Minister of Transport, Eric Campbell Geddes’ Railways Act of 1921, enacted at the start of 1923, created the ‘Big Four’ regional rail companies of the Great Western Railway, the London Midland Scottish Railway, the London North Eastern Railway and the Southern Railway.
Twenty five years later, on January 1, 1948, Clement Attlee’s Transport Act of 1947 created British Railways, marking the end of what many regard as the golden age of the railways. With 2017 marking the 70th anniversary of the end of the ‘Big Four’, the ‘Final Day’ collection features a mainline locomotive from each of the regions, in its final regional livery.
In the mid-1920s, with train load sizes increasing to and from the South West, the Great Western Railway were faced with the need for even more powerful locomotives, capable of hauling the heavy expresses at an average speed of 60 mph. The main routes were limited to a 20 ton axle weight though, so a number of the Great Western’s routes had to be upgraded, including the strengthening of some bridges, before the Great Western’s General Manager, Sir Felix Pole, would give his Chief Mechanical Engineer, Charles Collett, permission to proceed with the design and construction of a “Super-Castle”. The result was the King class 4-6-0, which emerged from Swindon works in June 1927, the Great Western promoting the new locomotives as “the most powerful passenger locomotives in the country”.
Initially, twenty locomotives were ordered, the first six being built at Swindon in June and July 1927, followed by the remaining fourteen locomotives between February and July 1928. The final ten locomotives of the class were not to be built for another two years, being constructed between May and August 1930 and they incorporated some minor changes from the earlier engines.
Only being able to operate over the Great Western’s “Double Red Route”, the Kings were confined to the West of England main line as far as Plymouth, via Newbury and Bristol, as well as the cut-off route from Paddington to Wolverhampton via Bicester. It was over these routes that the locomotives came to be associated with the iconic Cornish Riviera Express and Cambrian Coast Express services, regularly reaching speeds of 100mph.
Gradually replaced on the west of England services by diesel-hydraulic power from 1959 and on the Paddington-Wolverhampton run from 1962, by December 31, 1962 all had been withdrawn from service to face the cutter’s torch. Eventually three of the class survived into preservation; 6000 King George V, 6023 King Edward II and 6024 King Edward I.
6004 King George III entered traffic in July 1927, being allocated to Laira on August 25, 1927 where it remained until October 1941, when the locomotive moved to Exeter. A return to Laira took place in January 1942 and 6004 King George III was still allocated there on December 31, 1947, although the locomotive was actually at Reading workshops for running repairs that night.