The Gresley class V4 2-6-2s represent the last design of locomotive produced by Sir Nigel Gresley (he was knighted in 1936). Designed in the late ’30s, the initial locomotives should have been constructed in 1939 but their erection was delayed until 1941 by the outbreak of war. The intention was to provide a powerful, mixed traffic locomotive with a wide route availability, permitting them to work where the very successful V2 2-6-2s were prevented from doing so by their axle loading; the result was ‘maid of all work’ benefiting from a RA4 route classification that had access to 80% of the LNER mileage, particularly in East Anglia and Scotland. Had Gresley not died in 1941 (just six weeks after No. 3401 had emerged from ‘The Plant’) and war not intervened, there is little doubt that the first two locomotives would have been followed by further examples, indeed, an order for ten more, for which cylinders had already been cast, was cancelled by Edward Thompson, Gresley’s successor.
Gresley employed a number of design criteria to keep the weight of the locomotives down, using alloy steels, integrally forged pistons and rods, and three, small 15″ cylinders supplied by a high-pressure (250psi) boiler to produce tractive effort; The V4s shared many features with the V2s including a monobloc casting for the cylinders and the same pony truck design. The boiler design incorporated 2% nickel steel plate to reduce its thickness and tapered from 5′ 4″ at the firebox to 4′ 8″ at the smokebox; the wide firebox allowed the burning of lower quality fuel and No. 3402 was fitted with a welded steel firebox with thermic syphons, although this proved troublesome and was replaced with a copper firebox in 1945.
No. 3401 was named Bantam Cock to highlight the lightweight nature of the design. No. 3402 was never given an official name, but acquired the popular nickname of “Bantam Hen”. Under the 1946 renumbering, Nos. 3401 and 3402, became Nos. 1700 and 1701, respectively.
After trials in the Leeds/York area and in East Anglia, both V4s moved to Scotland where they worked passenger services in and around Edinburgh before moving to the Glasgow – Fort William line in 1943. They were found to be best on the faster stretches of this line, but the K4s were more sure-footed on the steeper gradients. In 1949, they were replaced by B1 4-6-0s and Stanier 4-6-0 Black Fives. They then moved to Eastfield, and operated goods trains to Edinburgh, Perth, and Kinross. Occasionally they worked passenger services in the 1950s, and for a while No. 61700 (LNER No. 3401) was based at Stirling shed specifically for passenger services. In 1954, they both moved Aberdeen to replace O7 WD ‘Austerity’ locomotives which were unsuitable for the required fast running. Both V4s were withdrawn in 1957.
In retrospect the V4s were the right engines at the wrong time. Had the war not intervened and Gresley lived long enough to develop the design, a class of useful ‘go anywhere’ mixed traffic locomotives would have found plenty of employment in the north and east of the LNER’s territory. As it was Thompson opted for the robust simplicity of the B1 4-6-0 design, sacrificing elegance of design and useful route availability for ruggedness and ease of maintenance, which, in light of the operating strictures of WW2 and the subsequent nationalisation, was probably the pragmatic choice.
Leading wheel dia: 3 ft 2 in (0.97 m)
Driving wheel dia: 5 ft 8 in (1.73 m)
Trailing wheel dia: 3 ft 2 in (0.97 m)
Wheelbase: 29 ft 4 in (8.94 m) engine
13 ft 0 in (3.96 m) tender
50 ft 2 1⁄4 in (15.297 m) total
Axle load 17 long tons (17 t)
Locomotive weight 70.4 long tons (71.5 t)
Tender weight 42.75 long tons (43.44 t)
Total weight 113.15 long tons (114.97 t)
Firegrate area 28.5 sq ft (2.65 m2)
Boiler 5 ft 4 in (1.63 m) diameter
Boiler pressure 250 psi (1.7 MPa)
Heating surface 1,799.9 sq ft (167.22 m2)
Tubes 884.3 sq ft (82.15 m2)
Flues 408.2 sq ft (37.92 m2)
Firebox 151.6 sq ft (14.08 m2)
Heating area 355.8 sq ft (33.05 m2)
Cylinder size 15 in × 26 in (380 mm × 660 mm)
Valve gear Walschaerts outside, Gresley conjugation for inside