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Edward Thompson: Wartime C.M.E. Discussion 2012 - 2021

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

  1. Big Al

    Big Al Nat Pres stalwart Staff Member Moderator

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    With respect. If the evidence - by that I mean first hand documentation that is available now and has been examined - is in direct conflict with previous assertions, maybe hand-me-down comments or simply unsubstantiated comments, then I think that you can justifiably call them out as untrue. A lie is something you knowingly say. A falsehood is something that subsequently proves to be untrue. So maybe 'lie' is a bit harsh.

    Are we not talking here about authors who have put together, over a short space of time, books that have been published soon after the events that are being talked about....versus....as has already been said by @S.A.C. Martin, a considered examination of the evidence?

    With no disrespect intended to any of the other authors mentioned, I think that the common thread in many of these books will be the speed with which they were put together. That may have been a strength from the point of view of 'current' appeal at the time but does run the risk of inaccuracy and superficiality.

    That is being demonstrated through the findings in this particular book, as has become apparent over the time that this thread has been running.
     
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  2. Big Al

    Big Al Nat Pres stalwart Staff Member Moderator

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    In an entirely different world I have in my time undertaken peer reviews of research. In so doing the original authors could then correct errors and remove false conclusions. I can't think that Rogers had that luxury and so he did what he did. (I can say nothing more than that as I have not read his book.)

    In a way this thread is as close to a peer review as possible except that the comments are not all of equal worth. That isn't important as part of seeking accuracy is to challenge everything.

    If it transpires that previous authors have been less than balanced about Thompson then that probably wasn't intentional (in most cases) - just a sign of the times and what deadlines from publishers can do to you.
     
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  3. 35B

    35B Resident of Nat Pres

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    Biographers vary in quality, and historiographical standards have evolved. I well remember the disappointment when a biographer produced his work, commissioned by the family but published by a decent publisher, didn't capture the spirit of the subject of his biography despite excellent access to papers. That was in the mid-1980s, and glancing recently at the biography, it conforms to reasonable standards for footnoting etc.

    In this discussion, we're talking about writers working 20-30 years earlier, in a very different era for biographical style, and in an area that has traditionally been known for a popular style rather than academic rigour. Little wonder that previous writers have produced stuff of questionable quality, or that a modern writer might come up with something different. Just as the subject of the biography I mentioned might get a very different treatment today - the world has changed, and writers' perspectives will have changed too.
     
  4. Fred Kerr

    Fred Kerr Part of the furniture

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    The worry is that if earlier authors have been committed to a timescale and have not completed their researches within that time scale they may cut corners by accepting as fact information which could be classified as rumour. In terms of Gresley v Thompson it could be a case as simple as a Gresley enthusiast disagreeing with part of Thompson's policy and describing Thompson as "seeking to destroy Gresley's work". That may have been overheard and the view of one individual accepted as the view of a larger whole.

    In another scenario I recall Haymarket depot being described as a"Gresley" depot because Gresley was born in Edinburgh and the depot staff were comfortable dealing with the operation and maintenance of his locomotives - including the intricacies of the conjugated valve gear. Given this reputation I may conclude that the depot would be reluctant to handle non-Gresley Pacifics thus vilify Thompson's work simply because one depot couldn't / wouldn't accept the new order. If I then put that belief in print and no-one refutes it that belief may over time become fact. This despite the fact that Haymarket may have had Gresley locomotives allocated simply because the depot had a high reputation for handling Gresley Pacifics and dealing with their idiosyncrasies.

    I accept that it is difficult to call previous named authoritative writers "liars" but if their conclusions are challenged by a well-researched piece of work then the reputation of the earlier writers must - by definition - suffer but that is their fault for not completing the full researches and accepting as fact comments taken out of context.

    The example of Cox illustrates this quite well. Cox may well have questioned why Thompson looked to the LMS to analyse the choice between conjugated valve gear (i.e. Gresley) and individual Walschaerts (Thompson) and considered himself a pawn in the decision by Thompson to change course hence Cox's view that Thompson was on an anti-Gresley policy whereas Thompson simply wanted an unbiased expert to investigate the situation and provide evidence that he could use to have the LNER Board accept the subsequent locomotive policy. Unfortunately both Cox and Thompson are no longer alive to explore both their actions and rationale thus leaving others less expert to do so.

    It is to be hoped that @S.A.C. Martin has undertaken sufficient research to demolish the myth that Thompson is a negative figure and confirm that Thompson deserves better than the tarnished reputation he currently bears.
     
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  5. Spamcan81

    Spamcan81 Nat Pres stalwart

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    With all due respect, if you haven't seen the letters, how can you know what editing - if any - was undertaken by Rogers?
     
  6. S.A.C. Martin

    S.A.C. Martin Part of the furniture

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    Because, as I stated earlier, some of the things attributable to Harrison are contradicted by other accounts elsewhere - one in particular, Richard Hardy, was actually present for the events described and gives a different story.

    The other problem is that Rogers doesn't directly quote, at all! That there is the problem. There are no direct quotes. No citations. What we have is as reported by Rogers but no indication of the actual wording, context, or similar. Whereas I can quote with citations sources (e.g. O.S. Nock et al), Rogers' work merely makes claims of others with no direct quotes at all. It's a really odd way to write and a lot of the malicious stuff has come in via this way, with no evidence presented.
     
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  7. jnc

    jnc Well-Known Member

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    This sort of thing happens a lot, actually. If you look at "The Darwin Conspiracy", by Roy Davies, on pg. 145 he recounts the story of Arnold Brackman being given the run-around by another Wallace biographer when Brackman asked for help looking at a key piece of evidence (held by Wallace's descendants) mentioned by the other biographer. Your story was so similar I initially wondered if you were talking about the same events! But you couldn't have been, because when I looked it up, some details didn't match, and Brackman got even less help than you did! (He never even got a reply from the other biographer.)

    Noel
     
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  8. bluetrain

    bluetrain Member

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    You raise a very interesting question. Could Thompson have resolved (or at least eased) the problems of the P2 while keeping them in 2-8-2 form? He must surely have thought through that question in his own mind, but seems to have decided on a 4-6-2 rebuild before ideas were committed to paper or passed to the drawing office.

    The 2-8-2 was a commonplace configuration right across the world, with numerous American, European, British Colonial and other examples. But the P2 did have key differences from most other 2-8-2 classes, firstly in having 3 cylinders and secondly in being a large-wheeled machine intended for express passenger duty. Most overseas 2-8-2 classes were designed as mixed traffic or freight haulers, so may not have offered Thompson helpful ideas for the P2.

    The Prussian P10 had 3 cylinders like the P2, but with smaller (1750mm - 5ft 9in) wheels for mixed traffic work and shorter more flexible wheelbase. Many European 2-8-2s had Krauss-Helmholz or Zara front trucks, often considered to give better riding than pony trucks. But both frame-spacing and cylinder-spacing have to allow for the sideways movement of driving wheels. If the P2 cylinder spacing had been widened to allow for that sideways wheel movement, the overall cylinder width would have exceeded the narrow British loading gauge. Bulleid did consider a 2-8-2 with Krauss-Helmholz bogie for the Southern Railway - but with cylinder diameter 18-in (457mm) rather than the 21-in (533mm) of the P2.

    I think you've hit the nail on the head here. A body of opinion about Edward Thompson seemed to grow up and became accepted wisdom, but was rooted in hearsay not fact. Simon Martin's research has undoubtedly uncovered fresh evidence that justifies a reappraisal. The RCTS locomotive histories are generally very thorough and well researched. The RCTS account of the P2 fully records the major problems that the class had, including the repeated crank-axle failures. But even the RCTS failed to pick-up that the P2 availability and mileage during WW2 were falling well below the standard of the Gresley Pacifics and V2s. Without that information, previous authors may well have been baffled by the rebuilding of the P2 to A2/2 and hence open to the idea that it was an anti-Gresley move.

    Even among authors critical of Thompson, there are some nuances and acceptance that not all was black and white. Colonel Rogers ("Express Steam in GB & France") wrote:

    "Thomson chose three cylinder, but decided on an inside Walschaerts valve gear for the middle cylinder in place of Gresley's conjugated gear. In the light of the lower standards of maintenance available in wartime, this was probably a wise decision. He also chose a divided drive, which was a perfectly reasonable preference."

    ES Cox ("World Steam in 20th Century") offers a strangely ambivalent assessment:

    "Thompson did what had been a commonplace with the old autocratic CMEs of pre-1923, namely completely reversed the Gresley line of development and proceeded to design new engines, type for type no more powerful and rarely better than what had gone before. The conjugated valve gear for three cylinders was, however, replaced by three independent gears, and two instead of three cylinders were applied to all the smaller types. Although Thompson has been much criticized, what he did in these respects was technically right and in keeping with world trends."

    I think that Cox is endorsing Thompson's engineering decisions but criticizing his leadership approach?
     
  9. Hermod

    Hermod Member

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    Thompson could have made it four-cylindered to get the clearance needed up front.
    The real fault was that Gressley had combined big wheels and three -cylinders.
    The P 10 ran 128kmh during trials on level track and measured by police.Not by enthousiastic boys with cheap watches.
     
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  10. Jimc

    Jimc Part of the furniture

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    I think its quite brave to categorise a statement by a senior executive who was actually in place at the time as ridiculous. You may well consider Cook to be misinterpreting Thompson's motives when he says 'desire to obliterate Gresley', especially as we don't know that Cook and Thompson ever discussed the matter, so that's reasonable enough. However it seems unwise to also discard the statement that there was considerable discord within the ex LNER hierarchy, or that, by implication, there were Thompson and Gresley camps within it - after all if everyone hated Thompson there would have been little discord. The very existence of the considerable body of apparently biased anti Thompson writing is surely a partial confirmation that such bad feeling existed. And again the very fact that the statement was made by someone so very well placed to make it suggests that whether or not the interpretation of Thompson's motives is correct, its most probably a belief that was held, quite possibly widely within the offices. Thompson may not have wished to obliterate Gresley, but I think you have to accept there was a body of people within the ex LNER locomotive department who were of the opinion that he did have that desire. Cook took up office in July 1951: it was all very recent history.
     
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  11. Spamcan81

    Spamcan81 Nat Pres stalwart

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    To dismiss Nock and co. as “enthusiastic boys with cheap watches” shows you know little about them, their methodology and their equipment. As for combining big wheels and three cylinders being a “fault,” there’s enough successful designs of that type around the world to prove you wrong.
     
  12. johnofwessex

    johnofwessex Part of the furniture

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    It seems to me that what you come back to with the P2's and several other designs is that you cant fit what you really need to make a successful very high power steam locomotive within the restricted UK loading gauge.

    Similarly the P2's were unique in the UK so the 'understanding' of how to get an express 2-8-2 to work successfully just wasn't there compared with Europe or North America.

    If Gresley or Thompson worked in Europe or North America then the story may well have been very different.
     
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  13. 35B

    35B Resident of Nat Pres

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    Unfortunately, viewed with hindsight, the “enthusiastic boys” part of the jibe has some relevance, however good their equipment and robust their methodology once on a run.

    I can’t recall a note by Nock (I’ve not read Allen) that wasn’t of an express run, and the focus was on speed. It’s great copy, and it’s interesting data, but it’s also fundamentally limited.


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  14. Big Al

    Big Al Nat Pres stalwart Staff Member Moderator

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    I agree that perhaps the 'cheap watches' comment may be a bit hard on earlier writers but the performance of locomotives was always a significant factor in their writing and we can understand why. Speed followed closely by pulling power was always at the forefront and especially so in the 1930s. This has been a theme of much writing and goes back years to the races up each side of England into Scotland and the much earlier competitive boat trains up from Plymouth.

    If you take Cecil J Allen for example. He had much to say about the effectiveness of the P2s over the line for which they were intended to avoid double heading - i.e. between Edinburgh and Aberdeen. He was also impressed by their pulling power on the southern part of the ECML before they went to Scotland. But when he turned to writing about Thompson some of the language was emotive such as his headline title of 'The Revolt from Gresley' in British Pacific Locomotives. In fairness to Allen he acknowledged the context. I quote:

    "Whereas Gresley put design before everything else, Thompson.....had been concerned mainly with maintenance. By 1941, the shortage of labour owing to war conditions was becoming acute and whatever could be done to ease maintenance difficulties was now of paramount importance."

    Having said that he then dispensed with this context, ignored the known problems with their long rigid coupled wheelbase over the curving Scottish route and complained that the P2s would have been much better working on the easier track further south during the war where they would have been invaluable in hauling the heavier trains up to Newcastle. (No doubt some interesting performances to write about would have resulted.)

    Ironically, in 2021 the very priorities that may have had to influence the thinking of Thompson - i.e. maintenance - are a live issue with our main line fleet now. Many of these locos will happily run at up to 90 mph, as they used to, but whether that is compatible with their infrequent use, multiple short period steaming cycles and unhelpful paths they are often given on the network is another matter.

    So I get completely the 'in the round' examination of Thompson where previous authors may have focused too much on style and speed without regard for maintenance and context in examining the work of locomotive CMEs.
     
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  15. 35B

    35B Resident of Nat Pres

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    And, if I can digress into today’s railway for a moment, I’m sure Allen and Nock would have loved the performance of the class 80x units. I’m less sure they’d have given much attention to the concerns over weld quality at jacking points that have caused all of those trains to be withdrawn for examination, just coincidentally(?) in the aftermath of the problems with the (similarly located) yaw dampers attachments on the CAF units in Northern land.


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  16. Big Al

    Big Al Nat Pres stalwart Staff Member Moderator

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    Style over substance maybe?
     
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  17. Hermod

    Hermod Member

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    The P2 was not easy to modify into something useable 2-8-2 when Thompson was CME.
    Gresley could have made a rocket ship by putting the 50 square feet grate ,225 lbs boiler on something like the P1 with 19inch cylinders and a Krauss Helmholtz or Zara truck up front.
    And a stoker.
    Multi- cylindered engines after Chapelon ran 7 revolutions per second in regular service or 125 kmh for five feet two wheels.
     
    Last edited: May 8, 2021
  18. Jamessquared

    Jamessquared Nat Pres stalwart

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    There are a few occasions where Nock does record runs, sometimes from the footplate, of other types. In his North Eastern Locomotive History, he covers some runs on secondary and freight duties, though they are still a bit of a rarity. There is a quote, perhaps symptomatic, that is of interest:

    "When this book was in its earlier stages, the Motive Power Superintendents went to considerable trouble to work out for me a number of trips that would show the old engines at work, but with the time factor in mind I queried whether a run with an old Class R 4-4-40 (LNER D20) would yield any useful data, having regard the light nature of their duties in the comparison with their grand running on the East Coast Trains of forty or fifty years ago. 'Oh, but you must,' came there reply; and it was intimated smilingly, but none the less firmly, that whatever else I did in the way of North Eastern footplate work I must not exclude the D20 class, if for no other reason that that of 'auld lang syne'."

    (My emphasis).
    In other words, clearly the interest was in recording the top flight work. Which from a performance point of view is logical, but focusing on locomotive performance tells you relatively little about railway performance.

    I can't ever remember reading in Nock a single sentence about locomotive maintenance. He'll tell you lots of dimensions, but nothing about whether one locomotive allows a certain maintenance task to be made easily and another that requires the loco to be half stripped to change one fitting.

    I think the real problems with Nock come down to two points: the quantity of his output, and the fact that he (and his publisher) favoured writing on what is in essence an amateur interest (locomotive performance) over and above his professional expertise (signalling). He wrote, apparently, about 140 books. Even allowing for a long life and a degree of repetition, that is more than two books per year, spanning the railways from Cornwall to Caithness. It is impossible to have deep knowledge across such a breadth, so inevitably his writings are based largely on fairly superficial research, heavily influenced by conversations with a few people, and his own travelling experience. There is no possibility that he could ever have done the depth of research into, say, availability that @S.A.C. Martin has done, because there simply wasn't time. In which case it is pretty inevitable that his characterisation of, say, Thompson and his locos would be based on conversations with a fairly small number of people, and performance data from a fairly small number of locos, concentrating on the Pacifics - inevitably a partial picture. I'd hesitate to say he lied about Thompson, but clearly he has presented a superficial overview, and without much intellectual curiosity to delve further into what pressures drove Thompson to have the locomotive policy that he did.

    In his defence: his writing on signalling is excellent, though not presumably box office. He has a very good description of the phases of rebuilding and signalling at Waterloo that was probably the best guide to that until the recent publication of Stuart Isbister and Colin Chiver's two-part monograph for the South Western Circle. He also wrote a good book on railway accidents (published 1983) that includes some more recent material - covering accidents in the modern era - than is in LTC Rolt's "Red for Danger"; it is probably not as well known as Rolt's book perhaps just by reputation: for the casual enthusiast, if you are going to have one book on accidents, you'd pick Rolt.

    Tom
     
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  19. Bluenosejohn

    Bluenosejohn New Member

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    Personally I never got past a very brief glance at the locomotive performance articles ( ie I look at the pictures!! ) but there are enthusiasts who find them of interest and their interests are no more invalid than those who prefer other fields. On other sections of this very forum the timings of the rail tour of the day are written about and discussed so each to their own.

    It is also worth bearing in mind that 'Practice and Performance- World Record officially the world's longest-running railway series, established in 1901' is still going in the Railway Magazine so they must be doing something right. The articles are based on logs sent to the compiler of the article so in their day it was not just OS Nock's or CJ Allen's travels but a variety of people. The fact that they used the more interesting ones that they had available is hardly surprising. There seems to have been no loved lost between Nock and Allen so doubtless a degree of one-upmanship comes into it.

    The fact that they were given cooperation by the Railways themselves also suggests that they saw value in what was being produced.
     
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  20. 35B

    35B Resident of Nat Pres

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    I'd suggest that there's a difference between "interest" and "value", and that the current discussion reflects the implications of that a few decades down the line.
     
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