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The Modified Bulleid Pacifics

The Modified Bulleid Pacifics

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The Modified Bulleid Pacifics

520 pages
4 heures
Jun 30, 2019


This British Railways history recounts the life of a controversial steam engine and its miraculous transformation at the hands of a brilliant engineer.
As Chief Mechanical Engineer of the Southern Railway, Oliver Bulleid designed what were perhaps the most controversial steam locomotives ever built in Britain: the Pacifics. Loved and loathed in equal measure, the debate over their strengths and weaknesses took on a new dimension when British Railways decided to modify them in the 1950s.
When noted engineer Ron Jarvis was charged with improving on Bulleid’s designs, he displayed a master’s touch, saving the best of Bulleid’s work while incorporating other established design principles. What emerged was described by Bert Spencer, Gresley’s talented assistant, as taking ‘a swan and creating a soaring eagle.’
This book explores all the elements of the lives of these Pacifics and their two designers. It draws on previously unpublished material to describe their gradual evolution, which didn’t start or finish with the 1950s major rebuilding program.
Jun 30, 2019

À propos de l'auteur

Tim Hillier-Graves was born in North London in 1951. From an early age he was fascinated by steam locomotives. In 1972, Tim joined the Navy Department of the MOD and saw wide service in many locations. He retired in 2011, having specialized in Human Resource Management, then the management of the MOD's huge housing stock as one of the department`s Assistant Directors for Housing. On the death of his uncle in 1984, he became the custodian of a substantial railway collection and in retirement has spent considerable time reviewing and cataloging this material. He has published a number of books on locomotives and aviation.

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The Modified Bulleid Pacifics - Tim Hillier-Graves



Nine Elms – 1959

The rain had been torrential overnight and continued to cascade down as we made our way through the gloomy streets of South London. The drive to Nine Elms, in a soft topped pre-war Austin Eight Tourer, had been an experience. Water seeped in through many holes in the antique roof making us all damp and the wipers had long ago given up the ghost. They could still be turned by a small handle on top of the motor, but the rain was so hard that my father’s efforts, from the passenger seat, barely improved visibility on a black London day. At the same time my godfather, the driver, tried to keep condensation in check with an old newspaper, but his attempts also failed. It was proving to be an exciting start to a long-awaited adventure for the two eight-year olds huddled in the back, who passed the time by poking new holes in the ancient canvas.

At that time my father was a senior design engineer working for the Rank Organisation in Shepherds Bush. By day he was surrounded by men of similar age and disposition who had grown up in the 1930s and then gone to war en masse. Although infused with the aspirations and fashions of the 1950s, they still fondly remembered the pre-war world and the things that had enthused them then. Sport, aviation, Hollywood and the glamour of express steam locomotives. Publicity and a ready supply of magazines, comics and books ensured that fertile young minds were fed with all sorts of information which they collected. And the pursuit of these new marvels became a passion. Being a Londoner, with so many main line stations and airfields nearby, my father, on his highly prized orange coloured Raleigh bike, had easy access to the sights and sounds of these wonders. He saw for himself new Spitfires and Hurricanes and the latest streamlined locomotives on the main line or in sheds. And with middle age beckoning, he was still drawn to these wonders of engineering.

The Bulleids in their heyday and in the middle of their rebuilding programme. The photograph was taken at Nine Elms in 1959 during the author’s visit to Nine Elms (my friend and me centre, my father to the left)



One of his fellow designers, Bill Simpson, was a keen amateur photographer who was seized with the need to capture images of steam locomotives. By stealth he had acquired passes to engine sheds all over London and was happy to arrange visits for his friends. And so on a very wet Saturday morning we found ourselves searching for the Brooklands Passage entrance to Nine Elms, home of BR’s Southern Region locomotives. It was more a creep than a rush, but as we finally parked and walked through the stygian gloom to the main gate, a watery sun tried to break through to provide a little respite from the rain and give an illusion of warmth.

Burning coal, steam, discarded ash and hot oil leave a very distinctive pall in the air. And the atmosphere around Nine Elms was impregnated with these odours. Captivating for some, but I wouldn’t have liked to live in the flats nearby and suffer from the pollution of heavy industry. Wonderful to view in photographs or as an occasional visitor, but hell to live with every day. But steam had powered Britain’s industrial revolution and still dominated our transport system and so was accepted as a necessary evil. But by 1959 this was changing rapidly and within a decade steam would disappear completely from our railways.

For many hours we were allowed to roam around the sheds and see engines in all states of preparation. We even enjoyed eggs and bacon in a shed with some footplate crew, happy to share their rations with two small boys in awe of these modest, unassuming ‘gods’. I wish I could recall what they said, but I was too captivated by all that I saw to take these details in, though I do remember my leg being pulled gently because I was wearing a short trousered suit; usually worn on special occasions, but principally for Sunday School.

Quite naturally, I was drawn to the big engines and Nine Elms had arranged many Pacifics to be on shed that day for my benefit, or so it seemed to me. I wasn’t a true trainspotter, never having had the inclination to record numbers, but names came easily to me. Elders Fyffes was set to pull the Bournemouth Belle, whilst Torrington, Orient Line, Padstow, Channel Packet, Lyme Regis, Lapford and many more were in steam and ready for duty. We were allowed to clamber on various footplates and enjoy the work of each crew. We even had a short ride on Elders Fyffes down the yard as she made her way to Waterloo and I quickly pocketed a small piece of coal as a souvenir. As we slowly reversed back, I stood behind the driver and looked out at another locomotive, Peninsular and Oriental SN Co, sitting cold beside us. With her slightly dog eared and bruised air smoothed casing she looked rather forlorn. She seemed even sadder when we climbed on to her lifeless footplate. I was surprised when my father said that she was the same class as the gleaming Elders Fyffes, and was puzzled by the difference in style and look.

From this, my interest in these engines grew, sponsored greatly by all I had seen that day. From then on, I couldn’t keep away from Nine Elms and Waterloo, so eager to see these wonderful locomotives in all their colours and shades. And here my maternal grandfather played an important role, as he had in my life from birth, in his house in North London, eight years before.

Torrington in her grimy prime, as often seen by the author


We are all influenced by our families, but some of our loved ones make a much deeper impression than others. And my grandfather was just such a person. By any standards he was an exceptional man, who by nature was deeply compassionate, generous and understanding, with experience adding many more layers. He was the rope that binds humanity and his life has left an indelible mark on me which underpins all I am and all I do.

He was born in his grandfather’s house in Napier Terrace, Islington, the sixth child of Baptist parents. He grew up in Victorian London in a house that rang to laughter and on leaving school at 14 joined the Post Office as a telegraph boy. By degrees, he became a postman, then a delivery driver and finally a sorting office manager at Mount Pleasant. Along the way he joined the Post Office Rifles as a part time territorial soldier. As a keen amateur footballer and boxer, the regiment must have proved a strong attraction, but the coming of war a year later in 1914 quickly brought home the true nature of soldering to his and many other young person’s lives.

Although created for home service, losses on the Western Front soon saw this reserve thrown into battle too. And so three years of front line service began in which he would serve as a rifleman, then Lewis gunner, be gassed, wounded three times and fight in the battles for Festubert, Loos, High Wood, Arras, Cambrai, Passchendaele and, finally, two months of the German onslaught in 1918, before being invalided home. Hardened and resolute he may have been, but he lost many friends and lived with the most dreadful experiences that scarred him for the rest of his life.

In the days before battle fatigue was truly recognised, he and many others could only try and pick up the threads of their lives as best they could. Recovery was an impossible dream, but family, friends and work provided a therapy of sorts. And so the years passed, punctuated by normal life events, then another war in which he served as a fireman in London, seeing action during each stage of the city’s prolonged airborne siege.

Widowerhood, in 1947, cast another shadow over his life, but the arrival of two grandchildren, my sister and then me, provided great impetus to his life. In 1954, we all moved to Surrey and as I grew up it was the sparks of Southern Region electric trains that lit the night skies. And the sight and sound of those steam locomotives that daily inhabited Nine Elms made our many trips to the city magical. A slow cross country journey from Ashtead soon turned to cosmopolitan London. Suddenly our meandering double track met the main line from the south and west between Esher and Surbiton, where express trains always seemed to be rushing into view. After briefly running alongside our commuter train they quickly dashed away, a blur of smoke, steam, glass and thrashing metal.

35006, now rebuilt, gets away from Waterloo


My grandfather would visit London each Wednesday, to catch up with relatives, and it became the custom for me to accompany him during school holidays. Freed of a troublesome son, my mother could catch up with her life and my grandfather was more than capable of shouldering the burden. And so my adventures began and together we explored Waterloo, and all of its magic, and many of London’s other treasures. But the day would always begin and end with the Southern Pacifics around the terminus and, occasionally, Nine Elms or Clapham Junction. All this would be savoured and captured on my Kodak camera, if I had the funds for film.

With the passing of years, and in the months following my grandfather’s death, I, with some friends, would still slip onto a train and find some vantage point to see the Pacifics passing by. Wimbledon, on a cold winter’s night after a football match at Chelsea or Fulham, if Spurs were playing away, became a regular haunt. Despite the call of home, we stayed there well into the evening to catch the sight of a Merchant Navy passing at high speed, fortified between performances by a mug of tea and a pie, whose meat content was questionable.

And so time passed and life took me in new directions. But my fascination with the Pacifics remained, rekindled by occasional sightings as steam locomotives disappeared from active service. My last memory of seeing them in operation was sudden and unexpected. Playing football at school near Bath, we looked up and saw five being towed by another of the class to Salisbury for scrapping. They made a sad sight in their grimy and dilapidated condition and we all stopped to watch this melancholy procession slip past. A few weeks later three friends and I went to Salisbury by train to see and wander amongst line upon line of these abandoned machines. Souvenirs were seized if not screwed down, and we were egged on in our endeavours by railway staff eager to have less to scrap or burn.

Little did I know then that thirty-one Pacifics would survive this culling. But when serving with the Royal Navy in West Wales during the 1970s, I became aware of Barry Scrapyard and the 200 plus engines that had been moved there in the late 1960s and had avoided the cutter’s torch by a whisker. By my first visit in 1977 a preservation movement had gained ground and some groups felt empowered to purchase a hulk and attempt restoration. And over the years I often called in and saw this trickle become a flood and photograph these relics of my childhood.

As a child they were simply Merchant Navy, West Country or Battle of Britain Pacifics. I knew little of their background and cared even less about their creators. I was simply drawn by the spectacle and their aesthetics. A shallow reaction perhaps, but too much analysis can often make the spectacular mundane and I didn’t wish this to happen. But with adulthood came a desire to know more. So I read about Oliver Bulleid, their chief designer, and Ron Jarvis, who took his work and transformed 90 of the light and heavy Pacifics into a more conventional form. Armed with this knowledge, I remembered the two engines I had seen at Nine Elms decades earlier and began to understand and appreciate the work the two men had undertaken. The depth of history uncovered was surprising. It wasn’t simply a matter of engineering, but politics, philosophy and humanity rolled into one. So engines that had delighted me as a young child tantalized me as an adult.

The author catches up with 35006 at Barry in 1978


But my appreciation of these engines only truly began when I became involved, as a minor player, in the preservation of Peninsular and Oriental at Toddington. By some chance, the symmetry of life had brought me with this engine from a gloomy day at Nine Elms to Gloucestershire and her rebirth. As Publicity Secretary for the project, I was able to see and scramble over this pile of rusty bits, at regular intervals, until she was a fully functioning locomotive again. Only then did I really begin to understand and appreciate Bulleid and Jarvis’ work, and the team of designers and engineers behind them. And it was here that this book was born.

35006 restored to glory, and about to be renamed. Only the black dog seems to be unimpressed


The temptation to have a title such as ‘Jarvis’ Southern Pacifics’ was strong and at times seemed a fitting description of the 90 engines he took and converted into the familiar locomotives we see today. But to do this would ignore and understate Bulleid’s role and contribution to their creation. He may have been a maverick designer who, at times, allowed flights of fancy to cloud his judgement, but without his design skills, his political acumen and determination the Pacifics might never have been built. So the book is about both men, but with greater emphasis on Jarvis’ role in taking ‘a swan and creating a soaring eagle’, as Bert Spencer, Gresley’s one time Technical Assistant and then a leading figure in BR, described this work.

As with any story, these events have to be set in context so that we can understand the people and the times in which they lived. To do this we often have to look beyond simple statistics and engineering issues to see how something of great significance is created, then recreated. And along the way many issues are discussed, new material introduced and some ‘facts’ re-interpreted and given a new perspective. But first and foremost, it is a story of great endeavour in a world that was soon to disappear as steam finally reached the end of its existence on British rails.

To me, this story began on a dreary 1950s day in South London in a world that no longer exists except in my memory. To pass Nine Elms on the run into Waterloo now is to see an archaeological site stripped of all its history. Some of the old flats remain, but the area is now undergoing massive transformation and the only reminder of its past glory is the sound of an occasional steam special pulling away from Waterloo or Victoria nearby. So there is an infrequent echo carried on the wind to conjure up a time and place that has receded into history.

Chapter 1


Oliver Bulleid and Ron Jarvis were from different eras. One was the product of a Victorian world, with all its self-belief, certainties and divisions, the other of an ever changing post-Great War Britain, where extreme sacrifice had driven the need for social reform and a better existence for all. Their lives and careers were shaped by the two eras in which they grew up, although a love of engineering helped them cross many boundaries that time and attitudes imposed.

Oliver Bulleid at the time of his promotion to CME


Both were exceptionally gifted engineers who played significant roles in the development of many locomotives, but one type stands out from the others, the iconic Southern Region Pacifics. Without Bulleid, they probably would not have been built and without Jarvis they might have been consigned prematurely to the scrapyard by British Railways, as time revealed serious flaws in their design. In so doing, he turned a concept full of promise into a masterpiece of engineering, but, despite this, they will always be known as Bulleid’s Pacifics, whilst Jarvis remains hidden in the shadows, barely remembered. Yet of the two, Jarvis may have been the more talented engineer, with an eye for the practical that meant he took fewer flights of the fancy down doubtful paths or cul-de-sacs, probably more conservative in outlook than Bulleid, but more successful because of it.

The timing of their careers also deeply affected the roles they played and the opportunities they could exploit. Bulleid rose to prominence in 1937 when he was appointed to be the Southern Railway’s Chief Mechanical Engineer. But with another war brewing in Europe, he had little time to develop his ideas as a period of austerity beckoned, so his concepts for the new engines of which he dreamed seemed likely to die stillborn.

During the 1930s, as one of Nigel Gresley’s assistants on the LNER, he had participated in many great schemes, but could not lead in this golden age of development, as steam locomotive design leapt forward with ever higher speeds, streamlining and headline-grabbing glamour. Now his own chance seemed thwarted by the vagaries of history and the march of dictators. Even when the war ended, his opportunities would still be restricted by a changing world and nationalisation. Who knows what he might have achieved if his tenure had begun earlier and he had enjoyed the freedom open to others. As it was, by grit and determination, and despite the war, he pushed back the boundaries of what was possible and created his Pacifics.

Jarvis, then a young engineer with the LMS, also served in these pre-war years, but at a much more junior level. The greatest and most productive period of his career lay in the future, beyond the war when investment and innovation offered the talented an opportunity to experiment and explore. He would play a part in the design of new steam engines for BR and be allowed to see beyond the end of that world into new forms of traction. There would be the limitations imposed by a nationalised industry, with its short-sighted and fickle political masters, but this didn’t seem to inhibit Jarvis, who was capable of working within such a system. Bulleid railed at the restrictions and would fall foul of a regime that had to be negotiated with guile and stealth if success were to be achieved. And here his Victorian self-belief and certainties would let him down. He didn’t learn to play a new game and found himself isolated, sidelined and then eased out.

The world had been so different when he was a child growing to maturity, although his earliest days were coloured by a tragedy that shaped his life. Born in 1882, the eldest of three children, to British parents who had emigrated to New Zealand in 1878, the loss of his father in 1889 drove his mother back to the UK where her family could offer support. Faced with the difficult problem of accommodating three children at her widowed mother’s home in Llanfyllin, it was decided to despatch young Oliver to live part time with his uncle, aunt and two cousins in Accrington. One wonders where life might have taken him if he had remained in a largely non-industrial New Zealand and not moved to a heavily industrialised Great Britain. He may have found his way into engineering, but it is probable that he would not have achieved the success he did and play such a significant part in railway history along the way.

Having begun his education in New Zealand he went on to attend school in Accrington, before moving to the Spa College at the Bridge of Allan for two years. There then followed a four-year period at the Municipal Technical School in Accrington before being apprenticed to the Great Northern Railway at Doncaster in 1901. Here he passed under the control of the company’s Locomotive, Carriage and Wagon Superintendent, Henry Ivatt, a man who would have the most profound influence on his life at work and at home; in 1908 he would marry his youngest daughter Marjorie. But before this happened he was eager to better himself educationally and boost his knowledge and improve career opportunities. So during his apprenticeship, and after it, he attended evening classes in Doncaster, then three nights a week at Sheffield University before moving to Leeds University.

John Click, who would later work for Bulleid at Brighton and became a good friend, recorded many of their conversations. Click, who began work as a premium apprentice draughtsman when the heavy and light Pacifics were being designed, recalled that:

‘I found it hard to picture OVB as an apprentice for by nature he was an academic with a very enquiring mind constantly asking ‘‘why’’ and never accepting anything because it was ‘‘the way we do it’’. One senses that he asked too many questions, yet never gave up. He read a lot, made visits whenever he could, including to Crewe Works in 1902 where Francis Webb still had a year to go.’

Nigel Gresley, Bulleid’s mentor and guide


He also described the effect of losing a friend at this time had on the young Bulleid:

‘OVB shared digs with a fellow apprentice called Talbot, who was to lose his life in the Grantham accident of 1906. Though still an apprentice he was firing an Ivatt Large Atlantic, in place of the regular man, a practice not unusual at that time. I think this affected Bulleid deeply and accounted for his view of footplatemen and the perils they could face. As a result I don’t think he ever experienced the delight of firing and driving a locomotive, even his own. He did ride on the footplate for many important and exciting events, though, and was quite fearless of high speed, but these were the exceptions.

‘He had the rare ability of being able to take a ride on the footplate and to step off at the end just as clean and as immaculately attired as when he got on. I could never imagine him lending a hand when things were going wrong. It certainly wasn’t snobbishness, but a certain aloofness born of shyness.’

In 1910, when seeking membership of the Institution of Mechanical Engineers, his application recorded details of the tasks he undertook as an apprentice:

‘January 1901 to January 1905 – in the GNR Works at Doncaster: passing through turneries, fitting, erecting shops and drawing office, then into Running Shed doing shed fitting and obtained running experience.’

He also recorded being ‘privately coached in Steam Mechanics and Structures’, then achieved ‘matric at London University’. All this is confirmed and countersigned by Ivatt, who had clearly been impressed by the young man and so had taken a very close interest in his development. Armed with this backing, a good education and great personal skills, Bulleid began to shine. Immediately on qualifying, he was appointed ‘Assistant to the Outdoor Superintendent at Doncaster in charge of experiments with petrol motor driven coaches’ swiftly followed by ‘ placed in charge of various work in connection with out-stations’. Then for a year he became ‘Assistant to the Works Manager in charge of Shop Costs’ before seeking employment at ‘the Freinville shops (Paris), French Westinghouse Co, as Engineer of Test’. Such a move spoke of his ambition as did a move to the Board of Trade as Mechanical Engineer for exhibitions in 1910. Interestingly, this suggests that he didn’t see railway engineering as the sole route his career should follow, but the appointment only lasted for a year and then folded up leaving him in the lurch.

Now married with a young daughter, he returned to Doncaster and with his father-in-law’s help was appointed Personal Assistant to Nigel Gresley, then replacing a retiring Ivatt as Locomotive, Carriage and Wagon Superintendent. He started work in January 1912 and the most important phase of his career and development began, shaped by his own skills and ambition, but heavily sponsored and directed by his new leader for the next 25 years.

Gresley was a very perceptive man, as well as

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