Arthur Peppercorn the LNER’s Last Chief Mechanical Engineer Remembered

By chance, during a family visit to Hadley Wood in the early 1960s I was delighted to find the house in which we stayed sat very close to the LNER’s old main line. It was a summer Saturday and express trains flew past at regular intervals. For some reason, one came to a halt within thirty or so yards of where I stood – a Peppercorn A1, No.60149, Amadis, by then a Doncaster engine. The fact that the driver and fireman called a greeting and both waved made me an instant fan of them and their locomotive. From that moment, I longed to travel behind one of these A1s but it wasn’t to be while BR operated steam locomotives. In fact, I had to wait until the reborn A1 Tornado was visiting the West Somerset Railway fifty years later for this particular wish to be granted. I wasn’t disappointed.

I have never forgotten that moment all those years ago with Amadis and her unknown crew. So it was a great pleasure to be commissioned by Pen and Sword to write about this locomotive’s creator and be able to immerse myself in such a fascinating subject.

This quiet, unassuming but immensely talented engineer was the LNER’s last CME. In 1949 aged 60 he decided to call it a day and retired only to die a short while later. Having given his all to the company in peace and war and to his predecessors, Nigel Gresley and Edward Thompson, he deserved far better than this. But the extreme stress exerted on him over many decades had taken its toll and his health was broken by the effort.

In some ways his many achievements are overshadowed by Gresley and Thompson’s accomplishments and the controversies that occasionally surrounded their endeavours. Yet he served them both with great skill and understanding without seeking credit for doing so, despite his immense contributions to their work. Then when he became CME himself, he continued their good work, but, freed of any constraining hand, produced two classes of Pacific that many believe are amongst the best to have ever run in Britain. This biography takes Peppercorn out of the shadows this very private man imposed on himself, describes his life in some detail and highlights his great contribution to railway history.

Where railway engineers were often happiest – on the footplate of a locomotive. Peppercorn was no exception and is captured here in the cab of a new Pacific, in this case it has just been named after him.

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The Peppercorn biography is the third volume in a trilogy of books written by Tim Hillier-Graves about the LNER’s Chief Mechanical Engineers. The other two volumes, on Gresley and Thompson, are still available from Pen and Sword.