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Changes of Name

The former “King Stephen”, later “King Edward VIII” at Southall shed in 1961. Photo: Mike Peart.

This has nothing to do with deed polls. Locomotives had their names changed for political, grammatical, ceremonial and operational reasons. The Great Western Railway (GWR) were past masters at this. In 1901, some of the “Atbara” class of locomotives were given the names of prominent ports in the British Empire. One such was “Lyttleton” named after a port in the South Island of New Zealand. The locomotive was rebuilt in 1907 but the spelling wasn’t corrected to “Lyttelton” until June 1920 for the last eight years of the locomotive’s life.

The “Saint” class of 92 locomotives used names of saints, courts and figures from literature. Some of these were conveniently changed when company VIPs had earned themselves an engine named in their honour. With the declaration of war in August 1914, “Star” class locomotive number 4017 “Knight of the Black Eagle”, named after a Prussian order of chivalry, had to be hastily re-named to avoid embarrassment. The name “Knight of Liège” was chosen as a tribute to Britain’s Belgian allies, but then there was controversy about the grave accent (è) used in the word “Liège”. Scholars said it should be an acute accent (é) and the nameplate was changed in due course to read “Liége”. Ten of the “Star” class locomotives had been named after British kings. When the 30 new “King” class locomotives came along between 1927 and 1930, the ten “Star” class locomotives were renamed after the monarchs of some friendly nations at the time. Six of these, such as those of Japan and Italy amongst others had to be removed in 1940 after the outbreak of war. In the “King” class itself, 6007 “King Henry II” was renamed “King William III” when rebuilt after the 1936 Shrivenham disaster. Then in 1936, to mark the new monarch 6029 “King Stephen” was renamed “King Edward VIII” four months after the death of King George V.

In 1927 on the GWR there was quite a bit of removal and tidying up of locomotive names. This was partly to avoid confusion with members of the public who thought that locomotive names indicated the destination of their trains. This was a feature that didn’t appear to trouble the London, Brighton & South Coast Railway which used well over a hundred prominent signwritten place names from their system on their A1, B1, D1 and E1 locomotive classes. For the GWR, names were probably wisely removed from “Cardiff”, “Swindon”, “Newport”, “Paddington”, “Reading”, “Swansea”, “Taunton”, “Wolverhampton”, “Oxford” and “Shrewsbury”, all principal stations on the system.

The nameplate of “Castle” class number 5058 “Earl of Clancarty”. Photo: Mike Peart.

There was a similar purge of names from 12 “Duke” class locomotives as they too were being confused with train destinations. Then more from the same class were changed because of possible confusion with the new “Castle” class locomotives emerging from 1923 onwards, such as “Powderham Castle”, “Pendennis Castle”, “Chepstow Castle”, “Tregenna Castle” and “Tintagel Castle”. Names of 21 of the 4-4-0 “Earl” class were transferred to new “Castle” class locomotives in 1936/7. In all, there were 171 locomotives in the “Castle” class and a few names of GWR engineers, chairmen and regiments in GWR territory that deserved recognition crept in. When in December 1923 the second “Castle” class locomotive 4074 “Caldicot Castle” emerged new from Swindon Works for the official photograph, a sharp-eyed official noticed that the nameplates carried the words “Caldicott Castle”. The one “t” at the end was hastily removed and the castle-owning classes of Monmouthshire weren’t therefore offended.

There was no shortage of existing or ruined castles, and some castle names selected were never used. Patriotism played a part, too. September 1940 saw the start of a programme to rename locomotives in the “Castle” class after the names of aircraft which were becoming World War Two household names. By January 1941, twelve had been renamed. 5071 “Spitfire” was the first to receive the honour having been “Clifford Castle” since emerging from Swindon Works in June 1938.

Now preserved, GWR “Modified Hall” class 6998 “Burton Agnes Hall” was named after a Yorkshire stately home. Photo: Frank Dumbleton.

The more numerous “Hall” class of 330 locomotives appeared to run out of names of halls in GWR territory, so the GWR strayed beyond their boundary as far as Yorkshire with “Burton Agnes Hall” near Driffield as one example. There were, though, enough examples for the GWR’s 80 “Grange”, 30 “Manor” and 30 “County” locomotives. That said, “County of Carnarvon” had its name changed to “County of Caernarvon” four years after it was first named.

In April 1935 two locomotives in the “Hall” class had their nameplates changed to include apostrophes which had been missed out when first made. GWR Chief Mechanical Engineer Charles Collett didn’t like the idea of small and insignificant apostrophe marks on nameplates, but a lot of complaints were received about the issue and he gave in. Thus 5912 “Queens Hall” became “Queen’s Hall” and 5947 “Saint Benets Hall” became “Saint Benet’s Hall”. There was more pedantry three months later when pressure from Oxford University saw 5960 “St Edmund Hall”, named after one of its colleges, become “Saint Edmund Hall”. 4972 “St. Brides Hall” had already become “Saint Brides Hall” in 1930, so there was precedent. 4985 “Allersley Hall” ran for a couple of months in 1931 until an offending ‘R’ was removed to make it “Allesley Hall”. 5923 “Colston Hall” kept its name during its 30-year life up to 1963: it clearly might not have done had it still been with us.

In 1936, the one-time Royal Train engine “Smeaton” was broken up. This “Bulldog” class loco had started life in 1900 as number 3357 “Exeter”. It was then renumbered and was temporarily renamed “Royal Sovereign” to work the Royal Train from Newton Abbot to Plymouth in March 1902 after King Edward VII had visited Dartmouth. It then reverted to the name “Exeter” but was then renamed “Smeaton” in 1903 after John Smeaton, the famous civil engineer and designer of the Eddystone Lighthouse. This was to avoid confusion with locomotive number 3442 “City of Exeter”. In general, the “Bulldog” 4-4-0 class had both name and number changes too numerous to document here. It was the same with 17 locomotives out of the 80-strong “Achilles” class, some of which started life as 2-2-2 locomotives but ended up as converted 4-2-2 “Dean Singles”.

When King George VI died in 1952, it was proposed that locomotive 4082 “Windsor Castle” should head the main funeral train from Paddington to Windsor. However, at the time 4082 was in Swindon Works under overhaul, so 7013 “Bristol Castle” found itself being hastily renamed and renumbered as 4082 “Windsor Castle”. In 1924, the original 4082 “Windsor Castle” had been driven from Swindon Works to Swindon station by King George V accompanied by Queen Mary when they had visited Swindon Works.

The name “Ogmore Castle” was originally allotted to “Castle” class number 5006 but was carried in turn by 5056, 5080, 7007 and 7035. 7007 was the last locomotive built by the GWR at Swindon Works before the advent of British Railways in 1948, so was named “Great Western” in the first month after nationalisation. The last “Castle” to be built was named “Swindon” by Princess Elizabeth in November 1950.

Last of the “Castle” class, number 7037 “Swindon” pictured at Swindon MPD in 1962. Photo: Mike Peart.

It’s fortunate in a way that later GWR nameplates were not complete castings, but were made up with individual brass letters riveted to a steel backing plate. This made removals, changes and recycling much easier. Whether made up of components or cast, locomotive name and numberplates still make eye-watering prices at auction!

Mike Peart

Mike Peart is a former railwayman on British Railways (Western Region). He is co-author of Volumes 3 (Freight Marshalling Yards), 4 (Level Crossings) and 5 (Train Detection and Control) of the “History & Development of Railway Signalling in the British Isles” series, and Trains of Hope”, all published by The Friends of the National Railway Museum. He’s been an active Friend of the NRM since 1994 and was one of the four “schoolboy” founder members of the Great Western Society (Didcot Railway Centre) in 1961.

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