foundry at Dundee. Here he helped in the erection of the Carmichaels' bogie engine Trotter, the third engine built for the 4ft 6in gauge Dundee & Newlyle Railway. His next sphere was Fairbairn's works in Manchester, but he was soon looking for fresh fields to conquer and in 1840 was appointed principal assistant to Daniel Gooch. Soon he was to taking an active part in the erection of the shops at Swindon.

Sturrock remained with the Great Western until 1850, when, with a splendid letter of recommendation from Brunel, he secured the post of Locomotive Superintendent to the Great Northern. He was nothing if not resourceful. Having appointed him at a salary of £500, the directors asked if he could suggest a good Carriage and Wagon Superintendent. Sturrock promptly proposed himself, was accepted, and so added another £250 to his salary.

His next-but-one successor, H.A. Ivatt, believed that an efficiency lay in its capacity to boil water, so did Sturrock place his faith in high-pressure steam. He once wrote, 'Engines, like horses, go well in many shapes, sizes and colours, but no variations such as position and diameter of a wheel or diameter of a cylinder are worth anything unless there be plenty of steam at a high pressure, which gives economy by expansion. The finest gun is no use unless there be plenty of powder.'

Sturrock was inventive as well as resourceful. When the Great Western and the Metropolitan had a dispute in 1863, as a result of which the latter was deprived of its locomotives and stock (at that time the line was worked by the Great Western), Sturrock stepped into the breach, fitted a number of goods engines with hastily contrived condensing apparatus and had them on Metropolitan metals. Thus was the Great Western thwarted by a former officer!

Sturrock had ten Crampton intermediate crankshaft type locomotives built by Longridge where £50 per locomotive was paid for the use of the patent (Groves: Great Northern locomotive history. Vol. 1 pp. 54 et seq)

One of Sturrock's most noteworthy engines was 4-2-2 No. 215, which was not built at Doncaster, incidentally, but by R.& W. Hawthorn. The single driving wheels, which were flangeless, had a diameter of 7 ft 6 in., the two cylinders measuring 17 in. by 24 in. Sturrock asserted that No. 215 could easily reach Edinburgh in eight hours from King's Cross, with four intermediate stops, but his directors did not pursue the idea. G.F. Bird is believed to have written (according to Rogers) that the Sturrock 2-4-0s could not keep their side rods on due to the unconsolidated nature of the track

In 1863 Sturrock invented the steam tender, the predecessor of the locomotive booster, an auxiliary engine designed to give extra power at starting or at low speeds. The tenders he had built ran on six wheels, which were coupled, and were provided with 12 in. by 17 in. cylinders. Fitted to his 0-6-0 goods engines, Sturrock' s steam tenders enabled 450-ton trains to be hauled up a gradient of 1 in 178. But they were heavy on steam and the enginemen, besides disliking the heat they produced, disliked even more having to look after what were almost two locomotives.

Having reached the age of 50 Sturrock decided that the life of an English squire was more to his liking. As he had by then attained a position of some affluence he resigned from the Great Northern so that he could hunt, fish, and shoot to his heart's content. His retirement was to last no less than 43 years. He died in London on 1 January 1909, aged 92.

Brown (Great Northern locomotive engineers, volume 1): His [Sturrock's] retirement was not so absolute as we used [in 1966] to think, for he reappeared at the 'Plant' in April 1867 as a representative of the Yorkshire Engine Co. Also, in 1869, we find him joining Benjamin Brundall, a former pupil of Sir William Cubitt, and Robert Baxter, the ex-G.N.R. solicitor, as co-trustees for a piece of land on which one of Doncaster's churches was later built.

About 1871 Sturrock settled to the life of a country gentleman, renting 'Elmfield', a large house on the Great North Road with several acres of parkland. Built in 1803, it was—in the 1870s—still on the outskirts of Doncaster and formed an excellent base for the hunting and riding stables, and horse breeding, to which Sturrock now devoted his time. He also became a Justice of the Peace for the West Riding and Honorary Colonel, 5th battalion King's Own Yorkshire Light Infantry.

On reaching the age of 73, in 1889, Sturrock reluctantly decided that he was now too old for riding to hounds, so vacated 'Elmfield' and moved to London, where he took a house in fashionable Cadogan Place, within easy reach of the milder riding offered by Hyde Park's Rotten Row. He joined the exclusive Reform Club and sometimes graced railway functions with his presence, when he would chat about his work at Stirling's Foundry in 1835, on primitive locomotives for the Dundee and Newtyle Railway. Sturrock is remembered as a man of courtly manners; on social occasions at Cadogan Place his daughter Georgina acted as his hostess.

Rolt suggests another reason for Sturrock's early retirement: His final fling was the powered 'steam tender' which he applied to his 0-6-0 goods engine to make it, in effect, the first articulated locomotive. Technically, this was an advanced idea, but it proved a failure in service, and of the 70 steam tenders ordered the later deliveries were supplied without power units. The shareholders were not amused, and Sturrock's 'retirement' swiftly followed the costly steam tender fiasco.

Very interesting contribution from great-great grandson in Backtrack 15 page 282 which gives further biographical information and a family paper, and a note by Rutherford on Sturrock's locomotives

See also : H. Ellis, Twenty locomotive men (1958).

Archibald Sturrock; an alternative perspective. Rob Adamson. Backtrack, 15, 434-8.
Questions whether Sturrock's boiler pressures were as high as he claimed. Questions concerning the GNR Crampton 4-2-0s and their subsequent rebuilding into successful 2-2-2s; notes on hotwater footstools; the unsuccessful No. 215 supplied by Hawthorn's at a cost well in excess of estimate; condensing locomotives for Metropolitan Railway and steam tenders.

Vernon, Tony. Profitable sidelines. J. Rly Canal Hist. Soc., 2004, 34, 586-93.
Considers royalties obtained from patent for steam tenders, and income from consultancies. Cites patent as 1135 but gives no date. Notes that Sturrock made an unprofitable investment in the Yorkshire Engine Co..

Vernon, Tony Sturrock's steam tenders. Backtrack, 2005, 19, 85-9.
Notes his patent [113 published 6 May 1863 not submitted] and also Fairlie's [1210 13 May 1864 which Dewhurst described as the master patent] which also sought to increase the adhsion available. Sturrock's innovation is described in detail (drawings from The Engineer 9 May 1919 and Railway Gazette 27 August 1920) and also quotes estimates of the financial savings which Sturrock hoped to achieve. Charles Sacré, at that time Locomotive Superintendent of the MSLR, was also involved in the assessment of the steam tenders where initial tests indicated that 50% increased loads could be hauled up Clarborough and Kirton banks. Eventually the MSLR ordered six steam tenders as part of an order for twelve locomotives from Neilson's. Some fifty steam tenders were ordered by the GNR and Vernon estimates that the value of the orders (placed with more than one builder) was equal to about two years of his salary in terms of Royalties. The article attempts to rationalize the reasons for Sturrock's premature retirement. Certainly, the failure to find a system to reward the enginemen for the increase in their productivity was a major factor in the failure of the system. Patrick Stirling's eventual attack (quoted at length) on the system is understandable: he was an engineer who demanded simplicity [and this may have influenced the GNR's Board when it selected him]. Sturrock had got on well with the GNR Chairman Dension, but his replacement Col. Packe was a different sort of executive. The article notes that the needs of Sturrock's three motherless children, his substantial income from his second wife's estate and his rural life style meant that the problems of locomotive engineering were no longer worth pursuing. The article also notes that Sturrock was retained as a consultant to the GNR for three months, thus implying an immicable separation. Some of the steam tenders remained in use until 1868. The article notes that it was Gresley who supplied the information on the steam tenders to The Engineer (Gresley at that time was considering the booster as a similar means of increasing locomotive productivity. See letter in Issue 4 on page 253 from Brian Orrell on correspondence between W. Gooch of Vulcan Foundry and Sturrock and to Patrick Stirling at a date prior to his official appointment (that is in June 1866). A return to this material will be made once the GNR page on the website is developed.  

Norman Groves' Great Northern locomotive history V. 1 page 59 notes:
Before proceeding, it may be as well to give some space to the motive behind the once well-known legend regarding the ten Cramptons - if only to illustrate how history may sometimes be perverted to suit one's whims and fancies. Archibald Sturrock was undeniably a good locomotive engineer, but because the initial engines advocated by him for the G.N.R. were originally unsuccessful, evidence points to the fact that for prestige reasons - which were quite unnecessary on his part - Sturrock preferred firstly to disown them, then verbally attempt to eliminate them; and finally even deny their existence!

Just before the turn of the century, when G.F. Bird was compiling his G.N.R. locomotive account, some information he was seeking regarding the earlier engines was, as Bird phrased it, "derived indirectly from that doyen of locomotive superintendents, Mr. Archibald Sturrock himself." Unfortunately, even during his long retirement, Sturrock retained little affection for the original Cramptons and therefore implied to Bird that they were ordered prior to his assumption of office. Later came another inference that" he "did his best to countermand the order", none of which is evident, and in later years hardly due to forgetfulness. Sturrock appeared still capable of memorising early events even in his 86th year of age, which is borne out in his letter to The Locomotive of 16th May, 1903, concerning some trivia about details of a brass coal scuttle of which he well remembered possessing since 1846!

The final elimination was attempted when Sturrock wrote to E.L. Ahrons claiming that "there was only one Crampton on the Great Northern, the others being of my own design." The acceptance of the claim by an historian of Ahrons calibre, convinced most locomotive students and confused many others. But in the above it will be seen how the legend gradually built up over a long period of years, and the reason motivating it.

It may be of interest to note that at the King's Cross Centenary Exhibition held in October 1952, the original G.N. Stock book revealed that a contract was placed with Longridge on 4th December, 1850 for ten passenger engines, with tenders, at £1,600 each. The entry "Crampton's Patent" appears and the running numbers are given as '91-99, 200' entered later in ink, confirming all ten were taken into Stock.

Steam tenders

According to Ahrons: articles in Engineer 17 January 1919 and 9 May 1919: Vernon cites 9 May 1919 for plan and elevation of tender. [not otherwise verified]


113[5]: 6 May 1863: Locomotive engines and tenders

Bird, G.F. Locomotives of the Great Northern Railway.


Sturrock has become a topic for revisionist locomotive historians. It is difficult to believe that Sturrock "left under a cloud" because he continued to live in the vicinity of Doncaster; his successors clearly regarded him with respect, the LNER named a locomotive after him (could one have seen the LMS naming a locomotive after Smith) and other great engineers (see Stroudley) regarded his work with great respect.

Updated: 2007-03-21