Facing a potential rise in passenger traffic, the Great Central Railway placed an order for 2 pairs of different locomotives - one pair being the 4-6-0GCR Class 8C, the other pair being this 4-4-2 locomotive. The two locomotives shared as many common components as possible to allow easy conversion of the 8Bs to the 4-6-0 configuration - and both designs borrowed heavily from John G. Robinson's earlier GCR Class 8.
However, due to a much smaller than anticipated traffic increase, no further Class 8Cs were built, and instead a further 25 Class 8Bs were ordered and built between 1904 and 1906 - built with larger fireboxes as there was no longer a need to convert the locomotives to a 4-6-0 configuration. In 1909 and 1910, the original locomotives also received this larger firebox.
Despite Robinson commencing the conversion to superheaters in 1912, the conversion was not actually completed until 1936. At the same time, any locomotive requiring cylinder replacement saw both larger cylinders and piston valves being fitted - 20 of the class would eventually receive this modification. From 1921, the Ramsbottom safety valves were phased out and removed, to be replaced by Ross pop safety valves.
Following a high-speed incident that caused severe damage to its frame and cylinders, No. 1090 was rebuilt with 3 simple expansion cylinders in 1908, as a comparison to the GCR Classes 8D and 8E. These cylinders had their Stephenson valve gear replaced with Walschaerts valve gear, which was the only application of this valve gear, excluding railcars, on a GCR locomotive. The experiment was reverted in 1922 when No. 1090 was rebuilt, with the original 2 cylinders and Stephenson valve gear being refitted.
Following the merger of the GCR into the London & North Eastern Railway, the class became known as the LNER Class C4. In 1925, several C4s were fitted with the LNER's trademark "Flowerpot" chimney, with one locomotive, No. 6085, also modified to fit the LNER composite gauge - a modification that the remainder of the class underwent between 1936 and 1939. In 1929, a further LNER classification change was made - the non-superheated locomotives were designated Class C4/1, those fitted with superheaters but still utilized slide valves Class C4/2, and those with both superheaters and piston valves became Class C4/3. By 1932, the re-gauged No. 6085 had been given the designation Class C4/4 - which became more populated as Class C4/3s were cut down. By 1939, all Class C4/1s and Class C4/3s had been redesignated as either Class C4/2s or Class C4/4s - by this time all locomotives were both superheated and had also been cut down to the LNER composite gauge.
Following an accident at Banbury in 1939, the first locomotive, No. 6090 (the same engine as No. 1090, which had already been modified after a previous accident), was withdrawn from service. The rest of the class began being withdrawn from 1945, although 20 locomotives made it into British Rail hands following the nationalisation of the British railways. The last locomotive was withdrawn in 1950, and none survived into preservation.