“Almost eighty years after their introduction and more than half a century since the last example ran in public service on British Railways, the Merchant Navy class continue to court controversy amongst enthusiasts both old and young. Introduced at a time when the country was almost on its knees with war, an express steam engine would seem to have been the very last thing needed and yet in their charismatic designer Oliver Bulleid and quickly discovered prodigious ability to haul incredible loads, they would soon bring round their doubters albeit as it transpired for what was only to be a short timespan. Enter the decade of the 1950s and whilst their abilities had generally been welcomed up to 1945, in subsequent years excessive maintenance costs began to stack up and there was serious consideration given to scrapping every one. In the event a masterful plan was evolved to rebuilt the class, removing the worst and keeping the best with the result that the new design could stand out amongst the very best of the last steam designs both visually and mechanically. Sadly it was destined to be a short lived Indian Summer, for within just a few years steam traction would be abolished completely and the whole class destined for scrap. But such was their following that at first one and then eventually no less than 11 out of the original thirty were saved, a proportionate record probably unequalled with any steam design. This all new book by author Hector Maxwell illustrates every member of the 30 strong class in both original and rebuilt form and provided for an easy to read history of the class from their inception through to the end of steam on Southern Region in 1967.”
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