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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. Monkey Magic

    Monkey Magic Part of the furniture

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    Yes, that would make sense.

    I think the obvious point would be that the B1, Black 5, Hall, S15 were 'go anywhere' locos whereas, the Rivers, like other designs such as the K4 were a small batch of locos for a specific task. But I think in terms of a broader discussion about the merits of 4-6-0 MT design they would have their place.

    To go back to the L1s. You could argue that as well as failing to resolve the 4-6-0 issue on the LNER, Gresley also 'failed' to resolve the suburban tank issue. It seems somewhat unfair to ask a 'go anywhere design' to fulfil a very specific and demanding role and then claim that it is no good.
     
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  2. Jimc

    Jimc Part of the furniture

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    Its also a very human characteristic to want to and attempt to find a reason to discard data if it doesn't fit in with one's preconceptions. But "the stars might lie but the numbers never do".
     
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  3. S.A.C. Martin

    S.A.C. Martin Part of the furniture

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    There is no "agenda" and the reason I have had to dismiss his recollection is:
    • the dates don't match up between his testimony and the actual build dates of the locomotives and their introductions into service
    • the claim that the Thompson L1s were suffering issues doesn't appear to be supported by the statistics we have
    • multiple other sources report this very differently
    • LNER and BR contemporary reports suggest a different version of events
    He is still respected, undoubtedly: I am not looking to castigate him. I do have to take the account with a pinch of salt if the records do not match the claims.

    I'm sorry, that's how historians and researchers do things.

    We look at a claim. We look at the evidence for that claim. We assess it. We either support it, or dismiss it, based on what we find. I have had to dismiss it as it doesn't appear to be reflective of what happened.

    Individual testimony and opinion in no way trumps primary evidence by way of collated data and analysis of that data.

    That is true enough: but how is that relevant to the Thompson L1s?

    :Banghead:

    They weren't amongst the "first to be withdrawn" and withdrawal dates are an absolutely nonsensical way of assessing how good a steam locomotive actually was. If you want to talk about the "first to be withdrawn" argument, try the Gresley V4. Excellent locomotive on paper - all gone by mid-50s. But hey, they were good locomotives right?

    Talking about steam withdrawal dates as some kind of standard for assessing how good they were, when every single steam locomotive (regardless of who designed it) was being withdrawn towards the sole purpose of a mass extinction of steam by 1968, in line with govt. policy, is just a nonsense.
     
    Last edited: May 13, 2021
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  4. Jamessquared

    Jamessquared Nat Pres stalwart

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    No, they didn't have a 5MT, that was a barbaric Midlandism introduced by BR along with strange numerical shed codes. And even in the BR era, they didn't have a 5MT, they had 5P/5F s :)

    (There was a classification based on the type of loco, the ability to start a train on a grade, the power output and the range, though how widely used that was outside headquarters I don't know - I think the primary purpose was to allow a ready reckoner of capability between comparable locos from different pre-grouping companies so as to form an overall view of the stock on formation of the SR, and how locos might be moved off their home region: for example, if you moved a Drummond T9 to the Eastern section, or a Maunsell N to the Western section, it was useful to know how they would compare with the home locos).

    The closest they had to a 5MT (classified 4P5F by BR) was probably the least known of the three you quote, the H15. That was the 6ft wheel 4-6-0, comparable with a Black 5, Hall or B1; but predating all of those in design terms by between 15 and 30 years. The history of those is complex, really comprising about three somewhat distinct types. One wonders whether, in more modern times, they would have been built or whether the large-wheeled N15 and small-wheeled S15 could between them cover all the duties. I guess at the time (pre-World War I) there was maybe less faith in the lubrication to countenance a 5'6" wheel loco running at high speed, plus maybe the issue of the origins of some of them as essentially rebuilds of Drummond 4-6-0s.

    Tom
     
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  5. Johnb

    Johnb Resident of Nat Pres

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    The V4s consisted of two non standard Locos, not surprising that they were withdrawn early. All the early Thompson Pacifics had gone by 1961 with most of the remainder following soon after. If they had been successful one would have thought that being more modern, they would have been chosen for the accelerated Aberdeen three hour expresses over the A4s with their more complicated conjugated valve gear.
    I would have thought that the writings of engineers and senior managers who had day to day experience of operating would form part of any historians research.
     
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  6. jnc

    jnc Part of the furniture

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    But did Simon have an agenda, or was he (through the mists of time, and the incomplete picture made available by all the factors we've just been discussing) just trying to get the most accurate picture he could?

    Yes, I admit, he had to have had a motivation for those almost endless hours of drudgery in the archives; but at the same time, I'd be willing to bet that the picture he wound up with is somewhat different from the one he had when he started. My memory is dim, so I don't recall if, and how clearly, he stated his initial motivations; similarly, how his views changed as a result of his work. (Which would be a good thing to add as an 'Afterword', if the book doesn't already cover that point, and if one can be added at this stage.)

    I shall be most curious to see how he replies to your points about the Thompson Pacifics , etc; that we will get one, I have no doubt, he is unfailing about replying to such things.

    Noel
     
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  7. bluetrain

    bluetrain Member

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    And the Caledonian 60-class 4-6-0s? Castigated by OS Nock for their pedestrian performance, but robustly-built and reliable. Outlived all other LMS Pre-Grouping 4-6-0 types.

    https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Caledonian_Railway_60_Class

    Gresley was content during the 1920s to build Pre-Grouping designs of suburban tank - a batch of GC A5 4-6-2Ts for the NE section, plus large numbers of additional GN N2 and GE N7 0-6-2Ts. Gresley's V1 2-6-2T finally appeared in 1930, with 92 built up to 1940.
     
  8. Monkey Magic

    Monkey Magic Part of the furniture

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    To build on the earlier point that @Big Al made. A problem of history is the tendency to approach it teleologically. The end result is known so all time and energy is spent looking just at material that we think contributes to explaining it. Good examples of this is the study of the interwar period, or the period before WW1 or the Cold War. Everyone knows that Communism fell in 1989-92, so hence everything that explains the end of communism is weighted heavily, the questions about why it survived so long, or things that had nothing to do with the fall of communism get ignored. Likewise, the interwar period is the story of fascism with all roads leading to WW2. Things that don't fit with this end point are ignored.

    There is already a pre-existing narrative that people have received, whether that is through books, or things people have told them, 'what I was taught in school'. This influences what is studied and how it is studied. It also influences how actors recount their lives and the narratives that they tell, even if at the time their views were totally different. All of which re-enforces an existing narrative.

    Thompson is IMO read teleologically. It is a series of steps.

    i) Thompson hated Gresley (without evidence to demonstrate that this claim is true)
    ii) For this reason Thompson tried to obliterate all traces of Gresley (ignoring the other reasons why Gresley design ideas might have been rejected)
    iii) This meant his designs were bad designs (ignoring other issues that may have influenced the performance of his designs)
    iv) This is proved by early withdrawal and anecdotal evidence (ignoring early withdrawal of other classes, problems with anecdotal evidence etc etc).

    It is normally worked backwards - because they were withdrawn early they were bad locos, they were bad locos because they were badly designed, they were badly designed because Thompson got rid of everything good Gresley did because he hated Gresley. And here is a collection of cherry picked evidence to support this argument.

    Regarding the reliability of memoirs. I've mentioned it before but there is a guy who works on memory of the partition of India. He points out that 90% of memoirs talk about trains and travelling by train but in reality on 2% of those who moved during partition did so by train. This isn't to say those people are lying but rather one aspect of memory has become enhanced and has become disproportionately central. Asking someone 20, 30, 40 0r 70 years after an event to remember, what they remember and how that squares with the narrative influences the story they will tell.

    All memoirs, diaries and letters etc are ego documents. Some are more reliable than others. But even a diary written at the time will only give that person's perspective, someone writing 20 years after will be reconstructing events from memory and from the narrative. While Tony Soprano warns 'remember when is the lowest form of conversation' it is the way in which narratives are formed and the way in which we remember and make sense of past events.* It isn't people lying or mis-remembering but more just the basic way in which people remember.

    Likewise, stats are not always the answer, they don't tell us much about context or the direction of causality, but cross referencing all source material enables a stronger more coherent narrative to emerge. What does this mean for Thompson? - All sources have problems and are potentially suspect in their reliability so should be treated with caution.

    * Ironically, I can't remember who but someone once told me that either Ian Kershaw or Richard Evans became interested in explaining Nazism in Germany after hanging out in bars in Bavaria in the 1960s-70s and hearing various old boys talking about 'the good old days'. (Checking wiki makes me think it was probably Kershaw but I can't be certain). The point being how did what ordinary people claim they remember square with what actually happened on the ground is pretty much what his lifes work has subsequently been about.
     
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  9. 35B

    35B Nat Pres stalwart

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    That sounds more like Kershaw, given his move into 20th century history following studies of earlier periods, and his focus popular opinion through sources like the SD and SPD reports.


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  10. MellishR

    MellishR Part of the furniture Friend

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    Thank you for the clarification. So, a little under three tons difference in total weight, almost exactly explained by the extra water, but a significantly different distribution of weight between the driving/coupled wheels and the carrying wheels.
     
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  11. S.A.C. Martin

    S.A.C. Martin Part of the furniture

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    Yet the one-off Gresley W1 outlasted them both.

    As had numerous Gresley A3s, A4s, even some of the Peppercorn A1s and A2s. There were only 26 Thompson Pacifics compared to over 100 Gresley and 70 ish Peppercorn machines, so the likelihood of the smaller classes going was higher than the larger classes.

    So what I am getting from this is: here's this small class of Gresley locos. Unsurprising they were withdrawn early - they form a small class, nothing to see here on performance or whatever. Here are these Thompson Pacifics - oh look! They can't have been a very good class at all!

    John they - were - successful. These locomotives lasted to the 1960s in a world where all steam locomotives were supposed to go the scrapyard because that was the modernisation plan and govt policy. I've got the dataset which shows that for three years the best Pacific in WW2 for the LNER was no.505 Thane of Fife by virtue of availability and mileage. I have the engine record cards which show all of the Thompson classes to have good availability and some excelling in annual mileages.

    They absolutely do: but I can't just take something on trust if there's an official record and numerous other sources showing it didn't happen the way described by just one source.
     
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  12. S.A.C. Martin

    S.A.C. Martin Part of the furniture

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    The very first post on this thread, way back in 2012, was me asking if Great Northern was really as bad as made out, and then the next nine years are me ranting on this thread, finding new sources, discussing new angles and generally piecing together a story nobody's every truly reported entirely accurately. I don't believe that I will have done perfectly either, for the record.

    My views have changed quite significantly, and I do go into that within the course of the book (foreword and epilogue). The biggest change to my views has been my initial feelings that Thompson has been misunderstood, to a view whereby I feel strongly that he has been deliberately misrepresented, and with that so have his designs, the work done under him, and more. Why - is not entirely clear - but nevertheless when looking at everything in the round, his reputation has been unfairly and undeservedly tarnished, and his locomotive designs remain undervalued and dismissed out of hand despite actually raking up some impressive statistics for the company.
     
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  13. 30854

    30854 Resident of Nat Pres

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    My thinking comes prompted by the steam stud review, undertaken by the CIÉ in 1948. Each class got some form of comment, if only "obsolete design, still required for traffic" (which appeared rather more frequently than you might expect, post WWII). One such remarked on a class of 0-6-0s which "derived their power from small (4'-10" dia) drivers, at the cost of increased maintenance" .... which is the comment the discussion on the L1s brought to mind, when compared with the Fairburn and Riddles 2-6-4Ts.

    Just twice, out of the entire inherited multitude of classes, I recall reading "a design which should have been further developed". What Thompson would've made of the CIÉ fleet, at the time he took over on the LNER, we can merely speculate!
     
  14. bluetrain

    bluetrain Member

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    The loudest complaints about Thompson Pacifics seemed to be that some folk didn't like their appearance, rather than any specific technical failings. Very strange.

    I doubt whether previous authors set out to deliberately malign Thompson. But unfortunately a body of "received wisdom" grew up about him and his work, that became stronger and more entrenched with time and repetition. Your fresh research has enabled the picture to be re-balanced.

    Even without your new research, it is clear that the facts never supported the claim that Thompson aimed to change everything that Gresley had done. He continued to use Gresley-type round-topped boilers and continued with three cylinders for the largest engines. The Thompson B1 may be seen in technical terms as a blend of two Gresley designs - the K2 two-cylinder 2-6-0 enlarged to have boiler and chassis based on the Sandringham 4-6-0.

    Where Thompson did differ from Gresley was in dropping conjugated valve-gear, limiting three-cylinder use to the largest engines and using divided drive. Unlike Gresley, he was keen on standardisation and reducing numbers of classes. That may have partly reflected admiration for what had been achieved on the GWR and LMS. He may also have been influenced by his time as Mechanical Engineer at Stratford, seeing the standardisation that had been achieved there by James Holden. Holden had come from the GWR to become the GER's sixth loco superintendent in 24 years, inheriting a hotch-potch of widely differing designs from Sinclair, Johnson, Adams, Bromley & Worsdell. Which arguably was a bit similar to the variety of classes inherited by the LNER in 1923.
     
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  15. johnofwessex

    johnofwessex Part of the furniture

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    Thinking about it, while the LNER was financially up the creek, Government money was available for investment, hence the almost all new GWR loco fleet, so surely Gresley's greatest failure wasn't the P2 but not building the B1 in the 1930's?
     
  16. 69530

    69530 New Member

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    60113 Lone locomotive
    60501-6 and 60507-60510 nemerically small classes PLUS arrival of diesels

    Incidentally three A2/3 locos lasted a year longer than the last Stanier Coronations
     
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  17. 35B

    35B Nat Pres stalwart

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    What does “better” mean, though? What did greater ease of maintenance, or greater reliability buy in comparison to maintaining different stocks of parts?

    We easily forget that the railway, even BR in this era, was a business and locomotives existed to serve a purpose. If the Thompson designs were slightly more cost efficient per loco, but you needed to top them up with a load of other locos because the fleet was too small to cover traffic, why wouldn’t you keep the larger fleet for the advantages of consistency rather than try to get the very best efficiency and then top up with less?

    Sometimes businesses go with “good enough” because “best” imposes costs of its own.


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  18. S.A.C. Martin

    S.A.C. Martin Part of the furniture

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    I put on this thread at the start of the pandemic my slides for my lecture (found here: Edward Thompson Lecture)

    But for every time someone says "Thompson hated Gresley" or words to that effect, I will send these specific slides into this thread over, and over, and over again:

    [​IMG]

    [​IMG]

    [​IMG]

    [​IMG]

    [​IMG]

    And of course, this was the main plan:

    [​IMG]

    Supplemented by these types to be retained and re-boilered where necessary:

    [​IMG]

    I can't help but notice the vast amount of Gresley's work that is included in all of Thompson's decision making.

    [​IMG]
     
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  19. Spamcan81

    Spamcan81 Nat Pres stalwart

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    So using the evidence that only 20 Gresley locos were rebuilt to Thompson's designs, one assumes they weren't enough of an improvement to continue the programme.
     
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  20. Big Al

    Big Al Nat Pres stalwart Staff Member Moderator

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    Great spin there. Have you thought to contact the England cricket selectors? :)
     
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