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North Star locomotive 1837

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North Star locomotive 1837

The Great Western Railway, unlike most other parts of the British network, opted for a track gauge of 7ft and one of thee earliest and best-known of its broad gauge engines was North Star. Built in the Newcastle works of Robert Stephenson & Co in 1837, this 2-2-2 locomotive was originally destined for the 5ft 6in gauge New Orleans Railway in the United States, but, because of financial problems with that company, it was instead sold to the GWR.

North Star locomotive 1837

North Star 1837
TECHNICAL DATA
Introduced  1837
Designer  R. Stephenson and Co

Driving wheel diameter  7 ft  0 in
Cylinders (2 inside)  16  x  16 in (later 16x18)

Weight  23  tons approx

Withdrawn 1871
Scrapped  1906

Its driving wheels were altered from 6ft 6in to 7ft diameter and it was re-gauged, being delivered by barge to Maidenhead on November 28, 1837. The engine then entered the all-time hall of fame on May 31, 1838, when it hauled the directors' special from Paddington to Maidenhead with GWR engineer Isambard Kingdom Brunei on the footplate at the railways official opening ceremony. As the leader of a class of similar engines, all named after heavenly bodies, North Star gave sterling service for a third of a century, being rebuilt in 1849 with a new, slightly longer boiler and frames. In all, it amassed 428,848 miles until withdrawal in 1871 and it was then, appropriately, preserved at Swindon Works as a priceless piece of railway history.

Unfortunatey, tragedy was to strike in 1906 when the authorities at Swindon decided that more space was needed at the works so, in an act of official vandalism that would be considered inconceivable in todays more enlightened age, North Star and another famous broad gauge engine that had been officially preserved - the 4-2-2 Lord of the Isles - were ruthlessly scrapped. This despite thee fact that Lord of the Isles, an 8ft Single of the Iron Duke class, had been thought highly enough of by the GWR to have represented the company at an exhibition in Chicago, USA, in 1893. Those acts under the jurisdiction of the otherwise highly-respected locomotive superintendent George Jackson Churchward remain among the most controversial aspects of British locomotive history. Although it was of little consolation, the 7ft driving wheels of North Star survived, enabling a non-working replica to be constructed in 1925 by a then more contrite GWR for that years railway centenary celebrations in Darlington. The replica is still with us and has in more recent times been joined by reproductions of broad gauge engines Iron Duke and Fire Fly.

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