The great Western Railways’ Chief Mechanical locomotive Engineer Charles Benjamin Collett was born 10 September 1871. He was educated at Merchant Taylors School and City and Guilds Engineering College in South Kensington, London, England, before he was made chief mechanical engineer of the Great Western Railway from 1922 to 1941. He designed (amongst others) the GWR’s 4-6-0 Castle and King Class express passenger locomotives. Collett’s predecessor, George Jackson Churchward had delivered to the GWR from Swindon a series of class leading and innovative locomotives, and arguably by the early 1920s the Great Western‘s 2-cylinder and 4-cylinder 4-6-0 designs were substantially superior to the locomotives of the other railway groupings.In 1922 Churchward retired, and Charles Benjamin Collett inherited a legacy of excellent standardised designs. But, with costs rising and revenues falling, there was a need to rationalise the number of pre-grouping designs and to develop more powerful locomotives.
Collett was a practical development engineer and gifted, technical Engineer who could look at existing designs and reliably improve them. he took Churchward’s designs and developed them – the Hall from the Saint class, and the Castle from the Star, in this way Collett was able to produce a standardized fleet of locomotives ideally suited to the GWR’s requirements. He was able to extract substantial performance gains out of the Churchward designs, and the Castle Class was testament to this.He was also responsible for more humble locomotives, such as many of the pannier tank classes. However he received criticism from contemporary engineers and later railway historians for undertaking very little innovation in his designs, instead sticking with Churchward’s style in every case. Arguably this meant that by the time Collett retired the superiority of Great Western locomotives was lost to more modern designs, particularly those of William Stanier, who worked at Swindon before moving to the LMS in 1932, and took Churchward’s style with him but developed it in line with the progression in steam technology.
Some of the classes which Charles Collett designed were the 1101 Class (0-4-0 T): 1101–1106, 1366 Class (0-6-0 PT): 1366–1371, 1400 Class (0-4-2 T): 1400–1474, 2251 Class (0-6-0): 2200–2299, 3200–3219, 2884 Class (2-8-0): 2884–2899, 3800–3864, 3100 Class (2-6-2 T): 3100–3104, Earl or Dukedog Class (4-4-0), Castle Class (4-6-0): 4073–4099, 5000–something bigger than the Castle class was required to haul heavy expresses at an average speed of 60 mph.something bigger than the Castle class was required to haul heavy expresses at an average speed of 60 mph.5099, 7000–7037, 4575 Class (2-6-2 T): 4575– 4599, 5500– 5574, 4800 Class (0-4-2 T): 4800– 4874 (later 1400–1474), Hall Class (4-6-0): 4900– 4999, 5900– 5999, 6900– 6958, 5101 Class (2-6-2 T): 5101–5199, 4100–4179, 5205 Class (2-8-0 T): 5205–5264, 5400 Class (0-6-0 PT): 5400–5424, 5600 Class (0-6-2 T): 5600–5699, 6600–6699, 5700 Class (0-6-0 PT): 57xx, 67xx, 77xx, 87xx, 97xx, 36xx, 37xx, 46xx, 96xx, 5800 Class (0-4-2 T): 5800–5819, King Class (4-6-0): 6000–6029, 6100 Class (2-6-2 T): 6100–6169, 6400 Class (0-6-0 PT): 6400–6439, Grange Class (4-6-0):6800–6879, 7200 Class (2-8-2 T): 7200–7253, 7400 Class (0-6-0 PT): 7400–7449, Manor Class (4-6-0): 7800– 7829, 8100 Class (2-6-2 T): 8100–8109, GWR diesel shunters: Diesel shunters 1 and 2 and GWR railcars: Diesel railcars 1–38
In 1926, Great Western’s General Manager Sir Felix Pole told Collett to proceed with the design and construction of a “Super-Castle” to haul heavy expresses at an average speed of 60 mph. The result was the King class 4-6-0 design which emerged from Swindon works in June 1927. This had dimensions never previously seen, and represented the ultimate development of Churchward’s four cylinder concept. It was the heaviest (136 tons), and had the highest tractive effort (40,300 lbs.) of any 4-6-0 locomotive ever to run in the United Kingdom. However Because of its weight, the King class was restricted to a limited number of routes. It was also under Collett’s control that diesel power first appeared on the GWR. He introduced the first streamlined rail cars in 1934 and by 1942 38 had been built, although the latter ones had more angular styling. Some were configured for long distance express services with buffet counters, others for branch line or parcels work, and some were designed as two-car sets.
Charles Collett sadly passed away 5 April 1952 but he leaves a long lasting legacy in the form of some excellent locomotives many of which are still in steam thanks to the dedication and hard work of many steam railway enthusiasts at various heritage lines such as the Great Central, North York Moors, East Lancashire, Severn Valley and Bluebell railways.