Steam Locomotives of a More Leisurely Era
1904 – ‘Precursors’ and ‘George Vs’
London & North Western Railway
When George Whale succeeded F.W.Webb at Crewe in 1903 his first task was to provide the LNWR with a powerful and reliable design of express passenger engine to take the place of Webb’s temperamental compounds with which the running department had had to make do as best they could for so long. No. 513 ‘Precursor’, which emerged from Crewe in March 1904, quickly showed that it was just what had been needed, a simple robust 4-4-0 which could tackle the loads of the day without the frequent recourse to piloting hitherto necessary to a considerable extent. Not only was it a very capable machine, but an extremely handsome one into the bargain. The class quickly multiplied, no less than 110 of them being turned out in the space of two years, concurrently with which large numbers of poor Webb’s compounds saw their way to the scrap heap. Another twenty of the new design were turned out in 1907, making 130 in all, and for several years they bore the brunt of working heavy main line trains over the LNWR. They would, moreover, stand any amount of thrashing when necessary, although their coal consumption was liable to rise to uneconomic heights under these conditions.
It is not difficult to see what was in Whale’s mind when he succeeded Webb in 1903. He had held the post of running superintendent through all the years when the Operating Department had had to do the best they could with the Webb compounds, which sometimes would, but often would not, go. The only really reliable engines during this period were the 2-4-0 ‘Precedents’ and it must have been very apparent to Whale that what was really needed to cope with the tough work on the LNWR main line was a much-enlarged version of these remarkable little machines. The resulting ‘Precursor’ can well be regarded as a direct development of the 2-4-0s, at the same time retaining all the Crewe characteristics of the earlier engines.
An important experiment took place in 1909, when No. 7 ‘Titan’ was tested against a superheated LBSCR 4-4-2T, the results of which demonstrated the value of superheating, then in its infancy. As a direct result of these tests C.J.Bowen Cooke, who had succeeded Whale, built two new engines in 1910, Nos. 2663 ‘George the Fifth’ and 2664 ‘Queen Mary’, the first being fitted with a superheater and the second unsuperheated. Trials between these two at once established the superiority of the superheated engine, and more followed up to 1915, by which time a total of ninety had appeared.
The ‘George the Fifths’ were an improvement on the ‘Precursors’, not only in being superheated, but in having piston valves and large cylinders. Subsequently many of the ‘Precursors’ received one or both of these modifications, and after the grouping many engines of both classes received Belpaire fireboxes in place of the original round-topped ones. On rebuilding, the ‘Precursors’ acquired extended smokeboxes, but could still be distinguished from the ‘Georges’ in having a separate splasher to the leading driving wheels, whereas in the ‘George V’ class this was continuous to the rear square panel. They were, however, now virtually the same class.
At the grouping the unsuperheated ‘Precursors’ became LMS Nos. 5187-5266 and the superheated ones 5270-5319, whilst the ‘Georges’ were 5320-5409. After 1934 the survivors of both types had 20000 added to their numbers. Scrapping of the unconverted ‘Precursors’ began in 1927 and the superheated engines began to be cut up from 1935 onwards. The last survivor of all was No. 25297 ‘Sirocco’, withdrawn in 1949.
‘Precursor’ class as originally built – Driving wheels – 6’ 9”, Cylinders – 19”x 26”, Pressure – 185 lb., Tractive effort – 18222 lb., Weight – 59 tons 15cwt., LMS classification – 3
‘George the Fifth’ class – Driving wheels – 6’ 9”, Cylinders – 20½”x 26”, Pressure – 180 lb., Tractive effort – 20640 lb., Weight – 59 tons 17cwt., LMS classification – 3