GNR  Class  A2  4-2-2  Stirling Single


Power Classification  
Introduced 1870 – 1895
Designer Stirling
Company GNR
Weight – Loco 1870 engines – 38t 10cwt

1884 engines – 45t 3cwt

1894 engines – 48t 15cwt

               Tender 30t 0cwt
Driving Wheels 8ft 1ins
Boiler Pressure 1870 engines – 140psi

1884 engines – 160psi

1894 engines – 170psi

Cylinders 1870 & 1884 engines – Outside – 18in x 28in

1894 engines – 19½in x 28in

Tractive Effort 11,130lbf
Valve Gear Stephencson (slide valve)

During the early years of Stirling’s tenure, many new engines were required for the many new routes which were still being built. Stirling built his engines for speed and power, in order to handle some of the continuous gradients on the main York-London GNR line, and to compete against the Midland Railway and L&NWR in the Races to the North.

Stirling joined the GNR in 1866 having previously been Locomotive Superintendent of the Glasgow & South Western Railway since 1853. When he started with the GNR at Doncaster he instigated a policy of standardisation but he also borrowed a single-wheeler with a 7ft diameter driving wheel from the Great Eastern Railway. In 1868 Stirling built two 2-2-2 engines with 7ft 1in diameter wheels.

Two years later in 1870 GNR locomotive 1 was built as a prototype of the distinctive Stirling 8ft 4-2-2 engines built at Doncaster until 1895.  The locomotive which was the fiftieth locomotive to be built at Doncaster cost £2,000 (excluding the tender).

It was not a successful engine initially but this was hardly surprising considering the number of novelty embodied in it. Stirling was experimenting with a single prototype with the aim of working express trains of 150 tons at average speeds of 50mph. It should be remembered that in 1870 there were no continuous brakes and the running speed had to provide a much more considerable margin slowing down with the automatic vacuum brake that was adopted on the Great Northern twenty years later. The engines were indeed capable of hauling heavier trains of  275 tons at 50 mph and even 85mph when in charge of lighter loads.

The mechanical features which Stirling was pioneering appear to have been completely successful at the outset. The bogie centre, for example, was pitched 3ft 6in in the rear of the leading axle-centre but only 3ft ahead of the bogie wheels so distributed as to lead on the hind axle. As a result of this the weight on the bogie wheels was distributed so that the weight built up gradually to the greater weight of the driving wheels. There was also less movement on the trailing wheels when rounding a curve in the rails.

The real trouble with No 1 was that it would not steam. It is considered that there was a considerable amount of guesswork involved in sizing the first boiler used on the locomotive. No 1 had a cylinder volume 30% more than earlier engines but had smaller diameter tubes in a longer boiler which was the cause of the problem.

Despite the steaming issues the locomotive covered 32,000 miles in its first eight months in service.

The problems with the steam on No 1 was rectified in the later locomotives which were built in the autumn of 1870.

A total of 53 engines were built between 1870 and 1895 with only two or three being completed each year. Despite the standardisation policy that Stirling had introduced the production period of twenty-five years meant that there were many differences between individual members of the class.

The operating lives were quite short with the first being withdrawn in 1899 and the last in 1916.

In 1880 the first 27 locomotives constructed were –

  • Kings Cross – 4
  • Peterborough – 9
  • Grantham – 7
  • Doncaster – 7

It is interesting to note that the first allocation of a locomotive to Kings Cross did not occur until 1875.

These locomotives were able to haul loads of 275 ton loads at an average speed of 50mph with a top speed on lighter trains of 85mph. One member of the class (number 775) is reported to have completed the 82 miles from Grantham to York in August 1895 in 1hour 16minutes at an average speed of 64.7mph. The overall journey of 393 miles from Kings Cross to Edinburgh to took 6 hours 19 minutes at an average speed of 63.5mph.

The class later became inadequate to haul the increasingly heavy East Coast express passenger trains. They were displaced on the most prestigious express services by the introduction of the Ivatt atlantics in 1898.

 single Stirling single introduced on the GNR in 1870
 c2 small C2 class atlantic introduced by Ivatt on the GNR in 1898

The flared smokebox embracing the outside cylinders (although horizontal), and slotted splasher was reminiscent of the John Ramsbottom Lady of the Lake 2-2-2s on the London & North Western Railway. The chief draughtsman responsible for GNR locomotive had previously held a similar position at Crewe.

Although capturing the public imagination, in their actual performance Stirlings outside cylinder 4-2-2s are understood to have been inferior to his inside cylinder 2-2-2s.

Accidents and Incidents

  • On the 21st January 1876 locomotive 84 was involved in an accident that damaged it to such an extent that it took more than two months to repair at Doncaster. An express passenger train of ten coaches from Scotland was near Peterborough for London at full speed as it approached Abbotts-Ribton signal box. A coal-train due to leave Peterborough in front of the express was being shunted at Abbotts-Ripton so that it was out of the way when it was in collision with the express. The debris from this accident was then hit by an express passenger train from London to Leeds and York which also caused further damage to the London bound passenger train.
  • Thirteen passengers were killed and over fifty were injured. The crews of both passenger trains were also injured.
  • On 7 March 1896, a passenger train hauled by locomotive 1003 was derailed at Little Bytham, Northamptonshire due to the premature removal of a speed restriction after track renewal. Two people were killed.
  • On 10 November 1895, an overnight Scottish express hauled by locomotive 1006 derailed at St Neots when it encountered a broken rail. One person was killed. The accident report by Her Majesty’s Railway Inspectorate commented on the abnormally heavy axle loading of the locomotive: nearly 20 tons on the driving axle.




GNR 1 was built at Doncaster in 1870, at a cost of £2,000 (excluding the tender), where ten years later it was fitted with new frames and boiler.

It took part in the 1888 Races to the North which is why it was preserved as part of the National Collection.

It was withdrawn from service in September 1907 having completed 1,404,663 miles whilst in use.

The locomotive was kept aside after being withdrawn and was exhibited two years later at the Imperial International Exhibition at Shepherd’s Bush.

In 1938 it was steamed again and worked a few special trains including one by the Railway Correspondence & Travel Society which was the first of all privately-organised rail tours.

Although GNR 1 had taken part in the Stockton & Darlington Railway celebrations in 1975 it was not in steam. It was returned into working order for an Open University programme.  The locomotive steamed again in December 1981 on the Great Central Railway (GCR). The GCR was chosen for this because the track is fairly flat. Ironically the locomotive later operated on the North Yorkshire Moors Railway. Whilst on the GCR GNR 1 was only steamed on a limited number of occasions before it left the GCR in October 1982 when it returned to York.

It moved to the North Yorkshire Moors Railway in 1983 and again its operation was motivated by an Open University programme.. It only operated on the railway for two days in October 1983 and 4 days in October 1985.

Before becoming a static exhibit it ran alongside 60022 Mallard at the National Railway Museum’s tenth birthday celebrations at York in September 1985. 

Between 2008 and January 2012 the engine took part in the production of the Railway Children. This began with performances at the National Railway Museum at York but with greater popularity was moved to the empty Waterloo International station in London.

The original Stirling tender was found near Peterborough where it had been used as a water and sludge carrier. It was restored by the National Railway Museum and has been paired with the engine since 2014.

Home Base Current Status Owner
National Railway Museum – Locomotion, York On static display National Railway Museum NRM Object Number{1975-7014/1}
GNR 1 at Doncaster – Date unknown
GNR No1 at unknown location and date
GNR 1 in the British Transport Museum at York - October 1964.jpg
GNR 1 in the British Transport Museum at York – October 1964
Stirling Single in the British Transport Museum at York - July 1972.jpg
 GNR 1 in the British Transport Museum at York – 1972
No1 leaving Loughborough on the Great Central Railway – May 1982
GNR No 1 on the Great Central Railway - June 1982.jpg
GNR No 1 on the Great Central Railway – June 1982
GNR No1 on the Great Central Railway – June 1982
GNR 1 at the NRM York - October 1985.jpg
GNR 1 at the NRM York – October 1985
GNR No 1 at Doncaster Works Open Day – June 2003
GNR 1 at Doncaster Works Open Weekend - July 2003.jpg
GNR 1 at Doncaster Works Open Weekend – July 2003
GNR 1 in the National Railway Museum at York-2005
 GNR 1 in the National Railway Museum at York-2009
GNR 1 on Doncaster shed – July 2011
GNR 1 in the National Railway Museum at York-2016
GNR 1 in the National Railway Museum at York – September 2019

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