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British Industrial History

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Robert Riddles

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Robert Arthur Riddles (1892-1983) was a locomotive engineer responsible for the reorganisation of the Crewe Works and the Derby Works 1925-1930. He was principal assistant to William Stanier and responsible for the design of the London, Midland and Scottish Railway 'Pacific' class

Riddles was born in 1892 and entered the Crewe Works of the London and North Western Railway as a premium apprentice in 1909, completing his apprenticeship in 1913. While attending the Mechanics Institute classes he took a course in electrical engineering, feeling there would be a future for electric traction.

During the 1914–18 Great War he served with the Royal Engineers mainly in France, during which time he was badly wounded.

He returned to the LNWR at Crewe, and in 1920 became the "bricks and mortar assistant" with responsibility for the new erecting shop. When work on this was stopped, Riddles was placed in charge of a small production progress department and was sent to Horwich to study the methods used by the L&Y. From this Riddles gained some backing, and had significant influence in the re-organisation of Crewe which took place between 1925 and 1927.

In 1923 the LNWR became part of the London, Midland and Scottish Railway thus on completion of the work at Crewe, Riddles was sent to the ex-Midland Railway works at Derby, now part of the LMS, to initiate a similar arrangement. In this task he had the active support of the then Derby works manager, H. G. Ivatt.

During the General Strike in 1926 Riddles volunteered as a driver, taking trains from Crewe to Manchester and Carlisle. The experience gained made him almost unique among CMEs; Riddles maintained that the practical knowledge of driving a locomotive that he gained was an invaluable aid to his design work.

In 1933 Riddles moved to Euston to become Locomotive Assistant to the new Chief Mechanical Engineer, Sir William Stanier, and in 1935 became Stanier's Principal Assistant.

In 1937 Riddles moved to Glasgow as Mechanical & Electrical Engineer - Scotland, the first to combine both engineering disciplines in a single title. However Riddles was disappointed that Charles Edward Fairburn was at this time appointed as Stanier's Deputy.

In 1939 with the Second World War having just started, he moved to the Ministry of Supply, becoming Director of Transportation Equipment, and later designed the WD Austerity 2-8-0 and WD Austerity 2-10-0 locomotives.

In 1943 he moved to the post of Chief Stores Superintendent at the LMS - it has been said that he was anxious to get back into the railway business. On the death of Charles Fairburn in 1944 he applied for the position of Chief Mechanical Engineer, but the job went to George Ivatt, with Riddles being promoted to Vice-President of the LMS.

On the creation of the Railway Executive in 1947 in preparation for the nationalisation of the railways in 1948, he was appointed Member of the Railway Executive for Mechanical and Electrical Engineering. He had two principal assistants, both of whom were also former LMS men: Roland C. Bond, Chief Officer (Locomotive Construction and Maintenance), and E. S. Cox, Executive Officer (Design). The duties of these three effectively covered the old post of Chief Mechanical Engineer; they subsequently oversaw the design of the British Railways (BR) standard classes.

Riddles retired in 1953 on the abolition of the Railway Executive, and became a director of Stothert and Pitt of Bath, crane makers.

Riddles was succeeded as Chief Mechanical Engineer of BR by J. F. Harrison.

See Also


Sources of Information

  • 50 Famous Railwaymen, Chris de Winter Hebron, 2005
  • Wikipedia