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History page updated 26-May-08
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GWR King class 4-cylinder 4-6-0 No. 6024 King Edward I

60xx diagram
King Class General Arrangement (as built)

Background History

Railway historians trace the development of the 4-cylinder King class locomotives back to the early 20th Century work of the Chief Mechanical Engineer (CME) of the Great Western Railway, George Jackson Churchward, at Swindon.  At the time the railway companies were fiercely competitive and publicity-conscious, and locomotive design and technology were major arenas for demonstrating radical creativity and technical excellence. Churchward was constantly searching for improvements and innovation in his designs, and arguably by the early 1920s the Great Western‘s 2-cylinder and 4-cylinder 4-6-0 designs were substantially superior to the locomotives of the other railway groupings.

Churchward's preference for locomotive‘s without trailing wheels was a direct response to the need to maximise adhesion on the South Devon banks of Dainton, Rattery and Hemerdon on the West of England mainline to Plymouth, then the Great Western‘s most important route. As a result Swindon only ever produced one Pacific (in 1907), No. 111 The Great Bear, within whose design Churchward used many of the 4-cylinder principals which he first developed in the Star class. Limiting his locomotives to narrow fireboxes, he designed boilers with good circulation. Combining relatively high boiler pressures with moderate levels of super-heat made efficient use of the high calorific-value steam coal which was readily available from the mines in South Wales, and reduced mechanical and boiler wear.

In 1922 Churchward retired and his successor as CME, Charles Benjamin Collett inherited a fine legacy of standardised Swindon designs. However, there was also a disparate stable of locomotives from the pre-grouping railways at the GWR‘s disposal, and as with the other big four railways Collett had the task of rationalising the fleet. In addition, in a climate of rising costs and falling income, he also had to cope with catching up the substantial under-investment which had occurred during and after the First World War. Collett therefore applied a pragmatic, economist‘s approach to the design of the Great Western‘s next generation of motive power, adapting and enlarging Churchward‘s earlier 2-cylinder and 4-cylinder designs, developing the Castles from the Stars and the Halls‘from the Saints.

By 1926 the demand for a locomotive still larger than the 4-cylinder Castle was becoming apparent and the CME was instructed by the Great Western's General Manager Sir Felix Pole to proceed with the design and construction of a Super-Castle, capable of hauling heavier passenger expresses on the Great Western between Paddington and Bristol, the West of England and the Midlands at average speeds around 60 mph. The 4-6-0 design which emerged from Swindon works in June 1927, eventually known as the King class, took on dimensions never previously seen, and represented the ultimate development of Churchward's four cylinder concept. They were the heaviest (136 tons), and had the highest tractive effort (40,300 lbs.) of any 4-6-0 locomotive ever to run in the United Kingdom.

In all thirty Kings were built at Swindon works, in two batches in 1927-28 and 1930. No. 6024 King Edward I was completed in the second batch (Lot 267) of ten locomotives on the 30th June 1930, for a cost of £7,500, and was set to work•on the 5th July 1930. It completed 237,871 miles before its first heavy overhaul in January 1935, averaging over sixty thousand miles in service for each of its first five years.

The locomotive was allocated to Plymouth Laira and Newton Abbot, hauling the principal expresses between London and the West of England, and it stayed in the west until nationalisation in 1948. In the period up to the outbreak of the Second World War it had completed almost half a million miles in service and by nationalisation, almost nine hundred thousand miles.

Post-war developments

After nationalisation, British Railways carried out trials to assess the national locomotive fleet prior to the designs of the new Standard class locomotives. No. 6018 King Henry VI was selected to take part and performed competently but supplied with northern hard coal demonstrated inferior fuel performance compared with the more modern, higher super-heat designs in its test group. Swindon had already modified No. 6022 King Edward III with higher super-heat, and with uncertainty on the future quality of fuel took the decision to fit the entire class with new boilers equipped with four-row super-heaters. The modification of all thirty locomotives was completed by the mid 1950s, No. 6024 receiving its first 4-row super-heater boiler in September 1953, when the engine had completed over one million miles in service.

The improvements in steam generation resulted in the potential for much higher steaming rates which prompted further trial modifications to the smoke-box design, culminating in the fitting of double blast-pipes and chimneys. Thus modified the class proved that not only were they able to live up to their long-held reputation as load-pullers, but compared with the original locomotives, they gained greater freedom from mechanical resistance which promoted regular high-speed running, with speeds in the nineties, and on occasions, in excess of 100 mph. Revitalised, the Kings were able to cope with BR Western Region's accelerated schedules with ease, generally having plenty in hand - even with coal of indifferent quality - and they retained their position as the WR's premier motive power until finally superseded by diesel-hydraulics.

In common with the entire class No. 6024 was fitted new cylinders and in November 1957, with its chimney and blast-pipe modifications. In March 1960, it was fitted with its final boiler (boiler no. 8610, previously fitted new to No. 6027 in 1953, and overhauled for No. 6018, No. 6000, and No. 6024). In just over two years up to withdrawal, the locomotive ran 94,384 miles with this boiler.

King Edward I ran for over thirty years on the Great Western Railway and the Western Region of British Railways, regularly hauling prestige express passenger services such as the "Cornish Riviera Express", "The Bristolian", "The Inter City" and the "Cambrian Coast Express". It worked a total of 1,570,015 miles and was a member of the elite group of Kings which recorded speeds of 100 mph or more on a number of occasions. In BR days the locomotive was allocated to Plymouth Laira, Old Oak Common and finally Cardiff Canton.

The King class's longevity became legendary, and this was demonstrated by the locomotives domination of the principal GW/BR services which spanned from the late 1920s to the early 1960s. Unlike many classes, right to the end the Kings avoided the ignominy of being consigned to minor duties in remote locations, instead handling the most important traffic between London and the Midlands and South Wales. The entire class was withdrawn from service in 1962, although No. 6018 King Henry Vl reappeared briefly in 1963 to haul a Stephenson Locomotive Society charter. All but three examples were cut up.

Withdrawal and Restoration

Withdrawn from BR service in the June of 1962, No. 6024 was eventually sold to Woodham Brothers with No. 6023 King Edward II, and both locomotives found their way to Barry Island, South Wales for scrap, where they languished in the company of over 200 other locomotives, while the cutting torches were applied to easier, more lucrative targets.

Inspired by preserved class-mate No. 6000 King George V's 1971 breach of BR's steam ban, in 1973 the King Preservation Society•bought No. 6024 for around £4,000, with the purpose of restoring it to mainline condition. With many components missing, including its double-chimney (currently fitted to No. 6000, now located at the Steam Museum, Swindon), and with piston, connecting and eccentric rods and slide-bars cut through, at the time the project had all the appearances of the ultimate "mission impossible". Both Nos. 6023 and 6024 were available for purchase but No. 6024 was preferred, because after a derailment in the Barry yard No. 6023 had had its rear driving wheels torched through and at the time was considered beyond repair.

In 1974, the 36th locomotive to be rescued from Barry, No. 6024 was moved to the Buckinghamshire Railway Centre at Quainton Road, and the Society made slow but steady progress towards the restoration of the locomotive. In 1981 the renamed 6024 Preservation Society Limited introduced a new funding initiative, the Club 100, which in crucial ways proved the project's turning-point and by 1984 was fully subscribed. The revenue-stream generated by the Club 100, and its successor the Club Sixty-Twenty Four, enabled progress to accelerate and has become the highly successful financial foundation for all of the Society‘s activities.

The restoration to mainline running condition at Quainton Road - in the open air for the first twelve years - took sixteen years by Society members, but it was worth it. On the 2nd February 1989, No. 6024 moved again under its own power, and amidst considerable public interest and media coverage it was re-commissioned on 26th April 1989 by HRH the Duke of Gloucester. In October 1989 the engine was moved by low-loader from Quainton Road to the Birmingham Railway Museum (now Tyseley Locomotive Works), from where it completed its mainline test runs. On the 15th April 1990, it resumed its mainline career hauling revenue-earning passenger trains.

In recognition of the high standard to which the locomotive had been restored, No. 6024 was outright winner of the 1990 British Coal sponsored Heritage Award (for a restoration project using coal), and awarded a £3,000 prize which was put towards the restoration of a Mark I BSK coach, for transporting support crew and equipment for mainline work.

Back to the mainline

The Society was invited by British Rail to provide No. 6024 to haul the InterCity VIP special on the 19th May 1990. In July 1990 it appeared at the National Railway Museum Exhibition On Tour which was held at Swindon Works, where it celebrated its 60th anniversary and was stabled alongside classmate No. 6000 King George V.

The locomotive quickly became a favourite mainline star. Based at either Tyseley, Didcot or Hereford, it repeatedly put on exhilarating performances in its expanding mainline programme, hauling trains to Derby, Birmingham, Stratford upon Avon, Swindon, Newport, Shrewsbury and Chester. In late 1991 the locomotive was invited to haul the "William Shakespeare Express" from London Paddington, its first appearance there for almost thirty years.

As ”open ”access• of the national network brought more routes into play in early 1992, No. 6024 was increasingly seen hauling passenger charter trains on a number of previously banned routes, including the mainlines to the West of England via Bristol and South Wales through the Severn Tunnel. Fitted with BR's standard Automatic Warning System (permitting speeds up to 75 mph), No. 6024 reintroduced steam-hauled express passenger trains to a number of new destinations within western zones for the first time for many years, including Cardiff, Bristol Temple Meads, Gloucester, Exeter, Swansea, Worcester, Newton Abbot and Paignton.

In August 1992 the locomotive made its promised return to Quainton Road, this time via the mainline, when in the company of Castle class No. 5029 Nunney Castle it hauled shuttles to and from Aylesbury. However, plans to take a train to Plymouth were thwarted by the locomotive‘s cab height preventing it from passing an over-bridge at Plympton.

No 6024 shortly before departure from Paddington for Didcot on its final working of 
the first mainline certificate, 1 March 1995. (Photo M.Cole)
No 6024 shortly before departure from Paddington for Didcot
on its final working of the first mainline certificate, 1 March 1995.
(Photo M.Cole)

After running almost 10,000 mainline miles, in March 1995 the locomotive withdrew from traffic for its heavy overhaul at the end of its mainline boiler certificate, and it retired to a secure MoD site at BAD Kineton in Warwickshire for the Society to carry out the work. In September 1996 it reappeared with a number of small but significant modifications, incorporated in order to make it more adaptable and to increase its availability.

The modifications included the fitting of dual-braking equipment (air and vacuum) to increase flexibility in the use of passenger stock, and the reduction of its chimney, safety valves and cab-roof heights to permit it to fit within the standard loading gauge. This allowed it to make its triumphant return to Plymouth, first double-headed in November 1996, and then in April 1997 running solo This was the first time an unassisted steam locomotive had been entrusted with a passenger train over the route since the early 1960s.

As well as returning to many of its traditional western locations, No. 6024 has also hauled trains on many of the national network's other major routes, some of which are under the 25kV wires, and has been seen at points as far-flung as Penzance, Falmouth, Par, Carmarthen, Fishguard, Crewe, Holyhead, Preston, Carlisle, Blackburn, York, Leeds, Doncaster, Peterborough, Norwich, Cambridge, Salisbury, Bournemouth, Weymouth, and the London termini of King's Cross and Victoria (as well as Paddington). Few of these destinations ever saw a King class in Great Western and British Railways days. King Edward I has since returned to Plymouth unassisted on a number of occasions and in August 2002 broke the record for steam with the fastest modern-day time for the 52 miles from Plymouth to Exeter, in 58 minutes 6 seconds.

The engine has made appearances at MPD open days and other special events at Bescot, Gloucester, Exeter, Old Oak Common and Swansea. It has stabled at the MPDs at Old Oak Common, Stewarts Lane, Bounds Green (all in London), Aylesbury, Swansea, Cardiff, Newport, Bristol, Gloucester, Exeter, Laira, St. Blazey in Cornwall and Carlisle Upperby in Cumbria. It also appears in steam regularly at steam centres and on mainline-connected preserved lines. It has made visits to the Great Western Society at Didcot, the Bulmers Railway Centre in Hereford, the Severn Valley Railway, Tyseley Locomotive Works, the West Somerset Railway, the Crewe Heritage Centre, the National Railway Museum in York , the Bodmin & Wenford Railway, the Paignton & Dartmouth Steam Railway, the Southall Steam Centre, the Yeovil Railway Centre, and the Watercress Line (Mid Hants Railway).

With a further 15,000 mainline miles on the clock, in October 2002 the locomotive was again withdrawn for its second major overhaul, which was being carried out by the Society within the site of Tyseley Locomotive Works. To keep pace with safety improvements the locomotive wias fitted with standard Train Protection Warning System (TPWS), and the Society also completed its Water Wagon project for mainline trials. This will enable mainline water-stops to be avoided on certain routes. No. 6024 returned to the mainline on 7 October 2004, on its third 7-year main line certificate.

It returned again painted in British Railways livery and after running-in between Birmingham and Stratford Upon Avon, undertook a busy mainline schedule based in the Midlands, the South-East and the South-West, completing 6,000 miles in its first twelve months back. In 2005, King Edward I achieved a major milestone in its history and on the 2nd July it celebrated its 75th Anniversary in great style, hauling a special train from Paddington to Kingswear. The previous Saturday, thanks to English, Welsh & Scottish Railways, it ran footplate rides inside Old Oak Common depot for over 100 Society Members and guests.

The locomotive then worked throughout the summer of 2005 on many trains in the south-west, and up to September 2005 completed almost 5,000 mainline miles before returning to the depot at Tyseley Locomotive Works for some well-earned maintenance time.

Both 2006 and 2007 saw busy programmes with work mainly based in the Midlands, London and the South-west and the locomotive clocked up well in excess of 5,000 miles each year. Yet more modifications were carried out, in the form of the fitting of “black-box” equipment, known as OTMR (on-train monitoring and recording).

The long-awaited baptism of the water-wagon working on a passenger train took place in June 2007, between Shrewsbury and Paddington - a distance of 170 miles - when no water-stops were required

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