[Sir] John Aspinall

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John Aspinall was born on 25 August 1851, the son of a Liverpool judge (who had become a convert to Roman Catholicism), John Aspinall attended Beaumont College (a Roman Catholic boarding school in Berkshire) and was then apprenticed to Ramsbottom, and later Webb, on the LNWR. In 1872 Webb sent Aspinall to the USA where the younger man was greatly impressed by the larger loading gauge. In 1883, after responsible jobs in Crewe and Inchicore, he became locomotive superintendent of the Great Southern & Western Railway in Ireland. Here he designed a number of capable though undistinguished locomotives, before taking a similar position with the Lancashire & Yorkshire Railway in 1886. The obituary in The Engineer 1937, 22 January) noted that "No man ever went into Inchicore and came out of it without being the better, and there is never an Inchicore man who does not cherish an affection for it."

He completed the work of his predecessor, Barton Wright in ridding that Company of its unstandardized and ineffective locomotive stock and introducing better, standardized, designs. His radial 2-4-2 tank, which was often used for fast inter-city services, was perhaps his most successful design and was multiplied over the years. This locomotive had a water-scoop operated by a vacuum device (in Ireland, Aspinall had already devised an automatic vacuum brake which was adopted by several lines, including the LNWR and GNR). His inside cylinder 4-4-2 of 1899, of which forty units were built, surprised the engineering world by the size of its boiler, having 2,052 sq. ft of heating surface. Its boiler power, and its 7ft 3in. driving wheels, made it a fast engine and it is said to have exceeded 100 mile/h. One of these engines was fitted with the Aspinall superheater; this, located in the smokebox, was too small to have much effect, and was out-classed by the subsequent Schmidt superheater . He also experimented with cylinder steam jackets.

In 1899 Aspinall became General Manager of the Lancashire & Yorkshire Railway (see Rly Mag., 1899, 5, 17) for contemporary observation of this momentous event, and was a great success, capturing much of the Yorkshire coal traffic, introducing electrification between Liverpool and Southport in 1904, and between Manchester and Bury in 1916. At the outbreak of WW1 he managed to become interned by the Germans, but was released. he was a member of Railway Executive Committee during WW1. He received a knighthood in 1917. He became President of the Institution of Mechanical Engineers. Witness to Weir Committee on Railway Electrification. He died on 19 January 1937.


The 'Smith' vacuum and automatic vacuum brakes. Trans. Liverpool Eng Soc., 1880-1, 2.

The friction of locomotive slide-valves on December 18, 1888. Min Proc. Instn civ. Engrs., 1896/97, 129, 13-17. (Paper 3052)

Experiments on the draught produced in different parts of a locomotive boiler when running. Proc. Instn mech. Engrs., 1893, 44, 199-202.

Express locomotives. Int. Rly Congr., London, 1895.
Engineer, 1895 21 June

The Horwich Locomotive Works of the Lancashire and Yorkshire Railway. Min Proc. Instn civ. Engrs., 1896/97, 129, 309-16. (Paper 3009)

Train resistance. Min Proc. Instn civ. Engrs.,1901, 147, 155-277.

Experiments on tractive resistance of loaded wagons. Min Proc. Instn civ. Engrs., 1903/4, 158, 369-73.

Presidential Address. Proc. Instn Civ. Engrs., 1918, 20, 4-5.

Presidential address. Trans. Liverpool Eng Soc., 1922, 1.

Presidential Address. Proc. Instn mech Engrs., 1909, 76. 423-91.

Presidential Address 1918-1919 (5 November 1918). Proc. Instn Civ. Engrs., 1919, 207, 2-27
Work on all the larger railways to reduce costs by the standardization of parts, has not been appreciated at its true value: rolling stock, port facilities; wagons; coal tipping; ownership; permanent way; sleepers; electrification; and electric traction.

Some railway notes old and new. (The 12th Thomas Hawksley Lecture). Proc. Instn mech Engrs., 1925, 109, 1107-51..

Discussion on other's papers

Hele-Shaw, Road locomotion. Proc. Instn mech, Engrs., 1900, 246-7

Smith, R.T. Electrical lighting of railway trains. Min. Proc. Instn civ. Engrs, 1911/12, 187, 211.


4232/1878 provisional protection for the principle of making vacuum brakes automatic by controlling air inlet below the cylinders 23 October 1878.

4521/1878 automatic vacuum brake: arrangements including the basic system with a single train-pipe which came into general use 7 November 1878

633/1879 automatic valve for the gaurd's van 17 February 1879

2850/1879. Guiding appliances for blinds. 12 July 1879

3788/1879 progressive application of brake. 20 September 1879

17,480/1888 vacuum-operated water scoop which could operate in either direction. 1888
It was fitted to all the 2-4-2 tanks and its reliability and popularity. with footplate staff were a tribute to sound design and detailing in the drawing office.

4402/1889. Posts, etc for signal arms. 13 March 1889.

10,388/1890 ticket folding 1890.
proposals for folding and wrapping passenger tickets for railways and steamboats " so as to give surface for advertising purposes.

7024/1893 Railway signalling. 5 April 1893
audible fog-signals, an unsuccessful attempt to dispense with fog-men, neatly used compressed air both to operate a code-wheel and to blow the fog-horn in accordance with the code.

1860/1893. Heating, lighting. 27 January 1893.
Signalling on railway trains

17,205/1895. Cranes. 14 September 1895.

28,026/1896. some lateral movement on anti-friction rollers.
As the dies closed together wedges imparted the lateral movement which coaxed the heated copper gently into its flanged form:.

30034/1897 Improvements in locomotive engines. Applied 18 December 1897. Published 8 October 1898.

901/1914 Improvements in and relating to electric railway, tramway & like systems. Applied 13 January 1914. Published 15 February 1915.
side-contact third rail electricity pick up

See the very extensive biography by H.A.V. Bulleid, The Aspinall Era (1967).
Birse, R.M. rather thin entry in Oxford Dictionary of National biography.

See Marshall: Biographical dictionary
Nock, O.S. Railway enthusuast's encyclopedia
See Mason, Eric The Lancashire & Yorkshire Railway in the 20th century 1961 pp 130 3; Marshall, John, The Lancashire & Yorkshire R V 3 1972 pp 147 57.)

Min Proc ICE V 182 1909 10 p 327;

Proc IME 5.1910 p 778; The Eng V 109, 25.5. 1910

Updated: 2020-08-13

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