Gresley, Sir Herbert Nigel

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b. 19 June 1876 Edinburgh, Scotland
d. 5 April 1941 Hertford, England
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English mechanical engineer, designer of the A4-class 4–6–2 locomotive holding the world speed record for steam traction.
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Gresley was the son of the Rector of Netherseale, Derbyshire; he was educated at Marlborough and by the age of 13 was skilled at making sketches of locomotives. In 1893 he became a pupil of F.W. Webb at Crewe works, London \& North Western Railway, and in 1898 he moved to Horwich works, Lancashire \& Yorkshire Railway, to gain drawing-office experience under J.A.F.Aspinall, subsequently becoming Foreman of the locomotive running sheds at Blackpool. In 1900 he transferred to the carriage and wagon department, and in 1904 he had risen to become its Assistant Superintendent. In 1905 he moved to the Great Northern Railway, becoming Superintendent of its carriage and wagon department at Doncaster under H.A. Ivatt. In 1906 he designed and produced a bogie luggage van with steel underframe, teak body, elliptical roof, bowed ends and buckeye couplings: this became the prototype for East Coast main-line coaches built over the next thirty-five years. In 1911 Gresley succeeded Ivatt as Locomotive, Carriage \& Wagon Superintendent. His first locomotive was a mixed-traffic 2–6–0, his next a 2–8–0 for freight. From 1915 he worked on the design of a 4–6–2 locomotive for express passenger traffic: as with Ivatt's 4 4 2s, the trailing axle would allow the wide firebox needed for Yorkshire coal. He also devised a means by which two sets of valve gear could operate the valves on a three-cylinder locomotive and applied it for the first time on a 2–8–0 built in 1918. The system was complex, but a later simplified form was used on all subsequent Gresley three-cylinder locomotives, including his first 4–6–2 which appeared in 1922. In 1921, Gresley introduced the first British restaurant car with electric cooking facilities.
With the grouping of 1923, the Great Northern Railway was absorbed into the London \& North Eastern Railway and Gresley was appointed Chief Mechanical Engineer. More 4–6– 2s were built, the first British class of such wheel arrangement. Modifications to their valve gear, along lines developed by G.J. Churchward, reduced their coal consumption sufficiently to enable them to run non-stop between London and Edinburgh. So that enginemen might change over en route, some of the locomotives were equipped with corridor tenders from 1928. The design was steadily improved in detail, and by comparison an experimental 4–6–4 with a watertube boiler that Gresley produced in 1929 showed no overall benefit. A successful high-powered 2–8–2 was built in 1934, following the introduction of third-class sleeping cars, to haul 500-ton passenger trains between Edinburgh and Aberdeen.
In 1932 the need to meet increasing road competition had resulted in the end of a long-standing agreement between East Coast and West Coast railways, that train journeys between London and Edinburgh by either route should be scheduled to take 8 1/4 hours. Seeking to accelerate train services, Gresley studied high-speed, diesel-electric railcars in Germany and petrol-electric railcars in France. He considered them for the London \& North Eastern Railway, but a test run by a train hauled by one of his 4–6–2s in 1934, which reached 108 mph (174 km/h), suggested that a steam train could better the railcar proposals while its accommodation would be more comfortable. To celebrate the Silver Jubilee of King George V, a high-speed, streamlined train between London and Newcastle upon Tyne was proposed, the first such train in Britain. An improved 4–6–2, the A4 class, was designed with modifications to ensure free running and an ample reserve of power up hill. Its streamlined outline included a wedge-shaped front which reduced wind resistance and helped to lift the exhaust dear of the cab windows at speed. The first locomotive of the class, named Silver Link, ran at an average speed of 100 mph (161 km/h) for 43 miles (69 km), with a maximum speed of 112 1/2 mph (181 km/h), on a seven-coach test train on 27 September 1935: the locomotive went into service hauling the Silver Jubilee express single-handed (since others of the class had still to be completed) for the first three weeks, a round trip of 536 miles (863 km) daily, much of it at 90 mph (145 km/h), without any mechanical troubles at all. Coaches for the Silver Jubilee had teak-framed, steel-panelled bodies on all-steel, welded underframes; windows were double glazed; and there was a pressure ventilation/heating system. Comparable trains were introduced between London Kings Cross and Edinburgh in 1937 and to Leeds in 1938.
Gresley did not hesitate to incorporate outstanding features from elsewhere into his locomotive designs and was well aware of the work of André Chapelon in France. Four A4s built in 1938 were equipped with Kylchap twin blast-pipes and double chimneys to improve performance still further. The first of these to be completed, no. 4468, Mallard, on 3 July 1938 ran a test train at over 120 mph (193 km/h) for 2 miles (3.2 km) and momentarily achieved 126 mph (203 km/h), the world speed record for steam traction. J.Duddington was the driver and T.Bray the fireman. The use of high-speed trains came to an end with the Second World War. The A4s were then demonstrated to be powerful as well as fast: one was noted hauling a 730-ton, 22-coach train at an average speed exceeding 75 mph (120 km/h) over 30 miles (48 km). The war also halted electrification of the Manchester-Sheffield line, on the 1,500 volt DC overhead system; however, anticipating eventual resumption, Gresley had a prototype main-line Bo-Bo electric locomotive built in 1941. Sadly, Gresley died from a heart attack while still in office.
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Principal Honours and Distinctions
Knighted 1936. President, Institution of Locomotive Engineers 1927 and 1934. President, Institution of Mechanical Engineers 1936.
Further Reading
F.A.S.Brown, 1961, Nigel Gresley, Locomotive Engineer, Ian Allan (full-length biography).
John Bellwood and David Jenkinson, Gresley and Stanier. A Centenary Tribute (a good comparative account).
PJGR

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

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