Great Central Railway locomotives

This page is extremely incomplete and will begin mainly as a byproduct of the LNER pages on locomotive design

George Dow's standard history ("Great Central") is one of the few really grand books about the history of railways and is comparable with the works by Tomlinson and MacDermot's "History of the Great Western Railway". It is an important source of information about all aspects of the Company's history which inevitably includes its motive power, but other (mainly later sources) are also important.

Aldrich, C.L. The Robinson locomotives of the Great Central Railway, 1900-1923 : a brief, descriptive, illustrated souvenir of types. London, E.V.Aldrich, 1946. 47p. 23 illus., table. (Langloco series: No.3).
Aldrich, C.L. The Robinson locomotives of the Great Central Railway, 1900-1923, with their subsequent L.N.E.R. history to 1947 : a brief descriptive illustrated souvenir of types. London, E.V. Aldrich, new [rev.] ed. 1948. 55p. incl. front. 27 illus., 2 tables. (Langloco series: No.3).
Amateur publications.
Dow, G.
Great Central. Vol. 1. The progenitors, 1813-1863. London: Locomotive Publishing Company, 1959.
Dedicatees include Andrew Dow: Personal contacts included Sir Sam Fay and J.G. Robinson and A.F. Bound (signalling). Richly illustrated within text: portraits, gradient profiles, original prospectuses, timetables, pictures from Illustrated London News excellent index many footnotes: relatively long quotations from contemporary sources: the Manchester Guardian in 1845 wrote about the "Moral and Physical Evils in connection with Railway Works" referring to the construction of the Woodhead Tunnel: the drunkenness, the tally-women; and price of food at the camp
Great Central. Vol. 2. Dominion of Watkin, 1864-1899. London: Locomotive Publishing Company, 1962.
Great Central. Vol. 3 : Fay sets the pace, 1900-1922. London, Ian Allan, 1965. [x] , 437 p. + col. front. + 4 col. plates + 2 folding plates. 357 illus. (incl. 14 ports.), 68 diagrs. incl. 4 s. els.), 4 tables, 4 plans, 4 maps.
Includes a detailed account of Robinson's work pius an appendix listing all locomotives built between 1900 and 1922.
Dow, C. Locomotives built at Gorton Works. J. Stephenson Loco. Soc., 1954, 30, 223-5.
Complete list: 1858-1953.
Gillford, F.H. The locomotives of the Great Central Railway. Rly Mag., 1939, 84, 182-9; 273-81: 85, 25-9. 38 illus.
Inciudes LNER modifications.
Harvey, N. The Great Central locomotive list. Rly Wld, 1961, 22, 359-62 + 8 illus.
The locomotives handed over to the LNER.
Tuplin, W.A. Great Central steam. London: Allen & Unwin, 1967. 234 p. + front. + 17 plates incl. 1 folding). 44 illus., 12 diagrs., 6 tables.
Tuplin, W.A. Robinson reflections. Trains Ann., 1951, 69-78. 9 illus., 2 tables.
An appreciation.
Webster, V.R. Locomotives of Mr.J.G. Robinson — an appreciation. J. Stephenson Loco. Soc., 1954, 30, 201-3; 212; 397; 403-7: 1955, 31, 1; 8-12; 56-8; 77-80; 89-90; 109; 121-4; 136; 145-7; 182-4. 10 illus.

South Yorkshire Railway

Thwaites & Carbutt, Vulcan Works, Thornton Road, Bradford (Yorks)
John Jones of Bristol patented the Cambrian system in 1848 whereby a balanced system was sought through locating a transverse segmental cylinder between the frames and proving drive through rocking levers. Lowe Fig 552 shows an 0-2-2-2, South Yorkshire Railway No. 5 Albion which became MSLR No. 156. Three locomotives of 0-6-0 type were bought by Boulton in 1866. See also Proc. Instn Mech Engrs 1848

Great Central Railway


8K class: Robinson: 1910 LNER Class O4)

For a number of reasons the whole history of this type is considered here, but it may be moved elsewhere at a later date. David Jackson, biographer of J.G. Robinson and his locomotives is very interesting for his comments on the 8K design: "Almost without exception those who have described the Robinson 2-8-0s credit the locomotives as being little more than an obvious extension of he earlier 0-8-0s. It was a natural extension, sure enough, and much of the mechanical hardware was typical Gorton fare. Nevertheless, there was a precedent for a successful 2-8-0 built in Britain. Moreover, the leading dimensions of these locomotives were so close to those of the GCR 2-8-0 that one would have to conclude that either there was a remarkable coincidence at work here, or, on the other hand, Robinson based his 2-8-0 on what was already available elsewhere.
Between 1903 and 1908 no less than 263 2-8-0s had been built through the combined efforts of the leading locomotive contractors, Robert Stephenson, the North British Locomotive Co., Kitson and the Vulcan Foundry. Apart from a batch from NB Loco. Co. in 1908, which had Walschaert's valve gear, the remainder with Stephenson's valve gear were a faithful blueprint for the Robinson 2-8-0. Orders for the 1903-1908 series came at the behest of the Engineering Standards Committee of Great Britain as part of the Standard range of locomotives for different railways in India. Actually, and in practice, the designs were worked out by a Sectional Committee of specialists which contained a number of individual engineers and well-known personalities of Robinson's own acquaintance. From his own Association of Railway Locomotive Engineers, of which Robinson was President in 1909, came G.J. Churchward and James Holden. William Lorimer and J.F. Robinson (no relation) were there from the NB Loco. Co., J.F. McIntosh of the Caledonian and J.A.F. Aspinall made up the other CME contingent, Brodie Henderson, brother of the GCR's Chairman, was included as was W. Collingwood from the Vulcan Foundry. Vulcan started its first order of Standard Indian 2-8-0s within 12 months of William Rowland leaving there for Gorton. On his visits to these various builders, Robert Stephenson's excepted, Robinson would have had every opportunity to see and discuss the Indian 2-8-0s. All the firms were closely involved at one stage or another in the design and building of his GCR locomotives and of course his associations and relations with the contractors pre-dated Great Central days. There is also some good evidence of a cross-fertilisation of ideas because the Standard 0-6-0s built for India between 1905 and 1909 were basically Gorton 'Pom-Poms', and what is more, looked it. There was the same deft appearance and this can also be said of 4-4-2s, 4-4-0s and 4-6-0s in the Indian Standard range.

But to go back the Robinson GCR class '8K' 2-8-0 of 1911. Dr WA. Tuplin in his book, Great Central Steam, was of the opinion that, 'There was no feature of special note in the design or construction of the '04s' [sic],' a statement so wide of the mark as to be breathtaking. Churchward's GWR 2-8-0 had appeared in 1903 and the two types, GWR and GCR 2-8-0, shared some similarities apart from the wheel arrangement, two outside cylinders and Stephenson's motion being the most obvious. Beyond this, however, there were few comparisons. Robinson may have taken some note of the GWR locomotive from his brother James, who it will be remembered was in a senior position within the GWR. If he did then precious little of Swindon practice went into Gorton's product. Churchward's antipathy towards any sort of aesthetic consideration is well documented and was not something Robinson would ever embrace. This was largely true, too, in the assessments of fellow CME's who deplored the then novel appearance of Churchward's GWR engines. Add to this the doubtful features in the construction of Churchward's locomotive frames, his insistence on high boiler pressure and a low degree of superheat and one can start to appreciate why the merits of Churchward's innovative long travel and direct steam supply and exhaust were overlooked; the baby, in short, was thrown out with the bathwater. Robinson and his brother James were always close throughout their lives and nobody outside of the GWR had a better insight into Churchward's locomotives than J.G. Robinson. He seems to have been 'unimpressed with what was taking place on his old company' and nowhere was this made more apparent than in the GCR 2-8-0s.

A development of the GCR 'Atlantic' boiler was incorporated into the Gorton 2-8-0, apart from this practically everything else in the construction of the locomotives was available in the Works' Stores. This was the first 2-8-0 to be built new with a superheater, Schmidt's for a start and then, soon afterwards, the Robinson pattern. Most conspicuous of all, although tucked away, was the construction of the frame, as distinct from the doings of Swindon and Churchward as it is possible to imagine, the success of which ensured low maintenance costs, minimal lost time for repairs and gave high reliability. Although GWR and GCR mainframes employed the same thickness of steel, 1¼ in., Swindon's frames were far less robust in their construction and forever prone to constant patching and strengthening, a routine which persisted for years after Churchward had vacated the GWR CME's chair. Robinson insisted on the most rugged assembly and had he undertaken lessons as a naval architect he could not have produced anything more like a battleship in the way the main frames of these 2-8-0s were put together. To demonstrate further the validity of what Robinson was doing, when Gresley became the locomotive engineer of the GNR and produced his own 2-8-0 in 1913 this had a thinner main frame thickness than either one of its role models. Gresley's penchant for cutting out holes in Doncaster Plant's frames in order to save weight resulted in another locomotive type subject to frequent frame repairs.

It was not only the thickness of the Gorton frames which gave the 2-8-0s their strength and good riding qualities, Robinson's previous Great Central designs had the same features and to improve on this a deep, heavily braced structure was designed. This incorporated a substantial steel motion stay which followed the full depth of the frames, cast steel stretchers and the cylinder casting bolted directly to the frame. A good deal of thought had gone into all of this, based on the lessons learned from the design and maintenance of the 0-8-0s. A free-steaming boiler and direct exhaust passages completed the recipe. Contrary to popular theories which have raised criticism of some of Robinson's boilers there is no concrete foundation to substantiate any claim of inadequacy and inability to raise steam. As for the short-travel valves which followed Robinson's usual practice, neither of these features proved to be a bar to successful performance; again, there is nothing to demonstrate in practical terms that this policy prevented the locomotives from working their allotted turns. Direct and straight steam exhaust passages in the 2-8-0s had a hint of good fortune rather than anything schemed out, inasmuch as contemporary wisdom knew little of the implications of such things. At Gorton, as elsewhere, calculations in this regard were based more or less on a given cross-sectional dimension for exhaust ports. It would fall to a later generations of designers fully to appreciate the merits of long-travel valves and internal stream-lining.

Footplate life on the Robinson 2-8-0 was always more comfortable than on the GWR and GNR 2-8-0s. Churchward's locomotives with their lever reverse, low slung tenders and high footplates made the driver's work unnecessarily hard and the fireman's task, back-breaking. Gresley retained the skimpy and spartan cab whose origins went back to Stirling's era at the Plant. Robinson's background in locomotive running can be said to be responsible for the difference in outlook from the locomotive designs which came from Churchward and Gresley. Gresley, funnily enough, according to Robinson in correspondence with O.V.S. Bulleid, was impressed with the GCR man's cab and called it 'a Drawing-room'.

Between September 1911, when the first of the 2-8-0s appeared, and August 1914 when hostilities broke out in Europe, 126 class '8K' 2-8-0s were at work on the Great Central. Gorton Works built 56 locomotives and the remainder came from orders placed with Kitson and the North British Loco. There were, in addition, another three of the class, built at Gorton for the Ministry of Munitions, retained by the GCR after the end of World War I. According to the researches of V.R. Webster the 70 locomotives supplied by the outside contractors were allocated as follows:

1183-1202 Mexborough 20 Locomotives
1203-1211 Grimsby & Immingham 13 Locomotives
1212-1228 Annesley 17 Locomotives
1229-1236 Staveley 19 Locomotives
1237-1240 Retford 4 Locomotives
1245-1247 Sheffield 3 Locomotives
1249-1252 Gorton 4 Locomotives

GCR records for the Gorton-built engines are nowhere as complete and the best that one can say is that they were essentially divided between Gorton and Mexborough. From the allocations it is readily apparent that the class was concentrated on the northern end of the Great Central where the majority of the colliery traffic was concentrated. Here too were to be found the most severe conditions, the heaviest banks, poorest weather and the worst water on the GCR. It was a combination of the first and last mentioned which made the risk of boiler priming an everyday challenge to efficient working. A colossal volume of coal, running night and day, every week, traversed the Pennines behind these engines, from South Yorkshire and to some extent, from Nottinghamshire and Derbyshire pits as well. None of the rival routes, LNWR, L&YR and Midland, each vying for the coal trade, possessed a locomotive type to challenge the GCR. On the LNWR and the L&YR the eight-coupled engines were less powerful and the Midland had to be content, for the company's own reasons, with 0-6-0s.

On occasions one of the 2-8-0s might appear at the front of passenger trains, most probably when Sheffield Neepsend Shed turned out any available engine for the heavy St Leger race traffic at Doncaster. A number of the class were fitted with train heating equipment for this purpose.

Although the 2-8-0s tended to maintain a steady beat between the east coast and Lancashire they were also to be found on the Great Central's southern extremities. Annesley's engines worked between Nottingham and London on coal trains and No. 394, which had originally been sent to Gorton, was transferred to Neasden in June 1916 and was based there until June 1920 when it went back to Gorton for a month before departing southwards again, but this time going onto Woodford's roster. No. 420 had been there between February 1916 and July 1919 when it left to join the large contingent of 2-8-0s at Mexborough. Frodingham's iron and steel industry, and its connections with the 2-8-0s, was a trifled muted in Great Central days and did not blossom until after the Grouping. This was due to the inadequate facilities for servicing locomotives at Keadby, the nearest shed, and especially the limited capacity of the shed's turntable. However, Mexborough's 2-8-0s did work through into Frodingham all the same and turned on the triangle of lines at North Lincoin Junction for the return to South Yorkshire.

New locomotive types, Gt Central Ry. Loco. Rly Carr. Wagon Rev., 1910, 16, 237-8.
Two side elevations: also includes 4-6-2T. In neither type is the class quoted.

The LNER made major purchases of the former Railway Operating Department (ROD) 2-8-0s in the early 1920s

O4/4: Gresley was responsible for equipping some of this Robinson 8K class of 1911 with round-top, instead of Belpaire, boilers.

REBUILDING the G.C. 2-8-0s. Rly Mag., 1939, 85, 433.

Retrospective & critical
The RCTS History is extremely comprehensive and includes developments which took place prior to the Grouping and which "belong" to that period, notable of which are the experiments with pulverized and colloidal fuels. The basic section extends from page 33 to page 87.

Hardy, R.H.N. The freight locomotive which won both Wars! Steam Wld, 1997 (115) 8-11.
Considers the virtues of the design as viewed by a young shedmaster at Woodford Halse. At the time, 1949 on, the class was being used on the tightly-timed minerals trains known by the staff as "Runners". Some comparison is made with the GWR 28XX which Hardy consdered to be poorly designed in ergonomic terms.
Railway Correspondence & Travel Society Locomotives of the LNER. Part 6B. Tender engines—classes O1 to P2. 1983. 196pp.
As noted in the introduction this is a very thorough account which extends over a greater time span than some of the other Volumes in this series, which appeared to grow even better with time.
Reed, Brian. R.O.D. 2-8-0s. Loco Profile 21. 1972.
Pp 193-216 (February 1972): centre spread (col. drawing: s & f els). 9 tables. illus. selected to be informative rather than decorative. Densely packed informative text.
Rowledge, J.W.P. The Robinson 2-8-0s. Part 2. Rly Wld., 1969, 30, 196-205.
Covers the post Grouping period when the LNER made substantial purchases of ex-ROD locomotives between 1923 and 1927 and the GWR made its purchase. In 1925 Armstrong Whitworth acquired 25 ROD locomotives and reconditioned them for export to China: twelve went to the Shanghai - Nanking Railway and six went to the Kailan Mining Co. In 1927 the LMS acquired 75 engines and reconditioned twenty. The tenders were re-used on other classes. Armstrong Whiworth acquired some of the LMS tranche and reconditioned them for export to China. Between 1941 and 1942 the War Department requisitioned 61 locomotives from the LNER. Six ex-ROD locomotives were acquired by the Iraqi State Railways in 1947. In 1952 British Railways supplied five for sevice in the Suez Canal Zone. The last transfer was to the South Maitland Railway. E.S. Cox had informed the author that the design was out-of gauge on the LMS (which perhaps says more about the curious LMS gauge, rather than about the locomotives).
Tuplin, W.A. British steam since 1900. 1969.
"The GC design of 2/2-8-0 (LNE class O4) was very highly regarded by those who had to run them and keep them running". Then Tuplin notes that many of the class were fitted with new boilers and new cylinders..
Yeadon, W.B. Yeadon's Register of L.N.E.R. Locomotives, Vol.24A: Class 04, Parts 1 to 5. 2002


When Great Central locomotive history is studied one can be faintly surprised that an engineer of such ability as J.G. Robinson appeared to be so undecided as to what his standard mixed traffic locomotive should be. Without knowing exactly what was in his mind it would be unfair to suggest that he was designing new engines for the sheer delight of doing so; but in contrast to the record of production of heavy freight and express passenger engines, at any rate up to the year 1914, the rapid succession of dissimilar mixed traffic designs was really rather extraordinary. ...They were beautifully styled, and all did excellent work. But was it really necessary to have so many different wheel diameters? One can appreciate that the two 6 foot 9 inch engines were needed for direct comparison with the first 'Atlantics', but would not 6 feet and 6 feet 9 inch have been enough? Again one is curious to know why the 5 foot 3 inch engines of 1906 had smaller fireboxes, which hardly matched their very high nominal tractive effort. (Nock British locomotives of the 20th century. Vol. 1)

B3/2:1929: In 1929, and in 1938, some of the Robinson "Lord Faringdon" (B3) 4-cylinder 4-6-0s were rebuilt with Caprotti valve gear.

CAPROTTI gear for L.N.E.R. engines. Rly Mag., 1938, 83, 227.
The equipment of two further "Lord Faringdon" locomotives with Caprotti valve gear.
FOUR-CYLINDER 4-6-0 locomotive fitted with Beardmore-Caprotti valve gear. Loco. Rly Carr. Wagon Rev., 1930, 36, 43. illus.
4-6-0 four-cylinder locomotive with Beardmore-Caprotti valve gear. Engineering, 1930, 129,132-4.3 illus., 4diagrs. (incl. s. & f. els.)
RECONSTRUCTED four-cylinder express locomotive, L.N.E.R. Rly Mag., 1930, 66, 200. illus.

Retrospective and critical

Dobson, K.S. Poppet valve development on the L.N.E.R. Rly Mag., 1950, 96,197-200; 176-7. 8 illus.
Tuplin, W.A. The Robinson 4-6-0s of the G.C.R. Trains ill,, 1951, 4, 56-60. 9 illus., 2 tables.
A short critical assessment.


Atkins, Philip. Locos from scratch. Rly Mag., 1989, 135, 516-17.
Locomotives built within a limited time scale: the supply of fifty Highland Castle type 4-6-0s to the French State Railways by NBL in 1910.


Dl1/2: 1924: There was a motive power shortage in Scotland and to meet this demand quickly, Gresley constructed a further series of the Robinson "large Director" class. The boiler mountings were reduced to meet the Scottish loading gauge.

Allen, C.J. Salute to the "Claud Hamiltons" & "Directors". Trains ill., 1961, 14, 113-17. 10 illus.
Amac, pseud. The "Director" class, L. & N.E.R. in Soctland. Loco. Rly Carr. Wagon Rev., 1927, 33, 82.
The difficulties experienced by Scottish drivers with a strange design of cab, especially with the right-hand drive.
4-4-0 passenger engines: "Director" class L. & N.E. Ry. Loco. Rly Carr. Wagon Rev., 1928, 34, 1-2. illus., table.
Mainly the Scottish series.
[McKillop, N.] Toram Beg, pseud. Driving the "Directors". Rly Wld, 1963, 24, 110-13. illus. (Enginemens lobby).
Similar to Amac's contribution.
[McKillop, N.] Toram Beg, pseud. Talking of "Directors": a footplate commentary. Trains ill., 1956, 9, 502-4.
Comment on good steaming and riding qualities.
MODERN L.N.E.R. locomotives in Scotland. Rly Mag., 1928, 63,11-18. 10 illus.
Reviews the more modern N.B.R.designs plus the L.N.E.R. introductions.
Tuplin, W.A. Swan song of the Great Central "Directors". Rly Mag., 1953, 99, 88-90. 2 illus.
An appreciation.


Pollitt design

Order reduced by Robinson to six. Equipped with piston valves. Intended for London Extension. Lasted into LNER ownership.

Fryer, Charles. Single wheeler locomotives. 1993. Chapter 12
Entitled "unwanted half-dozen"


New locomotive types, Gt Central Ry. Loco. Rly Carr. Wagon Rev., 1910, 16, 237-8.
Two side elevations: also includes 2-8-0. In neither type is the class name quoted.


1B 1914-: (LNER L1/L3)
According to Jackson these were nicknamed "Crabs"

2-6-4 side tank engine. Loco. Rly Carr. Wagon Rev., 1914, 20, 259.

Railway Correspondence & Travel Society Locomotives of the LNER. Part 9A. Tender engines—classes L1 to N19. 1977. 170pp.
"could hadly be said to be one of their designer's greatest successes aesthetically". Suggests that the design was derived from R.A. Thom's 0-6-4T design which he had introduced during his brief involvement as Locomotive Superintendent of the LDECR before becoming Work's Managere at Gorton under Robinson.