It is now over 200 years since the world’s first steam railway locomotive made its maiden voyage along a primitive plateway in South Wales – in 1804 Richard Trevithick’s high-pressure steam locomotive successfully hauled a loaded train a distance of nine miles at an average speed of two mph. Only 25 years later Robert Stephenson’s Rocket won the Rainhill Trials in Lancashire with a top speed of nearly 30 mph. With Britain leading the way the evolution of the steam locomotive continued unabated through the 19th and into the 20th centuries, culminating in Nigel Gresley’s streamlined Class ‘A4’ Mallard which still holds the world record for steam railway locomotives of 126 mph that was set in 1938.
Although steam haulage on Britain’s nationalized standard-gauge railways ended in 1968, the British public’s love affair with these living mechanical monsters continues unabated – steam haulage on the country’s heritage railways and national rail network is a regular feature with packed trains being hauled by lovingly restored locomotives that were saved from the scrapheap some decades ago. The most famous celebrity is undoubtedly Class ‘A3’ 4-6-2 No 60103 Flying Scotsman which has just celebrated its 100th birthday – thousands of people turn out to see it wherever it goes. Brand new steam locomotives of extinct classes are also being built by dedicated enthusiasts – the first of many is ‘A1’ Class 4-6-2 Tornado which, since its first journey in 2008, continues to attract admirers wherever it appears. Britain’s love affair with steam is set to continue.
Britain’s Best Steam Locomotives is a fitting memorial to over two centuries of British steam locomotive design and traces this fascinating, unfolding story from the early 19th century to the present day. While the locomotives in all their glory are obviously the stars of the show I interweave the equally fascinating stories of their locomotive engineers, ranging from Richard Trevithick, Robert Stephenson, Daniel Gooch and Samuel Waite Johnson to George Jackson Churchward, William Stanier, Nigel Gresley and Robert Riddles. In addition I have also provided a technical specification for each locomotive (see Explanation of Locomotive Specifications), the works where they were built, selected named trains and personal trainspotting notes. Let me warn you now that the choice of the 100 of British steam locomotives found in this book is entirely mine!
From an early age I have had a passion for railways and my memories of watching steam-hauled expresses and goods trains thundering through my hometown of Gloucester, along with Swindon, Basingstoke and Templecombe, as a teenager in the late 1950s and early 1960s are as vivid today as they were back then. Saved by my mother when I went to art college, my trainspotting notebooks from this period, which I often refer to in this book, offer a personal glimpse of an era slowly fading away into the mists of time.
Britain’s Steam Locomotives, written by best-selling railway author Julian Holland, is the perfect addition to any railway enthusiast’s collection.
Britain’s Steam Locomotives is published by Times Books