Ernest Leopold Ahrons

Editorial Note

The following is taken from a note at the beginning of Ahron's mighty posthumous work.:
The late Ernest Leopold Ahrons was born on February 12th, 1866, at Bradford, and was educated at the Bradford Grammar School and Yorkshire College, Leeds. As a student at the latter he obtained one out of three advanced scholarships in mathematics and physics, and was awarded first prize in engineering construction and mechanism and machinery. Leaving college in 1885, Ahrons went as a pupil under Mr. W. Dean to Swindon Locomotive Works, Great Western Railway, until 1888, and for two years after was employed in the Drawing Office and as an inspector of materials. In 1890 he became Chief Draughtsman to Messrs. Fleming, Macfarlane & Co., of Middleton, and soon afterwards obtained a position on the drawing office staff of Messrs. Beyer, Peacock & Co. Ltd. He was appointed in 1892 to the position of Engineer and Manager of the Government Workshops attached to the Ecole Khédivial d'Arts et Métiers, at Boulac, Cairo. Owing to ill health, he resigned this appointment in 1898, and returned to England. In the same year he became engineer-in-charge of the general department of Messrs. Henry Simon Ltd., of Manchester. Between the years 1902 and 1917 he held various positions in engineering industry, and during the Great War acted as a Trade Officer at the Department of Overseas Trade (Development and Intelligence). He resigned from the Government service in 1919, and until his death devoted himself entirely to literary work. His first contribution to the press appears to have been a note on "North Western Engines", which appeared in The English Mechanic of May 20th, 1881, over the nom de plume "Meteor", which he used with all his earlier writings. From this time onwards he was a frequent contributor to the engineering and mechanical journals of notes, letters and short articles, and in 1903 commenced in the Locomotive Magazine a series of articles on the Egyptian Government Railways and locomotives. Amongst the books he wrote mention should be made of his Development of British Locomotive Design, Repairing of Locomotives, and Lubrication of Locomotives, as well as primers on the Steam Locomotive, Steam Locomotive Construction and Maintenance, and Steam Engine Valves and Valve Gears. To The Engineer he contributed an admirable series of descriptive "Short Histories of Famous Firms", in which he dealt with the origin of many British companies which built locomotives during the last century. His practical acquaintance with locomotive design and operation gained by his experience at Swindon gave him an intimate knowledge of the principles of locomotive engineering, which, combined with a complete knowledge of locomotive history, fitted him to undertake the exhaustive series of articles for The Engineer in 1925 on the British Steam Railway Locomotive from 1825 to 1924, forming the most comprehensive history of the subject which has ever been written.

Mr. Ahrons had intended to republish these articles in book form and to include the latest developments in locomotive engineering to the end of 1925, but his untimely death on March 30th, 1926, prevented this.

The work of arranging publication in the present form had therefore to be carried out by others, and the responsibility for this rests mainly on his personal friends, Messrs. A.C.W. Lowe, J.G.H. Warren, and W.J. Bell, who have spared no pains to complete the work in a manner which it is believed would have been acceptable to the author.

The British Steam Railway Locomotive 1825-1925. London: Locomotive Publishing Co., 1927. 391 pp. 473 illus. 19 tables.
This is an amazingly detailed source of information, and is a key source of information on locomotive development within the period stated. The illustrations are a mixture of line drawings, photographs, and more detailed diagrams. Many further sources of information, mainly in The Engineer and The Locomotive, are mentioned in the text or as footnotes. Sufficient information is provided to trace these. There are some citations to papers presented to the two key engineering institutions, but most are inadequately cited and are difficult to trace. There is a good index, but it is not quite as good as it looks (there are far more items on "india-rubber" in the text than appear in the index: it is difficult to believe that this is the only infalicity). J.B. Snell is highly critical not only of the index, but the incoherence of much of the text.

The prefactory material contained the following: Mr. Ahrons had intended to republish these articles in book form and to include the latest developments in locomotive engineering to the end of 1925, but his untimely death on March 30th, 1926, prevented this.

The work of arranging publication in the present form had therefore to be carried out by others, and the responsibility for this rests mainly on his personal friends, Messrs. A. C. W. Lowe, J. G. H. Warren, and W. J. Bell, who have spared no pains to complete the work in a manner which it is believed would have been acceptable to the author. Hilton (Locomotive Mag., 1947, 53, 44) resolved an error relating to the builder of the White Horse of Kent supplied by Robert Stephenson & Co. to the SER.


Of all those who worship at the shrine of the steam locomotive there has never been one more devout and more learned than the late E. L. Ahrons. He not only showed for the history of the locomotive that enthusiasm which characterises your true historian, but he brought to it, also, a degree of technical knowledge higher than is to be found in many of those who have surrendered themselves to the fascination of that subject. He received his early training as an engineer at Swindon, and although his subsequent career was spent mainly in other fields of engineering, his early love for locomotives never left him. He maintained, moreover, to the last a close touch with technical progress, and his book The Development of British Locomotive Design, issued in several editions by the Locomotive Publishing Company, is still a familiar work of reference amongst locomotive men.

His greatest work was undoubtedly the series of articles which he was commissioned to write for The Engineer in celebration of the Railway Centenary. No one who was not in touch with him, as the present writer was, during the preparation of those articles can have any conception of the work he put into them, and the extraordinary care he took to verify every point. It did not matter how small the hint or how trivial the enquiry; if it could help at all he pursued it to the last, and he wrote a veritable volume of letters as well as the series itself. It must be freely admitted that the exigencies of the Press hampered him a little. To begin with, when he and I together schemed out the series it became evident that unless some limit was put to it, it would extend beyond reasonable bounds. We had, therefore, to decide to omit all the early history that is, the history prior to 1825 and to condense strictly all history more recent than 1900. Moreover, when the articles came in they were crowded with illustrations, and I found it impera- tive to make certain omissions. I should like to say here in memory of an old friend that never, in the course of the whole transaction, did we have a difficult word together. He knew, I hope, that I regretted omissions as much as he did, but he invariably cheerfully acquiesced, and always indicated what could be left out with least injury to the history. Never and I think Mr. Bell, of the Locomotive Publishing Company, will agree with me in this was there an author who was more ready to see the Editor's point of view.

This republication of the series in book form is a very notable event. The volume not only brings all the articles together in a convenient form, but a considerable number of illustrations which had to be left out of the original have been added, so that the volume is actually more complete than the articles. Moreover, it has been possible to make certain emendations and to take advantage of the correspondence which took place during the publication in The Engineer. Take itfor all in all, it may now be said without the slightest fear of contradiction that it is the most complete, the most accurate, the most detailed history of the British steam locomotive between 1825 and 1925 which has ever been written. It possesses, moreover, the advantage that since Ahrons, owing to his early training, could appreciate technical points he was able to convey to the readers a good idea of the reasons which prompted successive changes in the design of engines. The book is, therefore, not a mere record of such changes, but, in many cases, presents the arguments which led to the alterations.

There will be found, throughout the volume, references to articles by the same author which were published in The Engineer under the general title of "Short Histories of Famous Firms". Although some articles in that series came from other pens, most of them were written by Ahrons and dealt with firms which had been wholly or partly engaged in locomotive building. Those articles have not been collected in book form, but it is perhaps fitting to say here that they form a valuable corollary to the present volume.

April, 1927. Loughnan Pendred.

Ahrons should be prepared as a machine-readable product as close inspection has shown that the index is far from being comprehensive. In such a form it could always be "in-print" and be updated where this is required.

Development of British locomotive design. Locomotive Publishing. Co., 1914. 222pp
Based on the articles written for the Locomotive Magazine in 1908-9, but re-written for book form. Review in Locomotive Mag., 1914, 20, 134 which includes detailed working drawing (elevation and plan) of Raven three-cylinder 4-4-4T.  For parts see Locomotive Mag., 1909, 15, 49; 76; 99; 118; 140; 159; 177; 215; 235 and 1910, 16, 14, 27, 47, 72, 97, 123, 139, 162, 221, 249, 263.

Locomotive and train working in the latter part of the nineteenth century; edited by L.L. Asher. Cambridge: Heffer, 1951-4. 6 vols.
The normally unevaluative Ottley (3785) notes that it is a "very detailed and informative work". The work was reprinted from articles in The Railway Magazine. The section on the Midland & Great Northern is reproduced in an attempt to show the richness of a work which described railway services before they beacme an adjunct to not very well-run bus companies.

Volume 1:
Greant Northern
Manchester, Sheffield and Lincolnshire
North Eastern
Great Eastern;
Midland & Great Northern
Hull & Bansley.

Volume 2:
London & North Western
Lancashire & Yorkshire
North Staffordshire
Maryport & Carlisle
North London

Volume 3:
Glasgow & South Western
North British
Great North of Scotland.

Volume 4:
Great Western
Brecon & Merthyr
Taff Vale
Midland & South Western Junction.

Volume 5
South Eastern
London, Chatham & Dover
London, Brighton & South Coast
Somerset & Dorset Joint
Metropolitan District.

Volume six:
Great Southern and Western Railway
Waterford Limerick and Western Railway
Dublin, Wicklow and Wexford Railway
Midland Great Western Railway
Great Northern Railway (Ireland)

Lubrication of locomotives. Locomotive Publishing Co,

Repairing of locomotives. , 51 pp., 43 figs. Locomotive Publishing Co., Ltd.,
See Locomotive Mag., 1920, 26, 260.

Steam engine valves and valve gears, etc. London, 1921. pp. x. 112. (Pitman’s Technical Primer Series. No. 30.)

Steam locomotive construction and maintenance: describing workshop equipment and practice in the construction of modern steam railway locomotives with notes on inspection, testing, maintenance and repairs. London: Pitman, [1921.]   pp. ix. 114. (Pitman’s Technical Primer Series. No. 1.)
Available in various formats from University of California via Wikisource

Locomptive Mag., 1921, 27, 52 This little work is intended for the student and describes in non-technical language the chief parts and functions of the modern locomotive. The author also gives the reasons which have led to the adoption of many of the principal details. Chapters are devoted to the boiler and its more important adjuncts; the engine including the mechanism and valve gear; framing, springs, axles and wheels; also the tender. Compounding and superheating have been dealt with and clearly explained. Very clear type has been used and the drawings well reproduced.