If I may venture a further theory; there is one locomotive which encompasses the design ethos of two railway companies, but which is almost always decried, dismissed, or vilified to the extent that it was supposedly to the detriment of the LNER and a slight on Gresley. But I will come back to that shortly.
Thompson spent most of his working life on the GNR and LNER. If he did not have an appreciation of the GNR and the locomotives/rolling stock it had, then I would argue that, like Stanier, he could have gone into the job, "wiped the slate clean" and started with a completely blank piece of paper, producing locomotive designs based on practice from elsewhere. Like Stanier, no standardized designs in the sense that they all shared a vast amount of interchangeable between many classes instead of a few.
Yet Thompson's reign is almost solely based on using and utilizing as many existing and standardized components to produce adequate and standardized designs. Some of his locomotives, the L1 for example, could be argued used too many standardized components and produced a locomotive class which was not entirely up to the task, but the fact remains that all of his rebuilds and new builds utilized already existing locomotive classes and specific components.
The Pacifics, A2/1 and A2/2, used already existing locomotives and components from specific classes to produce new designs. He rebuilt a D49 into the D class engine by using D11 components. Of that particular experiment, no more were rebuilt in that manner, but the Q4 tender engines were rebuilt into the useful Q1s and using mostly J50 components to that end.
The B1s and rebuilt B17s, the B2s, all shared common components and a case in point, the almost standard Thompson 100A boiler was used across a variety of rebuilds of various classes after in many respects, the ideas being tested out on the B12/4s and B12/3s in the 30s whilst working at Stratford.
So where did this policy of standardization come from? Having worked on the GNR and LNER where Gresley’s designs certainly had a degree of standardization, but not to the extent of the GWR, for example, Thompson’s policies are certainly a world away from Gresley’s thinking and most people would argue are a result of austerity during the second world war. On that point, I would not doubt there is a degree of that in there, however something clicked with me yesterday when I was reading about another locomotive engineer, and suddenly it all made sense.
Thompson was not influenced in his design policy by the NER in any way. It was predominantly GER.
Both in terms of the overall style of the aesthetics of his engines, and in the standardized components between classes, Thompson was a GER man through and through, and the evidence lies in that sole A1/1 locomotive, Great Northern, which also serves as a case in point as to why he kept both the name and the number of the prototype intact despite the “rebuild”.
Thompson served at Stratford works for eleven years from 1930-41 as the workshop manager. He had access to, and indeed worked on, a vast majority of the James Holden locomotive designs. He led the design team which helped Gresley rebuild the Stephen Holden B12s, and there’s little doubt that he observed studiously the lengths to which Holden Senior had standardized his locomotive fleet in terms of particular components. The Holden D14 (later rebuilt by Gresley as the D16/3 – and who had access to the D16s for these rebuilds?), for example, shared boilers with the J17 0-6-0s. Cylinder sizes were also reused between similar Holden machines.
James Holden’s policies are quoted as being “[he] developed T.W. Worsdell's designs, but also incorporated a high level of standardisation. Many parts on his locomotives were interchangeable”.
Is this any different to Thompson’s approach to Gresley?
But the most damning piece of evidence for me is Great Northern. If Thompson really disliked Gresley, in such a manner that he would have seen fit to remove all of Gresley’s designs from the planet – then scrapping 4470 and not replacing it, nor perpetrating the name would have been the obvious, most brutal revenge on a man he hated.
But he did not hate Gresley. They disagreed, vociferously: there was no doubt some level of resentment and Thompson clearly did not take very well to being slapped down by Gresley on occasion (see the D20 rebuild for full details).
He would not have taken on the Great Northern name if he had truly hated Gresley – after all, the GNR WAS Gresley. Great Northern, 4470, WAS Gresley. And in one engine, we actually see the evidence of a man who thought in the same manner as James Holden – “It is good, but I can do better” – and “I will standardize locomotive components for ease of maintenance”.
This was why he rebuilt 4470, and but not why he kept the name. Clearly he too, had love of the GNR, though undoubtedly it could be argued that the board’s reaction to scrapping an engine of such high standing in history would have been adversarial at best.
I had always wondered for many years – WHY Great Eastern Prussian blue on Great Northern – but now I think I know why.
The above is not evidence, it is at best circumstantial, but I believe – because it makes perfect sense to me – that Edward Thompson had an affinity with the work done by James Holden on the GER.
His own engineering policies and designs echoed Holden in so many ways that I have begun writing down the parallels, and there are many. The choice of livery on 4470, if not proof, is a symbol of his thinking.
It is a symbol of all of his work at Stratford, surrounded by GER locomotives and people of GER thinking. His locomotive designs, undoubtedly born out of the principles of engineering he saw on a daily basis for eleven years. The D Class model I have been working on has been described as “GER” like now by nearly a dozen different people on various forums – coincidence, or deliberate in Edward Thompson’s engineering? The development of a go anywhere, powerful 4-6-0 – was the B1 not simply a B12 re-envisioned?
More and more I believe that Edward Thompson has been damned, and misunderstood entirely, and in this sudden realization that there may be a collation between his tenure with the LNER as CME and that he experienced at Stratford in the 30s, the unusual choice of livery for Great Northern seems explainable, as does the rest of his thinking.
There is no doubt his engineering was a world away from Gresley’s, but crucially he did not think so little of Gresley that the major layouts of the locomotives and big engine policy changed so drastically as has been described; nor do I think Thompson was so vile and twisted that he chose 4470 out of spite.
4470’s rebuilding was the “peak” for Thompson – his 6ft 8in express passenger locomotive, incorporating his engineering policy (taken thusly from Holden’s practice on the GER), but keeping the fundamentals of the GNR – the bits which worked (sic), hence the livery – hence the keeping of the name, and hence the choice of THAT engine.
Do I have evidence for his thinking? No. Not yet. I do not have the evidence. It is, as stated earlier, mostly circumstantial and joined up thinking. Is it more plausible than Thompson as an NER sympathizer? I think so, but that does not make it any more relevant than previous thoughts.