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Edward Thompson: Both sides of the story

Discussion in 'Steam Traction' started by S.A.C. Martin, May 2, 2012.

  1. Jamessquared

    Jamessquared Nat Pres stalwart

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    Well, there was an economic slump for much of the period between the wars, and since the LNER was very dependent on transport of materials (coal, minerals etc) for revenue, then it was no doubt disproportionately affected by that slump.

    For example, if you look at UK coal production, it was erratic during the period 1918 - 1939, but broadly falling. So that can't have been helpful for a company that made significant income from transporting coal: the falling nature meant long-term falling revenues; and the erratic nature mean difficulty even planning what level of capacity you needed.

    (UK coal production was 280 million tons in 1923, but three years later - when there was a general strike - fell to just 128 million, and although it recovered, it never got back to the levels previously seen, generally being around 210 - 250 million tons in the years leading up to the war).

    Tom
     
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  2. huochemi

    huochemi Well-Known Member Friend

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    Teetering on the edge of bankruptcy is perhaps a bit strong, more like financially constrained. Bonavia's History of the LNER Volume 2 Chapter 10 is entitled "Making Ends Meet: the Financial Struggle", and worth a read, but quite brief, and I think a somewhat more detailed study would be useful. The big issue of the economic backdrop was clearly a factor as was road competition. Bonavia does not appear to lay the blame at the door of any one constituent.
     
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  3. Forestpines

    Forestpines Active Member

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    Most of the famous LNER electrification projects - Woodhead, Shenfield, the Northern Line and Central Line extensions - were done with some degree of government backing. I'm not sure about other infrastructure projects (for example Grimsby Fish Docks were doubled in size in the 1930s).

    After the war the LNER board asked diesel manufacturers to tender for building an express passenger diesel fleet with associated new depots, so clearly they were confident the funding for those would have been found.
     
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  4. 30854

    30854 Part of the furniture

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    Thanks for the replies folks. Coal traffic was evidently more a core traffic than I realised. The 20's/30's slump I know affected the GW fairly extensively (thinking of the near immediate rebuilding of 2-8-0T's into 2-8-2T's), but when coal was a fairly important LNWR staple, it still seems the LNER suffered disproportionately.

    I suppose the other issue for the LNER was the comparatively sparse population of it's territory, with no real equivalent of the West Midlands or Potteries urban sprawls south of Yorkshire and the NER heartland to bolster passenger numbers. It also missed out on the significant beer traffic of the old Midland. Add to that the highly seasonal nature of much non-dairy agricultural traffic and the issues become clearer.

    Pure speculation of course, but I can't help wondering how improved things would have been had Sir Vincent Raven had board support for electrification of NER lines ahead of grouping.
     
  5. sir gilbert claughton

    sir gilbert claughton Member

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    the GWR had to abandon the plans for an oil fired steam fleet in Cornwall ,due to the lack of dosh to pay for imported fuel.
    it is probable the LNER ran into the same problem when plans for a diesel fleet was muted ,so it was more a case of wishful thinking imo
     
  6. Forestpines

    Forestpines Active Member

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    That's not an issue mentioned in the works of Bonavia, who is the historian who discusses it the most because he was personally involved in writing the proposal which the LNER board approved. By the time the manufacturers started to return tenders Riddles was in charge and quietly binned them all, along with any memos from the BTC asking why the Railway Executive wasn't pursuing the idea.
     
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  7. S.A.C. Martin

    S.A.C. Martin Part of the furniture

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    Nor me, until I looked at the full facts. It was difficult to get parts for the Lentz valve gear and since The Morpeth was in fact unique, it made sense to make it a conventional 4-4-0 with the spares available and the known commodity of the Director cylinder block plus piston valves no doubt influenced Thompson that way.

    There seems to have been a half hearted attempt to include a new standard 4-4-0 in the new standard designs but it was dropped from the first draft and never re-emerged. It seems from my notes that Thompson felt the standard 2-6-0 and 4-6-0 classes would be capable of doing everything a 4-4-0 could do (and to be frank, it was these amongst other classes that he wanted to eliminate from the LNER entirely).

    It has always amazed me, given what was known about the Peppercorn A1s with roller bearings, that not a single other LNER locomotive was fully fitted with them.

    Thank you Mellish, and my apologies for this late reply.

    So there are a few things which happened with Great Northern, and we must remember the order in which they occurred is very important.

    Thompson had always intended to plan for when the LNER was capable of building new post war and hopefully post austerity, so a new A1 class was on the drawing board pretty early on.

    In the back of the RCTS volume 2A, there are 10 (yes, read it: 10) line drawing versions of the proposed Thompson and later Peppercorn class A1 which include the two rebuild schemes (of which one became 4470 Great Northern as A1/1) and then a number of further proposals and examinations including several streamlined examples and one which has the Thompson spacing and Cock O' The North style streamlining.

    These were developed from 1944 to 1948 inclusive under the two C.M.E.s and confusingly, the RCTS volume attributes only two to Thompson despite more than half of these actually having been discussed as proposals under his tenure (confirmed to me by someone who was there).

    It has been the trend to talk of the drawing office conniving or hiding drawings of the new intended A1 Pacific from Thompson in expectation of his leaving office in 1946.

    Having written to and discussed this with someone who was there at the time and actually worked on said drawings, I can confirm this to be a complete fabrication, or at the very least, a manipulation of the truth of the matter.

    What there definitely was, was disagreement on two elements of the design. The position of the bogie and the length of the connecting rods.

    Thompson was happy for a number of different versions to be drawn out and to be compared.

    It was Robert Thom who had originally suggested the equal length connecting rods on the A2/2s, and in this respect (and given that they, along with class A2/1, were still pretty new to the L.N.E.R.) there was nothing to suggest that this arrangement was in any way deficient.

    Thus, there are two versions of the A1/1 arrangement we are familiar with. One, dated July 1944, has the Gresley style spacing and the bogie placed under the cylinders. It has divided drive and a different length connecting rod to the inside cylinder than the outside two (effectively, what was then decided on under Peppercorn).

    The second - which was built - was the familiar A1/1 arrangement, albeit keeping the bogie in the position of the Thompson style, and having a longer inside connecting rod than outside ones. Why, is a mystery, given the work done on A2/1, A2/2 and A2/3 previously. I can find no reference as to why this was done, and with my only contact and source of information regarding the 4470 rebuild now sadly deceased, I fear it will remain a mystery always.

    Further drawing work for the new Standard A1 class was done over the next few years under Thompson's tenure and one interesting aspect is the streamlined question, for which there was one proposal - the last one submitted to him - in April 1946.

    This was a development which intrigues. Full A4 style streamlined casing, albeit, as Thompson had originally intended on Great Snipe/William Whitewall, with just the valances over the cylinders retained (and those over the wheels cut away), the same 250lbs boiler, the same double kylchap arrangement, a return to the streamlined cab and a corridor tender. In all respects other than the streamlined casing at the locomotive end, identical to the A1/1 in components but with the recognisable Gresley casing of the A4 restored.

    If you can imagine William Whitelaw as she was in 1941, albeit with a double chimney and divided drive, that is what the April 1946 draft under Thompson, if it had gone ahead, would have become. I humbly suggest this would have been a very handsome locomotive and one that might have placated a few souls as to Edward Thompson's intentions.

    This would have also been, I feel, the compromise between form and function that Thompson and his design team wanted (as there were, whatever else may be alleged, some differences of opinion on the matter though assuredly NOT to denigrate Gresley's memory).

    The next few versions of this design take a few strange turns after Thompson's retirement, including a version of the streamlined casing with a full smokebox, a very flat angled wedge variant and a few more traditional arrangements with the Thompson high shouldered running plate, before we get to the final design, the Peppercorn A1 in 1948 (on a side note, it is interesting how late in the day the Thompson running plate style was removed from Peppercorn's two Pacific designs).

    Whatever the intention, Thompson had approval for a batch of new A1s when resources allowed. When he retired, most of the development work had been concentrated on perfecting the standard A2 design, and no.500 had emerged as his final locomotive design. The A2, or A2/3 as it became, I hope it can be agreed, was not a perfect machine but there was absolutely no doubting its credentials and certainly not its usefulness to the LNER.

    Great Northern is, to all intents and purposes, the final development of the Gresley A4. If her design work had been carried forward, a further streamlined Thompson A1 closed in outline to Gresley's most successful express passenger design, might have emerged.

    We shall never know, but I feel looking at the evidence, the Peppercorn A1 which emerged was not developed from the many variations of the Thompson A1 - but new, in its own right, and clearly based on the Peppercorn A2, whose development came through the A2/3, A2/2 and ultimately the Gresley P2 mikados.

    When all is said and done, leaving Great Northern as the last development of Gresley's A4s, and the Peppercorn A1s as the final development from the Mikados, seems fairest - and of course, Prince of Wales proves this somewhat as she is developed backwards from the Peppercorn A1 we know and love, Tornado.

    It is a happy coincidence. The biggest question mark for me had been why 4470 retained her name and number where all the other Pacifics had been decidedly unnamed, their original names restored or new names allocated (A2/1) later in their working lives and after Thompson's retirement.

    I can only surmise from what I have been told, that the argument between Thompson and Windle regarding Great Northern led Thompson to soften a little, and allow the locomotive to retain its name, it being a distinct possibility that the name would be lost with the new locomotive to be built.

    Thompson's favourite railway, and one whose locomotives he looked on most fondly, was the Great Eastern Railway, one which he never worked for, but had worked on its products whilst at Stratford works. He took great pride in the B12 and D16 rebuilds and surely their quality is beyond criticism? The livery of the GER was applied to Great Northern albeit in a simplified form. The NE on the tender was a wartime expedient, and later the L and R were restored to form LNER. One cannot help but notice that Great Northern emerged from Doncaster with NE on the tender when other locomotives were emerging with LNER, however...

    I can only surmise, gentlemen. I have no proof of the idea that Thompson saw 4470 as an opportunity to honour all three railway companies. That is entirely speculative. What is true is that he worked for the NER (and his father in law was the CME), he worked for the GNR (under Gresley), he worked for the LNER at Stratford works and was known to love the GER. If you really wanted to desecrate Gresley, keeping the name "Great Northern" seems an odd way of doing it.

    Given what Thompson was often quoted as saying, and given his work with Gresley over all those years, it seems completely inconceivable to me that Thompson hated or resented Gresley. Far from it. He most certainly disagreed (and this is where his tact was not good!) with the conjugated valve gear and it is this point which has been picked up, carried with, and used to lambast him all these years.

    In the last year, two men who were very kind in writing to me and answering many of my questions have passed (Peter Grafton and most recently and with great regret, Richard Hardy). As I look on my writings, notes and bibliography, I am reminded of something both these men impressed upon me. That engineers rarely show such emotion towards their charges, that is, their locomotives, and consider facts first and foremost.

    But in the case of Edward Thompson, whilst this was true at the level of work and while he was in work, he was also capable of remarkable acts of kindness and had emotional depth that few other CMEs have also shown.

    I fear that the waters have been muddied where his relationship with Gresley was concerned, because it suits some who have peddled that version of the story for so long. It sells books to decry Thompson and praise Gresley without considering the full context of the time.

    One example of this was given to me recently. In a discussion on the building of the new P2 (for which I am a founder member and fervent supporter) I asked the question if Thompson was right to rebuild the locomotives with divided drive.

    The response I received, from one engineer, was that he was wrong. He cited that placing an additional set of valve gear under the boiler increased the risk of puncturing the boiler, were the middle valve gear to fail.

    On the surface, this seems a reasonable criticism of the Thompson front end.

    However a quick glance at any of the line drawings for the A2/2 or any of the Thompson Pacifics, in fact, shows this to be wrong. The centre cylinder drives the front driving wheel axle, and therefore the whole of the centre valve gear is below the lengthy smokebox instead.

    I also looked, without much success, for evidence that either Thompson's or Peppercorn's Pacifics suffered from middle big end failure particularly, and evidence for this is lacking.

    It is this sort of story which militates against objective assessment of Thompson's work. The gentleman in question who made this criticism is one of the nicest people you can meet, and in all other conversations a perfectly rational man. But where Thompson's name is concerned, we see prejudice because for so long we have only considered the loudest voices, repeated often, with minimal evidence for their criticisms where they occur.

    I do not write my book to change people's minds who have already been decided. I write to present as much as I can, both context and all the evidence available. Some will no doubt disagree with me and I have changed my views where evidence is given. I am flexible in that and I must be, for it is fair to be.

    My apologies for the lengthy essay above, but I hope it is of help and interest.
     
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  8. pete2hogs

    pete2hogs Member

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    I won't quote, but on one point I must signal my agreement - the Peppercorn A1 was a development of the A2/3, not the Thompson A1's (both built and proposed).

    Very sorry to hear Richard Hardy has passed - his articles in Trains Annual - under the pseudonym 'Balmore' - were some of the first writings to stimulate me to consider how the steam engines I admired actually were seen to the men who worked them.
     
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  9. andrewshimmin

    andrewshimmin Active Member

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    Round-topped boilers might be cheaper to build, but I'm fairly sure the LMS found them more expensive to maintain than a Swindon-derived Stanier belpaire.
    I think the later Crewe belpaires (Beames?) may have been cheaper to maintain than the Crewe round-tops also?
     
  10. Steve

    Steve Resident of Nat Pres Friend

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    There's a lot more to it than the simple difference between Belpaire and round topped when it comes to good and bad design and, hence, maintenance costs.
     
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  11. S.A.C. Martin

    S.A.C. Martin Part of the furniture

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    That might have been the LMS' experience (?) but the exchange trials and later comparisons showed the LNER round topped boilers were cheaper to build and maintain than belpaire types.
     
  12. Copper-capped

    Copper-capped Active Member

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    C'mon peeps, enquiring minds want to know why?!!
     
  13. huochemi

    huochemi Well-Known Member Friend

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    How did the exchange trials show this?
     
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  14. Jimc

    Jimc Part of the furniture

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    Source? I only seem to have heard this from LNER and successor sources (and their fans), and not from any other direction. I don't believe there's any argument that the LNER system enabled them to build very large volume boilers cheaply, but I'm yet to see a neutral source confirming a lower total cost of ownership.

    The trouble in this case is that its an exceedingly complicated calculation, since it needs to include not only initial build cost and cost of overhauls, but also evaluate that against the steam raising capacity and efficiency of the boiler and the effects of weight. If one imagines a smaller and lighter boiler with the same steam raising capacity, for instance, then that would result in fuel savings.

    I fear we are all familiar with the sort of financial evaluation that produces the conclusion that the audience wishes. In my working life it was amazing how often a business case was made to justify one executive's pet project, but if that executive moved on then a new business case would appear which produced an opposite conclusion.

    And I'm intrigued to hear how the exchange trials demonstrated this.
     
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  15. 30854

    30854 Part of the furniture

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    The cheapest to build and to maintain was, by common consent, 'marine' (or 'bull-head') firebox. The fact that the concept comes up short from an operational viewpoint might explain why they didn't feature prominently (or indeed, at all) in Churchward's experiments!

    As Jim says ..... the calculations are complicated.
     
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  16. S.A.C. Martin

    S.A.C. Martin Part of the furniture

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    Forgive me gents, I am currently out and away from my notes and books but I will be happy to provide my sources later on.

    Perhaps I should clarify one thing: there is no direct comparison between boiler types. What we do have is the cost per mile which looks at the different classes available. And invariably, the LNER types come out on top for overall costs.

    Amusingly, despite clear high mileage between classified repairs, overall reliability, and the cheapest cost per mile of any of the Pacifics, the roller bearing A1s do not get the recognition they deserve.

    The round topped boiler is part of this overall cost. Unlike a belpaire boiler which requires an additional former and a press for the more complicated shape, the parallel and tapered boilers of the LNER were pretty straightforward to build.

    For the record, Thompson wanted to eliminate the belpaire types altogether and have just 20 round topped boiler types on the LNER (down from 163!) more or less in response to austerity and also with his experience of boilers on the LNER.
     
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  17. S.A.C. Martin

    S.A.C. Martin Part of the furniture

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    Not much (if any) to disagree with here.

    However the exchange trials took into account those factors as Jim has better outlined above and produced cost per mile statistics.

    One thing I should say, in interests of balance - the excellence of the GWR Hall cannot be underplayed in the 1948 exchange trials. Neither can, I hope, Thompson’s B1 as a direct comparison.
     
  18. 30854

    30854 Part of the furniture

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    Question: How similar were the costing criteria employed by the Big4? Without knowing that, surely we're trying compare (for example) lions with wolves and it's just not possible to state which flavour of firebox was more cost effective.

    There was discussion elsewhere a while back on differing practices across workshops within the same company, so trying to compare Brighton maintenance costings with Inverness or Swindon, or those of Crewe with Darlo or Eastleigh looks like a complete non-starter to my mind and I'd not be too surprised if even a later common BR methodology (if one ever existed) couldn't throw up any definitive answers.
     
  19. Jamessquared

    Jamessquared Nat Pres stalwart

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    Indeed - even in BR days, I suspect if you compared repair costs per mile between, say, a Hall, Black 5, B1 and S15, working out how much of the difference was down to differences in design (i.e. round top or Belpaire firebox) and how much down to the relative organisational efficiency of the works (Swindon vs Crewe vs Doncvaster vs Eastleigh, say) would be fiendishly difficult - certainly at this remove.

    Even the scale (and therefore efficiencies of scale) is different: there were only 45 S15s comprising two main within-class variations; something like 350 Halls in two main types; 400 Thompson B1s; over 800 Black 5s (but with numerous variations of frames, boiler, cylinders etc). Unpicking all that is not for the faint hearted!

    Tom
     
  20. pete2hogs

    pete2hogs Member

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    The LNER found the opposite, to the extent that on some classes they replaced Belpaire boxes with round-topped ones.

    I expect it comes down to design detail and the prejudices of the designer . I've seen it alleged that the replacement of round topped boilers with square-topped on LNWR engines was a result of the boiler explosion at Buxton. This would appear to be one of the many myths that grow up - the explosion was actually due to wrongly maintained safety valves.

    The 'enthusiast' history of British locomotives is full of such myths, thanks are due to Mr. Martin for dispelling at least a few of them regarding one particular designer.
     
    Last edited: Mar 2, 2018

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