Grace's Guide

British Industrial History

Grace's Guide is the leading source of historical information on industry and manufacturing in Britain. This web publication contains 132,806 pages of information and 210,387 images on early companies, their products and the people who designed and built them.

Herbert Nigel Gresley

From Graces Guide

Jump to: navigation, search
1913. G. N. Heavy Main Line Engine.
1935. Silver Link streamlined locomotive.
1936. Three-cylinder 2-6-2 locomotive.
1936. LNER Three-cylinder eight-coupled locomotive.

Sir Herbert Nigel Gresley C.B.E. (1876-1941), Doncaster Engineer.

Born at Edinburgh. Locomotive and carriage Engineer.

Best-known for -

1923 Mr. Gresley removed his office from Doncaster to King's Cross Station, London.[1]

1941 Obituary [2]

The railway world can ill afford to lose a man of the ability of Sir Nigel Gresley, whose death on April 5th at the early age of sixty-four we mourn to-day. For many years he was pre-eminent as a British locomotive designer, and not even the historic figures of the past have more famous engines to their credit than he.

Trained under such masters as Webb and Aspinall and Ivatt, he combined the experience gained under them with a natural aptitude for design which he fostered and enlarged by the careful study of foreign, particularly French, developments. He never hesitated to embody in his own engines the good things he found in others, and was always ready to make practical tests of promising inventions. But despite this broadness of outlook there is not one of his many designs that is not essentially British, both in characteristics and appearance. They carry on the great tradition of British locomotive engineers, but always adding to and improving on what had gone before. Only once did he depart from the standard design. In 1929 he built No. "10,000," a compound with a high-pressure water-tube boiler.

For years he devoted to it all the skill and knowledge he could command, but in the end had to admit that, for once, success evaded him. Those who allege that British C.M.E.s are lacking in daring and imagination cannot say that in this case either was wanting; nor can they say that the experiment failed because the designer was half-hearted. Gresley did all that could be done to make the engine a success, and it was not till 1937 that it was converted. Its failure confirmed him in the belief that for the conditions of British railways the conventional form of boiler and engine, the out come of more than a century of practice and experience, is still the best.

Sir Nigel was a Leicestershire man, the son of a Rector of Seale, but he was a descendant of an old Derbyshire family. He was born in June, 1876, was educated at Marlborough and apprenticed to Webb at Crewe. Crewe men look upon Crewe as old boys look upon their public school. It is a common bond between them. Gresley was always proud of the fact that he was one of the band. Leaving Webb, he went to Horwich as a pupil under Sir John Aspinall, the "father" of many men who have won high positions in railway life. Then, in 1905, Ivatt took him to Doncaster as carriage and wagon superintendent. In those days, long before the reduction of many railways to four, that was always regarded as preceding appointment as locomotive superintendent.

In 1911 H. A. Ivatt retired, and Gresley reigned in his stead. Ivatt, carrying on the Patrick Stirling tradition, had made a reputation for Great Northern express engines, and for several years Gresley was content to produce "Atlantics" of more or less standard Doncaster design. Then in 1922 he broke new ground. He designed and built at Doncaster his first "Pacific." For two or three years he had been developing the three-cylinder engine.

In 1920 he built a mixed traffic 2-6-0 engine, "No. 1000 " - see THE ENGINEER, May 7th and December 31st, 1920 - and in the following year some 2-8-0 coal engines, both with three 18.5in. by 26in. cylinders. The outside valves were controlled by Walschaerts gear, but the inside valve was operated by floating levers (Holcroft and Gresley). His "Pacifies" of 1922 - see THE ENGINEER, January 26th and April 27th, 1923 - were the most notable engines of their day. They had three 20in. by 26in. cylinders, driving 6ft. 8in. wheels and weighed 97 tons, with 60 tons on the coupled wheels. The valve gear was Walschaerts, and the floating linkage of Gresley's design.

In 1923 grouping of the railways took place under the Act of 1921. The Great Northern ceased to be a separate entity; it was amalgamated with other companies under the title London and North-Eastern, but Gresley was retained and became chief mechanical engineer to the whole new system. The most active part of his career as a locomotive designer then began. In ten or a dozen years he turned out himself or adopted for trial many new engines or introduced new details.

In 1924 he fitted a booster to an Atlantic. In 1925 be purchased some 2-8-8-2 "Garratts," in 1926 he fitted the Lentz valve gear to some engines for test purposes, in 1927 a new 0-6-0 goods engine was built, and in the same year the pressure in 4-6-2 "Enterprise" was brought up from 180 lb. to 220 lb.

In the following year a 4-4-0 three-cylinder engine was put into service, and in the next year steam railcars were purchased. A new class of passenger engines, the "Sandringhams," appeared in 1929, and in the same year a "Pacific" was fitted with roller bearings.

In 1929 the high-pressure water-tube boiler, four-cylinder compound, No. "10,000" was constructed, and new side tank engines went into service. Two years later a 4-4-4 articulated booster locomotive was built.

The year 1934 is notable for the completion of No. "2000," a 2-8-2 express engine called "Cock o' the North," and in 1935 came the famous streamlined engine and train-the "Silver Link" and "Silver Jubilee." His last product was a 2-6-2, the "Bantam Cock," designed so that it might run over parts of the L.N.F..R. system that are not suitable for a 22-ton axle load.

This mere catalogue of engines - all of them have been illustrated and described in our pages will give some idea of Gresley's activity at this time. The "Silver Link " has to her credit a speed with a heavy train of no less than 112 m.p.h. That was a "stunt" run, but the type was designed to maintain an average of 70 m.p.h. on very long trips. The "Silver Jubilee" train of 1935 did the 232 miles to Darlington without a stop in four hours, and in 1937 the "Coronation" ran from King's Cross to York at an average speed of 72 m.p.h., and reached Edinburgh in six hours. These runs being too long for one train crew, Gresley built a tender with a corridor running through it, so that the crews could be changed en route. He not only designed the engines for these crack trains, but had a great deal to do with the design of the trains themselves, the air resistance of which it was desired to reduce to the minimum. We may recall, also, that many years ago he introduced the fixed articulated train in which three bogies carry two coaches, the central bogie being common to both.

Of all his engines, three stand out. The "Cock o' the North," "No. 10,000," and the "Silver Link." The "Cock o' the North," of 1934, was designed to work the heaviest section of the L.N.E.R., that between Edinburgh and Aberdeen, and is remarkable from the fact that she has eight large coupled wheels with two leading wheels instead of a bogie. The wheels are 6ft. 2in. diameter and the engine is a genuine "express." She has three 2l in. by 26in. cylinders and the first of the class-the "Cock o' the North" herself - has poppet valves operated by rotary cams. The driving axles are loaded at about 20 tons each and the total weight of the engine is a little over 110 tons, with a tractive effort of 43,462 lb.

"No. 10,000" preceded "Cock o' the North" chronologically, but her history before he was converted to a " Pacific " extended over many years. She was completed in 1929 to the joint designs of Gresley and Sir Harold Yarrow, who was responsible for the design of the water-tube boiler-a specially modified Yarrow-and built it at Scotstoun. The engine, as already recalled, was a four-cylinder compound. The two high-pressure cylinders, 12in. diameter, were inside, driving the leading coupled axle; the low-pressure cylinders outside and driving the central axle were 20in. in diameter. The stroke was 26in. for all cylinders. The boiler pressure was 450 lb. and the driving wheels 6ft. Sin. diameter. With the exception of the boiler, she was built at the Darlington works of the company. Her appearance was striking, not alone from her great size and the 4-6-4 wheel arrangement, but because she was almost smooth from "bow to stern," thus initiating the streamlining which was developed later. After several months in service between York and Edinburgh she was put on to the crack London train, the 10 a.m. ex-King's Cross non-stop to Edinburgh in August, 1930. After that she passed through various vicissitudes, the history of which has not yet been written, and in 1937 was converted into a "Pacific."

The "Silver Link" is chiefly remarkable because of the speed of 112 m.p.h. she attained on a trip in September, 1935, with a train of 230 tons and because she was streamlined on the horizontal or Bugatti principle. But apart from this covering, the engine was an ordinary L.N.E.R. three-cylinder "Pacific." Indeed, she can hardly be considered apart from the train the "Silver Jubilee" of which she formed the head.

Gresley was a Past-President of the Institution of Mechanical Engineers and of the Institution of Locomotive Engineers, and was the author of several valuable papers and addresses on locomotive matters. He took every opportunity to urge the need for a locomotive research station upon the railway companies and pointed with regret to the absence from this country of a plant corresponding to that at Vitry. He was well known in France, a great admirer of the work of French locomotive designers, and ever ready to profit by their ideas and inventions. Much of his success was due to the readiness with which he recognised merit wherever and whenever he came across it. There was nothing narrow or jealous in his disposition. He wanted the best, and was willing to accept it from whatever quarter it came.

Those who knew Gresley will always remember him as a dear and constant friend. He was endowed with a naturally affectionate nature and cannot have bad an enemy in the world. For the past two or three years his health had given those near to him concern, but it was hoped that be would have strength to carry on till he reached the age of retirement. That was not to be, and the world has lost too soon a locomotive man whose name will always stand high in the annals of British railways.

1942 Obituary [3]

Sir HERBERT NIGEL GRESLEY, C.B.E., D.SC., was one of the most outstanding locomotive engineers of his time, and will always be remembered for his efforts, as first chief mechanical engineer of the London and North Eastern Railway, to establish and maintain that company's reputation for the running of long-distance expresses at very high speeds. For thirty years he exerted a notable influence on British locomotive design, which was all the more valuable on account of his knowledge and understanding of the work of Continental locomotive engineers, especially in France. He was always ready to profit by these observations of railways abroad and to adopt any of their ideas which he considered to be of sufficient merit. On the Great Northern Railway, and after that company's absorption into the London and North Eastern Railway, his work showed him to be well fitted to carry on the great tradition of his famous predecessors at Doncaster, Patrick Stirling and H. A. Ivatt.

Sir Nigel was the fourth son of the Rev. Nigel Gresley, rector of Seale, Leics, and was educated at Marlborough. In 1893 he was apprenticed to Mr. F. W. Webb at the Crewe works of the London and North Western Railway. In 1898 he joined the Lancashire and Yorkshire Railway as a pupil of Sir John Aspinall, and after holding brief appointments in the testing department and at Blackpool running shed, he was made outdoor assistant in the carriage and wagon department, and a year later became assistant manager of the carriage and wagon works at Newton Heath.

In 1902 he was appointed works manager and two years later he was promoted to be assistant superintendent. He joined the Great Northern Railway in 1905 as carriage and wagon superintendent at Doncaster, and two years later he devised the first articulated coaching stock which he subsequently built in such large numbers. In 1911 he succeeded Mr. Ivatt as locomotive superintendent; the title of his post was shortly afterwards changed to chief mechanical engineer.

His first original locomotive design was that of a two-cylinder 2-6-0 engine, built in 1912, which was quickly followed by one of the 2-8-0 type. He then began his work on the development of the three-cylinder simple type, with a special type of valve gear in which the movements of the valves for the two outside cylinders are combined to impart the correct movement to the valve for the inner cylinder—a device which he subsequently employed on all his most important designs. After an experimental 2-8-0 goods engine, built in 1918, had been running for some two years, he launched a 2-6-0 mixed traffic locomotive, with a boiler 6 feet in diameter, which marked a notable advance in size, but was eclipsed in 1922 by the completion of the first of his well-known three-cylinder Pacific type (4-6-2), which was named Great Northern. This was the last type he designed for the Great Northern Railway as a separate company.

On 1st January 1923 the grouping of the railways took place under the Act of 1921, and Sir Nigel entered on the most active part of his career, as chief mechanical engineer of the London and North Eastern Railway. New constructional work was concentrated at Darlington and Doncaster, where Pacific locomotives were built in large numbers over several years, the design being constantly improved by important modifications to valve events, by increased boiler pressures, and by a higher degree of superheat. An interesting exchange of locomotives between the Great Western and the London and North Eastern Railways was arranged in 1925, as a result of which much valuable information was collected by the participating companies.

In the same year Sir Nigel introduced the Mikado (2-8-2) type of locomotive for freight traffic into Great Britain; and he adopted the design nine years later for a larger-wheeled engine for heavy express work, named Cock o' the North. Among his many notable examples of locomotives of conventional type may be mentioned the Shire (4-4-0) and Sandringham (4-6-0) engines of 1928 and 1929 respectively; the Green Arrow of 1936, which was the first 2-6-2 (Prairie) tender engine in the British Isles; and the "V" class of three-cylinder tank engines, of the same wheel arrangement, which was also adopted for his last design, the Bantam Cock, which appeared a few weeks before his death and was chiefly remarkable for the thermic syphons which were provided in its firebox. But Sir Nigel also made a number of bold departures from. established practice, which added greatly to his reputation as a courageous and resourceful engineer. He built, in 1925, the first main-line Garratt locomotive for service in England; the engine was of the 2-8-8-2 type and was designed for heavy mineral traffic in the Sheffield district. Then he designed the remarkable corridor tenders for the engines used on the Scottish express which provided access to the train, to enable engine crews to be changed en route. In 1929 appeared one of his most interesting designs, a high-pressure four-cylinder compound water-tube boiler locomotive, No. 10,000, which apart from the novelty of its general principles, was notable in providing his first full-sized experiments with streamlining. The encouraging results of the latter feature caused Sir Nigel to adopt it on later types for the fastest express work, although in other respects No. 10,000 was a disappointment, and the water-tube boiler was not tried again.

In 1935 the Silver Link locomotive (a streamlined Pacific) was built, and put to work on a completely streamlined train, the first in the United Kingdom, known as the Silver Jubilee, which made the daily journey of 232 miles between London and Darlington without a stop in 3 hr. 18 min., and established Sir Nigel's reputation as a designer of high-speed locomotives more than any other of his achievements. But even this performance was eclipsed in 1937, when another completely streamlined train, the Coronation, was put to work, covering the 393 miles between London and Edinburgh in 6 hours. With both trains, some outstanding locomotive performances were recorded, and the highest speed ever attained by a train in this country was reached on 3rd July 1938, when during some braking tests, the streamlined 4-6-2 engine No. 4468 Mallard maintained an average of 120 m.p.h. for 5 miles, with a short burst of 125 m.p.h. Sir Nigel's many efforts in the national interest were rewarded by the bestowal of the C.B.E. upon him in 1920, for his work in connection with the reorganization of Doncaster works for the manufacture of munitions, whilst in 1936 he was chairman of a committee set up in 1935 by Sir Walter Runciman, then President of theBoard of Trade, to consider the types of steering gear fitted to the steamships Blairgowrie and Usworth, which had been lost at sea, apparently as a result of failure of the steering gear. In the same year he received his knighthood.

He also served on several other Government committees, including those appointed by the Ministry of Transport to consider automatic train control and the electrification of railways (the Weir Committee). He was also a lieutenant-colonel in the Engineer and Railway Staff Corps (T.F.). His interest in technical education was shown by his work for a number of years as a governor of Queen Mary College, London; and in 1936 the degree of D.Sc., honoris causa, was conferred upon him by the University of Manchester. Sir Nigel was a keen supporter of several technical societies, and the chief record of his work is to be found in the various papers which he presented before them.

He was elected a Member of the Institution in 1907 and became a Member of Council in 1924. After rendering valuable services on various Institution committees, he was elected a Vice-President in 1932 and President in 1936. In 1940 he was elected an Honorary Life Member.

He was the author of three papers, "The Three-Cylinder High-Pressure Locomotive" (1925); "High-Pressure Locomotives" (1931); and "Locomotive Experimental Stations" (1931); whilst in 1936 he delivered his Presidential Address on "Locomotives and High Speed on Railways". He was also a Member of the Institution of Civil Engineers and a Member of the Institution of Electrical Engineers, and was twice president of the Institution of Locomotive Engineers. Of all his many valuable contributions to locomotive engineering in Great Britain, there is one which may in due time outweigh all others, namely, his long-sustained effort to win support for the establishment of a national testing station for locomotives. The fulfilment of this long-cherished plan at last began in 1937 when the London and North Eastern and London, Midland and Scottish Railways started to build a jointly owned testing establishment at Rugby. Although much of the constructional work had been carried out, the present war caused the work to be postponed and Sir Nigel did not live to see the completion of the project, for his death occurred on 5th April 1941, in his sixty-fifth year.

1941 Obituary [4]

See Also


Sources of Information