King George V, the most famous railway engine ever built in the town, has honoured in an exhibition by Swindon photographer Roy Nash, exactly 80 years after it first rolled out of the Great Western Railway works in May 1927.
The KGV – the first of thirty in the 6000 King class – emerged from the A shop construction shed as a wonder of the engineering world, an 89 ton monster pulling a 46 ton tender, the largest locomotive built by the GWR.
Designed by the team led by GWR chief engineer CB Collet, the flagship of the Great Western Railway made its inaugural run from Paddington to Plymouth on 1 July 1927, but was so heavy that it could not continue over Brunel’s bridge at Saltash to the end of the line at Penzance.
The King was built partly a response to the Great Western Railway’s publicity department, in order to regain the title ‘most powerful steam locomotive in Britain,’ which had been taken from Collett’s Castle class in 1926 by the Southern Region.
Later in 1927 KG5 was shipped to the USA to represent the best of British engineering at the Baltimore & Ohio railroad centenary celebrations from 25 September to 15 October. Its sleek appearance and smooth performance impressed all who witnessed it. The gleaming brass bell on the front of the King was presented to the GWR at the celebration events.
Right through to the end of their working lives the King class demonstrated huge tractive power and even when regular steam hauled express services finished on the Western Region, they could easily outperform the cheaper to maintain diesel-hydraulics that replaced them.
The last KGV journey took place in December 1962, having covered some 1,910,424 miles in 35 years. The King George V was purchased and used at the Bulmer’s Railway Centre in Hereford before returning to Swindon where it is now on display at Steam, Museum of the Great Western Railway, close to the buildings were it was conceived, designed and built in the mid-1920s.
Roy worked in the GWR drawing office, which became British Rail. Because of his childhood fascination with photography, he became the unofficial works photographer and recorded life and times ‘inside’ over many years. As threats to the works increased he was particularly in demand by the management to represent the prowess of Swindon engineering.
Roy, also 80 in May, says, "King George V is a beautiful engine, which shows off the best of Swindon’s design and engineering skills. The exhibition is my tribute to the people who designed and built it."