Class: King Class
Designer: C. B. Collett
Weight: 136 tons (including tender)
Purpose: Express Passenger
Information: Built under the direction of C.B. Collett the King Castle Class 6000 series was built by Great Western Railway (GWR) with the intent of wresting back the title of “most powerful steam locomotive in Britain” after losing the title to Southern Railways Lord Nelson Class. The King’s were the largest steam locomotives built by the GWR and entrusted the railways most prestigious passenger train workings including “The Cornish Riviera” express.
Details: After GWR had previously dabbled in designs using a Pacific type wheel arrangement with “Great Bear” in 1908, ultimately rebuilt as a 4-6-0 Castle, conventional wisdom decided on building the King Class with a 4-6-0 wheel arrangement. The King Class was employed on express passenger services, over the most heavily travelled mainline routes between London Paddington via Bristol, Taunton, Plymouth and Paddington, Birmingham Wolverhampton.
Employing a 4-cylinder layout, with two each inside and outside cylinders the class was comparable in performance to competitor company 4-6-2 Pacific designs. In later years British Railways designated the class 8P. In common with the earlier “Great Bear” design, axle load prohibited the locomotives to be used beyond the prescribed lines, due to severe route weight restrictions. A total of 30 locomotives were built in two batches at Swindon Locomotive Works between 1927 and 1930. A final King was “built” using parts from 6007 “King William III” after a severe accident in 1936 and reentered traffic under the same name and number. The Class was named after Kings of England. In service the Kings performed admirably on fine Welsh coal. During 1948 locomotive exchange trials performance deteriorated significantly. This was blamed on the quality of Yorkshire coal used during the trial. During their lives minor changes and improvements to steam draughting and exhaust were implemented in an effort to improve performance and economy using lower grade coal. The most obvious visual difference being the fitting of double chimneys, applied to all Class members between 1956 and 1958. Changes resulted in superior performances all-around.
On completion of construction, class leader 6000 “King George V” was shipped to the United States to take part in the centenary celebrations of the Baltimore & Ohio Railroad. A bell was presented by the host for the occasion in order to comply with American regulations and has distinguished the locomotive to this date. Another member, 6014 King Henry VII received pseudo streamlining in 1935 and subsequently removed.
In traffic the Kings were always painted Top-Link express passenger livery. Because the British Railways corporate green scheme was similar to that of the GWR the locomotives remained green through most of their lives, with the exception of several members being painted Experimental Blue livery after 1948.
As the Kings could not be reassigned to lesser workings as dieselization took hold on the mainline routes, the entire class was withdrawn in quick succession during 1962. Although preservation was not under full swing at the time, three managed to escape the breakers torch and survive into preservation.