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GWR 111 "The Great Bear" and Surrounding Controversies

Discussion in 'Steam Traction' started by Osmium, Oct 24, 2021.

  1. jma1009

    jma1009 Well-Known Member

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    I have always taken a keen interest in The Great Bear, and a friend of mine is building a 5"gauge version.

    From the reproduction 'publicity' books that I have, the GWR certainly made great play of The Bear, until the Castles arrived in 1923.

    A lot of stuff about it we don't know for sure. Holcroft wasn't involved apart from something to do with the rear brakes on the trailing wheels.

    When you look very closely at the original drawings, the loco was constructed of standard parts except obviously for the boiler. This suggests a number of things to me, given that the Atlantic 'Stars' had outside axleboxes.

    Prior to this, Churchward had spent a great deal of money 'experimenting' and buying the French locos etc.
     
  2. Jimc

    Jimc Part of the furniture

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    In "Locomotive Adventure" Holcroft says the boiler development was done on W.L. Watson's board. Watson had done his apprenticeship on the GNOSR and ended up as Engineer-in-Chief, Crown Agents for the Colonies. Holcroft says that as well as the trailing wheel brakes, which were abandon he also worked on the cylinders, which were to be standard Star Class, but with diameter increased as far as possible - 15" as opposed to the then 14.25 in of the Stars (later Stars built with superheat had 15" cylinders). Holcroft states he suggested narrower tyres to get the cylinders out to 16" but Churchward preferred to keep them standard. The Castles had 16" cylinders, so it would be interesting to know how it was managed. The earlier Stars, incidentally, were later upgraded to 15in cylinders too.
     
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  3. jma1009

    jma1009 Well-Known Member

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    Reviewing all the available evidence and the original drawings, it does seem to be a complicated conception in the sense that we know for sure it wasn't part of Churchward's standard plan; so I am towards the view it was under pressure from the GWR board to produce the first UK Pacific loco for publicity purposes. Churchward then used it as an excuse to experiment with a large boiler with a wide belpaire firebox. We have the hearsay remark apparently by Hawksworth to O S Nock about this which I take with a 'pinch of salt'.

    The chassis was a Star chassis with the cylinders bored out an extra 1/2". Obviously modified for the wide firebox, but otherwise with the excellent valve gear worked out by W H Pearce for the Stars. Far ahead of what Gresley did with his Pacifics as in original condition with their short travel and short laps.

    225 psi for the boiler. And later quite a large superheater, but was built with a superheater from the start. Piston valves.

    Once built, it was obviously restricted to the Paddington - Bristol route, but did that matter? In my opinion it was the one loco responsible for taking away from the LBSR at the time attention.

    I have no doubt that Churchward lost interest in the loco. But then by the time of his retirement reflected fondly on one of his creations that would regularly go past his home most evenings and remind him of all he had achieved. He didn't actually do much until the 47xx in 1919 since The Great Bear some 12/13 years earlier.

    So for some 16 years it was the flagship loco of the GWR.
     
  4. jma1009

    jma1009 Well-Known Member

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    (Oh, and the tender lasted until circa 1936).
     
  5. Osmium

    Osmium New Member

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    This is another one of those things (whilst I have no definitive evidence) that I think is a common myth to 111. I don't see why Churchward wouldn't have at least considered a pacific design at the time considering how relatively progressive he was, and he was apparently quite upset when it was converted.
     
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  6. meeee

    meeee Member

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    Especially when you consider that so many of his contemporaries were struggling to produce large 4-6-0s that lived up to expectations. Even other forward thinkers like George Hughes were struggling. The Stars were a bit of an outlier in this regard. I wouldn't be surprised that Churchward had considered alternatives, or perhaps thought there was more of a limit to how far the Stars could be improved.

    Tim
     
  7. MellishR

    MellishR Resident of Nat Pres Friend

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    I agree that Churchward might have considered a pacific, but for what reason, when his recently introduced 4-6-0s were providing all that his railway needed at the time in the way of powerful express locos?
     
  8. 60017

    60017 Resident of Nat Pres Friend

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    Get Simon Martin on it! He'll get to the truth and re-write the history of it!
     
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  9. Jamessquared

    Jamessquared Nat Pres stalwart

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    I think the general suggestion is that the Stars had sufficient TE to accelerate the largest trains that could be accommodated at Paddington. However, a larger boiler would give more sustained capacity to run at high output - so that leads to a loco with the same cylinders as the existing locos, but a larger grate area. It is a logical train of thought, and in my mind worth the trial. Let down by the inside bearings on the pony truck and non optimal boiler proportions, but those both feel to me like relatively modest things that could have been improved had the will been there. (The pony truck rather more fundamental to the whole design).

    From what I gather, the request for a higher output came from the board directly, rather than, say, the traffic department wishing to speed up timetables. Is that correct?

    Tom
     
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  10. 30854

    30854 Resident of Nat Pres

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    The volume after that on the Krugers perhaps? ;)

    (I'm still hoping Simon will be tempted to unpick Francis Webb's reign on the LNW!)
     
  11. Bill2

    Bill2 New Member

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    The Great Bear only ran for 15 years (1908 to 1923) before being reconstructed. 15 years is a typical life for a boiler in that period, with at least one new inner firebox, so a new boiler would have been needed in any case.
    For comparison with the North Eastern pacifics (LNER Class A2); they had 21' tubes of diameter 2¼”, so the proportions are slightly worse than those of the Great Bear. It is recorded that when tested against Gresley's A1 in early LNER days the North Eastern engine maintained full pressure whereas the Great Northern one fell somewhat short.
     
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  12. 35B

    35B Nat Pres stalwart

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    A cheap shot that's beneath you.
     
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  13. S.A.C. Martin

    S.A.C. Martin Part of the furniture

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    The sarcasm is noted: perhaps happily for John, I've been tasked instead with writing on Gresley and Bulleid next. :)

    Nothing I have done has been "re-writing" history: as shown by the Thompson thread where actual evidence in the form of board minutes, reports, stats, and other primary evidence was brought forward by me for analysis with the forum. If anything we've shown that the original writing of these bits of railway history was flawed by some questionable personal viewpoints and analysis at odds with the facts.

    Funny that evidence should undermine unevidenced apocryphal stuff...

    It is a pity you feel so strongly about my work yet cannot engage with it (or me) in a constructive fashion. A real shame.

    On an analysis of GWR locomotives: there are many authors out there who have done a grand job of that. JimC on this very thread is worth his weight in gold on that score. Thoroughly recommend his website.
     
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  14. Spamcan81

    Spamcan81 Nat Pres stalwart

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    Your interpretation but 60017's post could easily be read as a compliment.
     
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  15. S.A.C. Martin

    S.A.C. Martin Part of the furniture

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    Context is key but John's responses in the Thompson thread led me to believe the reverse, I'm afraid. It would be nice to think it was a compliment...
     
  16. 30854

    30854 Resident of Nat Pres

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    If our Swindonite bretheren will forgive a slight digression (I'll be quick .... promise!), I'd imagine Simon's extensive trawls through archived LNER material has thrown up much interesting information on events some years either side of Mr.Thompson's tenure. I feel we can safely predict a fascinating, hitherto largely unseen tapestry will emerge.

    There, I'm done. You've got your thread back. :)
     
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  17. Jimc

    Jimc Part of the furniture

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    Gentlemen please. So far we had managed without sarcasm and rancour, and the thread was the better for it.

    ------------

    The problem, I think, comes when we move from what to why. I've found it all too easy to construct grand logical theories as to why something was done, only to have them demolished when another piece of evidence comes in. The branch line to cloud cuckoo land is easy to construct, but the structures are notably unstable! I have enough ego to believe I am not the only person who may have fallen into such a trap. Also, having written a book myself, I'm also aware of the strength of the temptation to include a dubious bit of surmise because it reads well and livens up a chapter. For what little *my* guesses may be worth, I suspect both Tuplin and Gibson may have been particularly vulnerable to that trap.

    That the GWR used the Bear as a publicity star is undeniable. That the board decided to have her constructed for just that reason doesn't sit well with what I know of turn of the century board room strategy. But that the board approved an expensive WIBN project from the locomotive Superintendant is hard to swallow too.

    Its easy, and paragraphs to that effect sit in my recycle bin, to look at the Bear and say "Take a Star chassis and smokebox and shorten the fixed wheel base as much as possible, stuff a wide firebox on the back, join the two, job done: it must have been a prestige project", but the limited information we do have from Holcroft suggests that there was considerable effort placed in the boiler design.

    Another topic that comes up with the Bear is weight restrictions. The Bear was heavy, and just beyond the standard red route limit of 19.5 tons at 20 - 20.5 tons max axle weight. Its noticeable that all the good class 8s are way beyond the 20 ton axle load figure and up around 22 tons. The commonly repeated story, founded mainly I think in Felix Pole' story of the genesis of the King, is that around 1904 the chief civil engineer unilaterally decided to up the design axle load for new construction to 22 tons, got the board to agree to it, and the locomotive carriage and wagon department knew nothing about it. Yeah right. Anyone else tried interesting upper management in a long term investment that won't pay back in decades? Think they'd approve it without strong backup from the running side? That Collett, who at the time was assistant manager of the locomotive works, hadn't heard is credible. That Churchward didn't have an involvement is harder to swallow (Oh dear, blundering into surmise!). That's something I must look into next time I'm at Kew.

    Then there's her rebuilding. Collett reported it to the board, but only after the event (which was well within his power). Maybe, had she been a board status symbol he'd have talked beforehand. OTOH the Castle was the new flagship by then. Nock (worth treating with caution) says Churchward was upset about her rebuilding. Hmm, doesn't sound like Churchward to me (see how I'm blundering into surmise again). Le Fleming (who had been a pupil under Collett so in the drawing office but very junior at the time) has it that Churchward disliked the Bear. Another popular story has Churchward making a joke about selling her to the LNER.

    All in all, one has to say that all the "whys" around the Bear's construction and demise are contradictory and uncertain, so its perhaps wisest to be careful. Unless of course the Churchward diaries turn up from somewhere, but I fear they would be as valuable as the Hitler diaries.
     
    Last edited: Oct 27, 2021
  18. Hunslet589

    Hunslet589 New Member

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  19. Jimc

    Jimc Part of the furniture

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    Arrghh... Shows how careful you have to be. I stuffed up my mental arithmetic on my post and gave her ten extra years. Her annual mileage was 30K, not 20K. Still very low, but a bit more sensible...
     
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  20. Jamessquared

    Jamessquared Nat Pres stalwart

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    So 120 trips to Bristol and back ...

    Going back to your original post, you gave 35k miles per year for the French 4-4-2s. So it is still lower, but not by a vast amount, relative to other small-class front line locos in the same era. The Stars are higher but also longer lived - did loco utilisation generally improve as time went on? (And there is the point previously made about time in works being longer for a non-standard class with a unique boiler).

    Tom
     
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