Locomotives of the GCR

At the turn of the century, there was a desperate shortage of motive power; in keeping with several other railways at the time, the GCR bought 20 American Baldwin 2-6-0s and designated them Class 15. They were a short lived class, the last being scrapped in 1915. In 1901, Locomotive & Marine Engineer, Harry Pollitt, resigned and John George Robinson was recruited from the Waterford, Limerick & Western Railway of Ireland as Locomotive Engineer. Robinson had served his apprenticeship at Swindon. He became one of the great locomotive engineers of his time and served the GCR until the Grouping at which point he took retirement but was retained as a consultant. Within a short time of taking office, he started the modernisation and replacement of the locomotive fleet. Robinson impressed the board and in 1902, after the Carriage & Wagon Superintendent was asked to leave, Robinson took over those duties with the new title of Chief Mechanical Engineer.

The first Robinson design was the 9J (LNER J11) 0-6-0 goods engines, which first appeared in the year he took office. They were fondly known as "Pom-Poms" which likened the exhaust note to the quick-firing cannons of the time. New designs followed rapidly. A notable class was the 8A (LNER Q4) 0-8-0 goods engines of 1902. These set the trend for Robinson to become known as a "big engine" designer. Locomotives for most jobs were designed by Robinson ranging from small 0-6-0 tanks through to 4-6-0 express passenger engines to heavy goods designs and the large 0-8-4 Wath hump shunting engines; designs incorporating two, three and four cylinders and a few compounds. It has to be said that many of the designs were not as successful as they might have been but several designs were outstanding, and the Class 11F (LNER D11) 4-4-0 "Improved Directors" were probably the best. It has been suggested that Robinson did not incorporate a large enough grate on many of his big engines. Although Robinson introduced the concept of standardisation, nevertheless, he produced many variants on a theme. For instance, he designed nine classes of 4-6-0, admittedly the variation between some was minimal, such as different coupled wheel diameter. There were also four classes of "Atlantics" (not counting 4-4-2 tanks). His 1911 heavy freight 8K (LNER O4) 2-8-0 was a huge success being adopted during the First World War as a standard goods engine for the Railway Operating Division (ROD) of the British Army Royal Engineers. A total of 521 8Ks were built by both the GCR and contractors. After the war, the surplus locomotives were bought by several British railway companies including the GWR and the LNWR; some remained overseas.

Passenger comfort was well catered for by Robinson's carriages including the North American influenced "Barnums". Notable freight vehicles included bogie coal wagons of thirty and forty tons capacity.

Robinson was a great innovator and inventor. Among his inventions, and probably the best known is his superheater which Gresley later standardised for the LNER. He also patented a superheater for marine boilers. Another patent was for his "Intensifore" force-feed sight lubricator.

Other Robinson experiments were with fuel; pulverised coal and colloidal fuel, which was a mixture of oil and coal dust, were tried. Amongst his planned designs which never came to fruition were for a four cylinder 2-10-2, intended for running coal trains between Wath and Immingham, and a 0-10-2 tank for banking Worsborough incline; there had also been an earlier Baldwin 2-10-2 design which came about after a visit to the USA by Robinson and others.

At Grouping (1923), the GCR locomotive stock consisted of 923 tender engines, 435 tank engines, 1 petrol-electric railcar, and 16 electric tram cars.

After Grouping, Gresley paid Robinson a great compliment by ordering more Class 11F "Improved Directors" for use in Scotland, although they were received with the usual wariness by locomotive crews and their performance was not helped by Cowlairs fitting small anti-vacuum valves.


Thank you to Richard Barron for the above information.