According to Marshall William Pickersgill was born in Nantwich in 1861 (Highet states Crewe) and died in Bournemouth on 2 May 1928. He served seven years as an apprenticeship on the Great Eastern Railway at Stratford from 1876: he was a Whitworth Exhibitioner (Highet), and after several posts in the running department he was appointed district locomotive superintendent in Norwich in 1891. In 1894 he succeeded James Johnson as the Locomotive Superintendent of the GNoSR where he continued to develop the 4-4-0 type for that railway and was responsible for the new Locomotive Works at Inverurie which replaced the unsatisfacory premises at Kittybrewster.
In March 1914 succeeded McIntosh as Locomotive, Carriage & Wagon Superintendent of the Caledonian Railway. According to Nock (Caledonian Dunalastairs) he was appointed at a salary of £1250 per annum. He further developed the McIntosh 4-4-0 type, introduced the class 60 4-6-0 for freight service, and an extraordinary 4-6-0 with derived motion which was highly unsuccessful. Following the Grouping he was appointed Mechanical Engineer of the Northern Division, but retired in 1925. Nock called him "a scholarly man, with a charming, though quiet personaility". He also considered that John Barr, the Locomotive Running Superintendent, was the "power behind the throne". Pickersgill was Chairman of the ARLE in 1912, and was interested in flange and check rail dimensions.
Presidential Address. J. Instn Loco Engrs., 1920, 10, 335-50 (Paper No. 85)
In this he noted his apprenticeship at Stratford; the sterling work performed there during WW1 under A.J. Hill and then described locomotive development on the Caledonian Railway from the time of Alexander Allen through to the "present day"
Atkins states that Pickersgill's locomotives were "noted for their sluggisness." On the extraordinary 956 class (the locomotives fitted with derived motion/Walschaerts combined with Stephenson motion in some cases) Atkins is worth quoting:
It is said that when construction of these engines commenced at St. Rollox late in 1920 there was wild speculation as to what the new locomotives were to be, and a Pacific was suggested. It is an interesting fact that, except for an engine allocated to Balornock rather than Polmadie, the distribution of these engines was the same as that envisaged for the four projected McIntosh 4-6-2s of 1913. The pioneer No 956 was shedded hard by main works at Balornock and initially ran in shop grey with an indicator shelter attached though one shudders to think what manner of diagrams must thus have been obtained. James Grassie, who had latterly driven McIntosh 6ft 6in 4-6-0 No 50, was the regular driver and was about the only man who could get reasonable work out of a Pickersgill three-cylinder 4-6-0. Even he failed lamentably on at least one celebrated occasion, when the engine was experimentally working between Glasgow Central and Carlisle, as we shall see later.
Carlisle Kingmoor received Nos 957 and 958 in July 1921 and the new engines worked alongside Pickersgill 4-6-0s Nos 62 and 63 and McIntosh 4-6-0 No 906. The remaining engine, No 959, went to Perth and worked regularly to Aberdeen. Its regular driver was 'Geordie' Newlands, who previously had driven Pickersgill 4-6-0 No 64 from new, and who prior to that had briefly driven the final 'River' No 943. Were he alive today he could no doubt express some interesting views on the relative merits of latterday Caledonian 4-6-0 classes!
The Pickersgill '956' class was the largest and most powerful passenger locomotive to be inherited by the LMSR in 1923. It was a measure of its utter failure that it did not participate in the ensuing competitive trials of the principal types; the Caledonian contestant was the smaller and earlier '60' design, of which additional engines were actually built. In view of their small numerical strength the LMSR never remotely considered attempting to make any improvements to the three-cylinder engines. As early as 1923 No 957 had a regular goods turn between Edinburgh and Carlisle, alternating with a Midland 0-6-0, and a little later as LMS No 14801 it was frequently to be seen on the former G&SWR main line. By early 1925 all four had been repainted red; No 959 was so treated at Perth Works and was joined at Perth shed by ex-956. The four engines were thereafter divided between two sheds and were largely employed on goods trains. The Carlisle pair lasted rather longer, but all enjoyed only brief existences despite their massive construction.
To summarise, the work of the Caledonian 4-6-0s was rarely exceptional,
sometimes good and frequently indifferent. For engines of their size and
theoretical power, loadings were not unduly high nor schedules particularly
demanding in relation to what was expected of the CR 4-4-Os. Indeed, the
very fact that after nearly 20 years of development of the 4-6-0 type a
moderately proportioned 4-4-0 could deputise and be preferred, was an indictment
of the big six-coupled engines' shortcomings. To the casual observer, however,
the latter were not immediately apparent concealed within an outer fabric
of ethereal blue magnificence. It must be stressed that Atkins' remarks applied
to all the CR 4-6-0s and not just their final manifestation..
Atkins, C.P.: The Scottish 4-6-0 classes
H. Cornwell, Forty Years of Caledonian Locomotives 1882-1922 (1974)
Middlemass, T.: The Scottish 4-4-0
Nock, O.S. The Caledonian Railway (1963): see page 138.
Obituary: William Pickersgill. J.lnstn Loco. Engrs, 1928, 18, 308-9. illus. (port.)