Many years ago, I read a copy of the magazine “Model Railway Constructor”, and inside, was an interesting item about the “Great Central Railway’s “Immingham Class” 4-6-0, designed under the direction of J.G. Robinson, the railway’s CME, and built by Beyer-Peacock at Gorton, Manchester. They were classified 8F by the GCR, and went on to become Class B4 under later LNER ownership, but only 10 locomotives were built, with four of the class surviving into British Railways days.
The image at the head of this piece is actually a view of the experimental design – Class 8C – that the Great Central used in trials against the Atlantic types that were in use on express passenger duties, but the 4-6-0s that Robinson developed from these were an operational success. (Image is courtesy of ‘The Engineer’ magazine from 1903.)
All 10 were built in June and July 1906, and were intended to operate on fast freight and of course fish trains. But in the mid 1920s they could also be found on express passenger and other services. They were the second post 1900 design with a 4-6-0 wheel arrangement for passenger traffic, and followed two 4-6-0s designated Class 8C by the GCR, for comparison with Robinson’s 4-4-2 express passenger types. Both classes could be said to have provided the necessary drive away from the late Victorian ‘Atlantic’ 4-4-2 designs, and ushered in a new era and approach to hauling prestigious trains.
So then, the 4-6-0 was fast becoming popular for express workings – and next out of the blocks on the Great Central was the “Immingham” class – so-called because their arrival in 1906 coincided with the official start of construction of the new docks and harbour at Immingham. This was some 5 years after the act of parliament was passed in June 1901 authorising its construction. The act was “The Humber Commercial Railway and Dock Act”. The act proposed the building of sea walls a dock and railway adjacent to the existing port of Grimsby. Later in 1901 a further act of parliament enabled the building of the Humber Commercial Railway and Dock, which provided a double track connection for goods traffic to and from the new docks, with links from the south, west and east. The new facilities were supported and taken over by the Great Central on a 999 year lease, and of course later absorbed into the LNER, with the main purpose being to export coal.
The new docks were an alternative to the expansion of Grimsby, which had been developed by the Manchester, Sheffield & Lincolnshire Railway – later becoming the Great Central – as its major sea port on the East Coast. The expansion of east coast port facilities was considered a commercial proposition, and the company backed the plans from an 1874 report for new dock facilities by Charles Liddell, and by 1912 the Port of Immingham was open – just a 38 year delay!
So, what better way to celebrate your newly built docks than with a class of the latest designs of steam locomotive, with 6 coupled wheels – the Class 8F, otherwise known as the “Immingham Class”.
The predecessor design for the “Immingham Class” were also built by Beyer-Peacock in Manchester, and as noted in the table leading dimensions they were fitted with two different cylinder sizes, for comparative trials, and 6ft 9ins coupled wheels. The cylinders were placed outside the frames, with the short travel slide valves inside the frames, along with two sets of Stephenson valve gear – nice clean external appearance, but no doubt difficult to maintain in service.
These two Class 8C 4-6-0s were constructed either side of Christmas and New Year in 1903-4 and were intended to be tested alongside Robinson’s existing Atlantic design for express passenger work. They were built without superheaters originally, but later modifications included the Robinson modified Schmidt pattern superheater, fitted in the smokebox.
The Class 8C was fitted with 6ft 9ins coupled wheels carried in the by then standard plate frames, but with a split between leaf springs for the leading and trailing coupled wheels, with coil springs for the centre driving wheels, which at 6ft 9ins diameter were common with the Robinson Atlantics. The new 4-6-0s also made greater use of castings in the construction, and in a total length of almost 62ft 0ins, weighed in at 107 tons in working order.
The next out of the box were the “Immingham” or Class 8F 4-6-0, and as originally built appeared with 6ft 6ins diameter coupled wheels, but just before the grouping of 1923 they were fitted with thicker tyres, and the diameter increased to 6ft 7ins. But, they were, above the main frames at least essentially the same boiler design as had been fitted to the two experimental 4-6-0s, with a saturated (no superheater) boiler 5ft 0ins in diameter, and built from three rings of steel plate, housing 226 x 2ins diameter smoke tubes. The boiler design was later developed and applied to the renowned ‘ROD’ type 2-8-0s built for service during World War I.
The mainframes were the same as the previous Class 8F, but all coupled axles were fitted with leaf spring suspension, and the cylinder carried on the outside, with the slide valves inside the frames driven by the two sets of Stephenson link motion. The cylinders included long tail rods for the pistons and double slidebars, mounted to the rear cylinder cover, and suspended from a motion bracket attached just in front of the leading coupled wheels. After the 1923 grouping all 10 locomotives were fitted with superheaters, under Nigel Gresley’s direction, and some of the class were fitted with 21ins cylinders and piston valves by the 1930s. The “Immingham” Class seems to have been a focus for a range of experiments in terms of the style and design of various boiler fittings, from injectors and safety valves, to different steam domes and chimneys. In LNER days these resulted in a variety of sub-classes – just to add to the complexity – B4/1 were saturated versions, B4/2 were superheater fitted, and then changed so that B4/1 had 21ins cylinders and B4/2 had 19ins cylinders.
Operations, Building & Withdrawal
Having said that these engines were originally intended for fast freight and fish trains to Grimsby – and of course Immingham – at Neasden, one of their original allocations, they were used on express passenger trains between Marylebone and Leicester. Engines allocated to Gorton (Manchester) and Grimsby were used on express freight and fish trains, whilst during WW1, Neasden engines were used on troop trains.
During the 1920s they were moved around quite a bit, but spent much of their time on passenger and excursion trains, until they were replaced on some routes by Ivatt Atlantics – slightly ironic perhaps given that they were considered a better overall design for those duties in some quarters. Later allocated to Ardsley and Copley Hill in the Leeds area, they spent some time working between Leeds and Doncaster on Kings Cross bound trains. Into the 1930s they continued to work out of Leeds and often on excursion workings to Scarborough.
With their various sub-classes they continued to work excursion and other passenger turns, and were allocated to East Anglia, and former Great Eastern depots, including March.
But, their days were numbered after the Second World War, especially with the arrival of the Thompson B1 class 4-6-0. Although earlier in 1939, No. 1095 – then numbered 6095 was withdrawn in July of that year, but rapidly returned to traffic with the outbreak of war. Unhappily, 6095 was involved in a collision at Woodhead in 1944, and was finally withdrawn.
The remaining members of this Robinson designed 4-6-0 were withdrawn and scrapped between July 1947 and November 1950. The dubious honour of the last to be withdrawn actually went to the only named member of the class – BR No. 61482 – “Immingham”.
They were overall a very successful design, and had an interesting history in operational service, and had in some way their own part to play, along with their designer in paving the way for one of the country’s most famous Locomotive Engineers.
After the First World War, and as the 1920s approached, the Government was about to start grouping the 100 or so different railways together the Great Central would become part of the new LNER in 1923, and John Robinson was first choice for CME. But, despite the fact that he was possibly one of the most able engineers of his day he declined the opportunity, on account of his age, and a young H.N. Gresley was appointed instead. Out of that opportunity, arose another new 4-6-0 design on the East Coast railways – the “Sandringham” Class – but that is another story.