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GWR Kings in the Black Country

By Black Country Bugle  |  Posted: September 05, 2014

  • 6001 King Edward VII charging through West Bromwich station in June 1958

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FOR many rail enthusiasts, particularly those devoted to the Great Western Railway, the sight of a GWR 6000 Class locomotive is one to moisten the eye. These mighty engines were the pinnacle of Great Western design, named for kings of Great Britain and England, they were to be seen hauling passenger express services through the Black Country, and these photographs from their final days have been loaned to us by Laurence Brownhill of Netherton.

The GWR's Kings were built in the late 1920s. Designed by Charles Collett, they were an enlarged version of his Castle class. These had held the record as the most powerful express passenger locomotives in Britain but in 1926 that title was taken by the Southern Railway's Lord Nelson class. The Kings won it back.

In the 1920s and '30s Britain's "Big Four" railway companies were building bigger and more powerful locomotives. The other three all built "Pacifics", with a 4-6-2 wheel configuration but the Great Western chose to eschew them, after an unsuccessful experiment in 1908, and the Kings had a 4-6-0 arrangement.

The first King was completed in June 1927. It was originally intended for the class to be named after cathedrals but as the first locomotive was to be sent to the USA on a promotional tour it was decided that a more internationally recognised name should be chosen, and so the engine was named for the reigning monarch, King George V.

Numbered 6000, King George V crossed the Atlantic for the centenary celebrations of the Baltimore and Ohio Railroad, the first scheduled freight and passenger service in the USA. The tour was a great success and when King George V returned to Britain the engine was presented with a commemorative bell and plaque.

Subsequent Kings were named after monarchs going back through history, 6001 being King Edward VII, and so on, effectively naming the engines in reverse order.

30 King class locomotives were built between 1927 and 1930, but in 1936 6007 King William III was wrecked in a collision and a replacement engine built, bringing the total in the class up to 31.

When George V died in 1936, 6029 King Stephen was renamed King Edward VIII in honour of his successor and when he abdicated later that year, 6028 King Henry II was renamed King George VI. King Stephen (r.1135-1154) was the earliest monarch to have a King locomotive named after him.

Modifications ensured the Kings' usefulness continued after the Second World War, and fitted with superheaters and double-chimneys they continued hauling express passenger services into the early 1960s.

The class was withdrawn from service in 1962 and many of the locomotives ended their days in the Black Country. 6001 King Edward VII, 6002 King William IV, 6007 King William III, 6012 King Edward VI, 6014 King Henry VII, 6015 King Richard III, 6016 King Edward V, 6017 King Edward IV, 6020 King Henry IV, 6022 King Edward III and 6027 King Richard I were all scrapped by Cox and Danks of Oldbury, while 6005 King George II was cut up by Cashmores of Great Bridge.

Only three Kings have been preserved; 6000 King George V is on display at the National Railway Museum in York and is the only King in original condition, while 6023 King Edward II and 6024 King Edward I have been slightly reduced in height to allow them to run on the current railway network.

Our four pictures show Kings running through the Black Country towards the end of their service lives. The photograph at top left was taken in June 1958 and it shows 6001 King Edward VII with a London express passing through West Bromwich station.

This station opened in 1854 on the GWR's Birmingham Snow Hill to Wolverhampton Low Level line. That had begun in August 1846 with the founding of the Birmingham, Wolverhampton and Dudley Railway, which soon combined with the Birmingham and Oxford Junction Railway but both were bought by the GWR in November 1846. Construction began in 1851 and the line opened on November 14, 1854, with both broad and standard gauge rails.

The line, and with it West Bromwich station, closed in 1972, with the station buildings being demolished soon afterwards. However, the platforms remained, even after the tracks were lifted, but were removed in the late 1990s when the Midland Metro was built and the old station site was resurrected as the West Bromwich Central Metro stop.

Our second photograph shows 6018 King Henry VI with a Paddington-bound express passing through Swan Village station. This was taken in August 1959 and shows the original station layout before it was rebuilt in the 1960s. Again, it originally opened in November 1854 and closed in 1972. When the line was reopened as the Midland Metro in 1999 no new stop was built at Swan Village and the old station site was completely cleared.

Our other two pictures show 6000 King George V with the last King-pulled special from Wolverhampton to Swindon on September 9, 1962. In both pictures you can clearly see the commemorative bell that was presented on its visit to America.

The colour photograph was taken at Swan Village and shows the locomotive steaming through the level crossing with the signal box on the left.

Our last picture shows King George V passing by Holy Trinity Church. That was built 1840-41 to serve the south-east portion of West Bromwich and a new parish was created in 1842. The site was given by George Silvester and subscribers to the building fund included George Salter, William Chance, Thomas Hood and Edward Bullock, with a grant from Queen Anne's Bounty. The church was designed by S.W. Dawkes and built in brick. The chancel burnt down in 1861 but was rebuilt.

Did you thrill to the sight of a King class express train thundering through the Black Country? Please share your railway memories, pictures or any artefacts with Bugle readers, contact dshaw@blackcountrybugle.co.uk or write to 41 High Street, Cradley Heath, B64 5HL.

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