Thompson’s last stand
The emergence of 15 ‘A2/3’ class ‘Pacifics’ from Doncaster works in 1946 and 1947 signalled the end of a brief but controversial era for the LNER. Edward Thompson was determined to make his mark on the company’s motive power fleet, and some of the well established practices championed by Sir Nigel Gresley were marginalised. Gone were the striking ‘P2’ 2-8-2s and in came a raft of new ‘A1’ and ‘A2’-classified ‘Pacifics’. Some were new and some were rebuilds, including the plundering of ‘A1’ No. 4470 Great Northern for component parts. In May 1946, the first of Thompson’s last design of ‘Pacific’ emerged; appropriately, No. 500 was named after him to mark his retirement. However, with the chief mechanical engineer’s pen now resting in the hand of Arthur Peppercorn, it was swiftly decreed that only half of the intended 30 ‘A2/3s’ should be constructed, and that there would be significant alterations to any future builds. The remaining 15 locomotives eventually emerged as the Peppercorn ‘A2’ class. One of those that made it through was No. 520 Owen Tudor (named after the six-time winning racehorse). The three-cylinder engine is pictured on one of the Up through roads of Doncaster station - just a spanner’s throw from the place of its construction: the ‘Plant’. Its newness explains its splendid external condition, which was a rare sight in the 1940s. Indeed, the seven-week-old ‘A2/3’ still looks fresh off the production line, and it may be that it was being held back from front-line service when this scene was recorded on May 17 (can any reader corroborate this?). The presence of a solitary lamp on the top smokebox iron backs up that theory, denoting a stopping passenger train, which No. 520 may have been entrusted with until being let loose on the expresses for which it was intended At this time, the class was still suffering teething troubles - chiefly regular water carryover into the steam pipe that supplied pressure to the injectors and ejectors. More numerous, and undoubtedly more successful, were Thompson’s rugged and reliable ‘B1’ 4-6-0s, which continued to be built throughout 1947, even after production of his ‘Pacifics’ was curtailed. The class totalled 410 by the time the last was turned out in 1951. This particular engine (inset), York-allocated No. 1018 Gnu, was similarly new to the LNER and, with three letters, sported one of the shortest names of any standard gauge British main line steam locomotive ever built. There is no such suggestion of running-in turns here however, as February 1947-built Gnu powers through ‘Donny’ with a southbound express on the same sunny day that Owen Tudor was recorded.