The ‘Merchant Navy’ class was everything a steam engine should be; big, powerful, majestic – especially when clean.
That decline of steam coincided with fewer engines to see. Ad those that were present, were ever more grimy and seemingly woebegone.
External grime and missing nameplates excluded, the knocks and wheezes that were prevalent, plus an even more off-beat sound (the 3-cylinder Bulleids were invariably more off-beat than on), made me realise things were not always quite what they should be.
We have not spoken of the designer as yet, Mr O V S Bulleid. Genius perhaps, but if I may say from one who trained as an engineer, a man who perhaps failed to appreciate the practicalities of living with his creation. Read the various technical books and history books on Mr Bulleid and this fact shines through. It was instead left to British Railways under Ron Jarvis to right the ills and whilst amongst enthusiasts the jury may still be out, to me the result was a thing of beauty.
An older friend once remarked to me that the original ‘Merchant Navy’ was fat and bulbous compared with the ‘Light Pacific’ type. In a similar way he recounted the first time he saw a ‘modified’ engine, he thought from a distance it was a ‘Britannia’, such is the similarity of the two.
Mechanically and operationally, there were pros and cons to both. If your preference is for the original, then this book will not disappoint, neither will it if you prefer the ’revised’ appearance.
We are fortunate today that 11 members of the class escaped the cutters torch – well ten and half actually, for No 35029 was deliberately cut through lengthways and survives as a permanent exhibit at the National Railway Museum.
All have also been in private hands for far longer than they were ever in Southern Railway/British Railways ownership, whilst the number that did survive is surely similar confirmation that the present writer is not alone in his love of this particular design.
This book does not pretend to be a new history. It will not reveal facts that have not been gleaned from elsewhere. The writer’s own comments will likely add little to the history already known and those seeking more technical information are certainly recommended to those other works mentioned in the bibliography. Instead, what it does do is present a set of what we believe to be predominantly unpublished photographs.Order now
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