Thomas Russell Crampton

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Picture from Hamilton Ellis Four main lines

The 'Crampton Locomotive', was not very well-known in Britain or America, but was a great success in France and Germany. It was created by Thomas Crampton, an Englishman, and the first example was built at Whitehaven for Belgium in 1846. The key element of the design was the placing of the single driving axle behind the firebox, enabling large driving wheels to co-exist with a large low-placed boiler. In the long term, this solution seems less important than Crampton's adoption of wide steam passages, generous bearing surfaces, and large heating surfaces, and it was these three features rather than the position of the driving axle that ensured the high-speed qualities of his locomotives. Ideally there should be a separate file for his locomotives which ran on several British lines, and some locomotives ran on more than one line, but for the present this is kept as a sub-section..

9261 15 February 1842 Improvements in steam engines and railway carriages [firebox] with John Coope Haddan.
10854 6 October 1845 Improvements to locomotive engines and railways [firebox]
11349 25 August 1841 Improvements to locomotive engines [Namur]
11760 19 June 1847 Improvements to locomotive engines [dummy crankshaft]

12627 2 June 1849 Improvements to locomotive engines and improvements to marine engines, joint patent with Henry Trewhitt
725 31 March 1855 Improvements to firebars and grates (communication)
2754 December 1855 Mechanical stoking
933 13 April 1864 Moulding bricks and other articles... by dropping [clay or brick earth] into [the moulds] from a considerable distance (provisional patent)
2270 16 September 1864 Improvements in kilns used for drying, burning and cooling tiles, lime, cement and other articles (provisional patent)
1639 17 June 1865 Improvements in the construction of roadways, floorings and other surfaces (provisional patent)
2756 26 October 1865 Improvements in the construction of roadways, floorings and other surfaces
2155 7 July 1868 Casting forts in situ, the sections... [being-able] to reeceive the shock of projectiles without yielding
3504 3 December 1869 Burning powdered fuel and furnaces and apparatus; adopting such furnaces for melting and working glass, iron, steel and other materials and for heating steam boilers
2600 30 September 1870 Furnaces for melting and heating materials and for other purposes
931 28 March 1872 Furnaces—revolving furnace for puddling and melting metals etc.
2262 29 July 1872 Residual coke dust and tar from gas production moulded into blocks
3687 12 November 1873 Manufacture of iron and steel, construction and lining of revolving furnaces, and apparatus connected therewith
789 3 March 1875 Revolving furnaces and apparatus connected therewith
3282 18 March 1875 Manufacture of iron and steel, and apparatus therefore.
14021 17 November 1885 Arrangement of cylinders and cranks for locomotive, marine and other engines
8710 2 July 1886 Circumferential grooves in railway wheel treads

A series in of articles on Crampton's patents appeared in Locomotive, Rly Carr. Rev., from October, 1942, 48 to December 1943, 49

Crampton's patents. Loco., Rly Carr. Rev., 1942, 48, 179-80.  Patent 9261.
Crampton's patents. Loco., Rly Carr. Rev., 1942, 48, 187-9.
Crampton's patents. Loco., Rly Carr. Rev., 1942, 48, 213-14.  
Crampton's patents. Loco., Rly Carr. Rev., 1943, 49, 25-6.  Patent 11,349.
Crampton's patents. Loco., Rly Carr. Rev., 1943, 49, 55-7.
Crampton's patents. Loco., Rly Carr. Rev., 1943, 49, 89-91.  Patent 11,760.
Crampton's patents. Loco., Rly Carr. Rev., 1943, 49, 132-3. Dummy crank shaft locomotives.
Crampton's patents. Loco., Rly Carr. Rev., 1943, 49,  186-8.  Patent 14,021.
Crampton's patents. Loco., Rly Carr. Rev., 1943, 49, 25-6.  Patent 11,349.


Trans. Soc. Arts, 1847, 1, 37-45.

Construction of locomotive engines. Proc. Instn civ. Engrs., 1849, 8, 233-40.
On an automatic hydraulic system for excavating the Channel Tunnel. Proc. Instn Mech. Engrs., 1882, 33, 440-50. + Plates 82-4
The successful completion of the Mont Cenis and St. Gothard tunnels led to design of rotary boring machine to drive tunnel through chalk and arrangements to transport (pump) spoil in the form of sludge (or cream) back to base shaft.


Thomas Crampton was born in Broadstairs, Kent on 6 August 1816 (Marshall), Crampton was privately educated before begining his career in engineering. After a short time with Marc Brunel, he joined the Great Western Railway at Swindon, where he helped Daniel Gooch who was Locomotive Superintendent. In the early 1840s, the broad gauge was being assailed by the standard-gauge railways and Gooch's role was to design locomotives for the broad gauge which would out-perform those of the 4ft 8½ in. gauge, thus persuading the Board of Trade and MPs that the 7ft gauge should be retained through its technical merit. Crampton seems to have played an auxiliary role in this struggle, but at the time he was harbouring thoughts which his employers would have regarded as treacherous, as his ambition was to build a 4ft 8½ in. gauge locomotive equal to those of the broad gauge.

Thanks to insights received at Swindon, Crampton believed he knew all the answers. He accepted prevailing opinion that one advantage of the broad gauge was that it permitted a higher centre of gravity for the same degree of stability: boilers could be higher-pitched, and large driving wheels could be employed; giving lower piston speeds, and thereby high speeds without choked exhausts. Crampton also realized that the performance of the Gooch locomotives was largely a result of the greater heating surface which could be installed in the bigger and broader machines.

The essential feature of the locomotive which Crampton patented in 1843 was the placing of the driving axle behind the firebox. This enabled him to use large driving wheels irrespective of the size or height of the boiler, at the same time preserving a low centre of gravity. The rearward position of the driving axle was not entirely new, having been tried in the USA by Baldwin and Jervis in the previous decade, but Crampton was probably unaware of  this.

Crampton soon left Gooch and the GWR. He took a job with another engineer and devoted his spare moments to perfecting and publicizing his design. It was not until 1845 that he found his first customer, the British managers of the Namur & Liege Railway in Belgium. They ordered two units with 7ft driving wheels and a 14.5 sq. ft grate. A peculiarity of this design was the trapezoidal shape of the bottom part of the firebox. This shape was one of the legacies left by Crampton to continental railways; French designers, in particular, appreciated this form as it facilitated forward extension of the bottom part of the firebox. One of these two engines ran its trials on the Grand Junction Railway, and as a result a 'Crampton Patent' locomotive was built at Crewe by that company. Soon afterwards, the newly-organized LNWR, one of the strongest members of the standard gauge camp, ordered two more Cramptons. The LNWR locomotive superintendent (McConnel) was naturally anxious to show that the broad gauge need not have a monopoly of large driving wheels and high speeds. Accordingly the Cramptons he ordered had 8-ft drivers and the larger of them, the 6-2-0 Liverpool, had the un- precedentedly large heating surface of 2,290 sq. ft (with a grate area of 21.5 sq. ft). Boiler pressure was 120 psi, and cylinders 18in. x 24in. Liverpool was on show at the 1851 Great Exhibition, where it won a gold medal, much to Gooch's disgust. Gooch probably felt that Liverpool could undermine the claims to technical superiority of the broad gauge faction, although in retrospect the stirring reports of brilliant runs made by Liverpool may have been exaggerated to provide polemical ammunition. Crampton said that the machine had reached 79 m.p.h., which may or may not have been true. The claim of an average of 53 m.p:h. over thirty miles seems more plausible, given that the load was less than sixty tons. A few British railways bought further Cramptons, but the majority of the three hundred-odd built were for French or German railways.

Crampton was involved with dummy-crankshaft designs wherein the cylinders drove onto a crankshaft normally situated between the driving wheels. One of his final designs was for a 2-2+2-2 outside-cylinder tank engine.

Stroudley refered to a machine, made by Crampton to show the effect of balance-weights on locomotives being exhibited in Birmingham in 1850, and added that although it demonstrated as clearly as possible the principle of balancing, engines had since been built and put upon railways imperfectly balanced

He invented endlessly, but few of his devices ever passed beyond the drawing stage. In the discussion to the Dewhurst paper J. Foster-Petree observed that ideas came so fast that [he] was "incapable of learning from them". Early in his career he invented the Crampton valve gear, which seems never to have been used (probably because its inventor realized it was inferior to the Stephenson gear). He also had achievements in civil engineering, constructing part of the London, Chatham, & Dover Railway (Cox, John G. Samuel Morton Peto (1809-1889): the achievements and failings of a great railway developer. 2008 makes it clear that this liaison led to Crampton appearing in the Bankruptcy Court). He was also involved on lines in Eastern Europe and Turkey. He was responsible, too, for laying the world's first international submarine cable across the Straits of Dover in 1851. He was involved in the Mont Cenis Fell Railway, both as an investor, and as a designer of the last batch of four-cylinder locomotives, manufacted by Cail et Cie (Ransom)..

He died in London on 19 April 1888.

Rogers (Chapelon biography) notes: "But the most important aspect of Crampton's work was never recognised in Great Britain; this, as stated in Chapter 2, was his realisation of the importance of having steam passages of large cross-sectional area, and it was their excellent steam passages which made Crampton's engines the enormous success they were in France and Germany. Comparatively few Crampton engines ran on British railways and they did not have a long life. But over 300 were built for use on the Continent between 1846 and 1864, and some were running on the Est Railway until well on in the present century [20th century]. During trial runs on the PLM after the 1889 Paris Exhibition a single-driver Crampton, hauling a First Class carriage, reached a speed of 89.5mph, which was faster than that reached by any other of the engines tested."

Ransom Narrow gauge steam page 31 notes that the Padarn (slightly) narrow gauge railway used the Crampton type of the type covered by patent 11,760 of 1847.


Harry Jack's remarkable history of the LNWR locomotives on the Southern Division contains observations on several locomotives which ran on the LNWR. These included Namur which had been intended for the Liége & Namur, but ended on the SER, No. 200 London and No. 245 Liverpool (a 6-2-0).

There is a wonderful Hamilton Ellis painting of a "Royal Crampton" as a plate fp. 77 in his Four main lines: the locomotive is bedecked in tartan livery and was near Dunbar on the NBR.

See: The Locomotive Carriage and Wagon Review, March 1940;
Bailey, Michael R. in Chrimes pp. 202-6.
Lists 21 patents: list above augmented from
Gaiser, F.Die Crampton Lokomotive. (1909);
Dewhurst, P.C. Trans Newcomen Soc., 30, 99.
Hughes, Geoffrey. biography in Oxford Dictionary of National Biography
Forward, E.A. Locomotive, 1922, 226.
for the Crampton type supplied by Kitson's to the MR.

H.M. Le Fleming (Concise encyclopaedia)...

Groves Great Northern locomotive history. Vol. 1 (pp. 54-5) covers the dummy crankshaft type noting that locomotives of this type had been constructed prior to Crampton's involvement and also notes that locomotives of this type were supplied by Hawthorn to the Edinburgh Northern Railway and by the Vulcan Foundry to the Shrewsbury & Chester Railway in 1848, by Robert Stephenson for use on the Folkestone Harbour branch, by Robert Sinclair for the CR  in 1853/4 and via Hawthorn to the GSWR in 1855 as well as the ten locomotives supplied by Longridge to the GNR under Sturrock (when a royalty payment of £50 per locomotive was made).

Obituary notices

Proc. Instn civ. Engrs, 1888, 94 (4) 295-8.
Proc. Instn mech. Engrs., 1888 (July), 437.

Updated: 2012-11-06