George Jackson Churchward

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George Jackson Churchward
Born (1857-01-31)31 January 1857
Stoke Gabriel, Devon
Died 19 December 1933(1933-12-19) (aged 76)
Occupation mechanical engineer

George Jackson Churchward CBE (31 January 1857 – 19 December 1933) was Chief Mechanical Engineer of the Great Western Railway (GWR) in the United Kingdom from 1902 to 1922.

Early career

Churchward was born in Stoke Gabriel, Devon, where his ancestors had been squires since 1457, and was educated at Totnes Grammar School. He apprenticed in the Newton Abbot works of the South Devon Railway and under Joseph Armstrong in the GWR's Swindon Works. At Swindon he rose from draughtsman through several positions, including Carriage Works Manager, and in 1897 was appointed Chief Assistant to William Dean. After 5 years as Chief Assistant, he succeeded Dean as Locomotive Superintendent.[1]

In 1900 he became the first mayor of Swindon.

Chief Mechanical Engineer

In the 19th and early 20th century, railway companies were fiercely competitive. Speed meant revenue and speed was dependent on engineering. Churchward delivered to the GWR from Swindon a series of class-leading and innovative locomotives. Arguably, from the early 1900s to the 1920s the Great Western's 2-cylinder and 4-cylinder 4-6-0 designs were substantially superior to any class of locomotive of the other British railway companies. On one occasion, the GWR's directors confronted Churchward, and demanded to know why the London and North Western Railway were able to build three 4-6-0 locomotives for the price of two of Churchward's "Stars". Churchward allegedly gave a terse response: "Because one of mine could pull two of their bloody things backwards!"[2]

Churchward preferred locomotives without trailing wheels, to maximise adhesion on the South Devon banks of Dainton, Rattery and Hemerdon on the West of England mainline to Plymouth, then the Great Western's most important route. Due to the weight and dimensional restrictions required to pass over all the GWR's lines, he designed narrow fireboxes, but with good circulation. Combining high boiler pressures with superheating made efficient use of the high calorific-value steam coal from the mines in South Wales. Other refinements included feed-water distribution trays beneath the top-fitted clack boxes to minimise boiler stress and large bearing surfaces to reduce wear.

Churchward also made advances in carriage design. He introduced the GWR's first steel-roofed coaches.

Churchward is credited[3] with introducing to Britain several refinements from American and French steam locomotive practice. Among these were the tapered boiler and the casting of cylinders and saddles together, in halves. His choice of outside cylinders for express locomotives was also not standard in Britain for that time. Many elements of British practice were retained, of course. His locomotives for the most part used British plate frames, and the crew was accommodated in typical British fashion. The selection of a domeless boiler was more common to Britain than to the US

In 1922 Churchward retired, and C. B. Collett inherited his legacy of excellent, standardised designs. These designs influenced British locomotive practice to the end of steam. Major classes built by the LMS and even British Railways 50 years later are clearly developments of Churchward's basic designs. The LMS Stanier Class 5 4-6-0 and the BR standard class 5 are both derived from his Saint class early examples of which date to 1902.[4]

BR Western Region class 47 locomotive no. D1664 (later 47079) was named George Jackson Churchward upon delivery in February 1965.[5][6] It was renamed G. J. Churchward in March 1979,[7] and the name was removed in October 1987.[citation needed]

City of Truro

The first class of locomotives with which Churchward won success and worldwide recognition was the 4-4-0 'City' class, which soon became one of the most famous class locomotives in the world at the time. One of them, City of Truro, became the first engine in the world to haul a train at 100 miles per hour in 1904 (although unauthenticated). He went on to build the 'County' class and the 'Star' class.


Although Churchward had retired in 1922, he continued to live in a GWR-owned house near to the line at Swindon, and he retained his interest in the company's affairs. He never married.[8] On 19 December 1933, now with poor eyesight and hard of hearing, he was inspecting a defectively-bedded sleeper on the down, through line when he was struck and killed by a Paddington to Fishguard express, pulled by No. 4085 'Berkeley Castle'. The locomotive was of the GWR Castle class, a successful design by Charles Collett derived from Churchward's "Star" class.

He is buried at Christ Church in Old Town, Swindon.

The home ground of the football team in Churchward's birthplace of Stoke Gabriel, Stoke Gabriel A.F.C., is named the G.J. Churchward Memorial Ground in honour of his legacy.



  1. Herring, p.21 (except apprenticeships)
  2. Tuplin (1971) p.74
  3. Tuplin (1971) pp.78–84, and Hollingsworth pp.70–71
  4. Tuplin (1971) p.94
  5. Strickland 1983, pp. 110–1
  6. Marsden 1984, p. 66
  7. Marsden 1984, p. 67
  8. Daniel


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  • Daniel, John. (2000). G. J. Churchward. Great Western Archive retrieved 2007-10-10.
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  • Haresnape, Brian; Swain, Alec (1976). Churchward Locomotives – A Pictorial History. London: Ian Allan. ISBN 0-7110-0697-0.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  • Herring, Peter (2002). Yesterday's Railways. UK: David & Charles. ISBN 0-7153-1387-8.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  • Hollingsworth, Brian; Cook, Arthur (2000). Steam Locomotives. London: Salamander Books, Greenwich Editions. ISBN 0-86288-346-6.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  • Marsden, Colin J. (November 1984). BR Locomotive Numbering. Shepperton: Ian Allan. ISBN 0-7110-1445-0. EX/1184.CS1 maint: ref=harv (link)<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  • Nock, O. S. (1964). The Great Western Railway in the Twentieth Century. London: Ian Allan.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  • Rogers, H. C. B. (1975). G. J. Churchward – A Locomotive Biography. London: Allen & Unwin. ISBN 0-04-385069-3.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  • Strickland, D.C. (March 1983). D+EG Locomotive Directory. Camberley: Diesel & Electric Group. ISBN 0-906375-10-X.CS1 maint: ref=harv (link)<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  • Tuplin, W. A. (1971). Great Western Saints and Sinners. London: Allen & Unwin. ISBN 0-04-385057-X.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  • Tuplin, W. A. (1958). Great Western Steam. London: Allen & Unwin.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
Business positions
Preceded by
William Dean
Locomotive, Carriage and Wagon Superintendent
of the Great Western Railway

Succeeded by
(post renamed)
Preceded by
(post renamed)
Chief Mechanical Engineer
of the Great Western Railway

Succeeded by
C. B. Collett