Friday, 30 January 2015

'Duchess of Sutherland' at Crewe

"There are not enough superlatives in the English language to describe a 'Princess Coronation' locomotive in full cry. We shall never see their like again". 
[O.S. Nock, 1983]

Please click on any picture for a larger image.

To me, the majestic Stanier Coronation Pacific Locomotive is the ultimate in steam. They were deigned by Willaim Stanier, Chief Mechanical Engineer of the London Midland & Scottish Railway (LMS) in the late 1930s (or more correctly, his chief draughtsman, Tommy Coleman) to haul heavy and fast express trains between London and Glasgow on the West Coast Main Line. Stanier had learned his craft at the Great Western Railway at Swindon works under G.J. Churchward and C.B. Collett before being headhunted to the LMS in 1931.

Stanier brought advanced steam locomotive design ideas with him from Swindon, such as the flat-topped Belpaire firebox and the tapered boiler. These features were among those that had made the Great Western 'Castle' and 'King' classes so successful, and his first express locomotive for the LMS, the 'Princess' class, could be considered a 'Super King'. But Stanier went on to develop the 'Princess' into the more powerful 'Princess Coronation' or 'Duchess' class, probably the finest steam locomotives ever to run in this country.

'Duchess of Sutherland' at Crewe this afternoon

Only three of these superb locomotives avoided the scrap man's torch at the end of steam on British Railways; 'Duchess of Sutherland', 'Duchess of Hamilton', and 'City of Birmingham'. Of these, only 'Sutherland' is currently in steam on the main line. 'Hamilton' has been re-streamlined (some of the class originally carried streamlined casing) and is cosmetically restored at the National Railway Museum in York. These two locomotives only survive because Billy Butlin bought them from BR to be installed as playground objects at two of his holiday camps. 'City of Birmingham' has been incarcerated in a museum in the city of its name since it retired from BR. It is to be hoped that one day she will escape and be restored to working condition.

Another view of 46233 at Crewe today

After the second world war two more of these superb locomotives were built by Stanier's successor, H.A. Ivatt. They were improved with the fitting of roller axle bearings and a separate pony truck at the rear, and they were named 'City of Salford' and 'Sir William A Stanier, FRS'. If ever there was a candidate preservation it had to be the latter; one of the last of the class, improved, and carrying that famous name. But it wasn't to be. That locomotive was cut up at Cashmore's yard in Birmingham in 1964. £2,500 would have saved it (about £40,000 in today's money) but the heritage railway movement was only just getting started in 1964 so 'Sir William' was lost. It's especially tragic when one considers how many Gresley pacifics escaped the torch, and so few Stanier pacifics.

So 'Duchess of Sutherland' is the only locomotive of the class in working order, and is much in demand to haul charter trains on the main line. One such event is the 'Cumbrian Mountain Express' which will be steam hauled tomorrow from Carnforth to Carlisle (having been electric hauled from Euston), then south over the scenic Settle & Carlisle line to Hellifield, thence via Clitheroe and Blackburn to re-join the West Coast Main Line for an electric-hauled return to Euston.

 'Sutherland' today positioned from her base at the Midland Railway Centre at Butterley in Derbyshire to Carnforth ready for tomorrow's trip. On the way she stopped in Crewe station to take water, and a friend and I went down there to see her.

46233 takes water from a platform hydrant at Crewe station today

The Duchess's footplate. Firehole doors open to draw in cold air. Despite this, and the fireman using the injector to top up the boiler water level to the maximum, she did blow off violently and quite deafeningly. When that happens, about ten gallons of water a minute goes out through the safety valves as steam; probably more water than was going into the tender tank from the hydrant! 

Not part of Stanier's original design; in-cab electronics required to enable locomotives to work on today's railway 

The Duchess was hauling only her support coach today, to house the technicians and equipment required to keep the locomotive in top form while away from her home shed. Something else fitted since the loco's BR days is air braking to enable it to work modern stock. Here the two pipes of the air brake system can be seen between the loco's tender and the support coach, together with a rather leaky steam heat pipe. The vacuum brake pipe remains unused.  

A last look at this fabulous steam locomotive before we caught a train home

Here she is with support coach passing Rugely Trent Valley on her way to Crewe
(by Steve Kesterton)

And here's what it's all about. A Princess Coronation in full cry! Fabulous!
(Pictured on Saturday by Ian Pilkington)

Leaving Hellifield a week later, 7th February. Picture by Geoffrey Griffiths. I'm amazed how Hornby Dublo so accurately captured the character of a Duchess in die-cast metal way back in the 50s. That could be my Hornby 3-rail 'Duchess of Montrose' !


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