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Sir Herbert Nigel Gresley

He first worked on the railways as an apprentice at Crewe eventually working for the Lancashire and Yorkshire Railway. Appointed carriage and wagon superintendent of the Great Northern Railway in 1905, he succeeded H.A. Ivatt as Chief Mechanical Engineer in 1911. In 1923 he was appointed Chief Mechanical Engineer of the London & North Eastern Railway, being knighted in 1936. He was also president of the Institute of Mechanical Engineers in 1936.

He introduced the elliptical-roofed carriages on the GNR and for the East Coast Joint Stock he pioneered articulation in 1905-6 as well as developing the compound-bolster bogie from 1911. As CME of the GNR, he introduced an up-to-date 2-6-0 design in 1912, followed by two- and three-cylinder 2-8-0's, the latter with derived motion for the inner cylinder. Gresley's introduced his first Pacific in 1922, Class A1 No. 1470 Great Northern. Other designs included the first five car articulated dining car set in 1921, an articulated twin sleeping car in 1922 and four and five-car surburban trains in 1923-30. He pioneered electrical cooking equipment for restaurant cars in 1921.

Gresley improved the design of his Pacifics from 1926 onwards, with long-lap valves and higher pressure boilers, finally producing his Class A4 streamlined locomotives from 1935 onward. The 35 locos were used on streamlined trains which included the Silver Jubilee and Coronation expresses. The most famous locomotive in the class was No. 60022 Mallard, which set up the still unbeaten world speed record for steam at 126mph while descending Stoke Bank on the LNER main line on the 3rd July 1938.

His GNR teak-panelled carriages were perpetuated for the LNER with features such as pressure ventilation and air-conditioning in prestige stock from 1930 and welded underframes from 1934. Other innovations included plywood and aluminium for body panelling.

Locomotive design innovations included:

  • Experiments with booster engines from 1923
  • Poppet valves from 1925, which he fitted to the 2-8-2 locomotive Cock O' the North in 1935, this was later rebuilt as Class A2/2
  • The experimental 4-6-4 10000, built in 1929 with a water tube boiler
  • The versatile Class V2 mixed traffic locos, of which 184 were built from 1936
  • The Class J39 0-6-6 mixed traffice locos


Despite the excellent design of his engines, the conjugated valve gear deteriated in performance during World War II (1939-45), overheated big-ends proving the cause of failure. To cure these problems, some of Gresley's engines were rebuilt by Edward Thompson, who became LNER CME after Gresley died suddenly on 5th April 1941 just before his 65th birthday.

Last Updated : Friday 14th April 2006 05:47

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