By Geoff Courtney
ONE of the brass cabside numberplates from a unique GWR express locomotive that was described by a leading railway engineer and journalist as one of the few failures to emerge from Swindon and was even allegedly regarded as a ‘white elephant’ by its designer, is to go under the hammer on November 17.
The locomotive was The Great Bear, the only Pacific ever built by the GWR and also the first 4-6-2 to be built in Britain.
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Designed by chief mechanical engineer George Jackson Churchward, it emerged from Swindon in February 1908 as No. 111, and was the centre of what today would be described as ‘PR spin’ due to it publicity value to the GWR.
However, its axle loading of more than 20 tons meant its route availability was limited to the Paddington to Bristol main line, and its performance proved not to be a significant improvement on such Churchward-designed 4-6-0 classes as the Star and Saint.
Despite modifications, including to the superheating, No. 111 failed to excel, and its fate was doubtless sealed when the more powerful Castle class was introduced in 1923 to the design of Charles Collett, who had succeeded Churchward after his retirement the previous year.
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