ACE Trains E/31 Duke of Gloucester 8P 4-6-2 BR No: 71000 Locomotive


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British Railways era.

ACE Trains E/31 Duke of Gloucester 8P 4-6-2 BR No: 71000 Locomotive

The British Railways (BR) Standard Class three cylinder 8P 4-6-2 No: 71000 ‘Duke of Gloucester’ was unique. It has the distinction of being the final version of a heavy crack express passenger locomotive built for BR. Designed by Robert Riddles – the last great British locomotive designer of the 20th century – the ‘Duke’ was basically an enlarged Britannia and in fact a one-off. Built to replace a heavy express locomotive which had been destroyed in an accident, the Duke was the prototype of a new class of express locomotives that were, as it happened, never built – the policy of using ‘modern traction’ (diesel and electric locomotives) being adopted by BR, shortly after the Duke was finished. Duke of Gloucester was the head of the family of BR’s standardised steam locomotives, which were in production throughout the 1950s, and looked it. The Duke was designed to progress BR’s Standard class locomotives which would have served the network until electrification and were intended to be operational until well into the 1970s. It was the only one of the 999 BR standard locomotives to have three cylinders, the others having two; the additional cylinder was necessary to give sufficient total cylinder capacity, without making the two external cylinders too large to fit within the British loading gauge. However, the principle innovation incorporated into the design of the Duke was the adoption of British Caprotti valve gear which had only recently been perfected in 1950, plainly visible externally by the substitution of the levers of traditional locomotive valve gear by rotating Cardan shafts, running on each side of the locomotive from the central driving wheels to the top of the cylinders on both sides.  It turned out that this was totally successful, the Duke possessing the most efficient cylinder design ever fitted to a simple expansion locomotive in the world. The Duke used its steam well.

Unfortunately, the Achilles heel of the Duke of Gloucester turned out to be the locomotive’s inability to make that steam. Because of the change in official BR policy, concentrating all new work on adoption of modern traction, shortly after the Duke was built, no development work was ever carried out to this prototype locomotive during its commercial service. The result was that the Duke retained its reputation of having been a bit of a failure becoming unpopular and not fully appreciated by her crews due to the poor steam characteristics, heavy fuel consumption and an inability to maintain tight running schedules. Notwithstanding, Duke of Gloucester was a highly impressive and powerful engine with its high-sided BR1E tender being unique to this locomotive. Looking similar to the smaller Britannia Class, Duke of Gloucester was the final styling given to steam locomotives in the UK and earned the title of being the last dedicated passenger locomotive to be built eventually emerging from Crewe works to Crewe North (5A) shed, coming into revenue-earning service in 1954 and spending her initial running-in period hauling local trains to Holyhead, Shrewsbury and Manchester.

Despite the mixed reputation the Duke acquired, she was a frequent WCML performer in the 1950s especially to its home depot of Crew North and noted for regularly hauling important trains such as the restaurant car ‘The Mid-Day Scot’ and other Anglo-Scottish services to Perth and Aberdeen. Several shots are recorded of Duke of Gloucester hauling The Mid-Day Scot service in March 1957 with a rake of ex-Stanier blood and custard coaches and in September 1958 with a mix of maroon Mk1 and Stanier stock. Duke of Gloucester was also utilised on boat train workings to and from north Wales which were viewed as less demanding. By 1962 the Duke had been relegated to second-tier duties.

The locomotive had a short operational life of just eight years and was withdrawn from Crewe North shed in December 1962 and placed in store for preservation. However, five years later the Science Museum decided that the entire locomotive was not required to record British Caprotti valve gear for posterity, and so the left hand cylinder and valve gear was removed, and the rest of the locomotive was to be scrapped. The Duke then had its right-hand cylinder removed to balance it for transportation arriving at Barry for cutting up in October 1967. By the time no: 71000 reached Barry, both outside cylinders were missing. On arrival the Duke was only hours away from being cut up at the wrong scrapyard. A photographer took a shot of the loco with all its fittings already removed thinking it would be the last ever record. As he was about to leave he noticed a docket tied to the loco with the destination of Woodham Brothers further down the line. On telling the yard, it was moved to its rightful owner the next day. The rest really is history as fortunately the Duke was never cut up but spent many years languishing before restoration. At the time and by a long way, effectively rebuilding the Duke was the most ambitious restoration project ever attempted. The preservationists have had to make new left and right hand cylinders, each being a mirror image of the other. Thus two individual patterns were required, two different cylinder castings, LHS and RHS had to be made and machined, plus manufacture of the missing motion, valves, pistons and connecting rods.

In restoration phase original construction problems were uncovered: The reason for the Duke’s poor steaming turned out to be simple – the air supply to the fire was overly restricted since an error had been made during manufacture, the locomotive having been fitted with undersized air dampers. This was only noticed when the new ashpan, complete with new air dampers, all of which had been made to the original drawings, – was offered up to the restored boiler – at which point comparison with the remains of the original ashpan made the mistake clear. With the new ashpan, made to the original design, and without any other material alteration from its original as-built condition, the locomotive turned out to be at least the equal of any other express locomotive ever built in the UK. In addition, a redesigned and larger chimney was manufactured and fitted to the Duke enabling her to perform as Riddles originally intended as the most advanced steam locomotive design in Britain.

No: 71000 was eventually restored to full operational condition in 1987 courtesy of enthusiasts based at the Great Central Railway (GCR) at Loughborough. The restoration work unlocked the locomotive’s true potential and resulted in the most powerful and most economical heavy express steam locomotive ever to have run in Britain. No: 71000 Duke of Gloucester is not merely now better than ever, she is also now better than any other British locomotive. She was officially re-commissioned by HRH Prince Richard Duke of Gloucester in November 1986. Duke of Gloucester remains Loughborough based having rewritten railway history with many high-performing outings such as ‘The Carillon Special’ on the mainline in the intervening years establishing a reputation for high-speed running and feats of heavy haulage with steam to spare and power in reserve such as hauling over the most difficult sections of the Settle to Carlisle line. The locomotive appropriately participated in the summer 1987 Crewe 150 celebrations.

The ACE version will incorporate the three sets of British Caprotti rotary-cam poppet valve gears and will run with a high-sided tender similar to the Scottish Britannias. This fabulous looking locomotive will be ideal for running with the new ACE C/13 BR Mk I blood and custard coaches and with the earlier C/13 BR maroon stock with matching ‘Mid-Day Scot’ coach boards.

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