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The Kings of Steam 

Six Engineers Who Shaped Our Past
 
Kings of Steam
 
To the men who worked in the Swindon Railway Works they must have seemed like kings.

Today, Sir Daniel Gooch, Joseph Armstrong, William Dean, George Jackson Churchward, Charles Collett and Frederick Hawksworth may not be remembered as fervently as figures like Brunel - even in Swindon - but they were arguably the six most important men in the town's history.

They went by various titles, most commonly chief mechanical engineer (which we will also call them) but their fundamental roles were largely the same. They were in overall charge of engineering at the works - which meant preserving and building on Swindon's reputation as one of the world's leading railway centres.

As if this wasn't enough, they also carried a heavy social burden.
 
Because of the importance of the works in the local economy, they always had to be mindful that events 'inside' affected the whole framework of life outside The Factory. Decisions on engineering policy impacted on people's lives in Swindon and the surrounding area.

Yet perhaps the most remarkable aspect of this long line of famous engineers is how each one was groomed for the post before 'inheriting' it from his predecessor. Before becoming 'king' of the works, each one was a 'prince' who learned his trade thoroughly and was ready to step in when the time came. This did wonders for consistency and there was no doubt that each man was Great Western to the core by the time he took the reins of control. It was perhaps the secret of its success.

This seamless handing over of power, however, creates problems for historians looking back as the specific triumphs of the Great Western Railway are difficult to attribute to individuals. The famous King class locomotives, for instance, introduced during the reign of Collett, were evolved from designs laid down by Churchward before him. In a way, they were each indebted to all of the chief mechanical engineers who had gone before them.
 
Sir Daniel Gooch
The Father of The Works

Sir Daniel Gooch Swindon Works
Everything started with Gooch. This remarkable man had already been a pupil of railway pioneer George Stephenson when Brunel gave him responsibility for the Great Western Railway's locomotives in 1837 when Gooch was just 21-years-old.
 
Gooch's role in Swindon's history cannot be overstated. He was the man who recommended Swindon as the site for Brunel's engine works and was therefore not only 'the father of Swindon Works' - a title he was proud of - but also the father of modern Swindon.
 
Joseph Armstrong
A worthy successor

Joseph Armstrong Swindon Works
After Gooch came Armstrong, the man largely responsible for seeing Swindon through the difficult conversion from broad to standard gauge engines. A measure of the excellence that Armstrong brought Swindon works was that 40 of the engines he had designed before his death in 1877 were still running an incredible 68 years later.
 
William Dean
The practical genius

William Dean Swindon Works
Armstrong's successor was William Dean who was to become the longest serving of all of Swindon's chief mechanical engineers. By the time he retired in 1902 he had laid down engineering principles that would see Swindon through the next half century.
 
George Jackson Churchward
Swindon locomotive legend

George Jackson Churchward Swindon Works
Then came Churchward, an outstanding engineer by any standards whose City class of locomotives included the famous City of Truro, the first to achieve a speed of 100mph. But it was for his other, more radical designs that he gained a more lasting reputation.
 
Charles Collett
At the helm for the heyday

Charles Collett Swindon Works
Churchward retired in 1921 and the baton was passed to Collett, during whose tenure the Great Western arguably enjoyed its golden era thanks to the Castle and King class locomotives.
 
Frederick Hawksworth
Swansong from a Swindonian
 
Frederick Hawksworth Swindon Works
Collett was chief mechanical engineer for 20 years, finally succeeded by Frederick Hawksworth, the last King of Steam, in 1941.
 
When Hawksworth retired, eight years later, the title of chief mechanical engineer was abolished.

This is only an introduction to these men. Subsequent articles look at each one in turn. They will demonstrate that while it is Brunel who is often credited with putting the previously tiny settlement of Swindon on the map, its six chief mechanical engineers were the Great Western Railway's greatest torchbearers.

Kings indeed.
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