[Sir] Vincent Litchfield Raven


Peter Grafton has written Sir Vincent Raven and the North Eastern Railway (2005). This is a somewhat disappointing biography in that its subject has remained elusive possibly through no fault of its author. Otherwise the biography appears to be satisfactory, although his patents are not mentioned in detail, nor is report which led to Aston being dismissed from the Cambrian Railways. More surprisingly, Grafton appeared to have missed John Thomas's monograph on the North British Atlantics. Merz is misspelt "Mertz" throughout. The publisher (Oakwood) clearly failed to find someone suitable to read this manuscript.

There is a new biography by Andrew Everett (published by Tempus in 2006) with the title Visionary pragmatist: Sir Vincent Raven which was well reviewed by Mel Holley in Steam World, 2006 (234) p. 57. , but see what Richard Hennessey has to say in Backtrack. Most importantly, Everett is aware what he claims to be the limitations of Grafton's work. Unusually for works of this nature sources are fully cited and the work is important for throwing light not only on many other North Eastern employees, but also on other luminaries, such as Gresley. For instance, on page 74 et seq Everett notes the relationship of Raven and Twinberrow with the young Gresley in the design of rolling stock for use on ECJS services where Gresley's ideas were nearly always accepted in spite of some disquiet within the management of the larger company.


Marshall was incorrect in stating Raven was born at Great Fransham in Norfolk in 1858 (Grafton states 3 December 1859). In late 1933 Sir Vincent suffered some heart trouble (Everett) and died whilst on holiday in Felixstowe on 14 February 1934, aged 75. He was the son of the Rev Vincent Raven and was educated at Aldenham School in Hertfordshire. From 1877 to 1880 he served a three year apprenticeship under Edward Fletcher at Gateshead, NER. The quality of Everett's research shows in that he queries, but cannot resolve, Raven's choice of the North Eastern, rather than the Midland at Derby. He then spent 2 years in the drawing office and 5 years firing locomotives and on inspection duties. In 1888 he became assistant divisional locomotive superintendent; in 1894 divisional superintendent; and in 1903 chief assistant mechanical engineer.

He married Gifford Allan Crichton (Born in 1859) on 15 February 1883 and Everett includes a family tree showing their five children, one of whom died shortly after her birth.He also briefly follows the careers of his surviving two daughters and two sons, one of whom died from his injuries during WW1.The career of Norman Vincent Crichton Raven is also briefly noted. The author records that Vincent Raven was an active Freemason in Masonic Lodges in Newcastle and Darlington. In his later life he was an active golfer

In summary Everett is probably a better biography in terms of human interest: he gives more information about the Raven family and its origins, but Grafton is better equipped to handle his contribution to steam locomotive engineering. Everett gives a far fuller picture of Raven's papers.

The I. Mech E. obituary records that Raven was the last Chief Mechanical Engineer of the North Eastern Railway, and held that position from 1910 (also Loco. Rly Carr. Wagon Rev., 1910, 16, 21) until the merging of that railway with the London and North Eastern Railway in 1923, after which he acted as technical adviser to the latter company. He will be remembered for his extensive adoption of the three-cylinder high-pressure locomotive, which he employed in many successful designs both of tender and tank engines. Two notable experimental steam locomotives for which he was responsible were a 4-6-0 with "Stumpf" cylinders, and a 4-4-2 with Uniflow cylinders of a modified design. He also built in 1922 an electric express passenger locomotive, in anticipation of main line electrification, which he described in his paper, "Electric Locomotives," before the Institution at the Paris Summer Meeting in 1922. In addition he was responsible for electrification of railways in the Newcastle district some years previously. Prior to this in 1914 he had presented a paper on cab signalling at a meetting when Stanier was one of the other speakers..

Everett is excellent in recording all of this activity, but in places it would seem that the author is not fully aware of the subtelties of steam locomotive design and terminology: on page 97 there is a reference to "poppet safety valves" which are always known as "pop" or "pop-type".

In 1915 Raven was made chief superintendent of the Royal Arsenal, Woolwich, and in 1917 controller of armament production for the Admiralty. After the war he returned to the NER. He was made KBE in 1917. Everett is excellent on this phase and includes a marvellous picture of Raven as the only civilian next to King George V at the Arsenal surrounded by field rank officers in breeches and long boots. Following his retirement, in 1924 he and Sir Sam Fay visited New South Wales and New Zealand to report on railways, and in 1925 he was appointed chairman of a committee reporting on railway workshops in India. Became MIME 1893, and president in 1925 (coinciding with the Stockton & Darlington Centenary Celebrations), MICE 1911, MIEE and M of the Soc of Civil Engs of France.

Both Grafton, and more especially Everett ,describe Raven's participation as a Freemason, both in Newcastle and in Darlington.

George Heppell's North Eastern locomotives: a draughtsman's life adds considerably to our understanding of the design process at Darlington and his low opinion of his chief's design ability..

Westwood assessed Raven, the last chief mechanical engineer of the North Eastern Railway (1910-22) and assistant mechanical engineer from 1895, as being notable more for his administrative gifts and for his 1904 Tyneside electrification rather than for his locomotive designs. This is perhaps a rather glib assessment as Raven was keen to develop mainline electrification (from York to Newcastle) and did electrify from Newport to Shildon as a freight pilot project. Thus he was a major British designer of electric locomotives (for the Shildon system and a 2-D-2 prototype express locomotive. Westwood does however, note that he did much to develop locomotive cab signalling (abandoned by the LNER which had the worst safety record of the four mainline companies), was responsible for the widespread move to superheating on the NER, and his three-cylinder Z class Atlantic was reputed to be one of Britain's best passenger locomotive types. He was a great advocate of three-cylinder locomotives, and of big engines. His three-cylinder total adhesion (0-8-0) T3 class were the most powerful freight locomotives in Britain and were exploited on the Tyne Dock to Consett iron ore trains. The S3 4-6-0 class was an extremely versatile design which was capable both of fast heavy freight haulage and express passenger work when required: it was more powerful than the later Great Western derived mixed traffic 4-6-0s. He experimented on a 4-6-0 and a 4-4-2 with Stumpf Uniflow cylinders. His Pacific design, which appeared just as the NER became part of the new LNER, was limited to five units, Gresley's GNR Pacifics being preferred for series production. The Raven Pacifics appear to have been a prestige project, and owed more to Churchward than to Gresley and the Pennsylvania. Raven? made Darlington the locomotive headquarters of the NER and after the First World War was knighted for his work during that conflict as chief superintendent of the Royal Arsenal, Woolwich.

Raven, before becoming CME, had a considerable influence on the lives of other engineers: his report on the state of the Cambrian Railways' Works at Oswestry led to the resignation of the Superintendent Aston and Reid's Atlantics were the subject of considerable scrutiny by him, and it must have been very difficult for Reid. Clearly, Raven was considered extremely highly long before he became CME. And this receives support from R.Bell's Twenty-five years of the North Eastern Railway which questions Wilson Worsdell's management abilities: "The Locomotive Department was managed more cavalierly [than that of the Superintendent of the Line, under Philip Burtt]. Wilson Worsdell, who succeeded T.W. Worsdell as Locomotive Superintendent in 1890, was a first-rate mechanical engineer. At his Gateshead headquarters he designed many useful engines during the next twenty years and kept them in good trim, but he had little bent for administrative work. That was left largely to his capable assistant, Vincent L. Raven, who supervised locomotive running, docks machinery and other activities. These unorthodox arrangements produced good results..."

.C.M. Jenkin Jones includes Raven, with Wilson Worsdell and Fletcher, as one of the "three great mechanical engineers" who served the NER.

His obituary appeared in the Memoirs section of the Proceedings of the Institution of Mechanical Engineers, 1934 (March) 478-9.

His connexion with the Institution of Mechnaical Engineers dated back to 1893, when he was elected a Member lie served on the Council from 1915 to 1920, and was a Vice President from 1921 to 1924. In 1925 he was elected President and continued to serve as Past.President from 1926 to 1930. He was elected an Honorary Life Member in 1932. In addition he was a Member of the Institution of Civil Engineers and a Member of the Institution of Electrical Engineers.

Portrait (plate): see Locomotive Mag., 1913, 19, 6.

Papers: at end of this page there is a list of papers and reports (some citing PRO references) taken from Everett.
Audible and other cab signals on British Railways. Proc.Instn Mech. Engrs, 1914, 87, 843-926.
With W.C. Acfield, Leon P. Lewis, W.A. Stanier, and W. Willox.
Electric locomotives, Proc.Instn Mech. Engrs, 1922, 103, 735-81.
at the Paris Summer Meeting in 1922
Address by the President [of the Institution of Mechanical Engineers]. Proc.Instn Mech. Engrs, 1925, 1085-1105.
Marked Stockton & Darlington Railway Centenary, but was concerned with mechanical engineering in general. Not surprisingly some of his most telling observations related to the generation of electricity; he was highly impressed by the scale and efficiency of the Niagara hydro-electric plant. He was also damning in his criticism of the multiplicity of gauges in Australia.

Paper to North East Coast Instn Engrs Shipbuilders
This noted the lightness of the catenary and compared performance of hypothetical 0-8-2 tender locomotive with 0-6-6-0 electric freight locomotive: short extract from this in K. Hoole's The electric locomotives of the North Eastern Railway. 1988.

Contributions to other's papers

Fowler's Superheating in locomotives (Min Proc. Instn Mech Engrs, 196, 133)
Noted that the NER had abandoned superheater dampers without experiencing any problems in piston packings.

Gresley, Herbert N. The three-cylinder high-pressure locomotive. Proc. Instn Mech Engrs, 1925, 927-67. Disc.: 968-86.
Raven (p. 978) noted that "there was a great similarity between the three-cylinder engines which he built and those which Mr. Gresley built to-day, with the exception of the valve-gear. So far as that was concerned, he always adhered to the Stephenson valve-gear, as he believed in simplicity. He used the three sets of valve-gear, and if he went back to railwork to-day, he would do the same again. The reason why he built three-cylinder engines was because they had on the North Eastern Railway a three-cylinder compound engine designed by Mr. Smith, who was the chief draughtsman to them in the days gone by, and it was on account of the even starting effort given by the 120° crank they were able to get with a three-cylinder engine, which led him to adopt it. One also realized that one was getting within the limit of gauges for high-power engines. The cylinders of the very large two-cylinder engines often struck the platforms, and therefore it was necessary to make some alteration. The particular advantages were the balancing of the engine, the starting effort, and the reduction of hammer effect on the permanent way. He was pleased indeed to be able to study the details of the advantages so admirably carried out by Mr. Gresley in his dynamometer-car tests. They bore out what his own experience had been, and he really thought the distinct advantages of the three-cylinder engine for locomotive purposes had been proved. The advantages of that engine could not be more clearly set forth than as given on page 946.


24,561/1912 Improvements relating to the cylinders of locomotives. Applied: 26 October 1912. Published: 23 October 1913.
Relief valve – snifting valve
6859/1910 Improvements in and relating to railway signal apparatus. Applied: 18 March 1910. Published: 19 January 1911
2705/1907 Improvements in railway signalling apparatus. Applied: 2 February1907. Published: 3 October 1907.
14089/1906 Improvements in railway signalling apparatus. Applied: 19 June 1906. Published: 19 June 1907.
10507/1906 Improvements in railway signalling apparatus. Applied: 4 May 1906. Published: 20 June 1907.
23384/1895. Improved means for providing trains with automatic signals. Applied: 6 December 1895. Published: 15 August 1896 with Charles Baister.

Everett (page 78) incorrectly implies that the patents numbered 14089 and 10507 of 1906 include Charles Baister's name: only that of 1895 (and possibly earlier) does.

L.G. Warburton (LMS Journal 12 31) lists two further patents: 3694/1905. Applied 22 February 1905 and 7527/1907 applied 28 March 1907.

Other sources

See: O.S. Nock, Locomotives of the North Eastern Railway (1954);
Journal of the Stephenson Locomotive Society, Vol. 51.
Bell, R. Twenty-five years of the North. Eastern Railway, 1898-1922.
The accent is on commercial development and personalities. Chapter II is entitled "V.L. Raven as Chief Mechanical Engineer".
Nock, O.S. Railway enthusuast's encyclopedia

The LATE Sir Vincent Raven. Rly Engr. 1934, 55, 97.

The LATE Sir Vincent Raven. Rly Mag., 1934, 74, 270.

Maclean, J.S. The locomotives of the North Eastern Railway, 1841-1922.

OBITUARY : Sir Vincent Raven. Loco. Rly Carr. Wagon Rev., 1934, 40, 70.

SIR Vincent Litchfield Raven. Proc. Instn mech. Engrs, 1934, 126, 478-9.
Obituary [ibid].

SIR Vincent Raven's locomotives on the North Eastern Railway. Rly Mag., 1924, 54, 303-5.+ folding plate f-p. 253.13 illus. (incl. port.), 2 tables.

Website on Raven

Raven's own writings, reports and conference material (in chronological order) as taken from Everett

Report with reference to the working of compound engines compared with working of other classes of engines on the North Eastern Railway (with Ramsey Kendall). NER Locomotive and Stores Committee. 1893  
Report on fog signalling. for ARLE on 27 November 1896
Report on the state of Cambrian Railways. Cambrian Railways Board. 1898  
Middlesborough Docks Electrical and Hydraulic Power Plant given on 2 June 1904, at American Society of Mechanical Engineers Congress with IMechE in Chicago. 1904  
North Eastern Railway hours and report. 1909
258 page document on wages and working conditions of drivers and firemen and inspectors
Evidence to proceedings in dispute between Scarborough, Bridlington and West Riding Junction Railway Co. and NER Co. 1909-1913 (PRO RAIL 527/1027)
Paper given at prize-giving at Darlington Technical College on engineering education, superheating and proposed electrification, given on 9 April 1913
Superheating steam in locomotives, paper 1914 (more precisely cited above)
Electrical system of cab signalling, for IMechE, 18 December 1914 (more precisely cited above)
Paper on York to Newcastle electrification to lEE in February 1919
Report on Proposed Electrification of NER Main Line York to Newcastle, with intermediary feeders (with Henry Angus Watson, the superintendent of the Line), dated October 1919 (PRO Rail 527/286)
Report about visit to USA (and its electrified railways) (with F. Lydall), October 1920
The Advantages of Electric Traction on Railways, a paper given to the York Railway and Lecture Debating Society on 25 January 1921
Mechanical Advantages of Electric Locomotives compared with Steam, a paper given at ICE Conference 1921
Electric Locomotives, a paper given for IMechE in Paris in June 1922
1923 'The Advantages of Electric Traction on Railways' paper given to the GWR (London Branch) Lecture and Debating Society on 4 January 1923
Organisation of Running Departments Report on the organisation and standards of running sheds for LNER 1923/24 (PRO RAIL 390/293)
Report Utilisation of Workshops about organisation of maintenance workshops, for LNER 1923/24 (PRO RAIL 390/319)
Report concerning electrification and electric locomotives for the Metropolitan Vickers Electric Co. 1924
36 pp.
Report of Royal Commission of Inquiry into New South Wales Railways (with Sir Sam Fay). 7 October 1924
Report of Royal Commission of Inquiry into New Zealand Railways (with Sir Sam Fay). 11 December 1924  
As president, IMechE, opening speech reflecting centenary of SDR, with later contributions to discussion at Summer Meeting of IMechE in Newcastle, following Gresley paper, 'ThreeCylinder high Pressure Locomotives' 1925  (more precisely cited above)
Speech about Australia and New Zealand following Commission visits. 23 October 1925
Report on rail workshops and their organisation in India, February 1926. 7 April 1926

R. Hennessey's assessment in Backtrack, 2008, June page 383

This, the second biography of Vincent Raven within a year, has many of the requirements of a good life story. It is fascinating in itself; Raven was a versatile engineer in a tumultuous era. The author has been careful to place Raven's life within the context of the North Eastern Railway, its finances, the territory it served, the times in which it existed. Also, we have here a useful balance between Raven's private life, his work as a steam and electrical engineer, civic leader, home and overseas consultant and, sometimes omitted in surveys of this kind, details of his carriage and wagon work, even to his creative relationship with Gresley over ECJS express stock.

Add to all of this a detailed index (KPJ: not quite as good as Hennessey makes out), a full and sub-divided bibliography and numerous footnotes and we should have the perfect model of this kind of work.

But alas, not so. Although there are copious illustrations, some first-rate, far too many, particularly the portraits, look as if they have been photographed through a stocking, all fuzzy and grey-on-grey: not acceptable these days. The same photograph, of a 4-6-2T, appears twice, once captioned as a 4-8-0T. And this leads us to the work's most serious flaw – its poor editing.

A few typos and slips (such as Asworth for Acworth, twice, or Geissen for Giessen) seem unavoidable these computerised days, but once their incidence becomes common, a reader's doubts will grow. For example, forté for forte, New York Central Railway (Railroad), 'Burlington, Chicago & Quincy' for the late, great CB&Q, 'Preussiche (sic) Staatsbahn' (wrong title for the KPEV), a two-mile tunnel on the three-quarter mile Quayside branch; and did Raven really design a self-trimming six-wheel locomotive tender capable of holding 52 tons of coal? The unexamined myth about the Atlantic 4-4-2 being named after Atlantic City is repeated here: it was named after the Atlantic Coast Line and there is plenty of documentary evidence for this. The rare 4-4-4T is discussed as if it were a species of 4-4-4 tender engine, an iron horse of a very different stripe, and so on.

The family side of Raven's life is covered in great detail, but it tends to deliquesce into a deluge of detail about genealogy, wedding presents and what the bride wore - quoted verbatim in chunks from the redoubtable Northern Echo.

Nevertheless, a patient reader will be rewarded. Coming out of this crowded canvas of facts, quotes, opinions and speculations is a lively picture of the longlost world of industrial Britain. Here, related in context, is the smokestack capitalism of North East England: its militant trade unions, steady footplatemen, high-minded Quaker establishment and social rigidities framed around gender and class – all given an irrecoverable blow in the Great War, in which Raven lost a son. Taken as a whole, this congested text is not unlike Raven's Pacifics, about which Everett writes judiciously. Impressively large and even if flawed, not unsuccessful.

Updated: 2012-07-11

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