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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. Jamessquared

    Jamessquared Nat Pres stalwart

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    Glad to see the moderation team has been recruited on the basis of a plurality of views :)

    Tom
     
  2. 69530

    69530 New Member

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    An excellent effort from a superb crew and class of loco, but think for a moment about the man with the wet shirt and shovel !
     
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  3. Cartman

    Cartman Member

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    I'll summarise the thread.

    Thompson replaced Gresley, did some rebuilds from the not entirely successful P2 into some not entirely successful Pacifics. Designed the L1, which is, by reputation, not very good, and the B1 which was excellent.

    End of. (An outsiders, LMS fans, view!)
     
  4. Monkey Magic

    Monkey Magic Part of the furniture

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    I think you are right. The irony is that I think it was a conversation I had with someone in a bar somewhere and having discussed unreliable memories and sources I don't want to assert for a fact that it was. :)

    Fairburn is another person whose reputation seems to have suffered at the hands of popular railway history. It is interesting that locos begun under him and finished under Ivatt, are credited to Ivatt, and the locos finished under Fairburn are seen as just modifications of earlier designs. It is a little bit like the 'never designed a locomotive' dig is stick to beat some people with (as if for example some popular CMEs really did design every single thing on the locos built in their name, as well as all the coaches etc etc), or if they are someone popular then it is an example of their wise, hands off approach to design. Fairburn 'not really a steam man' seems to be the dig of choice.


    The irony of course is that the person who CIE did get was Bulleid.
     
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  5. 69530

    69530 New Member

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    For S.A.C Martin and his battle against the flat earthists:
    Quote:
    A highlight of one of my drives was when I went up to the engine at KX and found that it was 60113 Great Northern (Class A1/1)which was no. 1470, the first of these fine Gresley pacifics (although by this date not as originally built, of course). I was to travel on 60113 on many occasions and each time I was to find it first class in every way.

    Author, Ken Stokes, Both Sides of the Footplate, P109, ISBN 0 85153 453 8.

    Started Holbeck in March 1924
    Passed cleaner at Manningham
    Then to Grimesthorpe
    Then in the early sixties onto the ER as an inspector on a punctuality drive.
     
    Last edited: May 14, 2021
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  6. Spamcan81

    Spamcan81 Nat Pres stalwart

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    But when people are quoted with “anti Thompson” views, they are dismissed as liars. Why should this particular anecdote be given more weight than others?
     
  7. RalphW

    RalphW Part of the furniture Staff Member Administrator Friend

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    I think you could have been a little more generous, 'think of the man with the wet shirt for virtually the entirety of the journey, without his efforts the driver would be nothing'.
     
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  8. Miff

    Miff Well-Known Member Friend

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    It shouldn’t and, as far as I can see, hasn’t been. But, for the sake of balance, it’s good to see somebody quoting a pro-Thompson anecdote just for a change.
     
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  9. 21B

    21B Part of the furniture

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    This thread seems to really have shaken your view of the world.

    As a disinterested observer (I have never had much interest in the LNER so had no strong preconceptions...but had heard the basics of Thompson being "bad") what I have taken from this thread is that Thompson probably did not deserve his reputation. It seems to me that he may have been victim of something of a smear campaign, there is certainly grounds for thinking he was at least misunderstood.

    Simon seems to me to have proven his case. Many might not like that I suspect. His findings will be unpopular because he is overturning a view held so strongly by so many and for so long.

    It is to me interesting to speculate on why and how Thompson acquired the reputation seemingly conferred on him by various noted writers. What motivated them? Was it the controversy over the rebuild of the original Gresley pacific? Frankly the rebuild is no beauty and I am not surprised that a whole generation of enthusiasts were appalled by what today might regarded as vandalism. That said Thompson wasn't I suspect charged by the LNER board with the preservation of Gresley's legacy, but the efficient operation of 6000+ locomotives. Whether the writers like OS Nock were or were not appalled might not make much difference if it meant selling more books. (I think we have established there is a difference between a writer like OS Nock and a historian like Simon).

    So to me this poor reputation of Thompsons can be seen to be built on sand. We appear in fact to have a diligent professional engineer who is trying to find the best and most cost effective way forward for the company for which he works. Due to war constraints and perhaps a "scientific approach " Thompson experimented and trialled things before committing huge amounts resource. By contrast Bulleid was an irresponsible gambler.

    And that is last sentence about Bulleid is precisely the sort of comment that starts of these reputational debates, and I offer it as an illustration of how easy to take a side on that cheap comment. Not backed by context or evidence. Someone somewhere 70 years ago made that sort of remark perhaps in horror at 60113 and the rest is history.


    Sent from my SM-A405FN using Tapatalk
     
  10. jma1009

    jma1009 Well-Known Member

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    I would submit that what amounts to a 'trashing' of K J Cook, and E S Cox by Simon, rather irks.

    Simon places great play on the 'Cox Report', indeed it is a cornerstone of his original research, but Stewart Cox's later comments on Thompson are dismissed out of hand apparently.

    Those of us with a GWR bent who regard K J Cook and know that he went to the ER I would suggest have difficulties with this 'trashing' by him of Thompson in print. As to it being dismissed by Simon.

    That suggests a rather partial approach by Simon.
     
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  11. Monkey Magic

    Monkey Magic Part of the furniture

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    People can be right on somethings and wrong on others.

    I can agree with you about the WSR and disagree with you about Thompson. :)

    It is perfectly reasonable to think Cox can be right on one thing and wrong on another.

    Taking a critical eye to everything someone writes is the mark of a good historian. Not blindly taking something at face value because someone says it was so is a good thing. This is very different to cherry picking evidence to suit an argument ie choosing to accept all pro-x anecdotes and reject all anti-x anecdotes. I don't see it as a trashing. Moreover, a good historian will not dismiss everything someone writes just because they disagree with some of their analysis.

    Just to go back a few pages. When the discussion was on Neasden there was Bill Harvey's account of having to suspend a driver for refusing to take a serviceman fireman. Harvey makes it clear the driver was in the wrong. We don't have the driver's version, but I suspect that if we did we would have a very different account of the event and life working under Bill Harvey. Does it make Harvey a liar? No. Does it make his account unreliable? No. That is just his account of events as he recalls it. My point, all accounts are subjective interpretations, and no matter how much we like to pretend that they are objective they are not. If we can square those accounts with other information then we can say that the recollection matches and if it doesn't then we can say it doesn't and the other evidence points to in a different direction.

    One last anecdote. There are the papers of an Irish railway promoter who had lived through the Irish Revolution, War of Independence and the Civil War. One box has all his letters, and out of 3000 odd letters only one mentioned the violence and being held up. Read the letters and you think wow, really peaceful, in another is his photo album, which apart from family snaps is full of photos of the local destruction from the conflicts. Look at the photos and you think, wow, so much violence. Look at one box and you get one account, look at another and you get a second account. Read the books about him and there is a claim that he had been invited to be a senator and had turned it down after threats of violence, even though there is no mention in the letters. So a third account of his life during the conflicts. All can be accurate accounts of some of the story, put them all together and you have a more nuanced, complex and ambiguous story. That is what I think Simon is doing when it comes to Thompson and I have not seen anything that looks to me like cherry picking or playing fast and loose with the evidence.
     
    Last edited: May 15, 2021
  12. 69530

    69530 New Member

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    Because it is from a footplateman, someone at the coal face, not an amateur, either enthusiastic or dismissive.

    I would have thought the answer would be painfully clear, he started on the LMS as a cleaner at Holbeck and then spent his whole career as a footplate man at Grimesthorpe (1924-1961)until asked to become an assistant in a punctuality drive on the main line between KX and York.
    Why would he have ANY form of bias towards a Thompson loco, he was a professional engineman who wrote about his life on the footplate both good and bad. He was not an amateur sitting with a stopwatch in the comfort of the train, his stance was purely on the loco and its ability to work the train without problems for the crew.
    He does mention a few other pacifics 60158, 60059, 60010, 60007, 60025, but wrote about 60113 more than any other, why would he not be truthful he had no axe to grind, this is not hearsay or chinese whispers it is an engineman writing without bias about his life.
     
    Last edited: May 15, 2021
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  13. Big Al

    Big Al Nat Pres stalwart Staff Member Moderator

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    And that, in brief, is exactly the conclusion I have come to. And there is another point.

    I've no idea what motivated Simon to carry out this research in the first place. He can speak for himself on that but I'd be amazed if it were to bring into question the folk lore about Thompson and was more along the lines of finding out why the view was what it is/was. One thing is for certain. This doesn't seem to be a 'back of an envelope' study if it's taken eight or so years to bring together. I can't imagine that other authors referred to in the study took that long or went into that detailed evidenced based research. Publishing deadlines probably prevented that. And then, of course, we are talking about someone who took over from someone else about whom nothing negative can be said and as a result any sniff of that, even if it is just to do with the time, circumstances and priorities, would trigger a reaction.

    On the Southern there was a similar, if not identical set of circumstances involving Bulleid and Jarvis but I don't get a sense of any "Bulleid good, Jarvis bad" mantra. Of course there are people with preferences and views that don't always accord but in general there seems to be an acceptance of the worth of each design. I have recently read something by a former master loco-man of the Southern who saw the merit of both designs and that's how I view them.
     
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  14. S.A.C. Martin

    S.A.C. Martin Part of the furniture

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    There's a lot to unpack here, but I want to remind everyone of one thing: around thirteen years ago, I was the same as everyone else in the LNER enthusiast fraternity (if such a thing can be considered to exist, reasonably).

    Thompson was bad. His designs were bad. He hated Gresley. There endeth the lesson. Unless of course, you are a degree student with a curious mind.

    Then I spoke to someone at the Great Central Railway who said to me that the Thompson Pacifics weren't so bad. He had worked on them. And that got me thinking. Around that time I was doing my first degree, which required me to sift through evidence and write on that evidence towards proving, or disproving, my viewpoints on English literature and railways.

    So I started reading about Edward Thompson. I asked people to tell me what to read, so I bought books to that effect. That library started with a few volumes and now totals around 300 books, and a huge pile of papers, pamphlets and source material, including a full copy of the LNER archives from Kew (photographed and then printed for my own records over an intense three week period a few years back).

    Whilst all of this was going on, in 2012 I stepped up and asked about Great Northern on this very forum. And what started was a debate, at times peaceful, at times argumentative, but generally pre-disposed to learning more about the topic at hand. I like to think everyone on this thread, regardless of whether it has changed their views, has learned something here.

    At the same time, I approached a number of different societies for help with said research. One - the Gresley Society - has been magnificent, even inviting me to do their key note talk at their AGM in 2019, which for me was one of the proudest moments of my life. They didn't dismiss my views out of hand, but embraced it: because by and large my research has shown a different side to Gresley too, with board minutes and reports showing a far more rounded, understanding, and human engineer than we knew before.

    But there has also been a range of people and groups who have disliked my work and research, and actually done much to try and reduce it, or silence it, and in one incredibly poor show of ethics and manners, even tried to limit my access to certain archive materials. I have spared their blushes in my book: but there will be one society that does not get mentioned and one could argue strongly should have been a big part of my research.

    The whole process has lasted ten years. I didn't have a publisher for nine years, and was doing it on my own, for my own benefit, and asking questions and being asked questions. It has been a huge learning curve for me - I haven't been perfect, or popular, but I have done it anyway as the more I went down this particular rabbit hole, the more determined I felt to get to the heart of the "truth" - which, frankly, is outlined in my book and I hope will settle all of the myths about Thompson once and for all.

    Let me be clear. If we have evidence to show something is not true, then we should state that. Perhaps my use of "liar" was too strong with regards OS Nock, CJ Allen and ES Cox.

    I don't believe it to have been too strong, though, for Colonel Rogers. The huge difference between his work and theirs is that for many of his claims we have a huge amount of contradictory testimony and primary evidence. His book amounts to nothing more than a character assassination, based on letters we've never seen in print, with wild claims and a huge lack of citations and evidence. His work makes some incredibly provocative suggestions of Peppercorn too, if you read closely, and to be frank that appalled me too when I started reading further afield.

    There is a point where you realise that the most vocal, negative, voices all come from the same few sources, and that the wider actions of others, including the LNER board, tell a different story.

    I don't believe I have trashed KJ Cook's reputation and would refute your description.

    What I have done is stated that I think his claims about Thompson are wrong.

    He wasn't there at the time Thompson was in charge, other sources give us a different point of view, and we can easily highlight, for example, the "tragic desire to obliterate all things Gresley" words (or words to that effect) and show how utterly ridiculous a statement that is, with looking at Thompson's work as CME in context, with evidence, and understanding his engineering policies better. That isn't trashing his reputation, at all: it is highlighting how someone's opinion can be undermined easily with evidence, if that opinion is unsound (which it is).

    Whereas with ES Cox, we can see that Cox's report changed the LNER's engineering policy. That is factual.

    He then went on to describe in his book Locomotive Panorama that Thompson was undertaking a "Machiavellian campaign against all things Gresley".

    This comment - like KJ Cook's comments - is also ridiculous when we look at the primary evidence and sources around the time Thompson was in charge. Again, he was brought in to do a job, wasn't there for the majority of Thompson's tenure, and thus his views are based on - what exactly? hearing it second hand from someone else?

    You have to ask why ES Cox took no responsibility for the wording of his report or his thoughts on Gresley's conjugated valve gear. Someone suggested to me once that Thompson lent on him for the wording of the report: if this was true, why was Cox present at Bert Spencer's talk after the war years and why did he then repeat the same things he had written in that report in rebuttal to him on several points in that talk?

    There's an element of doubt that is sown by a basic research of Thompson. There are convincing arguments for Thompson when you do a detailed study of him. If you do a ten year research of him and the LNER, examining everything in detail and matching up primary evidence and sources to claims made, you will find that almost every writer - bar Peter Grafton and Richard Hardy - didn't do their homework and thus repeated aspects from one another, almost egging each other on to go further in their outright condemnation of this man.

    A man, who in any other industry, would be considered a hero.

    A man who fought in world war one, was mentioned in despatches twice, and decorated.

    A man who worked hard across the length and breadth of the country, in a wide range of engineering activities, and was highly educated to that end.

    A man who lost his wife on the eve of a second world war, and spent that conflict mostly alone.

    A man whose house was bombed - worked out of his office for weeks on end - and continued to take fire watch duty and more in his 60s.

    A man whose crimes relate to, in reality, an insignificant number of rebuilt locomotives (20!) of his predecessor. Where virtually everything else he did, when placed in its proper context and backed up with the statistical analysis we can do, can be shown to have been just the result of a reasonably competent engineer doing his job.

    If you take one thing away from this thread, it's don't take it all at face value. Research, analyse, and assess.
     
  15. S.A.C. Martin

    S.A.C. Martin Part of the furniture

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    It would be more convenient for those whose world view is somewhat dented by my work. So I am quite happy to continue, providing the moderators are happy to allow this thread to continue.

    I am proud of what we have achieved here in this thread. I don't think there's any other thread that has done the hard graft we've done here and also allowed peer analysis in the way we've done this.
     
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  16. Big Al

    Big Al Nat Pres stalwart Staff Member Moderator

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    The words 'peer analysis' are normal in education and R&D generally but, subject to someone saying otherwise, I don't see it as a major feature of railway writing. I wouldn't say that 'talking to your mates' is a feature either but its closer to that than the former.

    I'm not surprised that, despite the evidence, a few people remain in 'yes, but' mode over Thompson. Changing your opinion or your mind is a brave thing to do. For example, few politicians will do it. Were Nat Pres not to have existed I doubt that the level and intensity of debate would have taken place.

    Given my personal view on the few darker parts of this Forum it's nice to see something of value coming to the fore. (My view only, of course!)
     
  17. Spamcan81

    Spamcan81 Nat Pres stalwart

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    FYI I quoted a Scottish driver who disliked the Thompson Pacifics and said so in print but that was dismissed as unreliable anecdote. You can't have it both ways. If one professional railway man is to be believed when he says he found 60113 a good loco, that's fine, but equally the same degree of belief has to be offered to another professional railwayman with different views. As for what both Cook and Cox had to say, are you insinuating that they were amateurs?
     
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  18. Spamcan81

    Spamcan81 Nat Pres stalwart

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    I have news for you, it hasn't.
     
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  19. S.A.C. Martin

    S.A.C. Martin Part of the furniture

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    That's the problem. It should have done. It should have at least teased a bit of doubt about the veracity of the claims made about Thompson's personality, the quality of his work and even the L.N.E.R. during the war.

    The question I want to pose to you is why it hasn't?
     
  20. S.A.C. Martin

    S.A.C. Martin Part of the furniture

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    The problem with both views is that they are opinion pieces to some degree.

    I wouldn't take the latter account to be wholly reflective of Great Northern, nor would I the other. The reason the Scottish account was somewhat dismissed is that we have records and statistical data which contradicts what he was saying. That's the crux of it.

    Whilst it's welcome to see positive accounts of the Thompson Pacifics too, we must treat them with the same caution we treat everything else.

    Fair?
     
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