A short -lived hurricane



183 years ago this month in 1838, the Great Western Railway (GWR) received one of its first broad gauge locomotives named “Hurricane”. The company did not yet have its own locomotive manufacturing facilities, so its early locomotives were ordered with rigorous contract terms from various manufacturers in Liverpool, Manchester, Wigan, Newton-le-Willows and Newcastle. They had not to exceed a certain weight in working order and have a piston speed no more than 280 feet per minute at 30 mph. The manufacturers generally responded with large-wheeled locomotives with small boilers. “Hurricane” was a product of the R & W Hawthorn & Company works in Newcastle. It was a design of a Mr T E Harrison that was patented in 1836. Isambard Kingdom Brunel had placed the order and “Hurricane” was delivered by sea and canal to a point near the new railway at West Drayton, 13 miles from London.


Artist impression of the 1st West Drayton station. DA Davies

The engine and boiler of “Hurricane” were on separate frames and there was a separate tender. It was described by some as “more like a procession”. The driver was positioned near the 16” x 20” cylinders with a set of levers to work, while the fireman was some 25 feet away working on the footplate as normal to keep a good water level and the 17 square feet of grate well supplied with coke. The boiler had 135 brass tubes with a heating surface of 516 square feet. The single pair of driving wheels weighing six tons were a spectacular 10 feet in diameter and were a bit close for comfort to the driver. Seven other pairs of 4 feet 6 inch diameter trailing wheels were needed to support the whole ensemble. Altogether, the driving part and boiler part weighed around 23 tons. An experienced driver, Richard Wilkinson, accompanied and drove the “Hurricane”. He had previously worked on the Stockton & Darlington Railway. Mr John Thompson was the regular fireman – he must have been an efficient worker as “Hurricane” was claimed to have made the quickest run ever on the new railway. The claim made seems ridiculous - 22½ miles from Paddington to the first Maidenhead station at Taplow in 16 minutes averaging 84 mph is just not on! “Hurricane” also suffered the quickest fate as it was withdrawn after 14 months’ work. While Brunel was said to have liked the locomotive, Locomotive Superintendent Daniel Gooch who daily had to provide the working motive power for the railway’s operations found it a failure and decided that its parts were better used for other purposes. Driver Wilkinson moved to other driving duties while his son, John, eventually became Foreman at the GWR’s first main London engine shed at Westbourne Park.




The Hawthorn company had also delivered another two-part locomotive designed by Mr Harrison, “Thunderer”, to the GWR in March 1838. That, too, was a failure and was withdrawn after 20 months so that its boiler could be used for a stationary engine. Meanwhile, the boiler of “Hurricane” was kept and, after the Swindon Locomotive Works had opened, was turned into a “one-off” 0-6-0 goods locomotive named “Bacchus” which worked for 20 years. The massive pair of wheels of “Hurricane” had also been kept and were pulled out of retirement in 1846 to be used in a specially-built horse-drawn wagon which was to take the 40-ton equestrian statue of the Duke of Wellington the few miles from the foundry in Harrow Road, London to Hyde Park Corner where it was due to be installed on the Wellington Arch. The other pair of 10 feet diameter wheels needed for the wagon came from another GWR locomotive failure named “Ajax”. Made in Liverpool, “Ajax” worked for 18 months before being scrapped and its boiler used for a stationary engine. A mere 29 horses were needed to haul the wagon with its load so that the Duke could be hoisted onto his London arch where he remained until 1882. It was feared the arch could fail so he was moved to Aldershot where he still resides.


Mike Peart


Mike Peart is the co-author of Volumes 3, 4 and 5 of “History & Development of Railway Signalling in the British Isles” and Trains of Hope” published by The Friends of the National Railway Museum. He’s been an active Friend of the NRM since 1994 and was a founder member of the Great Western Society in 1961.


You might enjoy reading about Friends contributions to the National Railway Museum here

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