John Speller's Web Pages Collett Locomotives

John Speller's Web Pages

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Charles Benjamin Collett (1871-1952) was Chief Mechanical Engineer of the Great Western Railway from 1922 until his forced retirement in 1941. His first 4-6-0 locomotive, No. 4073 "Caerphilly Castle" emerged from Swindon Works and was exhibited at the Wembley Exhibition of 1924 where it was claimed on the basis of tractive effort to be the most powerful passenger engine in Britain. This claim was questioned by the LNER, which prompted the Locomotive Exchange of 1925 in which No. 4079 "Pendennis Castle" beat the socks off an LNER "A-1" Pacific. The "Castle" Class continued to be built until 1950 and eventually totalled 166 locomotives. The other railways were not, however, to be outdone, and in 1926 the Southern Railway produced the 4-6-0 "Lord Nelson" Class, which was even more powerful than the "Castle" Class. This prompted the General Manager, Sir Felix Pole, to ask Swindon to produce a locomotive with a tractive effort in excess of 40,000 lb. The first of this new class, No. 6000 "King George V" emerged from Swindon Works in 1927. It toured the United States in 1929 and took part in the cavalcade of locomotives at the Baltimore & Ohio's centenary celebration.

In 1924 Collett rebuilt Churchward 4-6-0 No. 2925 "Saint Martin" with 6' 0" wheels as the prototype of his "Hall" Class, which with its higher tractive effort proved very useful as a mixed traffic locomotive, especially on the South Devon banks. Including the "Modified Hall" Class introduced by Hawksworth in 1944, this class eventually amounted to 330 engines, and was the most plentiful 4-6-0 locomotive on the GWR.

Several of Collett's designs were development of earlier designs. Thus, for example, his "1366" Class Dock Tank 0-6-0PTs were a development of Churchward's "1361" Class 0-6-0STs, themselves based in turn on a Cornwall Minerals Railway design of 1874. The very successful "2251" Class 0-6-0 locomotives were based on Dean's equally successful "Standard Goods" Class. The epitome of GWR branch line engines, the "14xx" Class 0-4-2Ts were based on George Armstrong's earlier Wolverhampton "517" Class. The "14xx" Class were capable of a maximum speed of 80 m.p.h. with a light train, which is more than the diesel multiple units which replaced them could achieve.

The desire for a light 4-4-0 to work expresses on the former Cambrian Railways system, including the Cambrian Coast Express, led to the design of the "Earl" or "Dukedog" Class, using parts of scrapped Dean "Bulldog" and "Dukedog" 4-4-0s. This was the last design of double-framed locomotives produced in Britain. At this time a request came from the Board that some express locomotives should be named after Directors. Collett wickedly decided to make the "Dukedogs" into the "Earl" Class and named them after Directors. The Directors were horrified to find their names on such old-fashioned looking engines and Collett was instructed to remove the names. He accordingly put them onto "Castle" Class locomotives, which is probably what he had been planning to do all along. But meanwhile he had had his joke ... Preserved "Dukedog" No. 9017 has subsequently had its name "Earl of Berkeley" restored.

Perhaps Collett's most successful design was the ubiquitous "57xx" Class of 0-6-0 pannier tanks, of which over 750 were eventually built, making them the most numerous class of locomotives in the history of the GWR. Another 0-6-0PT with larger driving wheels for light passenger work, the "64xx" Class, was rebuilt from an old George Armstrong 0-6-0ST. Also noteworthy was the "56xx" Class of 0-6-2 tanks, built for the South Wales coal lines, and his "72xx" Class 2-8-2 tanks, rebuilt from Churchward's "42xx" Class.

Perhaps the least known of Collett's designs, perhaps one of the least known of all Great Western locomotives, was the "1101" Class 0-4-0T of dock shunters, of which 5 were built by the Avonside Engine Co. in 1926.

For Collett's later designs, see the John Auld webpage. A fine run from Newport to Salisbury by now preserved "Castle" Class No. 5029 "Nunney Castle when still in traffic in 1963 may be seen here.
GWR "Castle" Class 4-6-0 No. 4079 "Pendennis Castle" with LNER "A-1" Class No. 4475 "Flying Fox" at King's Cross during the Locomotive Exchanges of 1925
GWR Photograph of No. 5700, first of Collett's ubiquitous "57xx" Pannier Tanks.
The 30xx Class (later 90xx) "Earl" Class were the last double-framed engines built in Britain. No. 9017 "Earl of Berkeley" is shown at Horsted Keynes. Photograph courtesy of Wikipedia Commons
Collett 0-4-2T "14xx" Class Auto Tank No. 1466
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