HISTORY OF THE CLAUGHTONS
Built at Crewe in 1913 for the London & North Western Railway, the Claughtons were a 4-6-0 express passenger design built for the most intensive express services the LNWR had to offer & was to be the last L&NWR passenger design to take the rails, the logical development of a long Crewe tradition reaching back well into the nineteeth century. Designed by Charles Bowen Cooke starting in 1913, they were to fill a desperate need for larger & more powerful motive power to handle the express trains over the West Coast Main Line out of Euston. The first Claughton No. 2222 “Sir Gilbert Claughton” emerged from Crewe on Friday 24th January 1913 it proved to be an impressive-looking locomotive, different to anything Crewe had built before & yet incorporated much that was already familiar. A further 129 followed between 1913 & 1921 giving absolutely stellar performances on the heaviest trains over the entire WCML without the need for double-heading. In LNWR days, they proved that when in good trim they were very capable machines & an asset to the LNWR, particularly over the northern sections where they did some impressive work. Records were broken regularly in time tables by Claughtons regularly running 10 minutes early & even at some average speeds of 75 mph.
Unfortunately, as well performing as the Claughtons were, they did have their set backs. They were quite high on coal consumption & if mechanically neglected, would begin to become runned down & sluggish. In World War 1, this soon became the case as Crewe had to be used for the war effort, the Claughtons soon became neglected & prone to breakdowns when not kept in perfect condition. Fortunately, once WW1 ended, Crewe could soon start to rectify the needs that had to be met in order to perform as intended. However, this was not to last with the grouping of 1923. The Claughtons were absorbed into the London, Midland & Scottish Railway in 1923 & with control given to ex-MR board members due to seniority, the Claughtons would soon become mechanically neglected again with MR favor for Compound 4-4-0s.
The lack of care placed on the Claughtons in LMS unfortunately tarnished their reputation & little was done to rectify this until late-1920s. Some Claughtons though were put back into good condition like their days of youth when they were overhauled at Crewe, these Claughtons would be given a board on the side of the cab with an “S” prefix, meaning that this was a good condition Claughton & to be put on the most intensive passenger trains. Once the LMS had sorted its internal conflicts & the MR superiority stamped out, the Claughtons started to receive the attention needed to make them perform well again & fix their teething issues. This would come in the form of receiving new piston valves & other modifications to fix their high fuel consumption. One Claughton was withdrawn from service to experiment on to make a better performing engine, this engine was to become the well-known & well performing Patriot class, which unfortunately would put the writing on the walls for the demise of the Claughtons, the appearance of the LMS Royal Scots also furthered this. Over the 1930s, when time came for overhauls to the original Claughtons, they would receive new Patriot boilers, giving a more modern appearance but lacking the elegance of the originals. Soon all original Claughtons would be either withdrawn or receive new Patriot boilers. Ten rebuilt Claughtons would also receive Caprotti valve gear, giving a more economical performance but with the arrival of William Stanier the Claughtons were withdrawn in large batches over the next ten years. All but four Claughtons were withdrawn by July 1940. These four remained as part of the anticipated stock on 31st December 1940. By that date the Second World War had imposed immense demands upon the railway system; therefore it seems that the withdrawal of locomotives was based upon whether or not it was possible or worthwhile to repair locomotives in order to keep them in service.
Only one Claughton survived to Nationalization, No. 6004 was allocated the number 46004, but never received it, trundling around in her old familiar LMS Crimson guise until being called into Crewe Works for scrapping. Before she was scrapped, someone had the forethought to photograph her with the two other LNWR sole surviving express locomotives (LNWR Precursor No. 25297 & LNWR Prince of Wales No. 25752), a fitting tribute indeed.
One reflects as to what place did the Claughtons have in railway history. When new they were admirable for the task allotted and, even when they had run up considerable mileage & coal consumption rose, the LNWR had the facilities to keep them in service. Excessive coal consumption did not seem to worry the company unduly when both coal & labour were still cheap, but the post Great War period conditions changed & it was another matter. Any problems encountered during the first few years were marked down for attention after the war. This leads us to another facto, which not only delayed remedial treatment, but also actually extended the problems by the construction of more Claughtons during the war. When the war was over some modifications were put in hand, but first the non unbiased outside influences of Horwich & Derby weighed against them and the old LWNR system. Steam technology in Britain often lagged behind elsewhere and there was also bigotry to contend with, so it was not until the late 1920s that we find Claughtons being dealt with in a more serious manner. Thus we see there had been two periods when the Claughtons had “marked time” as it were. Reboilering was a success, as was the fitting of the piston valves, but times had changed and the Claughtons were late in achieving their vital improvements. It was also true that many other items required attention continued to plague them well into the 1930s, by which time any money available for spending was quite rightly channeled into new construction, and this includes the Patriots. History has often been unkind to the Claughtons. It is true that they had their troubles, they were often unreliable in the 1920s & 30s, but it was not all their own fault. Outside influence & changing attitudes showed them in a different light at different times. As a class they nearly made the grade & individual locomotives put up some astounding performances.
It must not be forgotten that for 10 years they were kept in good trim & successfully hauled heavy express trains between Euston & Carlisle, with plenty of power available to do this. They were introduced at an end of an era where attitudes & practices of many years had prevailed; they were proliferated during a national wartime struggle & its aftermath; they were sidestepped during a short-lived merger & replaced by more powerful locomotives by a new order demanding strict economy in all matters. Their failings were remedied too little, too late or not at all. They could not be considered, collectively, as bad locomotives when properly used & maintained – and there lies the answer to the Claughton myth – a near miss.