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F W Hawksworth

The Great Western Railway’s last Chief Mechanical Engineer. . . . . . . .

The clean lines of Hawksworth “County” class locomotive 1019 “County of Merioneth” seen in its final version at Swindon shed in 1962 soon after overhaul. Photo: Mike Peart

Frederick William Hawksworth was born in Swindon, Wiltshire on 10th February 1884. He became an apprentice in the Great Western Railway (GWR) Swindon locomotive works at the age of 14 where he first worked in the test house and drawing office while pursuing further studies. These were at the Swindon Technical Institute and the Royal College of Science at Kensington, London. He did some of the drawing work for plans of the GWR’s only Pacific locomotive “The Great Bear” as well as valve gear layout for G J Churchward’s other locomotive designs. By 1925 he was appointed Chief Draughtsman and later Assistant Chief Mechanical Engineer (CME) to Charles Collett. He also undertook a lot of the drawing work for Collett’s new “King” class locomotives (number 6000 “King George V” is in the National Collection). His predecessor, Charles Collett, stayed in post as CME until he was 70, and Hawksworth didn’t become CME until July 1941. The following month he officially opened the GWR Staff Association Show at Swindon. He was apparently a gardener and entered one of his home-grown beetroot, winning 1st prize!

The 1943 handover of the GWR ambulance train for the US Army converted from existing rolling stock at Swindon Works. Mr Hawksworth appears to be speaking while being filmed. Photo: National Railway Museum.

War work at Swindon Works was a major preoccupation for Hawksworth with much of the capacity being used to produce munitions. Parts of the Works were turned over to produce landing craft, midget submarines, tank parts, gun mountings and shields and large quantities of bomb and shell cases. The boiler shop was involved in hardening steel panels for specific uses. In March 1943, Hawksworth officially handed over to the American Army the first of ten ambulance trains prepared at Swindon for the transport of American casualties. The train consisted of 14 coaches, and American Class S160 2-8-0 locomotive number 1606 was put at its head. Coaches had been converted into ward cars with bunks, kitchen cars, staff accommodation, a pharmacy and an operating theatre. The train was received by Brigadier General P R Hawley, Chief Surgeon of American forces in Great Britain with a US Army medical team present. Hawksworth also designed passenger coaches, most of which had distinctive sloping roof ends. He introduced new methods of coach construction where the body was built directly onto the underframes. Some of his designs began to use aluminium body panels and components to reduce weight. He was also responsible for designing the last batch of the auto-trailers for the GWR’s widely-used push-pull branch line working.

The driver’s end of the Hawksworth-designed auto-trailer W231 now preserved at Didcot Railway Centre. The small cab contains a linked regulator, brake, whistle control, bell communication with the fireman and a foot pedal for the warning gong. The fireman stayed on the engine footplate when the driver was working from the trailer. Photo: Great Western Society.

Hawksworth-designed 1948 vintage “Modified Hall” number 6992 “Arborfield Hall” with a Hawksworth flat-sided tender working an express train for Worcester through Southall in 1962. Photo: Mike Peart

The demand for mixed-traffic locomotives led to Hawksworth’s 1944 design of the “Modified Hall” class, of which 71 were built between 1947 and 1950. Poorer quality fuel supplies led to his work on superheating and drafting to get improved performance from existing locomotive boilers. In August 1945 it was reported that the first of a new class of powerful two-cylinder locomotive, the “County” class, was inspected at Paddington Station by Lord Portal, GWR Chairman, Sir James Milne, General Manager with Mr F W Hawksworth, Chief Mechanical Engineer and designer of the engine. The reports mentioned that at 280lbs the locomotive had the highest boiler pressure of any GWR engine. This was reduced in 1956 to 250lbs. Hawksworth’s original plan was to number the “County” class in the 99xx series, but he changed his mind after the plan was leaked and the first locomotive “County of Middlesex” was numbered 1000. The “hammer-blow” of these locomotives was said not to be popular with the Civil Engineer’s Department. He had also improved on tender design and simplicity of construction with an all-welded straight-sided 4,000-gallon tender, somewhat different from the earlier heavily-rivetted designs. None of the class survived the end of steam as all were withdrawn between 1962 and 1964, but a new-build “County of Glamorgan” is under construction at Didcot Railway Centre.

Later in 1945, Hawksworth was one of those on the footplate for a trial run of another GWR locomotive newly converted to burn oil. At the time, the coal shortages and prices were a matter of concern for the company, and plans to convert a total of 184 locomotives in different classes to oil-burning were made. In the event, only 37 locomotives had been converted when coal again became the more economic option and the programme was cancelled.

The 1857 0-4-0 locomotive “Shannon” owes its preservation as part of the National Collection to Hawksworth. The 1946 campaign to preserve the locomotive which had long worked on the Wantage Tramway until 1945 got a leader in “The Times”. This helped Hawksworth to decide to do the preservation deal for the GWR, paying £100 for this vintage locomotive. It wasn’t all sentiment, because at the same time Hawksworth was looking to the future being involved in the specification and ordering of diesel shunting locomotives and the Swiss Brown Boveri gas turbine locomotive 18000 for which the order, delayed by war, was placed in 1946.

Hawksworth heavy shunting locomotive 1507 at Old Oak Common depot in 1962. This class was principally engaged on taking empty coaching stock into and out of Paddington station. Photo: Mike Peart.

In his final year, 1949, the first of his ten new 0-6-0 heavy shunting locomotives with outside cylinders and Walschaerts valve gear appeared. Replacements for other life-expired 0-6-0 light passenger and shunting locomotives also appeared. In all, 391 locomotives were made to his designs. Hawksworth retired on 31st December having served over eight years and seeing the GWR become British Railways (Western Region). His job was subsequently split into two posts, namely Mechanical & Electrical Engineer and Carriage & Wagon Engineer.

An example of the “more modern-looking” 0-6-0 pannier tank designed by Hawksworth. 1950 vintage number 9425 is seen at Swindon in 1962 after repairs. Photo: Mike Peart.

The original GWR railway museum in an old chapel at Faringdon Road, Swindon was ceremonially opened by R F Hanks, Chairman of the Western Area Board of the British Transport Commission on 22nd June 1962, with opening to the general public the day after. Hawksworth was among the official guests along with Sir William Stanier, the Mayor of Swindon and Stanley Raymond, BR Western Region’s General Manager. The first exhibits were “Star” class 4003 “Lode Star”; record-breaker 3440/3717 “City of Truro”; Dean Goods tender 0-6-0 number 2516; Hawksworth-designed 0-6-0 pannier tank 9400 (he had been asked to make this class “more modern looking”); the replica of broad gauge 2-2-2 locomotive “North Star” and the 8ft diameter driving wheels of 1851 from broad gauge 4-2-2 “Lord of the Isles” which had been broken up in 1906.

F W Hawksworth died in Swindon on 13th July 1976 at the age of 92. He never married and he had enjoyed a long retirement. As a former town councillor, local magistrate and building society director he had been made a Freeman of the Borough of Swindon in 1960. His ashes were interred at St Mark’s Church, Swindon (known as the “Railway Church”) where he had been a lifelong member of the choir. His work lives on with twelve examples of five types of his locomotive designs saved for preservation, along with numerous coaches and auto-trailers on heritage railways.

Mike Peart

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