I note the plaintive appeal from D Martin in Platform, issue 248, for the reincarnation of The Great Bear. This is not the first time this sentiment has been aired in the pages of Heritage Railway.
The fact of the matter is the designer G J Churchward, the world’s foremost designer of his age, saw fit to dispose of it as a failed experiment and there the matter should lie.
It wasn’t just a simple matter of dimensions and axle weights: there were other demerits such as the trailing truck and an unforgiving firebox, but the principal point to consider is the raison d’etre for the Bear: an instruction from the GWR directors to G J to build the largest locomotive he could as a PR exercise. G J tried to point out the futility and expense of the venture but was overruled.
In time it became obvious that, as a result of continual improvements in design, a smaller boiler could do as well, if not better, in a smaller chassis. By 1920 the engineering and running departments were fed up with tinkering with it and it was finally laid aside.
Later, when Stanier left the GWR, taking with him the secrets of Swindon success to the Midland, he wasn’t long in producing the Princess class which, when you study the lineage, is simply a much improved Bear.
We still have two of these – let us rest content.
➜ My understanding is that The Great Bear was abandoned by Churchward’s successor Charles B Collett two years after he retired, and was rebuilt as Castle 4-6-0 No. 111 Viscount Churchill. Churchward was said to have expressed disappointment.
When hearing that Sir Nigel Gresley was going to build a Pacific for the GNR (later the LNER), he reportedly remarked: “What did that young man want to build it for? We could have sold him ours!” – Editor
Read more Letters, Opinion, News and Views in Issue 250 of HR – on sale now!
Railway ReadsFrom the history of steam through to 21st century rail transport news, we have titles that cater for all rail enthusiasts. Covering diesels, modelling, steam and modern railways, check out our range of magazines and fantastic subscription offers.
Get The Railway Hub Weekly Round-upEnter your e-mail address below and you will receive weekly rail news straight into your inbox...
You can unsubscribe at any time.
About the Author
- Dinmore and more and more! - 20th October 2020
- Centenarian cameraman: Ron Buckley – Britain’s Oldest Railway Photographer:Part Two - 13th October 2020
- Delivering a bigger, better railway for Scotland - 6th October 2020