Webb, Francis William

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b. 21 May 1836 Tixall, Staffordshire, England
d. 4 June 1906 Bournemouth, England
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English locomotive engineer who pioneered compound locomotives in Britain and the use of steel for boilers.
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Webb was a pupil at Crewe Works, London \& North Western Railway (LNWR), under F. Trevithick (son of Richard Trevithick), and was subsequently placed in charge of the works under Trevithick's successor, J.Ramsbottom. After a brief spell away from the LNWR, Webb returned in 1871 and was made Chief Mechanical Engineer, a post he held until his retirement in 1904.
Webb's initial designs included the highly successful "Precedent" or "Jumbo" class 2– 4–0, from which the example Hardwicke (now preserved by the National Railway Museum, York) achieved an average speed of 67.2 mph (108.1 km/h) between Crewe and Carlisle in 1895. His 0–6–0 "coal engines" were straightforward and cheap and were built in large numbers. In 1879 Webb, having noted the introduction of compound locomotives in France by J.T.A. Mallet, rebuilt an existing 2–2–2 locomotive as a two-cylinder compound. Then in 1882, seeking fuel economy and the suppression of coupling rods, he produced a compound locomotive to his own design, the 2–2, 2–0 Experiment, in which two outside high-pressure cylinders drove the rear driving-wheels, and a single inside large-diameter low-pressure cylinder drove the front driving-wheels. This was followed by a large number of compound locomotives: three successive classes of 2–2, 2–0s; some 2–2, 2–2s; some 4–4–0s; and some 0–8–0s for goods traffic. Although these were capable of good performance, their overall value was controversial: Webb, who was notoriously autocratic, may never have been fully informed of their defects, and after his retirement most were quickly scrapped. Webb made many other innovations during his career, one of the most important being the construction of boilers from steel rather than wrought iron.
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Further Reading
C.Hamilton Ellis, 1958, Twenty Locomotive Men, Shepperton: Ian Allan, Ch. 14 (describes Webb's career).
E.L.Ahrons, 1927, The British Steam Railway Locomotive 2825–1925, London: The Locomotive Publishing Co., Chs 18 and 20 (includes a critique of Webb's compound locomotives).
PJGR

Biographical history of technology. - Taylor & Francis e-Librar. . 2005.

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