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Archibald Sturrock: Locomotive Engineer

Innovator responsible amongst other things for warm feet and hot footplates. . . . . .

Sturrock’s famous – or infamous - steam tender locomotive of 1863

Portrait of Archibald Sturrock CME of the Great Northern Railway. © National Railway Museum / Science & Society Picture Library -- All rights reserved

Born near Dundee in 1816, Archibald Sturrock rather disappointed his banker father when he announced his intention to train as an engineer. He started work as a foundry apprentice locally and then progressed to William Fairbairn’s locomotive works in Manchester. In 1840 he became assistant to the Great Western Railway (GWR) Locomotive Superintendent, Daniel Gooch, and was heavily involved in planning and building the new Swindon Works. In 1843, the GWR’s new works at Swindon opened fully and Sturrock was appointed its manager. He had six foremen and 417

other staff who were employed on a 61½ hour week,

which soon reduced to 57½ hours. Sturrock stayed on the GWR until April 1850 when, to advance his career, he went to the Great Northern Railway (GNR) working at first between workshops at Peterborough and Boston as its first Locomotive Superintendent. He was keen on increasing locomotive boiler pressures for greater efficiency and power. This got him a warning from Isambard Kingdom Brunel not to put off his new employers by saying he wanted locomotive boiler pressures to increase from 100psi to 150psi. Corrosion, manufacturing faults and unwise adjustments of safety valves were contributing to a lot of boiler explosions at the time, Nonetheless, Brunel had provided a strong letter of recommendation, and Sturrock was appointed by the GNR on a £500 annual salary. This was quickly increased by 50% when he offered to fill the vacant post of Carriage & Wagon Superintendent as well. This made his salary around £107,000 a year at 2021 values. This added responsibility led to the design of some rolling stock which for the time was deemed to be very comfortable over long distances. He came to Doncaster in 1852 to establish the GNR’s new Plant and Workshops.

Sturrock is credited with introducing hot water footstools or footwarmers to railways in Britain during 1852. On a winter visit to Paris, he had experienced a hot water warmer device in a French railway carriage. His prototype footwarmers were made in Doncaster and successfully demonstrated to the GNR directors who approved the manufacture of many more. Meanwhile, along with other companies, the GWR introduced footwarmers for first-class passengers in 1856, to second-class in 1870 and finally and reluctantly to third-class in 1873. This was despite the fact that the craze at the time for wearing boots made of gutta-percha resulted in passengers’ boots getting stuck to the tin footwarmers! They became the subject of jokes and were criticised for being clumsy, getting cold too soon and leaking.

During Sturrock’s time at Doncaster, the GNR locomotive fleet increased to over 460. He had inherited a fleet of around 180 locomotives from different manufacturers and added 282 more of his own designs. When in 1863 the GWR told the Metropolitan Railway in London that it would no longer run its services, the GNR through Sturrock were asked to provide condensing locomotives which they already had for working the underground tunnels. There weren’t enough, so Sturrock had some conventional goods engines quickly converted using flexible tubes and pipes which conducted smoke and steam to their tenders. The same year, Sturrock designed the “steam tender” for extra power, based on a similar French design of 20 years earlier. This involved an 0-6-0 freight locomotive designed to haul Doncaster to London coal trains being fitted with a six-wheeled tender with two cylinders and connecting rods to the wheels. Steam to power them was provided by an external pipe from the locomotive boiler. Demand for extra steam needed more fuel and firing to keep pace while making the footplate area extremely hot. The idea was very unpopular with footplate crews, and while 50 more steam tenders were built in the following two years, Sturrock’s successor Patrick Stirling soon removed the extra tender equipment to put them all back to ordinary tender status. This apparent failure may have contributed to Sturrock’s disenchantment with locomotive engineering and a change in direction.

A Sturrock Great Northern Railway 2-2-2 passenger express locomotive of 1860

Having lost his first wife, Caroline, in 1852, Sturrock remarried well although his second wife, Helen Crawley, lived for less than a year after their marriage. Thanks to his inheritance from Helen, he was able to retire in 1866 at the age of 50 to enjoy a retirement of over 40 years. He was, though, on the board of the Yorkshire Engine Company and became its chairman in 1867. Living as a country gentleman near Doncaster, he served as a JP while enjoying the hunting, shooting and fishing life and breeding horses. When he felt he was too old to ride, in 1889 he moved to the expensive and exclusive Cadogan Place in Knightsbridge, London. He died there on New Year’s Day 1909 in his 93rd year.

60118 A1 class “Archibald Sturrock” arrived at Newcastle with a train from Kings Cross in its final year of 1965. Photo: © Roger Cornfoot, reproduced under Creative Commons Licence

It is strange, given that locomotive engineers often had locomotives named after them, that Archibald Sturrock had to wait until 1950 to have a locomotive named after him. This was the Doncaster-built A1 class 60118 on the Eastern Region of British Railways (BR). I saw this locomotive frequently at Copley Hill, Leeds on visits to grandparents which always included trainspotting. 60118, in the class designed by Arthur Peppercorn, was built in November 1948 and first emerged in LNER green livery. It was then painted “Caledonian” blue in May 1950 and named at Doncaster in July 1950 by H G Ivatt, Chief Mechanical Engineer of BR London Midland Region and son of former GNR Chief Mechanical Engineer, Henry Ivatt. The problematic blue livery, which proved difficult to match and touch up, saw 60118 repainted in BR green in January 1952. “Archibald Sturrock” spent most of its working life based at Copley Hill hauling express trains such as the “Queen of Scots” and “Yorkshire Pullman”. On withdrawal in October 1965, the locomotive was sold for scrap and was cut up at Beighton, Sheffield. Its nameplate survives in the National Collection. The A1 class is still represented with the A1 Steam Locomotive Trust’s new-build “Tornado” completed in 2008.

Mike Peart

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