Doing a little more about trains seemed to be a good idea. So what could be more in keeping of a place at the S&G than the beautiful, streamlined LMS Coronation Class locomotives – the most powerful ever to have turned a wheel on the British network…
Power is one thing – and that came in the form of around 3,300hp twinned with astonishing torque from its four cylinder engine, which saw the valve gear driving the outside valves directly and the inside valves via rocking shafts in William Stanier’s design. But it’s the fabulous art deco lines of these locomotives, from the pen of the chief draughtsman at the LMS works at Derby, Tom Coleman, which really defined the type.
The first five locomotives, Nos. 6220–6224, were built in 1937 at the LMS works in Crewe. They were streamlined and painted in the rich blue of the Caledonian Railway with its rakish silver piping to match the coaches of the Coronation Scot express service from Euston to Glasgow that was to be the principal service for the breed.
The speed with which express services could make the run from London to Scotland delivered enormous prestige to the two competing lines – LMS to the west and the London and North Eastern line to the east. LNER had hogged the limelight with the Flying Scotsman but the sleek new Coronation class attained 114mph on test and would complete its scheduled journey in just six and a half hours, stopping just once at Carlisle for crew change and to pick up and set down passengers.
Impressive though the speeds attained by the Coronation class were, they also ended the era of high speed demonstrations after it proved rather difficult to rein in the big beasts in order to negotiate mundane but potentially treacherous sections of track. A white knuckle ride awaited passengers on the 114mph run when they reached Crewe and were unable to slow down to the required 50mph, staying on the rails but causing chaos in the restaurant car and kitchen.
The second five locomotives of the class, Nos. 6225–6229, were also streamlined but their elegant lines were not painted blue and silver, but rather the traditional LMS hue of crimson lake with gold horizontal stripes. The problem was that the benefits of the wrap-around streamlined body of the Coronation class were only felt above 90mph. At normal speeds and in the maintenance sheds, the fabulous styling was simply a hindrance.
The Coronation class eventually totalled 38 locomotives, which served through World War 2 and through until the last was retired in 1964. They were shorn of their beautiful streamlining and painted in rather more plebeian liveries – wartime black without coachlines and later black and green under British Railways operation – but their character endured and enchanted successive generations.
After the abandonment of steam, three of these fabulous engines were preserved and one, No. 6229 Duchess of Hamilton, was recently returned to her full streamlined glory. She resides in the National Railway Museum in York and remains a thrilling sight more than 75 years after her debut.