The Robinson Class B1 / B18 (GCR Class 8C) 4-6-0s

Robinson Class B1 GCR No. 196 works photo (M.Peirson)

At the turn of the century, the Great Central Railway (GCR) used 4-4-0s for its main express services. Although these could handle the relatively light traffic, management was attempting to attract traffic with fast schedules. Hence, in 1903 Robinson adopted a big engine policy. Robinson appears to have been taking notice of Churchward's advances at the GWR, but this policy was also advantageous to the GCR and its heavily graded lines. Robinson started by ordering two 4-4-2s (LNER Class C4) and the two Class B1 (GCR Class 8C) 4-6-0s from Beyer Peacock & Co. for comparisons to be made. Design work was performed by Beyer Peacock and based on Robinson's B5 4-6-0 design. The two new B1s were virtually identical although No. 195 had 19.5in diameter cylinders compared to No. 196's 19in diameter cylinders.

The firebox was notably shallow due to the height of the rear driving axle. This required dexterity on the part of the fireman, to get the coal below the brick arch and to the back of the firebox. The firebox also featured a shallow ashpan only 7in deep at the back. This combined with the lack of a rear damper could lead to a significant lack of air for combustion at the rear of the grate. Evidence of this being listed as a problem has not been found, and it should be noted that the ten B4s were later ordered with the same firebox design.

The experiments led to the decision to build further Atlantics (4-4-2s) rather than 4-6-0s, due to their freer running. This is the opposite of Churchward's decision to build 4-6-0s, although Churchward was designing locomotives for gradients even steeper than on the GCR. Therefore no more B1s were built, but further batches of the C4 4-4-2s were built. Interestingly, although the B1s and B4s never had their shallow fireboxes corrected, the new C4s were built with deeper fireboxes and a better shaped ashpan.

The B1s were originally saturated. Although Robinson is noted for designing an extremely successful superheater which would go on to become an LNER Group Standard, he was slow to fit it to his older designs. This may have been due to such factors as economy and the availability of suitable interchangeable boilers. No. 195 was fitted with a superheated boiler in 1912 but this was removed in 1920. Shortly after Grouping (1923), a superheated boiler was designed which was similar to the Diagram 15 boiler used on the GCR Atlantics and the O4 2-8-0s but with a shallower firebox. This was fitted to the two B1s and all ten B4s.

Both B1s needed their chimneys reduced to fit the LNER Composite Loading Gauge. This was only found necessary if they were to travel in the Great Eastern (GE) Section or the Scottish Section, so conversion was delayed until the 1930s when electrification of the Manchester-Sheffield-Wath line was being planned. During the 1920s, the B1s were fitted with LNER standard chimneys (considered ugly by many). To eventually come within the loading gauge in 1930s, a short but GCR-styled chimney was used instead.

During the comparisons, the two B1s were based at Gorton with the C4s. After the comparisons were completed, they tended to move around with no long-term fixed allocation. Early allocations included hauling the Sheffield to Grantham section of the Manchester to King's Cross expresses. By Grouping in 1923, they were both allocated to Immingham to haul secondary passenger services in the area. From the mid-1920s to 1940 they were allocated to either Neasden or Woodford, and were often loaned to Leicester which tended to be short of locomotives. In 1940, both B1s were moved to Colwick. After two months, No. 5916 was moved back to Leicester where it was used on stopping trains to Grantham. No. 5195 was used as a station pilot at Nottingham Victoria. Both locomotives would work at both Colwick and Leicester until 1946 when they were moved to Annesley.

Considering it was an experimental type, the B1s lasted a long time. They were reclassified B18 in 1943 to make room for Thompson's standard B1 design. The decision to withdraw the GCR's 4-6-0s shortly afterwards and the B18s were the amongst the first to be scrapped in 1947.

Technical Details

Due to the many differences, both B1s are listed in the table below:

No. 5195 No. 5196
Cylinders: (2x outside) 21x26in. 19x26in.
Motion: Gear: Stephenson Stephenson
Valves: 10in piston slide
Boiler: Max. Diameter: 5ft 5ft
Pressure: 180psi 180psi
Heating Surface: Total: 1951 sq.ft. 1951 sq.ft.
Firebox: 133 sq.ft. 133 sq.ft.
Tubes: 1818 sq.ft. (226x 2in dia) 1818 sq.ft. (226x 2in dia)
Grate Area: 26.24 sq.ft. 26.24 sq.ft.
Wheels: Leading: 3ft 6in 3ft 6in
Coupled: 6ft 9in 6ft 9in
Tender: 4ft 4in 4ft 4in
Tractive Effort: (@ 85%) 21,658lb 17,729lb
Wheelbase: Total: 51ft 10in 51ft 10in
Engine: 26ft 9.5in 26ft 9.5in
Tender: 13ft 0in 13ft 0in
Max. Axle Load: 18 tons 10 cwt 18 tons 10 cwt
Weight (full): Total: 121 tons 4 cwt 119 tons 60cwt
Engine: 72 tons 18 cwt 71 tons 0 cwt
Tender: 48 tons 6 cwt 48 tons 6 cwt


The B18s were withdrawn in 1947 and none survived into preservation.


4mm kits of the B1 are available from The Kit Connection and Great Central Models.

A 7mm scale kit of the B1 is available from DMR.


Thank you to Malcolm Peirson for the works photograph of GCR No. 196.