The Duke was outshopped from Crewe Works on Saturday 22nd May 1954 and allocated to Crewe North Motive Power Depot Code 5A.
The adoption of a modified form of rotary cam-driven British Caprotti valve gear with poppet valves allowing precise control of steam admission to the cylinders while improving exhaust flow and boiler draughting characteristics when compared to the Britannias on paper created a free-steaming, hard-working locomotive capable of hauling heavy loads over long distances. In practice, the fundamental design errors and undetected deviations from the drawings made during construction combined to prevent the as-built Duke from achieving its expected performance for BR.
Both on test and in service the locomotive boiler was found to steam freely, although at the expense of high coal and water consumption, however the British Caprotti valve gear did everything that had been expected of it. Crewe North depot became the Duke’s home once in service where it was rostered for the same work as Crewe’s beloved Stanier Pacifics, which may, in part, explain some of the antipathy which developed towards The Duke. There is no doubt that, given a sympathetic crew, The Duke was more than capable of handling the same work as the Stanier Pacifics, but without, regrettably, the same consistency of performance.
That there was a deep seated flaw was quickly detected by the enginemen of Crewe North depot. Some said that the loco tended to be “shy for steam”, others that it “ate coal” whilst there were still others who loved the loco. One fireman who suffered no steaming problems is on record as saying that he fired The Duke in the same manner as he fired a three cylinder Royal Scot – a well built up fire under the back corners of the firebox plus a bit extra under the brick arch to keep the firebed down on the firebars. This is a totally different technique to that used by firemen on the four cylinder Stanier Pacifics where, basically, on long runs the fire was built up on the depot, until the firebox was filled with coal of any size up to the level of the fire hole doors. This treatment apparently did not suit The Duke one bit, which might have added to the reputation of being “shy for steam”.
Steaming irregularities and coal appetite aside, that the locomotive could both pull and run was without question, which is probably why The Duke was often to be seen at the head of the Mid-Day Scot. However, Crewe’s enginemen, despite their understandable allegiance to Stanier’s Pacifics, were correct in their view that there was something not quite right about the locomotive.
The Duke’s BR Allocations
Crewe North (New)
Swindon (on loan)
The Duke on Swindon Test Plant
Such was the concern about performance that The Duke was relocated to Swindon some 5 months old to be tested both on the Swindon Test Plant and on the GWR mainline.
In 1955, the year after the Duke was constructed; British Railways published their Modernisation Plan which heralded a future based around diesel and electric traction, and in so doing sounding the death knell for steam traction in the UK. There was thus neither the money nor the will to get to the bottom of what ailed The Duke, which was left to soldier on, frustrating numerous crews, until being withdrawn from service, along with the remaining Stanier Princess Royal Pacifics, at the end of the 1962 summer timetable. The Duke was then unceremoniously dumped on Crewe North depot whilst its fate was decided. E. S. Cox, assistant to Robert Riddles during the introduction of the B. R. Standard classes of locomotive, described The Duke as a “near miss”.
From official BR records held by the Trust The Duke’s last revenue-earning run was to Carlisle on Saturday, 29 September 1962. The Duke was officially withdrawn on 6 November 1962. British Railways had listed The Duke for official preservation as part of the National Collection, but for reasons which are now unclear, that decision was later changed to simply retaining one sectioned cylinder plus its associated rotary valve gear. Why preserve a failure?
The Duke languished in Crewe Works for some considerable time after withdrawal. The right hand cylinder was removed at Crewe Works and used as a “guinea pig” for the final sectioning of the left hand cylinder which was later exhibited at the Science Museum, South Kensington, London. This sectioned cylinder together with its valve gear currently resides at the Heritage Centre, Crewe.
Shorn of both its outside cylinders and other fittings (but with the inside cylinder intact) the remainder of the locomotive was then sold for scrap towed with Standard Class 4 4-6-0 75014 to South Wales.