Deeds of a Great Railway, by G.S. Darroch, John Murray, 1920 [ebook]


Deeds of a Great Railway, by G.S. Darroch, John Murray, 1920.  Hard back book bound in blue cloth, 75”x 5”, pp. 218, of which one is blank. Twenty B&W half tone illustrations and halftone frontispiece portrait of C.J. Bowen Cooke (The hyphen was not always used) Chief Mechanical Engineer, London & North Western Railway.



Wilfred Steel’s magisterial “History of the LNWR” ends in 1914. While dealing mainly with wartime activities, Darroch’s work effectively takes the story up to the point where the company would lose its identity in a merger with the Lancashire & Yorkshire Railway in advance of the “Grouping” which formed the London Midland and Scottish Railway in 1923.

George Robert Sutton Darroch was born 22 February 1880 at Champneys in Hertfordshire and died on 3 December 1959. He was educated at Eton and was one of F.W. Webb’s last Premium Apprentices at Crewe, transferring to George Whale to compete his time when Webb retired. As an apprentice, he spent four years building a live steam model of a Webb “Jubilee” 4-4-0 compound, supposedly using his own materials and time, in the well-equipped workshop of Crewe Mechanic’s Institute. This was “Orion” a one-sixth scale (9½in (9¾in?) gauge) model, which he later ran in the garden of his house at Crewe. However, strictly against the rules the mainframes were cut out and drilled in the works boiler shop and smuggled out past the timekeeper by a taller, obliging friend who hung them off his braces, with one down each trouser leg… The locomotive was an exhibit at the Liverpool & Manchester Railway Centenary Celebration in St George’s Hall in Liverpool from 13-20 September 1930.

Before his death Darroch presented the locomotive to the Stephenson Locomotive Society which arranged for it to be housed at Penrhyn Castle under the National Trust and a partial restoration was accomplished by Iowerth Jones. Eventually lottery funding was obtained to fully restore the model (by John Ellis). This first ran on the railway at Downs School at Colwall, but is now at Locomotion, the NRM outstation at Shildon.

At the time of writing this book, George Darroch was Assistant to the Chief Mechanical Engineer, C.J. Bowen Cooke, and Assistant Works Manager at Crewe. He was therefore well placed to chronicle the massive contribution to the War Effort made by the LNWR. However, the book is much more than that.

Darroch’s writing style is quite distinctive, at times quite breezy – a sort of blending of Bertie Wooster and Captain Hugh “Bulldog” Drummond, with a deep underlying bitterness. It is perhaps not surprising, after all the two fictional characters and Darroch share a common background of minor aristocracy, public school and belonging to that generation of men by then in their 30s, who had lost so many friends and family members in the slaughter. His dislike of politicians, who failed to prepare adequately for the long expected conflict (his contempt for Lloyd George, whom he regarded as a hypocrite, is very thinly veiled) and his blazing hatred of the “Beastly Hun” suffuse every chapter. One can understand why another railwayman, Sir Eric Geddes wanted the treaty of Versailles to “Squeeze the Germans ’til the pips squeak.”

The casualties were not just at the battlefront. Darroch shows that Bowen Cooke worked tirelessly throughout the war not only on munitions projects but also in trying to keep his company´s trains running with much reduced resources. He suffered from heart trouble and in July 1920, was advised by a Harley Street Specialist to take a complete rest. He went to Falmouth, where he had a much loved yacht “Condor” which he was able to enjoy for a few weeks, dying in October, not long after this book was published. He was ony 61. Had he lived, he not George Hughes might have become CME of the LMS, whose locomotive history woud then have been very different.



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