Henry Alfred Ivatt

Henry George

Henry Alfred Ivatt was born on 16 September 1851 at Wentworth [not Coveney as stated by some] in the Isles of Ely where his father was curate (information on birth certificate: see letter by Derek and Jean Biggs Backtrack, 2000, 14, 614). In 1852 the Reverend Alfred William's eldest brother purchased the Avowson of Coveney with Manea for him. HAI's mother Matilda died following the birth of their sixth son George in 1858. There is a memorial tablet at St Peter in Chains, Coveney to HAI's father. H.A. Ivatt had six children one of whom, Campbell, the eldest, died as a child in 1898: see Marjorie Bulleid (Appendix 1 to H.A.V. Bulleid's biography of his father). Her parents were shattered..

Best-known for his Great Northern Atlantics, the final variant of which showed how much difference a large boiler and grate area could make to performance. J.T. van Riemsdijk considered that the large Atlantics represented a "quantum leap in locomotive power" which in Britain was only achieved by Ivatt and Churchward. Ivatt is a major omission from the Oxford Dictionary of National Biography and this should have been obvious to its Editors from the entries therein on Bulleid and Gresley, both of which indicate the significance of Ivatt.

At seventeen, a tall slender youth with a pronounced nasal intonation, Ivatt was apprenticed to Ramsbottom at Crewe. After working as a fireman for six months he occupied several posts before becoming locomotive engineer of the GS&WR of Ireland at Inchicore in 1882. Here he patented his sprung flap for vertically-opening carriage windows, a device that was adopted widely in Britain and elsewhere and was forever associated in travellers. minds with the stout leather strap that accompanied it. In 1895, his application fortified with testimonials from Johnson, Aspinall, Webb, and Dean,.he was appointed Locomotive Superintendent of the GNR, retiring on 2 December 1911. He designed several types of successful locomotives for the GNR. apart from his small and large Atlantics. It was against his advice that his directors decided to purchase a compound Atlantic, whose performance was hardly superior to his own Atlantics (especially after the latter had been superheated). In 1908 he patented his design for a built-up crank axle. According to Marshall he died in Haywards Heath on 25 October 1923.

H.A.V. Bulleid's Master Builders of Steam is still the major source of biographical information: Ivatt forms the subject for the opening Chapter and this in itself should show those who are prepared to read (rather than to scribble) that Ivatt is a key figure in Bristish locomotive history.


Notes on road trials of three express passenger-engines, carried out on the Great Northern Railway in 1906. Proc. Instn mech. Engrs., 1907, 535-32.
With No. 1300 (a four-cylinder compound); No. 292 (combined 4-cylinder compound or simple) and No. 294 (2-cylinder simple). All were Atlantics.

Contributions to others' papers
Sauvage, Edouard. Recent locomotive practice in France. Proc. Instn Mech. Engrs, 1900, 59, 412-13.
Described experimental fitting of GS&WR Class 101 0-6-0 with Worsdell Von Borries compounding system.

T. Henry Turner (pp. 535-6 J. Instn Loco. Engrs, 1950, 40 in discussion on paper by Carling) noted that Ivatt had read a paper at Doncaster in 1897on the chimneys of locomotive engines in which he had examined chimneys from twenty companies

Contributions to others' papers

Bulleid quoted Ivatt's contribution to Sauvage's paper to the Instn Mech. Engrs,. 1900, 66. 327 et seq.,

The thing that strikes me about the Paper is the great increase in the power of locomotives which has taken place in France during the last ten years. The measure of the power of a locomotive is the boiler. Mr. Sturrock, who left the position which I myself now occupy on the Great Northern Railway over thirty years ago (and who, I am glad to say, comes to see me at Doncaster and talk locomotives now and then), says that the measure of the power of a locomotive is ' its capacity to boil water.' It will be seen from the Paper that a great many of the boilers of the French locomotives are quite up to 2,000 ft. of heating surface, and a great many of the fireboxes have over 20 ft. of grate area, and in many cases the pressure is over 200 lb. It is no use having large cylinders, and figuring the power of the engine from the cylinders, unless one has a boiler that will keep the cylinders properly supplied. A large purse is not of much advantage unless the bank account is capable of keeping it well filled.

One of the difficulties which locomotive engineers have to deal with is trying to pull very big trains at very high speeds. When a locomotive engineer makes an engine that is capable of pulling a church, he is at once asked to hitch on the schools as well! What is required for running heavy fast expresses is to start with an engine of the dray-horse type, capable of exerting great tractive force, and quickly getting up the speed to about 50 miles an hour; then to take that engine off, and put on another of the quick trotter or high-flyer type.

Of course that is impossible in practice, but it seems to me that the four-cylinder compound, with plenty of adhesive weight, is likely to be a solution of the difficulty. A four-cylinder compound, with a boiler big enough to allow all four cylinders to work by high pressure, not for a short distance only, but for many miles when necessary, fitted with a simple arrangement which will allow the engine to be worked compound at will, might perhaps assist in the direction I have tried to indicate.

The author is quite right when he says that there are two sets of opinions on locomotive matters; sometimes the drawing-office size of a blast-pipe is not the same as the steam-shed size.


???/1888. Carriage window closure arrangement.
Bulleid: Master builders
5804/1898: Improved means or appliances for supporting or holding cycles in vehicles or other places. Applied 1898.  Published 28 January 1899:
Illustrated in Redivivus, Beunel. Railway facilities for cyclists. Rly Mag., 1900, 7, 26-32. and in Locomotive Mag., 1901, 6, 56
19,495/1901 Improvements in apparatus for picking up or raising water for locomotive engines and tenders whilst they are running. Applied 30 September 1901 Published 14 August 1902
791/1905: An improved crank shaft for locomotive engines and other purposes. Applied 14 January 1905. Published 31 August 1905.
see Locomotive Mag., 1904, 10, 210
27,983/1908 An improved crank shaft for steam engines and other purposes Applied  23 December 1908. Published   28 April 1909
crank axle: see Locomotive Mag., 1909, 15, 169.
5390/1911 Improvements in or relating to locomotives. Applied 3 March 1911. Published 29 February 1912.
steam drier/superheater/spark arrester

See: H.A.V. Bulleid, Master Builders of Steam (1963).
Geoffrey Williams contributed an eccentric) assessment. (Backtrack, 2000, 14, 335) This received a stern response (page 550 same volume) from the highly knowledgeable J.T. van Riemsdijk who considered that Williams grossly under-estimated the significance of Ivatt's work, especially that of the large Atlantics which represented a "quantum leap in locomotive power" which in Britain was only achieved by Ivatt and Churchward. Notes how D. Drummond failed to achieve this change. Also notes how Ivatt progressed from 4–2-2 to 4-4-0 to small 4-4-2 to large 4-4-2 providing footplate crews with a progression. On the Continent Ivatt and his large Atlantics were regarded as trend setters. In fairness to Williams he does list Ivatt's Irish designs..
Nock, O.S. Railway enthusuast's encyclopedia


Nock, O.S. Great Northern 4-4-2 'Atlantics'.   1984. 136pp. (Classic Locomotives No. 2)
See page 28 (black & white reproduction of painting).

See also Ivatt's Great Northern locomotives

Henry George (son)

H.G. lvatt was the son of a Chief Mechanical Engineer, namely H.A. Ivatt of the Great Northern Railway. His steam locomotive policy was mainly directed towards the reduction of maintenance costs, as exemplified by the adoption of self-cleaning smokeboxes and rocking grates. He also played a part in the development of a main-line diesel-electric locomotive, although Fairburn must also have been involved in the initial stages. . H.A.V. Bulleid (lvatt's nephew) and E.S. Cox are the major chroniclers.

Cox (Locomotive panorama Vol. 1) was very revealing on the later CMEs of the LMS, especially Ivatt: "Three more different men than the above named [Stanier, Fairburn and Ivatt] would be hard to find, differing as widely in their backgrounds as in their characters. Ivatt was that rare type, the truly instinctive engineer who had a flair for arriving at effective action with a minimum of intermediate thought processes or paper work. Son of a famous C.M.E. and occupying throughout his career the inside curve of the track as regards familiarity with the railway heirachy, he maintained an effortless efficiency in attaining maximum results with a minimum of effort or fuss. He valued word of mouth communication from his staff, and looked coldly upon all but the briefest and most essential of reports and memos. He was apt to blow people out of his office who came in with letters for signature after 4 p.m. and to chase others off the premises who felt the need to work beyond 5.30 p.m. He was indeed a kindly martinet in reverse, so different from those who only seemed to measure worth by the willingness to make a display of long hours, and all the time leading his staff towards his own ideal of greater effectiveness by cutting down unnecessary bother. Due to this, eager beavers sometimes thought him lazy, but such was far from being the case, for it could not be denied that he was as successful in all he undertook as any who criticised him.

Chacksfield's biography of Jarvis notes that Stanier told Ron Jarvis (concerning Ivatt): "You nearly didn't get him" and on page 75 observes that Ivatt was a first class engineer and an immensely practical man.

Cox considered it was not surprising that it required not a little finesse to satisfy Fairburn and Ivatt simultaneously, and to interpret Stanier's activities and demands to both, in a manner which did not fall foul of the susceptibilities of any of the three of them. Occasionally it took some doing to avoid this undesirable outcome since their admiration for one another's ways was not always boundless. Portrait: photograph taken at annual dinner of British Railways Chief Mecanical & Electrical Engineers on 11 December 1961: Clements The GWR exposed page 163..


Ivatt, H.G. [Paper in:] Bulleid, O.V.S., and others Railway power plant in Great Britain. Proc. Instn mech. Engrs, 1947, 157, 235-9 + 4 plates. 12 illus., diagr. (s. & f. els.), 2 tables. (Centenary Lectures).
Present Position: (a) Steam. Policy has particularly aimed at high locomotive availability, to reduce the capital employed and repair costs. This has been secured by:
(1) Producing standard locomotive classes each capable of a wide range of duties, i.e. by enlarging the field of mixed traffic working.
(2) The steady application of improvements, in design and materials, to existing as well as to new locomotive stock.
(3) The concentration on organization of repairs in shops and sheds, so as to reduce the time out of traffic and thus the number of locomotives required.
Ten steam locomotive types have been standardized to cover all the traffic on the L.M.S.R. New engines are of these types, and all except the shunting locomotives contain the following features:
(1) Self-cleaning smokebox, for ease of servicing at running sheds and for keeping tubes clean in service.
(2) Rocking grates and self-emptying ashpans, for reducing shed disposal-time, and for cleaning fires during run.
(3) Manganese steel liners on horn and axlebox faces, to reduce wear, and to increase mileage between shopping.
(4) Outside cylinders and valve gear, for minimum forces on axleboxes, and ease of maintenance. More than two cylinders are only employed where the power required exceeds that which could be obtained by two cylinders, the size of which is governed by the limits of the loading gauge.
(5) Long-lap piston valves having six narrow rings per head, in order to maintain thermal efficiency over shopping periods. The leading dimensions of these standard types are given in Table 1, and examples are illustrated in Figs. 1 and 2, Plate 1. Fig. 3, Plate 1, shows the experimental turbine locomotive, No. 6202.(not included herein)
The development in shopping organization, equipment, and methods, which has taken place year by year, has affected the whole locomotive stock and resulted in high traffic-availability per unit. Practices which amongst others have particularly contributed to this result are:
(1) Shopping organization, calling in locomotives for overhaul only as their condition warrants, but, as far as possible, before they begin to be laid-off in service.
(2) Undertaking all “classified” repairs in main workshops, where the latest machine tool equipment is used and the work is performed on the “progressive” system.
(3) The carrying out at each shopping period of such work,
and only such work, as is necessary to ensure a further full period in service without intermediate attention.
(4) Provision of an adequate stock of spare boilers and other parts so that each locomotive requiring heavy repairs can be fitted from stock.
(5) A unit costing system and standard limits of wear. So far as shed organization is concerned, the important factors have been :-
(1) Synchronization of washouts, periodical examinations and repairs in order to deal with as much work as possible each time a locomotive is out of service.
(2) Centralization of running repairs into concentration depots where adequate facilities and equipment can be utilized economically.
(b) Diesel.
The LMSR has pioneered the introduction and development of the Diesel locomotive on British railways. After preliminary trials with various types, one type of locomotive has been standardized for shunting work having a 350-h.p. six-cylinder, four-stroke engine with electric transmission . Forty such locomotives are in service, and a further forty-two were transferred to, or built for, the Allied armies.
The LMSR has no electric locomotives but considerable development work has been undertaken on the mechanical portion of multiple-unit electric stock. The design and construction of new light-weight stock for the Liverpool-Southport line has already been described. Experience with the all-welded motor bogies has brought to light certain defects considered to be due largely to the offset of the line of driving thrust through the axleboxes to the frame itself. A new design, with double frame and rearranged springing, has been developed with satisfactory results.
(c) Mechanical Parts of Electric Vehicles.
Developments in the Immediate Future: (a) Steam. Immediate developments for steam traction are following the policy outlined in the first part of this paper. Further locomotives of two of the most important classes, the 4-6-2 and the mixed-traffic 4-6-0, are to be built with additional modifications designed still further to enhance their overall efficiency. These are as follows :-
(1) Roller bearings Two 4-6-2 and twenty 4-6-0 locomotives are to be built in 1947 having roller bearings on coupled, carrying, and tender wheels. Since it is the condition of the axleboxes which mainly determines when the present locomotives require shop repairs, the roller bearing axlebox with manganese steel rubbing-surfaces offers a considerable extension to existing periods between shopping.
(2) Poppet Valve Gear. Twenty 4-6-0 locomotives (ten from amongst those having roller bearings) are to be fitted in 1947 with Caprotti valve gear having a new design of totally-enclosed shaft drive. The aims are better thermal efficiency, as a result of the valves being more steamtight, and additional availability and reduction in maintenance to be obtained from a totally enclosed valve gear running in oil.
(3) Steel Fireboxes Boilers for two further 4-6-2 locomotives and ten 4-6-0 locomotives are to be fitted in 1948 with steel fireboxes. The object is to ascertain whether lower overall boiler costs are obtainable with steel or copper.
It is believed that the conventional reciprocating steam-locomotive is still capable of considerable advance and that the ceiling of operating availability and maintenance cost per mile has not yet been reached. If, for the sake of higher thermal efficiency, or still higher availability, any departure from the simple, inexpensive, rugged steam locomotive of normal aspect is envisaged, the LMSR authorities hold that a complete breakaway from steam towards the internal combustion engine is the logical step to take.
(b) Diesel. The following main-line Diesel-electric units are under construction:
(1) One 800 h.p. unit on two four-wheel bogies, weighing about 67 tons, and of capacity comparable with that of class 2, 2-6-2 steam tank engines for branch and cross-country line passenger and freight services.
(2) Two 1,600 h.p. units each of which, as an independent unit, is suitable for surburban and semi-fast passenger trains and medium-weight main-line services as now undertaken by class 4, 2-6-4 steam tank-locomotives, and has an estimated weight of about 120 tons.
(3) The above two vehicles coupled together (multiple unit) will form one 3,200 h.p. locomotive capable of taking the heaviest Anglo-Scottish main-line services between Euston and Glasgow, or fast light trains, comparable to the Coronation Scot train of pre-war days, between the same points-work normally falling to the lot of class 7, 4-6-2 steam locomotives. The combined locomotive will weigh 240 tons and will have a designed maximum speed of 90 m.p.h.
These units will enable the whole traffic field to be surveyed so as to settle where Diesel-electric traction is most likely to justify itself and also to ascertain how far this type of machine can be considered as an alternative to main-line electric locomotives. In shunting work, Diesel-electric units have been fully justified, and over the next six years it is intended to build 100 more of the 350-h.p. units already described. No further steam units are in contemplation.

Cook notes that Ivatt was born on 4 May 1886, in which year his father became Locomotive Engineer of the Great Southern & Western Railway at Inchicore, Dublin. He was educated at Uppingham, a school noted for its talent at producing engineers and scientists. He began an apprenticeship at Crewe in 1904. After drawing office experience he took charge of experimental locomotive work, and then became Assistant Outdoor Machinery Superintendent at Crewe. During World War 1 he served on the staff of the Director of Transport in France. In 1919 he became Assistant Locomotive Superintendent of the NSR at Stoke. Following the grouping in 1927 he was moved to Derby, where he became Works Superintendent in 1928. Here he was responsible for introducing the progressive repair system, which had been developed at Crewe, and was applied with some adaptations at Derby. In 1932 Ivatt moved to Glasgow as Divisional Mechanical Engineer, Scotland, and returned south in 1937 as Principal Assistant for Locomotives to the CME. Following Fairburn's sudden death on 12 October 1945, he was appointed CME from 1 February 1946, the interregnum suggesting that the Board was considering the other contender for the post, R.A. Riddles.

Under Ivatt there was an intensive period of design activity, covering new designs, experimental variants of existing designs, and detail improvements to render the repair and maintenance of locomotives easier under post-war conditions. His greatest achievement was the production of the first main line diesel-electric locomotive in little over six months.

Sadly, under nationalisation the comparison of diesel and steam traction and the assessment of the variations in valve gears and bearings on the Class 5 4-6-0s were never completed fully evaluated. Ivatt retired in 1951 on reaching the age of 65, and was appointed a consultant to Brush Bagnall Traction, later becoming Director and General Manager. He died on 4 October 1972, aged 86.

Westwood adds that during his short term (1945-7) as Chief Mechanical Engineer of the LMS he fitted an improved Caprotti valve gear to certain Class 5 4-6-0 locomotives, making more of a success of that gear than any previous designers. He also finally broke away from the 0-6-0 type in favour of the 2-6-0, and introduced the self-cleaning smokebox, the rocking grate, and the self-emptying ashpan, the latter being based on German and the others on American practice. Other American features of his 2-6-0 and 2-6-2T designs were manganese steel bearing surfaces in axle-boxes, and the elimination of superfluous footplating and splashers. He was also responsible for enhancing the Duchess design, nominally as an improved form to compete with the two diesel-electric locomotives. See: H.A.V. Bulleid, Master Builders of Steam ( 1963). Radford/COX

Larkin (book page 83) noted that: Ivatt was "a great engineer by intuition rather than of academic brilliance, a gentleman at all times and a chief for whom I and all those who had the privilege of knowing him had the greatest respect and affection, He was of an extremely practical nature and in the early 1930s he completely reorganized the boiler and boiler mounting shops at Derby and introduced a systematic stage by stage repair system with new electric and pneumatic tooling. Instead of the various groups of men moving to the boiler in turn, the boiler was moved to the men.

and on page 92: H.G. Ivatt was a most friendly man by nature and unlike most senior executives, he was never in a hurry.


USP 2,632,406 Railway truck. 24 March 1953.


Atkins, Philip Dear Mr Stanier, you don't know me but...Steam Wld. 1999.(144), 21-4.
In 1965 the author wrote from his home address to several of the retired CMEs to ask them fairly specific questions about their design policy: Atkins was successful and some of his replies are reproduced as received. There is an excellent portrait of Riddles sitting with Ivatt taken on 5 June 1951 and the caption notes that John Crawley had observed Ivatt acting as an unpaid petrol pump attendant at Melbourne in Derbyshire..
Bonavia, Michael R. The birth of British Rail. p. 56
Group photograph at opening of Rugby Locomotive Testing Station on 19 October 1948 with O.V.S. Bulleid, Louis Armand, F.W. Hawksworth, Edward Thompson, Parmentier, Stanier and Peppercorn.
Bond, Roland C. A lifetime with locomotives. Cambridge: Goose, 1975. page 190
Oliver Bulleid and his brother-in-law George Ivatt, were the last of the Company C.M.E.s to go. It is perhaps difficult to imagine two men more diverse in temperament than were these two, subjected as they were to similar early influences, and both ultimately carrying very much the same responsibilities as Chief Mechanical Engineers. Both were indeed 'Master Builders of Steam' so well portrayed in the book of that name, written by the former's son, Anthony Bulleid. His father must often have been up in the clouds exercising his inventive mind on new and original ideas. His uncle was very much down on terra firma. With no pretensions to academic distinction, H.G.I., as we all knew him, was a born mechanical engineer.
He was a realist who concentrated on the essentials. His long experience led him unerringly to the right solution of any problem which, when explained in his simple practical language, seemed so obvious. He was completely unflappable, tolerant and kindly, though no-one was ever in doubt as to who was the boss at Derby. He was always prepared to see the best in people. During the many years I knew him, I heard H.G.I. speak disparagingly of only one man for whom he had good reason to have an intense dislike. Just as he himself brooked no interference from Euston in L.M.S. days or later from Railway Executive headquarters in matters which he regarded as his own prerogative, so he never interfered in the work he delegated to his own assistants and staff. He asked people to do things for him, and let them get on with the job. I vatt was, I believe, quite unconscious of his natural flair for inspiring in all who worked for him, loyalty, respect and affection to a quite remarkable degree. Everyone was sorry to see him go, but as consultant to one of the locomotive building firms, his long railway experience was turned to very good account in the design of some of the best of the diesel locomotives soon to be running on British Railways.
Bulleid, HAV. Master builders of steam. 1963.
Cox, E.S. Approach to modernization. J. Instn Loco. Engrs, 1957, 47, 384-416. (Presidential Address).
Includes a short sketch of Ivatt's policy.
Cox, E.S. Chronicles of steam.
Includes notes on unfulfilled designs.
Doncaster engineers honoured. Rly Mag., 1950, 96, 577.
Nos. 60118 Archibald Sturrock, 60119 Patrick Stirling and 60123 H.A. Ivatt named by H.G. Ivatt.
Glover, F.G. British locomotive design, 1923-1947. Part 4. The final chapter of L.M.S.R. locomotive development under Stanier and lvatt. Rly Mag., 1965, 111, 104-7. 5 illus.
NEW standard L.M.S.R. locomotives. Rly Gaz., 1947, 86, 392-3. 10 illus.
Eleven standard types.
NEW standard L.M.S.R. locomotives. Rly Mag., 1947, 93, 228-31. 10 illus.
Rowland, Don. Out like a lion. Br. Rly J. LMS Special Issue, 1988, 57-60.
Shows Ivatt stepping down from cab of No. 10000 at St Pancras Station in early 1948.

See letter by Tufnell concerning involvement by Ivatt in design of bogie for class 31: letter Backtrack 12 page 637

See Railway Archive (3) page 41 lower for photograph of Ivatt in his office at Stoke Works, NSR
Nock, O.S. Railway enthusuast's encyclopedia

The LAST steam locomotive built by British Railways: naming ceremony of class "9" 2-10-0 locomotive No. 92220 'Evening Star" at Swindon, 18th March, 1960. J. Instn Loco. Engrs, 1959/60, 49, 597-9. illus.
Hanks in his address noted that Mr. H. E. Ivatt—famous son of a famous father—I could tell you a lot about his enthusiasm—one who always described the old L. and N.W. engines as having "three beats and a waffle" and who fitted a *Black Stanier" with outside Stephenson gear.

Updated: 2017-06-08

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