Edward Thompson. Good or Bad

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Hatfield Shed
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Re: Edward Thompson. Good or Bad

Post by Hatfield Shed » Fri Dec 23, 2011 4:52 pm

mick b wrote:...Son in law of Sir Vincent Raven CME of the NER who DIDNT get the job at the LNER ...
There's the heart of the problem. He had worked systematically for the position of CME at the NER, had a good WWI service record; and then his career map is simply destroyed by the grouping. From heir apparent at one of the most prosperous pre-group companies, to not even really considered for the post on the LNER and nothing he can do about it. Robinson's great success with the 8K/ROD spoke for itself, although Gresley's A1 for the GNR had the greatest development 'stretch' potential of any locomotive then existing in the UK. Against which Thompson had no design to his credit, simply poor timing from his perspective, he hadn't then succeeded Raven.

Once the dust settles, he finds himself not completely in sympathy with his new chief, and Gresley's right hand man is Bulleid. That's bad enough, but then Gresley goes on to success after success; and of course when Thompson does good work like the B12/3 development, it's Gresley's design. It's Bulleid who gets the call when the Southern want a new CME...

The kind of people who can realistically hope for top jobs in any field typically have quite an ego; it is a necessity, and Thompson's took a beating. Clearly he had career ambitions, when he finally got the post, he told people he only had a short time to implement his scheme (because of retirement) and that too influenced the quality of design. There wasn't a twenty plus year tenure ahead to carefully work things out, if his complete loco scheme for the LNER were to be realised he needed them designed and building within five or six years.

So the designs are got out in rapid time. Syntheses of existing proven parts work well : Doncaster knew how to design and build cheap and effective boilers, excellent steam circuits, good gear and exhaust systems. When variation away from past designs is attempted the results are mixed. Had there been time to work up the more novel aspects and eliminate the weaknesses before general production his record would look better. But time was against him, and in terms of reputation, a predecessor who has deservedly made the headlines for twenty peacetime years is going to cast a very long shadow. Even Peppercorn's well liked pacifics subsequently never acquired the 'glow' that surrounded the Gresley designs...

Not a bad guy at all, just massively hampered by circumstances.

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Re: Edward Thompson. Good or Bad

Post by Coronach » Fri Dec 23, 2011 7:10 pm

If there was a 'like' button here, I'd be marking that post up now; a good pragmatic summary of the sort that has unfairly been denied from the man for the most part. :)

Dave.
"If they say it's good, we know it's bad; if they say it's bad, we know it's good." - Jimmy Reid.

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strang steel
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Re: Edward Thompson. Good or Bad

Post by strang steel » Fri Dec 23, 2011 7:45 pm

I am currently reading the Grafton biography, and Thompson does not come over as a particularly likeable character, however much the author has attempted to counter the criticisms.

He comes over as very autocratic, and doesn't suffer fools gladly - the precise opposite in fact. I once had a boss very much like that and while he was very good to those who excelled in the job, he could ruin, in minutes, the confidence of those he considered not so competent.

I get the distinct impression that he saw some of Gresley's products as over engineering just for the sake of it, and that the two men were obviously not close friends.

But as has been mentioned many times above, the circumstances when Thompson took office were far removed from the heady days of the early 30s when design could take priority over efficiency.

I do believe that Great Northern was chosen deliberately in order to say to the world 'this loco embodies the engineering principles of Edward Thompson' and for a 6' 2" rebuild experiment it was mostly a success. It may have looked hideous to C J Allen, but that is to miss the point of the exercise.

I think that personal views on Thompson will always be clouded by one's opinion on everything that Gresley produced.
John

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S.A.C. Martin
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Re: Edward Thompson. Good or Bad

Post by S.A.C. Martin » Fri Dec 23, 2011 9:03 pm

I don't think anyone could argue that Thompson was a nice person in the office at the best of times, though I feel somewhat saddened whenever I read the passage about Gresley and Thompson having dinner together after Gresley's wife died. There was clearly a difference of opinion and some resentment in some quarters from Thompson towards Gresley's engineering and partially Gresley's own behaviour (the dressing down of Thompson in front of his subordinates, regarding a 4-4-0 rebuilding is particularly important to reflect on here), but despite all of those differences, Thompson had the man round for a long weekend after his wife died, he and his wife entertaining Gresley to the point where HN Gresley gave a signed photograph of himself to Mrs Thompson, as a leaving present! Is this the mark of a man who detested his superior so?

Yes, Thompson was autocratic, bitter in some quarters, and many other areas besides, but there is such a mindset to run him down as to make him out to be the vilest of persons, determined in his view to "rid the LNER of Gresley", and the evidence does not support that view whichever way you look at it.

Great Northern was his 6ft 8in Pacific - undoubtedly chosen to showcase his engineering in the same manner Gresley did with the original. I wonder if we would say it was an ugly locomotive, or poor, if it had been fitted with the streamlined casing in the style of Gresley that had been planned for it. Probably not - it might have been more accepted as a natural progression in terms of the three sets of walschaerts valve gear.

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Re: Edward Thompson. Good or Bad

Post by Coronach » Fri Dec 23, 2011 9:24 pm

There was apparently little material left from the original loco and although it was called a re-build, I believe this was a way of bypassing wartime restrictions to produce what was effectively a completely new engine.
And a very good one at that.
As to certain aspects of Thompson's nature, perhaps we are judging those against the standards of our own age. Let's not forget that there were different social protocols in those days and that Thompson himself was a product of the English boarding school system which could be rather severe at times.

Dave.
"If they say it's good, we know it's bad; if they say it's bad, we know it's good." - Jimmy Reid.

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Re: Edward Thompson. Good or Bad

Post by strang steel » Fri Dec 23, 2011 9:41 pm

Possibly, but throwing a metal paperweight through your office window just because your office is too warm, does not strike me as the reaction of a completely balanced and rational mind.
John

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Re: Edward Thompson. Good or Bad

Post by S.A.C. Martin » Fri Dec 23, 2011 9:48 pm

strang steel wrote:Possibly, but throwing a metal paperweight through your office window just because your office is too warm, does not strike me as the reaction of a completely balanced and rational mind.
Can you give me the page number or name of the section you read that John, and in what context (i.e. time period), please?

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Re: Edward Thompson. Good or Bad

Post by strang steel » Fri Dec 23, 2011 9:53 pm

Page 30 in my edition.

Early 1930s, while AME at Stratford.
John

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Re: Edward Thompson. Good or Bad

Post by Coronach » Fri Dec 23, 2011 10:02 pm

Well, I've booted a Bisley cabinet and damn near broke my toe once when the office photocopier went belly up at the worst possible moment. Good dent in the Bisley though...
Thompson was an essentially private character and it's quite possible he was a bit depressive.
I did pulverise a wayward wagon kit once. It wasn't going to plan in an enormously frustrating way and fell victim to a conveniently lying clawhammer! :twisted:

Dave.
"If they say it's good, we know it's bad; if they say it's bad, we know it's good." - Jimmy Reid.

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Re: Edward Thompson. Good or Bad

Post by S.A.C. Martin » Sat Dec 24, 2011 12:01 am

strang steel wrote:Page 30 in my edition.

Early 1930s, while AME at Stratford.
Thanks very much John. Just gone back and re-read that - to be fair, I think in the full context of that section, it does say quite categorically why he felt the need to do so - having suffered jaundice and been neurotic over his health thereafter, you can understand to some extent the mindset if it was always in his thoughts.

I don't condone the action, but I can understand the context it is placed in.

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Re: Edward Thompson. Good or Bad

Post by strang steel » Sat Dec 24, 2011 10:50 am

Yes, but please dont get me wrong. I am not in any way against the chap; in fact I like his simple but efficient designs for the B1, L1, O1 etc, but the thread title was Thompson, good or bad? and I think the truth is somewhere in between.

He seems to have been quite calculating in certain decisions, such as ordering 300 B1s with outside contractors just prior to his retirement, safe in the knowledge that it would be much less likely that his successor could cancel them, than if they were to be built 'in-house'.

Of course, Yeadon argues that the B1s were more Gresley than not, with K2 cylinders, O2 chimney, V2 coupled wheels and a boiler which Gresley had drawn up in 1939.

It is a fascinating subject and the more I read about it, the more interesting it gets.
John

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Re: Edward Thompson. Good or Bad

Post by Hatfield Shed » Sat Dec 24, 2011 1:14 pm

This makes the point about using proven parts. The Thompson designs which drew most heavily on established practise (B1, O1, K1) were first class locomotives. The component parts were all proven, and performed. (Aside here: had Gresley been authorised to 'spend a little more' on the new medium goods design at the LNER's inception, the J38/39 series could have been effectively a K1: the first proposal was an update of the K2 using what had been learned from the K3. How differently things might have developed had that been the case. Thus was Gresley's reputation damaged by the financial difficulties the LNER experienced.)

Thompson's reputation as CME is damaged by the more novel designs. He had off the shelf the excellent boiler, steam circuit, valves and cylinders of the A4s, no problem making a loco develop power and go fast with those. But he wanted a different chassis arrangement, which was less compact and led to dynamic troubles at speed and associated mechanical failures. That's not clever: a retrograde step when compared to the best of what had gone before. The apologists who cite the A1/1 as superior to the Gresley A1 miss the point: two whole development cycles had produced from that starting point a locomotive which the A1/1 in no way even equalled. The first criterion of successful development is 'better than the best predecessor', that's what justifies the investment.

He could have fitted the inside Walschaerts gear to an otherwise largely unaltered A3/A4 layout and had a triumph...

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Re: Edward Thompson. Good or Bad

Post by Blink Bonny » Sat Dec 24, 2011 5:29 pm

Hatfield Shed wrote: He could have fitted the inside Walschaerts gear to an otherwise largely unaltered A3/A4 layout and had a triumph...
You've definitely got a point there, Hatfield. And the bit about proven components bringing about good designs. Where did he go wrong with the L1 though? Why did they knock themselves to bits like they did? Basically they should have behaved like a tank version of the K1.

Brings me back to an earlier question I asked - did Peppercorn alter the K1 design other than aesthetic platework?
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Re: Edward Thompson. Good or Bad

Post by strang steel » Sun Dec 25, 2011 10:42 am

No, as far as I can gather Peppercorn did very little to the K1s apart from a bit of tidying up.

Thompson appears to me to be a person who left the LNER with a great legacy of a range of efficient and easy to maintain locomotives in the space of just 5 years, which is no mean feat in itself, but considering that there was a war on as well..... IMHO, he should be seen as more of a hero rather than a villain.

And obviously a very brave man; who else would have dared tackle the expense of the P2s? 96lbs of coal a mile? I just hope the enthusiasts who are considering building a new one will take that into account when they do their sums.
John

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Re: Edward Thompson. Good or Bad

Post by S.A.C. Martin » Sun Dec 25, 2011 11:28 am

strang steel wrote:No, as far as I can gather Peppercorn did very little to the K1s apart from a bit of tidying up.

Thompson appears to me to be a person who left the LNER with a great legacy of a range of efficient and easy to maintain locomotives in the space of just 5 years, which is no mean feat in itself, but considering that there was a war on as well..... IMHO, he should be seen as more of a hero rather than a villain.
And this is the thing. All you ever read in the railway press is how bad Thompson was for the LNER - very little acknowledging he was working under incredible pressure in the worst of circumstances. He was not a perfect man: no one is denying that he had some issues, and could be petty and abrasive.

But to have taken the LNER through a war, producing new designs which worked from standard components, and rebuilding where it was needed, and out the other side, must show a depth of character and resilience worthy of some accolade.

Yet all we ever hear and read in the magazines, is how bad he was. I find that appalling, personally. :(
And obviously a very brave man; who else would have dared tackle the expense of the P2s? 96lbs of coal a mile? I just hope the enthusiasts who are considering building a new one will take that into account when they do their sums.
I think, given the experience with Tornado thus far, that won't be a problem, given the efficiency of what will become the standard 118a boiler for the A1 Trust. This year's workings after the time out for remedial work hasn't thrown up any new problems, so far, which is both something of a relief for us covenators and supporters, and proof to some extent that - as with any new design - you just need to work out the kinks first.

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