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Edward Thompson: Wartime C.M.E. Discussion 2012 - 2021

Discussion in 'Steam Traction' started by S.A.C. Martin, May 2, 2012.

  1. S.A.C. Martin

    S.A.C. Martin Part of the furniture

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    Yes that is certainly a positive thing about the book.

    I’m less sold on his writing style, though maybe it’s because I’m so close to the history and the source material.
     
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  2. MellishR

    MellishR Part of the furniture Friend

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    And another one: "… the often complex relationship between he, Gresley …" (should be "him").
     
  3. Fred Kerr

    Fred Kerr Part of the furniture

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    Could also be related to his background. I was very surprised by a teacher at Technical College in the 1970s who (correctly) identified that I came from Edinburgh - simply by the construction of my grammar in the essays that I did for him whilst preparing for University exam resits.
     
  4. Enterprise

    Enterprise Part of the furniture

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    It is impossible to tell from your abbreviated quote. A predicate nominative is often incorrectly formed using an objective pronoun in contemporary English speech and writing, but few notice today.
     
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  5. 60525

    60525 New Member

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  6. 60525

    60525 New Member

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    ... also interesting to see a forthcoming book covering the last CME of the LNER, Arthur Peppercorn.....
     
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    Matt37401 Part of the furniture

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  8. S.A.C. Martin

    S.A.C. Martin Part of the furniture

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    I've re-read Mr Hillier-Graves book a few times, and I've been struggling to work out my feelings on it.

    On the one hand, he's presenting the information as if it's new.

    It isn't.

    Most of his book's "new information" can already be found in a very small amount of texts (and indeed, his bibliography at the back of the book runs to one and a bit pages).

    The truly new stuff is in a few select photographs of Thompson, and the revelations about Bert Spencer - which aren't actually presented whole, or shown as primary evidence, but in short asides. Much of what has been written is in fact, speculative, with not much to back up his own claims, relying instead on other volumes to fill in the gaps. I have done my best in my tome to always provide relevant citations and references throughout: Mr Hillier-Graves does not do this. In fact it is rare that he quotes directly or provides a direct reference and citation.

    The thing that has really worried me about the framing of Hiller-Graves book is that he attests we haven't got enough evidence to know about certain aspects of Thompson's design work: which, if he had done the research I had done, simply isn't true. In particular, his writings on the Thompson Pacifics is rendered totally inaccurate by my research.

    If I was coming at this fresh, with little knowledge on Thompson, no interest in researching history whatsoever, I would find this an interesting read, different from all previous texts (bar Peter Grafton's work) on Thompson by virtue of claiming him to be human instead of a villain.

    I'm not coming at this fresh though: as this thread attests, I have been working on this research since 2012 and the book since at least 2014. So I'm not best placed to critique his work: I'm too close to the subject matter. I know what I would do, and I have gone out and done it by way of looking for the primary evidence.

    So where does that leave me? I am waiting on a publisher to come back to me, and that is all I can do right now.

    I don't think there's many people in the railway world who would claim I haven't done all I can to highlight the various truths and myths to the Thompson story. I have given lectures to the Gresley Society (at their AGM in 2019), the Model Railway Club, the Railway Correspondence and Travel Society, a podcast on Railway Mania, and there are two articles forthcoming in the railway press that I have contributed to directly on Edward Thompson. I have provided links to and references to my research here, and where asked, always been happy to point people in the right direction to the information they require, or the source material required.

    If there is one positive - and it is a big one - to come from Hillier-Graves book coming out - it is that we may yet see the wider railway community start to recognize better just how poorly served LNER history has been by a number of authors since 1948, and that we need to reframe the nature of railway history in how we analyse it, research it, and write on it.
     
    Last edited: Jul 26, 2021
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  9. S.A.C. Martin

    S.A.C. Martin Part of the furniture

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    My ears are burning - a friend spotted this mention on a model railway forum, from Tony Wright no less: https://www.rmweb.co.uk/community/i...wright-writes/&do=findComment&comment=4372015

    Tony is a lovely chap and I have been grateful for his comments and support over the years in my modelling, though it has been a long time since I have conversed with him. In response to his comments elsewhere, please find my response below:

    The use of "genius" was actually more in reference to his recognising that he had limited drawing office time for designing new locomotives, and his team recognised that too - so where applicable, locomotive designs were simplified by the use of two cylinders rather than three, removal of conjugated valve gear altogether, and with this in conjunction with his work to reorganise the works and reduce the time out of traffic, he improved things at the LNER significantly.

    Regarding the P2s - they were taken off the troop trains specifically because there was a danger of crank axle failure. That is factual. That's a safety issue, clearly. The crank axle breakages had manifested enough to be a worry. There is no point in running trains of that size with a locomotive which is at danger of catastrophic mechanical failure. So I rather think the point about the P2s has been lost entirely in the obsession by enthusiasts generally to focus on performance and not availability/maintainability and somehow missing the clear safety issue (think about Bibby Line by comparison on the Southern - all Merchant Navies were taken out of service, the P2s were simply restricted to loads below their potential and below the loads where failures had occurred. That is clearly sensible).

    The P2 Trust's work on no.2007 fundamentally shows this view to be incorrect - the design of the original locomotives has shown up some awful ride qualities which would lead to the crank axle failures and overheating bearings the class suffered in particular. Looking at the Vampire modelling in particular shows how the inadequate pony truck was at fault for much of their issues.

    Adding to that - the A3 type crank axle was not adequate for the P2s - the new no.2007 has a crank axle that has been much beefed up precisely for this requirement.

    Mathematically this is not true, and it is not true practically either. If it were true, then GWR fans and much of the continent's locomotives of four cylinder propulsion with short connecting rods would be somehow inferior to the Gresley 3 cylinder setup with long outside con rods and conjugated gear. Which is patently not the case.


    Because the War Office told the LNER that was how they were allowed to proceed. There had to be substantial savings in mechanical components and design work. Reusing the original valve gear unaltered and adding a third identical set, and dividing the drive solved more problems across maintenance, design time and manufacturing than it caused by the lengthened wheelbase.

    For which, outside of apocryphal commentary from time keepers and those not actually involved in the day to day running or maintenance of the locomotives, there is no further evidence for.

    The evidence I have drawn from for refuting this is based on:
    • The LNER Pacific Engine Cards at York, National Railway Museum, which give mileages and reasons for maintenance/etc being undertaken
    • The LNER Availability Figures, derived from the Use of Engine Power document at Kew Gardens, National Archives
    If the cylinder setup was an "engineering disaster" then these locomotives would have been sufficiently poorer than those which went before, and after, by way of the statistics held. The mileages the Thompson Pacifics completed over their lifetimes is significantly better than the Gresley locomotives on a year by year comparison, and their lifetime mileages are comparable with the Peppercorn machines after.

    This has no basis in fact, so far as the records of the LNER show. Separate cylinders on any two, three, or four cylinder locomotive can work loose over large mileages: that's the nature of the beast. The Thompson Pacifics were no more or less susceptible to this than other classes. In fact it appears the length of the loco and positioning of the cylinders actually aided maintenance instead of adding to it, by way of works visits with greater frequency but with lower duration overall in works.

    Simply put: because Thompson himself had asked the drawing office to come up with that wheelbase and Peppercorn in fact inherited a version of the A2 with the Gresley style drawn out. The developments of the Thompson A1 and A2s always included versions of that wheelbase with the Gresley style long rods throughout Thompson's tenure: the Thompson Pacifics emerged as they did mostly because of the constraints on materials and expenditure by the war office, forcing through certain decisions at the drawing office end.

    The Thompson front end was not as problematic in service as is frequently expressed by writers - and we know this because we have the primary evidence, the records of the locomotives concerned plus the management information statistics available to see what they actually did.

    There is no evidence for this statement that exists, and in fact we have evidence which refutes this completely on record by way of reports to the board from the running department in Scotland stating the following:

    If we also look at the mileages and availability stats for the A2/2s during LNER years and thereafter, we see they were highly available, very competent, and decent mileage machines. Thane of Fife went from being the worst P2 to one of the best Pacifics on the LNER in 1946. 61,152 miles done and 93% availability, ahead of all of the Gresley Pacifics.

    Tony has his own views on this and he is entitled to hold them, but he hasn't had the benefit of the primary evidence I have examined and I think it's fair to say that much of the negative views of Thompson and his machines are based solely on a number of books, for which the research has been severely lacking, and no primary evidence used as a basis for their arguments (such as the Colonel Rogers book on Thompson and Peppercorn: which in my opinion, should hold the subtitle of "Greatest work of fiction in railway history").
     
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  10. jnc

    jnc Part of the furniture

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    These points are all possibly covered in your existing manuscript, but if not, are things too far along to slip them in?

    Noel
     
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  11. S.A.C. Martin

    S.A.C. Martin Part of the furniture

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    All covered, happily!
     
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  12. 30567

    30567 Part of the furniture Friend

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    Does anyone on here know what is the evidence for this 'almost mutiny' re the P2s?

    I know Norman McKillop (Toram Beg) is just one commentator, but he was a big Gresley fan and he says :

    'But as everyone knows, these hopes were never fulfilled...............the Mikados were one of Gresley's 'near misses' and I suppose there was no more disappointed engineman in Britain than myself that this was so'.

    He had brought Cock O' The North from Doncaster to Edinburgh when new and was involved in testing them on the Aberdeen run so was in a position to draw his conclusions.
     
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  13. 8126

    8126 Member

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    I know you probably feel like you've been banging your head against a wall on this matter, but I don't think you particularly help yourself by dismissing statements that do have some basis in kinematics as "not true." It would be more accurate to state that: "While there are some kinematic advantages to longer rods (reduced angularity leading to lower crosshead reaction forces, giving a more stable ride at high power and low speed, less crosshead wear, more even fore and aft power strokes making valve gear design easier) there are also disadvantages - a longer rod must be heavier both due to length and the greater section required for buckling resistance, leading to increased reaction forces and larger reciprocating mass." You can argue that in the range under discussion the compromise was essentially trivial either way, especially as the short rod was apparently good enough for the P2 (although I'd suggest most of the classes cited had smaller cylinders than Thompson Pacifics and the GWR alligator bars are rather beefier than the LNER 3-bar), but to claim that it is not worthy of design consideration at all gives a certain impression of being determined to win every point. The LMS Princesses certainly did get into trouble around the front end with their cylinder arrangement (Hillier-Graves mentions this at some length), in a way that the Duchesses did not. Beyer Peacock were extensive users of long connecting rods driving to the third axle on narrow gauge 4-8-2+2-8-4 Garratts, and that most French of Mikados, the 141P, had its outside cylinders driving to the third axle. Design is a compromise and sometimes very different approaches can still work acceptably well, who knew?

    Regarding the writing of Tim Hillier-Graves, I haven't read the book in question, but I have seen a couple of others by him (on Coleman and Jarvis, as it happens). I think it's commendable that he seems to try and find a slightly different on some matters and dig into the less-explored personalities (there were also a couple of things new to me that I suspect the likes of H.A.V. Bulleid would have known about but discreetly not mentioned), but also I think that from this far removed he tends to present a lot of speculation on his subjects' thoughts and motives as near factual where he cannot possibly be certain of it. H.A.V. did that a bit in Master Builders of Steam, but he was of course rather well connected, if he didn't know the person he was writing about, someone else he knew probably had known them well, and not that long ago, compared to writing now in the 2020s. With a more data driven approach, that's less of a danger for you.

    Finally, on @30567 bringing up Norman McKillop, I did recently see one of the magazines with a piece about the P2 in which a member of the trust basically tried to claim that McKillop was a staunch union man (given that I think he wrote a history of one of the unions, I guess he was) and objected to the loss of pilot work courtesy of the P2s, hence his dislike of them. Given everything McKillop wrote about his love of the Gresley Pacifics, I find that rather hard to believe, he never struck me as a man who would object to being given a more capable machine. I've never actually found his writings directly about the P2s in service or on test, just the piece cited about him bringing it back from Doncaster. He certainly wrote a fair bit about the Haymarket Mutual Improvement Class and the complete lack of interest from the NBR in helping it get started, and I think if I'd worked for the NBR he rather affectionately described I'd probably think union membership was a good idea too.
     
  14. S.A.C. Martin

    S.A.C. Martin Part of the furniture

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    Apologies for not replying straight away, it's been a busy week!

    A fair point.

    That to me is the utterly frustrating thing about the whole argument. It's an approach inherited from the original design - its virtually the same layout, applied to a Pacific rather than a mikado - the accusations that this was badly engineered have no basis in fact. It may have introduced new issues - the split frames probably didn't help the P2s or the A2/2s - but the evidence we physically hold on record which shows the locomotives times into works, time in works, and time out working, and their mileages, suggest strongly that there was little wrong with them, the A2/1s, the A2/3s or Great Northern, that wasn't resolved by regular short visits to works to tighten up parts around the front end (preventative maintenance regime). They all did good mileages - who would believe that in 1946 the two best Pacifics by mileage and availability were Thane of Fife and Great Northern on the LNER? By a significant margin with mileages too!

    Absolutely agree.

    That fundamentally is my problem with it - there's a large amount of speculation in the Thompson book that goes nowhere, has no basis in fact, and with some really basic research would have uncovered something different.

    Agree.

    The P2s being removed from the heavy troop trains was about safety and reliability. Fundamentally born out by the discussions regarding their rebuilding and the evidence the P2 Trust has collated with the crank axle failures known to the class. I think enthusiasts can get bogged down rather too much in the hero/villain story and ignore primary evidence in favour of their views - which unfortunately the P2 class and A2/2 class suffer from as its the latter which proved ultimately to be a good locomotive for the LNER and not the former.

    But you wouldn't know that based on the last sixty odd years of writing from writers on the LNER...! :)
     
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  15. 60017

    60017 Part of the furniture Friend

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    I see the point you make, but how much of the 'primary evidence' you rely on was actually available to authors past?
     
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  16. S.A.C. Martin

    S.A.C. Martin Part of the furniture

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    Everything I have researched has been available to writers for at least the last thirty years, if not much longer. The difference has been in recognizing the significance of it, and that is where LNER writers have fallen down rather substantially.

    I submit to you that availability and mileages per year of locomotives are of the utmost importance to a working railway, for example. If locomotives are more readily available and are doing substantial mileages a year, then it stands to reason that they are doing more useful and lucrative work for a railway company than those which are less available for work, and doing smaller mileages.

    The obvious counter to that is that the premise is based on like for like examples of rolling stock. A shunting engine compared with a Pacific will be an unfair comparison. So you compare like for like.

    On that basis, the Thompson Pacifics never had anything to fear, once the statistics were properly collated and understood.
     
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  17. 60017

    60017 Part of the furniture Friend

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    Thanks for the response. I have no doubt, when published, your efforts will be reviewed and probably compared to previous works that cover these aspects of LNER history . That will be interesting!
     
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  18. S.A.C. Martin

    S.A.C. Martin Part of the furniture

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    I hope so John, and obviously I would like a positive response to my book on that basis, but not everyone will agree with me and that's absolutely fine too.

    I would just like the discussion on Thompson to move away from hero/villain entirely and to look at it in its proper context and backed up with evidence. When all's said and done, we've achieved that in this thread as a forum and we should all be proud of having pushed the debate forward in that way.
     
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  19. johnofwessex

    johnofwessex Part of the furniture

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    While I know little of the LNER, I have learned quite a lot about locomotives, the LNER & the importance of critical research from this thread
     
  20. S.A.C. Martin

    S.A.C. Martin Part of the furniture

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    Small announcement. I am now a Designer in Signalling with Network Rail officially as of this week. The letters HTC, NVQ and EngTech in Railway Engineering will be used after my name once I have completed my end point assessment (EPA) later this year.

    That will require a small change to the book, happily.

    For anyone keeping watch for more Thompson related stuff. I am told The Railway Magazine has an article out this month.
     
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