Cecil J. Allen

Author & Sir Nigel on inaugural trip of the Coronation train in 1937
from Locomotive Practice and Performance in the Twentieth Century

It is tempting to compare Allen with Nock, but other than the latter inheriting British Locomotive Practice & Performance in The Railway Magazine from the former they share little in common as authors. Allen wrote far fewer books and these tend to be of a high standard, especially the histories of The Great Eastern Railway and the London & North Eastern Railway, whereas many of Nock's books are formulaic. Unlike Nock, Allen produced a real autobiography which recounts both his professional and private lives, including his religious and musical activities.

One puzzle is difficult to resolve namely that of the relationship with his employer concerning the articles on locomotive performance wherein he might be eulogizing that of the Company's competitors whilst commenting adversely on performance on the LNER. He mentions in his autobiography, especially when the comparitive trials of a Castle and a Gresley Pacific took place: the Great Western considered that Allen had been biased in his reportage. The hostility shown by the Locomotive Engineers is interesting: Nock appeared to be better received. It is highly pertinent to note Fred Rich's observations reproduced herein: it should be noted that (1) Fred Rich was a highly competent footplate observer (see for instance his account of his days at the Rugby Test Plant in Steam Wld (215) p. 8 et seq) and (2) that these footplate observations made by Allen coincided with his presentation to the Institution of Locomotive Engineers which was not well received.

The whole question of locomotive performance as observed by "amateurs", whether the observers were Rous-Marten, Allen or Nock, probably needs to be considered. Tuplin could sometimes be mildly hostile and yet he made extensive use of the data. The CMEs seemed to more than tolerate them as the observers were frequently invited to attend record-making runs, and footplate passes were granted on a moderately generous basis, although Rich questions their ability to make realistic observations. Allen and Nock in particular were also reliant upon the receipt of logs which came from all sorts of people, but some of whom were professional railwaymen..

In Nock's Great Northern 4-4-2 'Atlantics' (page 105) it is stated that Allen had rejected a run submitted by A.F. Webber (see J. Instn Loco. Engrs, 1938, 28 Paper 378) behind an Ivatt Atlantic on the basis that it could not have happened. It would seem that both Allen and Nock could sometimes be arrogant.

Michael Brooks in Railway history and the Great Eastern Railway (Backtrack, 2008, 22, 280) casts very serious doubts about the veracity of Allen's The Great Eastern Railway concerning the "immediate departure" (it was anything but) of Walter Henry Hyde, General Manager of the GER following the Midland's acquistion of the LTSR. Furthermore, Brooks ends his important article by noting that the Chairman of the Great Eastern Railway Society feared that members were spotting so many errors "it had become a new sport".

Paper presented at Institution of Locomotive Engineers
Notes on the influence of design on express locomotive performance. J. Instn Loco. Engrs., 1922, 12, 175-85. Disc. 185-97; 248-58; Meeting at Leeds 516-22 (Journal No. 55) (Paper No.117)
The Chairman (J.W. Smith) was hostile: "The author seems to have formed the opinion that locomotive engineers do not possess data obtained from actual tests to guide them on matters of design. They have quite a lot of information..." C.J. Allen was not present at the Leeds Meeting: A. Hird (Hunslet) pp. 516-17 considered that fuel economy had been ignored by Allen, and he had failed to address the problems of design for narrow gauge lines; J.J. Laine (NER, York) was critical of Allen's enthusiasm for the performance of the LYR 2-4-2Ts: these were only suitable for short-distance work with light loads. Noted that the NBR "Glenfarg" tests with NER 3-cylinder 0-8-0 had been reported in Rly Gaz. E.L. Ahrons (pp. 519-22).

Magazine series

British locomotive practice and performance. Rly Mag., 1909-1958.
This series of monthly articles probably constitutes some journalistic record for longevity. In addition Allen contributed to Trains Illustrated and Railway World. The series in the Railway Magazine was continued by O.S. Nock from 1959.
Locomotive running, past and present, No. 161. Mod. Rly., 1963, 18, 103-7.
Contains a table of maximum recorded speeds attained by steam traction.

Books

British Atlantic locomotives. London: Ian Allan, 1968, 164pp. + 32 plates.
British Atlantic locomotives, revised & enlarged by G. Freeman Allan. London: Ian Allan, 1976, 143pp. + 48 plates.
It seems strange to have an enlarged edition with fewer pages, but the sixteen extra plates may explain this.
British Pacific locomotives. London, Ian Allan, 1962. 240 p.+ front.+ 48 plates. 115 illus., 5 diagrs. (s.els), 49 tables.
Reviewed by H. Holcroft in Rly Wld, 1963, 24, 38.
"The Coronation" and other famous L.N.E.R.trains. London: Nicholson & Watson, 1937. 176pp. 92 illus., 4 diagrs., 3 tables.
The Great Eastern Railway. London: Ian Allan, 1955.
There were several editions of this excellent history: C.J. Allen began his career on the GER and was rapidly promoted to become an inspector of rail purchases: he was a qualified Civil Engineer. He gives an excellent account of Thronton's contribution.
The Gresley Pacifics of the LN.E.R. London, Ian Allan, 1950. 128 p. incl. 24 plates. 47 illus.,5 diagrs. (mci. 35. els.), 6 tables.
The locomotive exchanges. 2nd ed. London: Ian Allan, 1950. 176, lix pp.
Ottley 2879: the second edition included a precis of the official report by the Railway Executive on the 1948 exchanges. For other exchanges the 1949 edition is acceptable.
Locomotive practice and performance in the twentieth century.. Cambridge, Heffer, 2nd impression (revised) 1950. xvi, 302 p. + front.+ 64 plates. 151 illus., 7 diagrs., 82 tables.
Includes several chapters, phrased in simple terminology, on the design, mechanics and operation of the steam locomotive, as well as a survey of performance covering the period from about 1910 until the immediate Post-WW2 period. Performance includes City of Truro's record breaking run as well as early test runs with the Merchant Navy class.
In an extensive Foreword he acknowledged photographers: "mention especially Mr. F.E. Mackay, doyen of British express-train photographers, Canon Eric Treacy, Mr. Maurice W. Earley, and my good friends of Rail Photo Service in Boston, D.S.A., who put the whole of their vast collection of spectacular American train "shots" freely at my disposal. Acknowledgment is due also to the Public Relations Officers of British Railways for their assistance in the photographic realm. The ingenious sectional drawings by Mr. A. N. Wolstenholme are a further asset to the book. [then]
Most valuable help has been given by various friends in the revision of the proofs, and in this connection I would accord grateful thanks to Mr. J. Pelham Maitland for his scrutiny of Chapters 1 to 10, Messrs. G. J. Aston, R. E. Charlewood and A. H. Holden for their work on Chapters 11 to 16, and to Mr. Basil K. Cooper for helpful advice on Chapter 19.
I would like to pay my warm tribute to the late Mr. Ernest W. Heffer, who commissioned the book and gave much kindly encouragement during its compilation, but never lived, unfortunately, to see its completion; to his successor, Mr. Reuben Heffer, and Mr. G. Newman, for their ready agreement to all the author's most extravagant requests; and especially to Mr. L.L. Asher, of the publishers' staff, to whose railway enthusiasm the book owes its inception, and whose pleasant company, as cicerone during many lunch-time perambulations of the byways of the beautiful town of Cambridge, will remain one of the pleasantest of recollections of the time during which this volume was in production.
Most of this book was written while there were still four independent railways in Great Britain. Their names often stray into its pages where, more properly, "Regional" titles should take their places. Personally, in common with many others who share equally in the fascination of a railway interest, I cannot but regret that the invigorating competition of the past is now at an end, and that eventually all the locomotive practice of the country is to be forced into a dull mould of rigid standardisation. Fortunately, many years must elapse before all the varied characteristics and lineaments of the past disappear from view, and nothing can extinguish the memories or the glories of the great achievements of byegone days, which this book has attempted to set on record..
The London & North Eastern Railway. London: Ian Allan, 1966. 228pp. + plates.
Allen continued his steel rail inspection for the LNER, and was used in a semi-formal capacity on some of the high speed runs.
Modern railways: their engineering, equipment and operation. London, Faber, 1959. 307 p. + 64 plates. 249 illus., 22 diagrs., 10 tables.
Includes four chapters on steam locomotives.
The North Eastern Railway. London: Ian Allen, 1964.
The Stanier Pacific of the L.M.S.. London, Ian Allan, 1950. 64 p. incl. 16 plates. 33 illus., 4 diagrs. (s.els.), 8 tables.
Switzerland's amazing railways, . London: Nelson, 1959
Titled trains of Great Britain. 3rd. ed. London: Ian Allan, 1953.
First published in 1946.
Two million miles of rail travel: the autobiography of Cecil J. Allen. London: Ian Allan, 1965. 232pp. + plates
"It is recorded in the annals of my family that at the age of two I screamed at locomotives in St. Pancras Station. Whether my infant nerves had been upset by the pseudo-Gothic outside the terminus, or noisy Midland safety-valves inside, has never been finally determined; certain it is that this was both the first and last sign in my life of any antipathy to railways". Thus begins C.J. Allen's excellent autobiography which covers all aspects of his life: his career as an expert on steel rails on the Great Eastern and LNER, his family life, his Alpine holidays, his religious activities, his organ playing, and, of course, his recording of locomotive performance.
Allen, C.J. and Townroe, S.C.
The Bulleid Pacifics of the Southern Region. London, Ian Allan, 1951. 80 p. incl. 24 plates. 50 illus., 5 diagrs. (incl. 3s. els.), 11 tables.
Presumably the sections on performance were written by Allen Whilst the technical sections were produced by Townroe. There is a foreword by O.V.S. Bulleid. The material is not repeated in such great detail in the later British Pacific locomotives, nor are the many plates which clearly illustrate the problems of smoke deflection.

Extract from British locomotive practice and performance in Rly Mag., 1938, 82, 12-26.

And now for the L.M.S.R. runs from Glasgow to Largs—a Scottish coast resort that has never previously figured in these articles. The 5.14 p.m. down follows immediately on the heels of the 5.10 p.m. 45-min. flyer to Ayr, and so should normally get a good road to Kilwinning, though on neither of the two runs about to be described was this the case; further, slight delay occurs by taking the slow road from Shields No.1 to Arkleston junction. The train on each occasion was made up to six vehicles, weighing 165 tons tare and 175 tons full, and hauled by a standard compound. No. 1180 made the run of 7.7 miles from St. Enoch to Paisley (Gilmour Street) in 10 min. 50 sec., with a maximum of 56 m.p.h., instead of the 12 min. allowed. Restarting, the engine maintained 53-52 m.p.h. up the 1 in 600-449 to Howwood (6.1 miles in 8 min. 22 sec.), and passed Glengarnock, 12.9 miles, in 15 min. 12 sec., at 63 m.p.h., but then had signal checks from Dalry through Kilwinning to Saltcoats; Dalry, 15.6 miles, was cleared in 17 min. 52 sec., Kilwinning, 19.1 miles, in 21 min. 25 sec. (with a slack from 64 to 40 m.p.h.), and Ardrossan South Beach, 23:6 miles, in 27 min. 5 sec. Immediately afterwards comes Boydston bank, rising first for ¼-mile at 1 in 120, then for 1¾ miles at 1 in 100; this was begun at 48 m.p.h., and finished at 46 m.p.h., the 2.4 miles from South Beach to Boydston taking only 3 min. 7 sec. Then followed an acceleration up a mile at 1 in 200-1,400 to 56 m.p.h., and West Kilbride, 28.1 miles was reached in 32 min. 54 sec. from Paisley (booked 32 min.), or 31¾ min. net. After a brief stop, the 7.1 miles from West Kilbride to Largs, mostly downhill, were run in 8 min. 32 sec., start-to-stop, with no higher maximum than 68 m.p.h., Largs being reached a minute early, in 53 min. 57 sec. from Glasgow. .

The other run was with No. 1179. Adverse signals at Ibrox caused the 7.7 miles to Paisley to take 11 min. 49 sec.; after that No. 1179 passed Howwood in 8 min. 7 sec. (having attained 58¾ m.p.h. on the rising grades); Beith, 10.9 miles, in 12 min. 47 sec., at 65 m.p.h.; and Glengarnock in 14 min. 37 sec., at 67 m.p.h., after which came a signal check. Dalry was passed in 17 min. 17 sec., Kilwinning in 20 min. 57 sec., and after a second signal check, at Stevenston as before, South Beach in 26 min. 32 sec. No speeds are shown between South Beach and West Kilbride, but the latter was reached in 32 min. 9 sec., and a gentle descent to Largs—7.1 miles in 9 min. 12 sec. start-to-stop-brought the train into Largs in 54 min. 19 sec. from Glasgow.

The Glasgow to Largs outer-suburban expresses lasted well into the 1950s and were used by white and blue collar workers to commute from the Clyde Coast to Paisley or Glasgow. They were popular trains which contrasted in their speed from the rather tedious stopping trains which tended to dominate the timetable. But the trains as depicted by Allen are merely timings and speeds with some indication of gradients. The relatively high speed turnout onto the Largs line at Kilwinning fails to be mentioned. The explosives plant at Ardeer also receives no mention, although the homeward workmens' trains from there, or the level crossing at Stevenson were the probable sources of delay. Where is the magic of the broadening Firth just before Saltcoats where the sea might splash upon the windows or the grandeur of the distant Island of Arran as the train climbed towards West Kilbride.

This article also included performance, mainly behind Jubilee class locomotives, between Glasgow and Aberdeen, where maxima in the 80s was seized upon like gold in a pan handle, an initisal journey behind K4 class 2-6-0 on the West Highland line and as a concluding snippet a very fast exit from Aberdeen behind No. 2796 Spearmint with a six-coach train and "a boisterous easterly wind lashing the sea to fury along the rock-bound coast".

Rich's critique

Fred Rich's Yesterday once more (1996) [page 134 et seq: NB the extract from Allen was taken from A.C. Perryman's The 'Brighton 'Baltics' (1973)] gives an extremely damning assessment of C.J. Allen's abilities:

So three months went by and then, one dismal Saturday in mid-July, the two regular crews had a guest riding with them on the footplate. Their visitor that day was Mr Cecil J Allen, The Railway Magazine's perennial commentator on British Locomotive Practice and Performance. He was there by permission of Lawson B Billinton and had come to see what a 'Baltic' could do.

Even in those days, just before the Grouping, Cecil J Allen was very well-known for his month-by-month commentary in The Railway Magazine. He began these contributions in 1909 and he kept them going until 1958 (after which, for several more years, he wrote exclusively for Trains Illustrated). Because of his passion for train-timing he became the doyen of the stop-watch fraternity - that body of enthusiasts who took the opportunity to compile a detailed log during every applicable train journey. It was this type of log - the space-time history of a locomotive run - which provided the framework for Allen's monthly articles.

Now it was all very well to manipulate those stop-watches (plural) from a seat in the train (drawing incredulous stares from the other passengers); but to brandish the things as a guest on the footplate was - in my view - completely beyond the pale. However, Cecil J Allen was so entrenched in his ways that he wouldn't dream of leaving his 'chronometers' behind. He brought them with him into the cab of No.333 that day and it is easy to imagine this stranger in the camp, standing behind the driver or fireman (whichever side the mileposts were on!), clicking away at his stop-watches and continually making notes for the record.

CJ's account of that July day was duly published in The Railway Magazine for November 1922 and it was a typical example of his stereotyped reporting. There was the usual tabulation of passing times and distances, together with a recital of the speeds which prevailed near the tops and bottoms of gradients. All of this could have been compiled from a comfortable seat in the train: there was no need to be on the footplate at all in order to produce such a log. But Cecil J Allen was on the footplate. He was there as a privileged guest and this gave him a chance to 'blend' with the enginemen and get the feel of their engine. Unfortunately he didn't take advantage of that rare opportunity. If only he had left his chronometers behind, he might have written a worth-while account of what it was like to be there, up in the cab of a Brighton 'Baltic' which was hauling a 350-ton train. In fact he dismissed the engine and its crews with a few perfunctory comments, mostly about cutoff settings and regulator openings; and for what difference that made, he might as well have stayed in the train.

He rode down to Brighton that morning with Fred Horsman and Stan Clark who had 333 on the Southern Belle Pullman train. In 'thick mist and drizzling rain' they encountered a number of signal checks and, because of these, Fred Horsman had to keep easing the regulator and altering the cut-off. That sort of thing kept CJ happy: he liked a list of regulator openings and cut-off variations to help fill the leaves of his notebook.

In the afternoon 333 went back to Victoria, this time with the 'up' Belle which left Brighton at 1.20pm. The late-turn crew had now taken over - Harry Funnell and Horrie Fleet - and, reading between the lines, one gets an impression that these two didn't meet with CJ's wholehearted approval. His comment at the time was oblique and ungracious but he was more specific some 40 years afterwards when he recalled his trip with Harry Funnell as being:

'. . . one of the most unusual footplate experiences that I have ever had. '

and he went on:

'. . . after using 40 per cent cut-off to Patcham [some 3 miles out from Brighton] the driver fixed the percentage at 35, set the regulator to the three-fifths position and then did nothing more than look through the front window until an adverse signal at Purley called for braking action. . . It was hardly an inspiring piece of locomotive handling. .' This provokes the obvious retort that it was hardly an inspiring piece of jounlalism either. In fact it was nothing less than a monstrous impertinence for Cecil J Allen to make such a comment. His retrospective criticism merely went to show that, even after the passage of 40 years, he was still utterly clueless as an observer of footplate work. From time to time, throughout those years, he had publicly denigrated certain drivers by name because they hadn't jumped through his hoop. And sometimes, too, he had scored an 'own goal' by exposing the fact that he didn't know what he was talking about.

His locomotive cab rides were not particularly frequent but, as time went by, his reputation sometimes preceded him on to the footplate and some of the enginemen took pains to ensure that he 'got the wrong end of the stick'. For example, he was fond of quoting regulator openings ('two-thirds', 'three-fifths' and so on) which he 'observed' from the setting of the regulator handle. But it took him the best part of 40 years to realise the deceptive nature of 'that mendacious regulator handle' (the position of which bore no fixed relationship to the actual amount of regulator opening - especially if the driver was out to deceive!) At this juncture, in case I be accused of 'knocking' Cecil J Allen when he can-no longer speak up for himself, let me point out that he was doing just that to Harry Funnell with his retrospective comments about uninspired engine driving. I am only attempting to set the record straight. I fully acknowledge CJ's unique contribution to the records of steam locomotive performance; but what a pity that he spoiled his own image by his oafish remarks about men who were masters of their job!

Now, let us take another look at that 1922 footplate journey and see what we can make of it without having been there (without even having been born!). According to Cecil J Allen the day was one of thick mist, drizzling rain and slippery rails. Colour-light signals were a thing of the future and Harry Funnell's main concern would be to keep a sharp look-out for the mist-enshrouded semaphores. He did precisely that instead of messing about with minor adjustments of cut-off and regulator opening. In spite of a signal check near Purley and a need to proceed gingerly in the London area, Harry delivered his passengers to their destination in absolute safety and less than one minute late. It would be churlish to fmd fault with that, but Cecil J did so with a sour remark about 'the very great caution displayed at Balham, Clapham and Pouparts Junctions'.

There were other points, too, of which CJ was totally ignorant - otherwise he would surely have mentioned them. For one thing, Harry Funnell was' at. home' in the cab of his own regular engine - an engine which he, along with Fred Horsman, knew quite intimately. Remembrance was only 3 months old but the design itself went back more than 8 years. Although the 'Baltic' was a good engine for its time, it had a front-end which was nothing to write home about and it certainly wasn't amenable to very short cut-offs. The available evidence strongly implies that these 'Baltics' did most of their work on about 35 per cent cut-off or else just a trifle less, but seldom were they pulled up to 30.

Another characteristic (which we've already noted) was their reluctance to run without steam on the pistons: to put it in George's words "they had to be pushed downhill". So this leaves us with a locomotive which, for most of its journey, both uphill and down, was at its best with a partly-open regulator and a cut-off which was seldom very far from 35 per cent. There wouldn't be much scope for any significant adjustment to either of these settings; and even Allen's log testifies that Harry Funnell had no need to alter them. After passing the Keymer he kept time to within one minute all the way to Purley, where that signal was lying in wait for him. Thereafter, in such adverse conditions, he did well to reach Victoria only 45 seconds late; but that wasn't good enough for Cecil J Allen.

Other commentators
Andrew James. An appreciation of performance writing: a tribute to Cecil J. Allen and O.S. Nock. Backtrack, 2014, 28, 100-3

2014-02-24

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