Living Museum of the Great Western Railway

2999 - Lady of Legend

The Saint class locomotives were introduced by the Great Western Railway (GWR) from 1902. They served for half a century, but all were scrapped by 1953. The Great Western Society (GWS) has rebuilt a Saint using a later development of the class, rescued from a scrapyard, as a donor locomotive for the boiler and frames.

When the Saint class began to appear at the dawn of the 20th century they represented a step change from what had gone before, reflecting the change at the head of the British empire which took place at the same time. The staid Queen Victoria whose reign set the tone for 19th century Britain was succeeded in 1901 by her louche son King Edward VII. The Victorian era gave way to the Edwardian decade.

An equally dramatic regime change took place at the same time on the GWR when locomotive superintendent William Dean retired in 1902 and was succeeded by his assistant, George Jackson Churchward, who had revolutionary ideas on locomotive design. Dean had been in charge since 1877 and his locomotives conformed to Victorian expectations with driving wheels and working parts hidden behind outside frames and inside cylinders. This mirrored the Victorian fashion dictate of ladies hiding their legs behind long skirts. In a quest for efficiency Churchward had studied locomotive design in the USA and brought many of the New World’s practices home with him. The new Saint class locomotives were brashly transatlantic with large driving wheels fully exposed, outside cylinders, and coupling and connecting rods pumping for all to see.

Public opinion was scandalised, accustomed as it was to the beautiful locomotives of the 19th century decorated with lovingly polished brass and copper. Just one or two sets of driving wheels sufficed in Dean’s era, but Churchward’s austere-looking Saint class had three sets to cope with heavier trains. Passengers were now expecting trains to offer dining cars, corridors and toilets, all of which added weight for locomotives to pull.

The performance of Churchward’s new locomotives did not go unnoticed among other railway companies, who adopted many of his innovations, including the long-travel valves which let steam in and out of the cylinders more efficiently. The Saint class ushered in a period of standardisation on the GWR that lasted nearly 50 years until the railway were nationalised in 1948. This unprecedented half century of design continuity makes the locomotive collection at Didcot Railway Centre all the more worthy of study, representing as it does most of the classes from that era.

These locomotives became part of the GWR brand, with their familiar Brunswick green livery, copper-capped chimneys and brass safety valve covers. The new Lady of Legend now fills an important missing link in that brand.

Build date
Built at
GWS Didcot
Wheel arrangement
4 - 6 - 0
Barrel diameter
5 feet 6 inches
Barrel length
14 feet 10 inches
Boiler pressure
225 lbs/sq in
Boiler type
Standard No. 1
(2) 18 x 30 inches
Heating surfaces, firebox
155 sq ft
27.1 sq ft
Superheater area
263 sq ft
Tractive effort
23,100 pounds
Heating surfaces, tubes
1,687 sq ft
70 tons 4 cwt.
Wheel diameter
6 feet 8.5 inches

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