The other Swindon Star

As we approach Christmas Day, I think it’s highly appropriate to have a blog post published on a Star! Simon of Brookes Castle has very kindly written this blog post detailing the history of the Broad Gauge Star class, which has been illustrated with pictures taken at the museum by Dave. This locomotive is a replica built in 1925 and a member of the National Collection. It can currently be found in  Swindon’s STEAM – Museum of the Great Western Railway.

The Broad Gauge ‘Star Class’ is one of the most prettiest and famous Great Western locomotive classes and has a rather surprising history. Just like the standard gauge 4-6-0 ‘Star’ class the broad gauge stars had a rich and prestigious history that inspired one of the most iconic GWR locomotives.

No Advent Calendar would be complete without a star and here we have the North Star... Or at least the replica!

The North Star replica at Swindon

When a 21 year old Daniel Gooch was hired by Brunel to be the GWRs first locomotive superintendent he knew he had to get some more powerful and reliable locomotives to run on the GWR Broad Gauge railway. As a former engineer at the Robert Stephenson locomotives works he was able to convince Brunel to purchase two engines the North Star and Morning Star and convert them to Broad Gauge. These locomotives were built by Robert Stephenson and Co. for service in North America on the New Orleans Railway. Although they were actually shipped to America they had business difficulties so delivery was not taken.  The two locomotives were returned to England and were purchased by the GWR. Some people report that Gooch actually help design the locomotives before he was hired by the GWR so was well informed on their potential and availability.

Isambard Kingdom Brunel - STEAM Swindon - North Star broad gauge replicaOnce the locomotives were converted to Broad gauge they ran into a few problems such as the boilers were undersized for the demands of broad gauge. It is reported that the engine could scarily pull sixteen tons at forty miles an hour, a far cry from the speed that broad gauge could support.  If you have an engineering problem there aren’t many teams better than Brunel and Gooch and they set to work improving both North Star and Morning Star. The engine was stripped down and improvements made including widening the blast-pipe, new cylinders and a new boiler. These improvements meant performance was dramatically increased allowing North Star to haul a load to forty tons at forty miles an hour, while reducing the fuel used by more than half. A further 10 stars were ordered from the Robert Stephenson company to bring the class to a total of 12.

2013 - STEAM Museum of the GWR - Swindon - GWR Star Class North Star – broad gauge replicaHowever by the time the last of these ‘Star’s’ had been delivered, the Great Western Railway had several of the larger ‘FireFly’ class which had been designed by Daniel Gooch. Despite this the stars remained in service for another 25 years with the last one being withdrawn in 1871. The ‘FireFly’ class of locomotives were designed by Gooch using things he had learnt during the development and operation of the Stars and were arguably one of the best locomotives used by the Great Western.

2013 - STEAM Museum of the GWR - Swindon - GWR Star Class North Star – broad gauge replicaTo sum up the Stars I will borrow the words of one of historys greatest engineers in the form of Brunel. “The stars are powerful beasts that would make a handsome ornament in the most elegant drawing-room.”

2013 - STEAM Museum of the GWR - Swindon - GWR Star Class North Star – broad gauge replica

Thanks for reading and have a merry Christmas!