High Speed On The Great Western Railway

by Robert Humm
(Originally published in the Journal of The Stephenson Locomotive Society for July-August 2015; there are some extra notes about Charles Rous-Marten and Cecil J Allen at the end of the article.)

3440 City of Truro seen at Bentley Heath Crossing, near Knowle & Dorridge, on 4 Sept 1960, with SLS special from Birmingham to Reading and Swindon. Unknown photographer.

While turning over a quantity of Cecil J Allen’s old papers the writer came across a clip of correspondence that throws some light upon the official Great Western attitude to high speed running. The papers were treated as highly confidential at the time (Allen was enjoined to show them to no-one) but after eighty years we may regard them as of historical interest.

It began with the March 1934 instalment of British Locomotive Practice And Performance in the Railway Magazine, where Allen commented upon the passing of G J Churchward. This prompted a Mr A H Holden of Purley to write at length to Allen about City Of Truro’s alleged 102.3mph dash down Whiteball to Wellington. Mr Holden produced a number of countervailing arguments, suggesting that the actual speed was more in the region of 90-92mph. The outcome was that Allen decided in his July 1934 piece to write at length about the City Of Truro exploit, locomotive performance on the Cheltenham Flyer and the general question of speeds above 90-100mph.

The draft clearly worried Railway Magazine editor W A Willox, who persuaded his boss John A Kay to submit it to C B Collett, Chief Mechanical Engineer of the GWR. In turn Collett consulted the General Manager, Sir James Milne :

Collett to Milne 10th May 1934
Dear Sir James,
I send you a letter dated the 9th instant I have received from Mr Kay, enclosing a copy of Mr Willox’s memorandum dated 7th May, and a draft of Mr Allen’s proposed article, from which you will gather that the main object of the article is to cast doubt upon the accuracy of Mr Rous-Marten’s record of the high speed of City Of Truro in May 1904, when it was said that the speed of 102.3 miles per hour was attained.

Neither I, or any of my colleagues are able to express any opinion on this matter, as the only information we have ever had is contained in the records made by Mr Rous-Marten which were published some few years ago.

The question which is continually being raised as to whether a steam locomotive with reciprocating pistons can really attain a speed of over 100 miles per hour can, I think, be readily settled by making a trial under plenty of expert observation.

We believe in the past that that we have many times exceeded this speed, but have never taken any special precaution for making the record, having merely been guided by the ordinary methods of using the stop-watch in conjunction with the mileposts.

Personally, I do not like these high speed tests and, whenever I have been concerned in making them, we have been careful not to expose any members of the public, Post Office, etc, to the unnecessary risk which, in my opinion, is always involved. One has only to review the continuous efforts that are made to set up records in motor-car racing, to realise what a dangerous business it becomes, as soon as the high speeds usually obtained in ordinary practice are passed, and recently making the final arrangements, we carried out some preliminary trials, the results of which, from one cause and another, decided us not to make the final test, which it was then proposed should be made with a mail train.

It is one thing for a racing motorist to set up a record in which, as a rule, no one else’s life is at risk but his own, but it is quite another thing to set up a record on a railway, where the lives of several people are bound to be at stake.

On the other hand, if for any good reason, it is considered necessary or desirable for something of this sort to be done, there would be no difficulty whatever in getting together sufficient staff to voluntarily carry out the tests.

You will no doubt appreciate that the risk with the locomotive is considerably greater than with most other modern types of engines, on account of the difficulty of satisfactorily maintaining proper lubrication at very high speeds of the valve gear and driving mechanism, which is entirely unprotected, it being impossible to encase it in an oil bath like other modern machines and, although we have successfully made high speed runs for short periods in the past, we have had very numerous failures in the course of our experiments in that direction and, as you will know, the failure of oil to any part of the valve gear leads to the complete smashing up of the mechanism in a very few seconds.

It is only in recent times that we have so improved our lubrication arrangements that we are able to run with regularity a high speed service like the Cheltenham Flyer and this, even with the same engines that are doing it today, could not have been carried out under the conditions of only a few years ago.

From this you will gather that we are in a better position now than ever to make a high speed test from a locomotive point of view, and our main concern of recent times has been connected with the track, one of the most difficult problems being that of proper super-elevation on the curves, which needs to be quite abnormal for the extra high speeds which would be equally unsuitable for the ordinary speeds.

I think you will find that the highest speed records of the past were never purposely obtained, but were, as a rule, the result of some misunderstanding.

Please do not think in this matter that I am opposed to to progress or I think it is undesirable for our speeds to be increased, but I have come to the conclusion that for speeds over 100 miles per hour it would be necessary for track, as well as the vehicles, to be specially prepared and maintained and, in our last effort in this direction, you will remember we had great difficulty in finding a suitable place to carry out such a test.

I have set out this matter so fully and think it is only right to do so, as one might be so easily accused of taking unnecessary risks merely for a stunt but, on the other hand, if it is particularly desired that such a test should be made, I should be only too happy to do all I can to carry one out to a successful issue.
Yours faithfully,
C B Collett

Sir James Milne’s response to this Sir Humphrey-like screed has not survived.

Collett to Kay, 4th June 1934
I am obliged for your letter of 30th May enclosing the proof of Mr Allen’s article, which you propose to publish in the July isse of The Railway Magazine.

I have read this through with great interest, and think it is excellent in every way, and have no modification to suggest.

There is, however, one point which I do not think is sufficiently appreciated by some of the advocates of very high speed runs, and that is the great importance of having the outer rail of the curves correctly super-elevated for the speeds. This, on any railway where varying services are run, has, of course, to be compromised, and is never really sufficient for the normal high speeds, and, (what I think is not appreciated) is quite inadequate for the extra high speeds; in this connection, the matter was brought home to me very vividly when we were recently carrying out a preliminary run for a high speed trip which was to have taken place with the mail train, and we found that in running down a grade of 1 in 300 between Badminton and Somerford, where there are several curves, but of a fairly flat radius, that the insufficiency of the super-elevation of the outer rail for the speed caused terrific flange friction, and this grinding against the outer rail absorbed in running at high speed down this grade as much power as pulling a heavy train up one of the steep banks in the West of England and, under these circumstances, the risk of mounting the rail is very serious.

I am enclosing you a diagram setting this matter out but, of course, do not wish it published; you may, however, like to refer to the subject.
The full line speed curve on the chart clearly shows how the grinding of the curves retarded in each case the acceleration which was taking place, as the throttle was not interfered with.

Curiously enough on the morning on which the actual trial was to have taken place, I received the following telegram from the driver of the up 10.30 train from North Road:

“I was stopped at Wrangaton and informed by the signalman, platelayers reported road out of order. I left Wrangaton at 11.12 with the platelayer to the obstruction, which was a very bad buckle in both rails. After straightening as well as possible I pulled the train very slowly in safety. Total delay 33 minutes.”

This on a road which the night before was considered perfect for a high speed test. Naturally we do not want this published either.

Your draft returned herewith.
Yours faithfully,

C B Collett

Collett’s strictures upon lubrication and super-elevation were worked into Allen’s published article. Like Collett, Allen was sceptical of Rous-Marten’s claims and noted that whilst there were a number of authenticated maxima of 92mph nothing so far had exceeded that figure. Perhaps 92mph was a ‘natural’ limit for steam, he mused. Yet within a year or so Allen was reporting the 100mph achieved by Flying Scotsman, the 108mph by Papyrus and the 112½mph by Silver Link. Clearly rail grinding was less of a problem on the East Coast.


Cecil J Allen (1886-1973) was a permanent way engineer employed by the Great Eastern and LNER.  He was also a prolific railway author, speaker and broadcaster. Between 1910 and 1959 he wrote the monthly “British Locomotive Practice And Performance” feature in the Railway Magazine, and later similar series in Trains Illustrated and Railway World.
 A biography of Allen by RH was published in the Railway Magazine for January 2015; we might serialise it in the blog in due course.
Charles Rous-Marten (1844-1908) was an English technical journalist.  At an early age he emigrated to New Zealand and became involved in railway matters. In 1887 he returned to this country to prepare a report for the NZ government on the latest railway technical developments.  Back in New Zealand he prepared similar reports on several other railway systems. He returned to England for a second time in 1893.  He made numerous contributions on locomotives to “The Engineer” and developed the art of train-timing. He originated the monthly “British Locomotive Practice & Performance” column in the Railway Magazine.
 Rous-Marten was held in high esteem in official and railway circles, though there is considerable doubt as to whether he possessed any formal engineering qualification.  His account of City Of Truro‘s apparent record-breaking run has always been controversial.
British Locomotive Practice & Performance” still features in the Railway Magazine, under the abbreviated heading “Practice And Performance”, and is probably a record run in its own right. It is currently manned by Keith Farr and John Heaton – indeed Mr Heaton revisited this very issue as recently as August 2015.


On Writing : An Introduction

by Robert Humm

Baldwin-Lima-Hamilton “shark-nose” 1,500hp Co-Co of type RF615E No 5037 at Buenos Aires, 2004. And Robert looking very sprauncy.

Over the years I have published a fair amount in periodicals both eminent and obscure. My very first article, published about 1966, was strangely enough in a long defunct magazine called Sporting Motorist, and we need not dwell on that overlong. It was written under a pseudonym and wasn’t very good, but we all have to start somewhere.

I started writing in earnest for the transport press in 2006. My main outlet has always been The Railway Magazine, and here is the reason. In 2004 I griped to the then editor, Nick Pigott, that the RM no longer carried the good historical articles it once did. “We don’t get them offered any more and I don’t have time to research and write them myself,” was his riposte. “If you want us to publish some history you had better get down to business.” I took Nick at his word. To date there have been two dozen features in RM, with more in the pipeline.

Other periodicals that have taken occasional pieces include Heritage Railway, Locomotives International, Steam Railway and Archive. I also do a certain amount for society periodicals such as The Railway & Canal Historical Society Journal, The Narrow Gauge, Stephenson Locomotive Society Journal, and the WW2 Railway Study Group Bulletin.

What do I write about? The short answer is anything that takes my fancy and where I have some worthwhile depth of knowledge. Subjects often arise from chance conversations with fellow aficionados, family, and customers. Clare has the knack of asking “simple” questions that call for plenty of research. The outcome is often “I feel another article coming on,” and inevitably the dining table* and floor are covered once more with reference books, papers and photographs.

All the same, most subjects seem fall into a few broad categories: British railway history, locomotive history, overseas railways, railway literature and bibliography, military railways, unusual railways, and what The Railway Magazine is pleased to call “Famous Names Of The Past.” Some of them seem well worth a second outing.

What else? Since 1961 I have written up notes of my amateur railway comings-and-goings in a series of volumes loosely titled Railway Travels & Observations, records that range from an hour’s train watching by the bridge at the bottom of the road to the more recent journeys towards the far south of Patagonia, and by the Rossiya from Moscow to Vladivostok. None of this has ever been published before. Then there the better pieces from the Old Luddite column and all sorts of miscellaneous items, reviews and fillers.

It is my intention to post a selection of these writings in the blog at approximately weekly intervals, subject to holidays and the usual human frailties. I hope you enjoy at least some of them. And remember, should you wish to meet the source of these disemboguements, I can usually be found behind the counter of the bookshop at 59 Scotgate, Stamford. You might even fancy buying a book or two.


The photo was taken at the Ferroclub headquarters at Remedios De Escalada, Buenos Aires, on 31st October 2004.
The locomotive is a Baldwin-Lima-Hamilton “shark-nose” 1,500hp Co-Co of type RF615E, built at the Eddystone plant near Philadelphia  The Argentine State Railways ordered  51, which were delivered between May 1953 and October 1954.  All were allocated to the General Roca Division (the former Buenos Aires Great Southern Railway) and used primarily as freight locomotives. They were Baldwin’s last big order prior to cessation of locomotive building in 1956.
Most lines in Argentina are single track and at that time were nearly all semaphore signalled.  The Whitaker Token Exchange apparatus can be seen next to the cab door.
Because the 5001s are single-ended they have to be turned on a turntable or wye like a steam locomotive.  We saw this happen with 5037 at Altamirano the previous day when we took her for a spin in the country. 5037 was newly restored and this was her first passenger trip.


British Rail Corporate Identity Manual

A rather worrying task yesterday – I’d been putting it off but in the end it had to be done. I washed my hands and removed the cellophane from a copy of the BR Corporate Design Manual reprint so I could catalogue it. Fortunately few railway books come with a white cover; this one is somewhat nerve-racking to handle. But it has a sumptuous feel to it and opening it up I began to realise what an outstanding production it is. As it will have to be re-cellophaned before it can be put back on display I’ve taken a few pictures of the inside to show how good it is.

First a bit of background. The changes to the BR house style which began in the mid-1960s and introduced the double arrow logo, the abbreviated name and the distinctive blue train livery have their origin in this remarkable manual which sets out in fine detail all aspects of design across all six regions of British Railways.

It was issued between 1965 and 1970 in four volumes, and continued to be updated. This was easy because the volumes were in the form of ring binders and the pages, or sheets, were not paper but light card. The first volume introduced the double arrow logo together with the lettering and colour palette. The following year Volume 2 was issued with guidance on printed publicity. In 1970 the remaining two volumes appeared detailing architecture, locomotives, rolling stock, ships, liner trains, uniforms and stationery. The final two sections (lineside equipment and road vehicles) never appeared.

We have only ever seen one set, and that had had the locomotive sheets removed. Nevertheless it did not stay on our shelves very long – even incomplete the set is very much sought-after.

The production of a reprint of these volumes has been hailed with delight by students of design as well as rail enthusiasts. Because of the nature of the sheets, which could be added, amended, or of course lost, means that it is likely that no set was ever entirely complete. However the publisher has rounded up what appears to be a complete set of all sheets issued up to 1980, supplemented by some later ones.

The new version is handsomely printed on high quality paper and bound in a white cloth binding to match the original plastic-covered ones. It was originally priced at £75, which seems a fair deal for so large and handsome production, but it has since been reduced to £45, which is an absolute snip.

Here are some of the contents.

Lettering black on white.

Airport symbols – a fold out page.








There are pages and pages of double arrows for every occasion.

As well as this avuncular driver there is a guard of unshakable demeanour, a efficient-looking ticket office clerk and two ladies : a courier wearing a chic short-skirted suit, and a waitress whose smart overall sports a Rail Blue check.

Trains? Of course. Here is an HST …                                   and a class 86 …



and a mark 1 carriage  …                                               and a container and lorry.

And masses of stuff about menus, time tables, signs and signs and more signs. Right down to this nit-picking instruction on how to lay out a letter.

Relief. I’ve given it back to the Guvnor to re-wrap.

You can order it here

Stamford Station Canopy Part 3 – Completion!

Stamford Railway Station's New Canopy

Stamford Railway Station’s New Canopy

Last night, after the final train had left, a team of Network Rail construction workers laboured through the small hours to put the finishing touch on the new platform one canopy – the valance which makes an attractive finish to the canopy edge and provides a little extra protection from driving rain.

It is very smart.

View from platform 2, the shadows make a tartan on the back wall.

View from platform 2, the shadows make a tartan on the back wall.

Another view across the tracks. Don't anyone say that the new valance doesn't match the one on platform 2. The old one didn't either.

Another view across the tracks. Don’t anyone complain that the new valance doesn’t match the one on platform 2. The old one didn’t either.

View from under the footbridge

View from under the footbridge

View from the footbridge

View from the footbridge

View from under the canopy. The platform here has been nicely repaved.

View from under the canopy. The platform here has been nicely repaved.

Oxford Goods Shed Plans – Free

Among the dubious items remaining in Station House after we had removed everything saleable to our new shop was this roll of thirteen GWR plans for their goods shed at Oxford.

Oxford Good Shed Plans

Oxford Good Shed Plans

It’s not a very impressive bundle. Despite most of the plans being linen-backed they have crumbled away at the edges, particularly at the leading edge.

Oxford Goods Shed plans, showing damage to edges

Oxford Goods Shed plans, showing damage to edges

Some of the pages are also cracked right across, due to being stored rolled-up for some 145 years.

These are the foundations. Such a shame.

Oxford Goods Shed plans - foundations. The weights belong with the kitchen scales and are not part of the deal.

Oxford Goods Shed plans – foundations. The weights belong with the kitchen scales and are not part of the deal.

Not to labour the point – it’s unsaleable. The Guvnor asked me to bin it, but somehow I felt it needed a second chance. The hand colouring is nice.

Oxford Goods Shed plans

Oxford Goods Shed plans

There is also a plan of a crane to be built by Armstrongs. And a stern warning against disbinding the plans. The new owner will have to disregard this as it will not be possible to flatten them otherwise. For this reason I wan’t able to measure the length (probably between 24 – 36 inches) but the height of the roll is 15 inches. The pencil is there for scale. It’s not part of the deal either.

Oxford Goods Shed plans. To see them properly you are going to have to risk the wroth of the GWR and unfasten the binding

Oxford Goods Shed plans. To see them properly you are going to have to risk the wrath of the GWR and unfasten the binding

The first person who asks can have them.

The downside is that we are not posting them. You have to come and fetch them.

The upside is that you have a fine excuse to visit Stamford.

Oxford Goods Shed plans - skylights over cranes

Oxford Goods Shed plans – skylights over cranes


Christmas Shopping

Here are a few ideas for a surprise present for the railway enthusiast, railfan or gricer in your life. A good start to your choice is to look for a recent publication that the recipient hasn’t had a chance to buy for him- or herself – all the books we’ve had new in since March are listed in our Latest Arrivals section. Among the most recent of all are these:

The Railway Goods Shed And Warehouse In England

The Railway Goods Shed And Warehouse In England £14.99. An attractive book which will appeal to anyone with an interest in railway sites and buildings.

From Gridiron To Grassland - the rise and fall of Britain's railway marshalling yards. £34.95.

From Gridiron To Grassland – the rise and fall of Britain’s railway marshalling yards. £34.95. Now made redundant by the use of containers, these huge yards for sorting wagons and assembling goods trains were formerly an essential part of railway operations.

The London Railway Atlas Then And Now. £21.95.  A useful and engrossing atlas. It provides on facing pages a 1921 London railway map in 45 sections, each opposite a 2016 map of the lines and stations of precisely the same area.

The London Railway Atlas Then And Now. £21.95. A useful and engrossing atlas. It provides on facing pages a 1921 London railway map in 45 sections, each opposite a 2016 map of the lines and stations of precisely the same area.

Lines Around Stamford. £18.95. An album of photos (7 supplied by Robert) of our own local railway. An ideal present for anyone living in Stamford or its neighbourhood who is interested in local railway history.

Lines Around Stamford. £18.95. An album of photos (7 supplied by Robert) of our own local railway. An ideal present for anyone living in Stamford or its neighbourhood who is interested in local railway history.

Lucky Thirteen

IMG_2758 cropped

Lautoka No 11 (Fiji). Hudswell Clarke 0-6-0 972 of 1912.

Although we may have counted wrong, it was quite hard to pin them down, storming up the gradient, rotating grandly on the turntable, batting round the loop, double headed, single headed, thirteen engines in steam is an awful lot. Unless it was fourteen. So where do you go to see thirteen engines in steam? Just sixty miles west of Stamford is a remarkable farm which has the usual stuff – farmhouse, fields, barns etc etc –  and one dickens of a narrow gauge railway with all the trimmings:  stations, signal boxes, turntable, workshops, roundhouse, museum. It’s called Statfold Barn and it’s near Tamworth.

The railway is private, obviously, but they have several open days a year. You can’t just turn up (they make this very clear) – you must apply in advance for an invitation. Once you’ve shown your invitation and parked your car in the large field you just stroll over to where all the loud and steamy noises are coming from and join in the fun. The great thing is that visitors have the run of the place. There are no rules, no grey areas. Anywhere they don’t want you to go (assuming there is anywhere) you can’t get into. You can walk round the site, ride on the trains, explore the workshops and roundhouse, have tea in the museum, browse the trade stands and photograph from wherever you like.

Oh well, yes, there is one rule. No children. A pity, but there you go.

And thirteen (or was it fourteen?) engines in steam. Imagine! Here they are:

Sragi No 1. Krauss 0-4-2T 4045 of 1899. Also Minas de Aller No 2 (behind, in cloud of steam).

Sragi No 1. Krauss 0-4-2T 4045 of 1899. Also Minas de Aller No 2 (behind, in cloud of steam).

Minas de Aller No 2.  Corpet 0-6-0PT 439 of 1884. Also Sragi No 1.

Minas de Aller No 2. Corpet 0-6-0PT 439 of 1884. Also Sragi No 1.

Sybil Mary.  Hunslet 0-4-0ST 921 of 1906. Marchlyn behind.

Sybil Mary. Hunslet 0-4-0ST 921 of 1906. Marchlyn behind.

Trangkil No 4, Saccharine.

Trangkil No 4, Saccharine.

From Station Footbridge. Howard, Marchlyn, Max. Rail bus and real bus in background. NB AA searchlight on goods train.

From Station Footbridge. Howard, Marchlyn, Max. Rail bus and real bus in background. Note the anti-aircraft searchlight on the goods train.

Lautoka No 19.  Hudswell Clarke 0-4-0ST 1056 of 1914

Lautoka No 19. Hudswell Clarke 0-4-0ST 1056 of 1914

The railway produces a handsome Guide Book and Stock List, but this was issued in 2014 and does not include all the engines that were working when we went. Alpha and the two Howards are missing. If I’d noticed at the time I’d have photographed their works plates as well, as it is all I have are their names. They may well have been visiting engines as they don’t appear in the list of engines awaiting restoration either.

Howard vertical boiler on lake circuit.

Howard vertical boiler on lake circuit. A close examination of Howard’s works plate suggests a new build. The date appears to be 2007. Alas, no more is legible.




Here are dates and builders of the locomotives not described in the captions:

Marchlyn : Avonside 0-6-0T 2067 of 1933.

Trangkil No 4 : Hunslet 0-4-0ST 3902 of 1971.

Saccharine : John Fowler 0-4-2T 13355 of 1912.

Max (Sragi No 14) : Orenstein & Koppel 0-4-4-0T 10750 of 1923.

End of Statfold Barn Railway Part One

Return next week for Part Two – Museum, workshop and more locomotives.

Howard & goods train passing station signal box

Howard & goods train passing station signal box

GP39. Hudswell Clarke 0-6-0WT 1643 of 1930

GP39. Hudswell Clarke 0-6-0WT 1643 of 1930



Behind the scenes

I was surprised how long it is since I last posted on the blog, and embarrassed to see that I promised a map of how to reach 59 Scotgate from the Station. I made the map some while ago and somewhat optimistically left copies in a stout envelope stuck to the shop window under cover of the arcade, near Cross Country’s ticket machine. As long as the envelope is allowed to remain there I’ll keep it topped up. Meanwhile here is the map itself, if you are planning a train trip to Stamford it might be better to print it off beforehand than to rely on finding a copy still in the envelope.

Route map foot only

Station House continues to keep us busy. By the end of this month we have to have cleared it completely. Of course we have already removed 99.9% of the stock and equipment to 59 Scotgate but you can have no idea the amount of extraneous junk that can be accumulated in a workplace over twenty-nine years. Once we have finished this monumental task we shall hardly know what to do with our time. Or so it seems just now.

Back at 59 Scotgate the one thing we still lack is a signboard. It’s taken rather a while to organise this, but we are keeping our fingers crossed that the new boards will go up next week. This will be a relief because – assuming I get a nice blue sky day to photograph it – I shall at long last be able to update the photos on the web site. Watch this space.

New Books – 2

Our stock of the latest new books arrived safely this afternoon and the Guvnor has enjoyed arranging them on the centre table. He hadn’t quite finished when I took these pictures.







I’m looking forward to adding these to our web site listings. Although you won’t find them on the web site yet, they are all available to order by phone. 01780 766266.

Meanwhile to celebrate I have restored the New Book section of our on-line catalogue, which I had to remove when the stock was boxed up at Station House. On the table I can see at least one book (Andrew Dow’s magisterial treatise on permanent way – The Railway) which you’ll already find on our site.