GWR 111 The Great Bear

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The Great Bear
Great bear.jpg
Official picture of the GWR 4-6-2 No.111 The Great Bear in 1908.
Type and origin
Power type Steam
Designer G.J. Churchward
Builder GWR, Swindon Works
Order number Lot 171
Serial number 2279
Build date February 1908
Total produced 1
Rebuilder GWR, Swindon
Rebuild date 7 January 1924
Number rebuilt 1
Configuration 4-6-2
UIC classification 2'C1'h4
Gauge 4 ft 8 12 in (1,435 mm) standard gauge
Leading wheel
3 ft 2 in (0.965 m)
Driver diameter 6 ft 8.5 in (2.045 m)
Trailing wheel
3 ft 8 in (1.12 m)
Wheelbase 34 ft 6 in (10.516 m)
Length 71 ft 2.025 in (21.692 m)
Axle load 20 long tons (20 t; 22 short tons)
Weight on drivers 60 long tons (61 t; 67 short tons)
Locomotive weight 97 long tons (99 t; 109 short tons)
Tender weight 45.75 long tons (46.48 t; 51.24 short tons)
Locomotive and tender
combined weight
142.75 long tons (145.04 t; 159.88 short tons)
Tender type 8 wheel bogie
Fuel type Coal
Fuel capacity 6 long tons (6.1 t; 6.7 short tons)
Water capacity 3,500 US gal (13,000 l; 2,900 imp gal)
Boiler pressure 225 psi (1.551 MPa)
Firegrate area 41.79 sq ft (3.882 m2)
Heating surface:
– Tubes and flues
2,697.67 sq ft (250.622 m2)
– Firebox 158.154 sq ft (14.6930 m2)
– Total 3,400.81 sq ft (315.946 m2)
Superheater type Swindon No. 1, Field-tube, 3-row
Superheater area 545 sq ft (50.6 m2)
Cylinders 4
Cylinder size 15 in × 26 in (380 mm × 660 mm)
Performance figures
Tractive effort 27,800 lbf (124 kN) (at 85% boiler pressure)
Operator(s) GWR
Class 111
Power class Special
Number in class 1
Number(s) 111
Official name The Great Bear, renamed Viscount Churchill in 1924
Axle load class Red
Locale Great Western Main Line (Paddington - Bristol)
First run 4 February 1908
Retired (rebuilt 1924) July 1953
Disposition Rebuilt to GWR 4073 Class

The Great Bear, number 111, was a locomotive of the Great Western Railway. It was the first 4-6-2 (Pacific) locomotive used on a railway in Great Britain,[1] and the only one of that type ever built by the GWR.


There are differing views as to why Churchward and the GWR should have built a pacific locomotive in 1908 when current and future locomotive practice for the railway was centred on the 4-6-0 wheel arrangement. One suggestion is that The Great Bear was built in 1908 to satisfy demands from the directors for the largest locomotive in Britain, and much was made of the locomotive by the GWR's publicity department. However, O. S. Nock was adamant that the design "was entirely due to Churchward, and not to outside influences that pressed the project upon him".[2] Nock regarded the locomotive as "primarily an exercise in boiler design", with Churchward looking forward to a time when his Star Class locomotives could no longer cope with increasing loads.[3]


The front-end layout of the class was the same as that for the Star Class except that Churchward fitted 15 in (380 mm) diameter cylinders, the maximum possible without fouling the rear bogie wheels.[3] However, the design of the boiler was entirely new, and with a barrel of 23 ft (7.010 m) which was exceptionally long both by contemporary and later standards. The main reason why Churchward adopted the 4-6-2 wheel arrangement was to enable him to fit a wide firebox over the trailing wheels. With a firebox surface of 182 sq ft (16.9 m2) this was a 17.5% increase in size compared to the Star Class.[3] It was also built with a Swindon No. 1 superheater.

Power classification[edit]

With the introduction of Great Western Railway Power Classification in 1920 the power classification was "Special" (denoted by a black + on the red route availability disc[4]) although the tractive effort of 27,800 lbf (124,000 N) fell within the range for "D".


In service the performance of the The Great Bear proved to be disappointing and not a significant improvement on existing classes. "The excessive tube and barrel length of 23 feet made for bulk rather than efficiency".[5] Also the axle boxes of the trailing wheels tended to become overheated due to their proximity to the firebox. Churchward attempted to improve the locomotive's performance by adding a Swindon No. 3 Superheater in 1913 and top-feed apparatus. However the excellent performance of the Star Class and advent of the First World War brought a stop to further experimentation without significant improvement.

Route availability[edit]

In addition to the disappointing performance, the locomotive had a highly restrictive route availability which limited its usefulness. The 20 long tons (20.320938176 t) axle load restricted it to the Paddington to Bristol main line, although it was once recorded to have travelled as far west as Newton Abbot.[1] The GWR route availability colour code for The Great Bear was Red.[4]

Publicity value[edit]

Although not a technical success the Great Bear was considered the company's flagship locomotive from its introduction until Churchward's retirement in 1922.[3] With the introduction of 4073 Caerphilly Castle in 1923 with a higher tractive effort, the locomotive ceased to have any publicity value and became an embarrassment. It was due for heavy repairs in January 1924 and so was withdrawn from service by Churchward's successor Charles Collett.[3] It had then completed a mileage of 527,272. Its regular engine driver was Thomas Blackall, originally from Aston Tirrold, Oxfordshire.


"The front portion of the original frames and the number plates were used again but probably little else".[5] No. 111 emerged as a 4-6-0 in the Castle Class, and given the name Viscount Churchill. Thereafter the GWR did not use the Pacific wheel arrangement. No. 111 was withdrawn in July 1953.


Authorities differ as to Churchward's attitude to his locomotive. According to Le Fleming, "his dislike of 'The Bear' was well known",[6] but Nock said that he had "a deep affection for the engine", although he came to regard is as "a white elephant" rather than a "Great Bear".[3] He was disappointed to hear of The Great Bear's destruction, and upon hearing of Nigel Gresley's plans to construct a pacific for the Great Northern Railway, is said to have replied: "What did that young man want to build it for? We could have sold him ours!"


  1. ^ a b Foster, Richard (Nov 2007). "The man and his machines: The Great Bear". Steam Railway (Peterborough: EMAP Ltd) (342): p69. 
  2. ^ Nock 1983, p. 80
  3. ^ a b c d e f Nock 1983, p. 163
  4. ^ a b le Fleming 1960, p. H13
  5. ^ a b le Fleming 1953, p. H13
  6. ^ le Fleming 1953, p. H12
  • Haresnape, Brian; Alec Swain (1976). Churchward Locomotives. Ian Allan Publishing. ISBN 0-7110-0697-0. 
  • le Fleming, H.M. (November 1960) [1953]. White, D.E., ed. The Locomotives of the Great Western Railway Part 8: Modern Passenger Classes (2nd ed.). Kenilworth: RCTS. ISBN 0-901115-19-3. 
  • le Fleming, H.M. (1953). White, D.E., ed. The Locomotives of the Great Western Railway Part 8: Modern Passenger Classes. RCTS. 
  • Nock, O. S. (1983). British Locomotives of the 20th Century Vol.1. London: Book Club Associates. 
  • Nock, O. S. (1980). The GWR Stars, Castles and Kings. London: Book Club Associates. 

External links[edit]