Thomas Crampton

Amongst the many remarkable achievements of Isambard Kingdom Brunel, possibly the greatest engineer of his period, was the construction of the Great Western Railway. Its broad gauge of 7 074" gave far greater stability at speed than the standard gauge of 4’ 8/2”, which has subsequently been adopted in most parts of the world. Consequently, the powerful locomotives which operated on this line quickly established an unrivalled reputation for speed and reliability.

One of the "bright young men" of the G.W.R. was Thomas Russell Crampton. Born at Broadstairs in August 1816, he began his training as an engineer under John Hague, followed by instruction from Brunel's father Marc, who was also an outstanding engineer. He then moved into the drawing office of the G.W.R.. working under Daniel Gooch, the company's Locomotive Superintendent. Gooch, later to become Chairman of the company, was a brilliant designer, his locomotives being the fastest and most reliable then in use. Despite the fact that Crampton left the G.W.R. and utilised the knowledge he had gained with the company to further the development of the standard gauge system, the two men seem to have retained a considerable respect for each other. In his reminiscences, Gooch was to write "My chief draftsman... was a clever fellow and he has made a good position for himself since as a contractor. His name is Thomas Crampton".

Whilst appreciating the advantages of Brunel's broad gauge, Crampton was convinced that by lowering the centre of gravity on standard gauge locomotives, similar stability could be achieved. This could be accomplished by locating a single pair of large driving wheels at the rear, behind the firebox, and lowering the heavy boiler onto small diameter carrying wheels at the front. There was, however, a,serious obstacle to such a plan. It was normal practice on both standard and broad gauge locomotives, to accomodate all the mechanical parts, including the bulky cylinders, within the engine's frame, consequently there simply was no space into which the boiler could be lowered. His solution was simple and, with the advantage of hindsight, obvious - he transferred the cylinders and as many other parts as possible to the outside of the frame then redesigned the interior so as to accept a lowered boiler. What Crampton was doing, in effect, was re-arranging the layout of a 4 84 gauge locomotive to incorporate similar large diameter driving wheels, cylinders and heating area to those used in the G.W.R. system. Indeed, Crampton’'s locomotive may be regarded as a broad-gauge engine with a new configuration which allowed it to operate on standard gauge track; its total width, taking into account the considerable overhang of the external cylinders, was virtually the same as that of a G.W.R. locomotive.

Crampton’s proposals can hardly have endeared him to his employers, since he wars presenting to their rivals most of the advantages of the broad-gauge railway system. Whilst still working for the G.W.R. Crampton took out his first patent for his new breed of locomotive in 1842. Further refinements were to follow, and in 1849 he obtained another patent in which an intermediate crankshaft was used to transfer the power of the pistons to the driving shaft. Although this latter feature was used in several of his locomotives, including "Folkestone", which was featured in the Great Exhibition at Hyde, Park in 1851, its application to steerer, engines had a very brief life. Ironically, this system was later used in the driving mechanics in early electric locomotives, long after the patent, and its inventor, had expired. Crampton, a very gifted, if sometimes eccentric Inventor and engineer, was the maker of the first Channel telegraph cable, and built much of the London, Chatham and Dover Railway.

By 1845 Crampton's patent locomotive, which then existed only on paper, was arousing considerable interest, and in that year a Belgian railway company operating between Namur and Liege placed an order for two such engines. Two English companies, the S.E.R. and the L.N.W.R. also expressed keen interest in testing this novel type of locomotive. With two definite and some possible orders to hand, Crampton needed an engineering company to construct his engines, but production of the huge driving wheels posed considerable technical problems. It should be noted that large locomotive wheel had already been manufactured by this time; Gooch’s “Great Western” of 1846 possessed eight-foot drivers, whilst those of the freak locomotive “Ajax” of 1838, also built for the G.W.R., was fitted with ten-foot drivers. The necessary expertise and experience certainly existed at the G.W.R.’s Swindon workshops but this would certainly not have been put at Crampton’s disposal to further the Cause of the standard gauge railways. He was therefore compelled to approach several companies, but it was not until he contacted the firm of Tulk and Ley of Lowca, near Whitehaven, Cumberland, that he found anyone prepared to take up this challenge.

The firm of Tulk and Ley produced a wide range of equipment, including mine pumping engines, and in 1843 they had built the first iron vessel ever launched in Cumberland, the "Lowca". Between 1840 and 1846 they had built some nine locomotives for local railway companies, so had valuable experience in this field. Their reputation for engineering excellence extended far beyond the boundaries of the county. Established as Heslop, Millward and Stead in 1799, it became Millward and Co., in 1808. In 1813, Millwards also took over an even earlier engineering concern at Seaton near Workington. This had been set up by Spedding, Hicks & Co., in 1762 (Spedding, Hicks, Senhouse & Co., from 1784). Millwards sold both these establishments to Messrs Tulk and Ley in 1837. In 1862 the Seaton works was sold off, to operate only as a rolling mill until its closure in 1899. Meanwhile the Lowca work: as taken over by Fletcher, Jennings and Co. in 1857, became the Lowca Engineering Co., in 1884 and was later reconstituted as the New Lowca Engineering Co., in 1905. A disastrous fire in 1912 led to the temporary closure of the works, and after its reopening in 1914 its activities were badly affected by the loss of equipment. Production ceased in 1921, and the company, which amongst many other things,  had built some 260 locomotives, was finally liquidated in 1926.

It was with this company, then, that Crampton placed hiss order for the construction of the first locomotives of his revolutionary design. The expert blacksmiths: At Lowca mastered the problem of forging the seven foot driving wheels in short time. The order were placed during 1846 and on 2nd February 1847, the Cumberland Pacquet newspaper reported as follows:

"An Engine Of Mr. Crampton's punciple and built by Messrs. Tulk and Ley will this day leave the Iron Works al Lowca, near this town, for its future destination, one of the railways in Belgium. There is also a monster engine in the course of construction at Messrs. Tulk & Ley’s establishment at Lowca destined for the London and Birmingham Railway. These engines are both upon the narrow gauge principle with eight foot driving wheels and the superiority claimed for them is that they combine the safety of the broad with all the velocity of the narrow gauge. The centre of gravity in these engines is much lower than in the others and consequently the rocking and vibrationary action is greatly reduced as nearly its whole weight is confined between the Supports. Either 4, 6, or 8, wheels may be used on Mr. Crampton’s engine without the slightest alteration in the working arrangements and the advantages resulting from large wheels (i.e. speed) are secured by the centre of gravity being wholly uninfluenced by the size of the driving wheels. Another advantage arising from Mr. Crampton‘s engine is that the position of the boiler heating surface may be increased to an extent of at least 2,000 feet if required, without injuriously affecting the centre of gravity, whilst the angle of stability is also much greater than upon other engines." 
"With the engine now building for the London and Birmingham Railway Co., various experiments, calculated to prove the superiority of its principle are in tended to be tried and we shall be happy to learn the results."

Although interesting, this contemporary account is slightly erroneous. The first two “Cramptons” were indeed destined for the Belgian railway, but went initially to the S.E.R. for a period of trials. Named "Namur" and "Liege", both had seven foot drivers. The reference to the "Monster" engine applies to the third Lowca Crampton, which had eight foot drivers. This formidable locomotive was supplied to the L.N.W.R. in 1849, bearing the company’s number 200 and the name "London". The subject of the present scraperboard illustration by Brian Slack (below), "London" had a rigid wheelbase fourteen feet long to centre of extreme wheels, cylinders 18” x 20" stroke, an elliptical boiler (height 4 " width 3’ 10”) and carrying wheels 3’ 9” in diameter. The heating surface has been estimated at around 1,900 square feet, and the working pressure was 100 lb. per square inch. Her operating weight was 25 tons 12 cwt., of which 11 tons 14 cwt. was born on the drivers. Working on the London to Birmingham line, "London" could attain 60 m.p.h. with ease, hauling ten four-wheeled coaches with a combined weight of perhaps 50 to 60 tons. She once took a train of eleven coaches at an average speed of 53.4 m.p.h. in a run of thirty miles.

The earlier "Cramptons" did not quite live up to expectations, however. The firebox heating area was rather small, and the boiler pressure of 100lb. per square inch compared unfavourably with certain other locomotives - some of Gooch’'s operated at 120 lbs. pressure at this period. As a good deal of the engine’s weight was taken on the small carrying wheels, the tractive adhesion of the drivers was impaired, thereby reducing the haulage capacity. Although stability was certainly improved, drivers often taking curves at twice the permitted speed or even faster, noticeable oscillations were produced on fast runs. This “nosing” of the locomotive could be severe enough to cause derailment. On such engines, in which the footplate was stepped over the driving wheels, the driver and fireman were subjected to a very rough ride. Ironically, this striving for a low centre of gravity by Crampton and other designers proved to have been misguided. From the late 1840's onwards, Robert Stephenson's locomotives had a progressively higher centre of gravity with no ill effects, whilst Brunel stated that "beyond certain limits, a low centre of gravity was not necessarily productive of any beneficial effects". Indeed, it was largely responsible for the unpleasant oscillations produced by the Cramptons.

Despite these problems, further "Cramptons" were built at Lowca and elsewhere (in all five were built at Lowca:; the fourth was exported to Denmark whilst the fifth went into service on the local Maryport & Carlisle Railway). The design offered some distinct advantages to offset the problems. One was that many of the working parts, which in previous engines had been very inaccessible, were fully exposed for routine maintenance. American and Continental designers at once recognised the advantage of this feature, and adopted a similar procedure, whereas most British engineers were slow to follow suit. Another valuable characteristic was that the very expensive driving wheels lasted well, the small, relatively cheap carrying wheels bearing the brunt of flange wear.

In service in Belgium, "Namur" attained speeds in excess of 70 m.p.h. but the highest speed achieved by any "Crampton" appears to be 79 m.p.h. by the "Liverpool". This huge engine, the largest standard gauge locomotive built until many years later, was constructed in 1848 by Messrs. Bury, Curtis and Kennedy of Liverpool for the L. & N.W.R.., where she operated the express service between London and Rugby. In service, she weighed 30 tons, and her tender 21 tons laden. She had six four-foot carrying wheels and a pair of eight-foot drivers at the rear, her arrangement being 4-2-2. Her power became legendary; on one occasion she hauled no less than forty carriages (of the small type then used) within the scheduled time, thereby "exceeding the combined duty of three ordinary engines used on the same run". It seems likely that "Liverpool" was built not so much because she was really necessary, but because the broad-gauge G.W.R. locomotives were out-performing all those of standard gauge. At the Great Exhibition of 1851, "Liverpool" was displayed just a few yards away from "Lord of the Isles", Daniel Gooch’s magnificent engine which operated on the G.W.R. The two locomotives were remarkably similar in overall dimensions, weight and power. "Liverpool", then was probably intended primarily as a status symbol for the standard gauge system. Brunel's broad gauge although arguably superior to the 4’ 8'%", was eventually phased out by May 1892, as it was incompatible with the system serving the rest of the country. The "battle of the gauges" had finally been won.

"Liverpool" highlighted yet another problem created by the "Cramptons"; their effects upon the permanent way. Had the carrying wheels been mounted in bogie frames, and the lines fitted with fishplate connectors, all might have been well, but these heavy, rigid wheelbase engines were responsible for very rapid wear to the track. The days of the Cramptons were numbered. They were gradually withdrawn from service, superseded by a new generation of locomotives, most of which incorporated external cylinders and other working parts, but little else of Crampton's design. His influence on American and European railways was to be much more enduring, but in his native country, Thomas Russell Crampton’s contribution to the evolution of the railway locomotive is almost forgotten.

Whitehaven Built, T.R. Crampton Locomotive
Crampton Locomotive


Whitehaven had been small harbour and fishing village from 13th century or earlier. Expansion began in mid-17th century with building of piers by Lowthers 1632-4 and 1679-81 and granting of market charter 1660. By the 1680s it had grown rapidly, expanding from village of c.30 households in early 17th century to a town of over 1,000 inhabitants by 1685, which more than doubled to 2,281 by 1696. Sir John Lowther had laid out grid of streets by 1680s, making Whitehaven the earliest planned new town in post-medieval Britain.

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