When the London and North Eastern Railway was created in 1923 the position of Chief Mechanical Engineer was offered, on a seniority basis, to John Robinson of the Great Central. However, Robinson was due to retire shortly, so he declined the invitation, but recommended Nigel Gresley of the Great Northern, who was duly appointed to the post in February 1923.
One of his first orders for 'all new' locomotives, placed on 8th April, 1924, and subsequently amended on 31st July, was for the solitary behemoth, the 2-8-0 + 0-8-2 Beyer-Garratt. Utilising the motive power of two of Gresleys three cylinder 2-8-0 'O2' class locomotives, number 2395 had a tractive effort of 72,940 lb and weighed in at a hefty 178 tons 1 cwt. (To keep this in perspective, the same designers A4 weighed 168 tons complete with corridor tender.) She was allocated the classification of 'U1'.
The locomotive was built with amazing speed - the frames were laid on 1st June, 1925, and was delivered to Gorton in workshop grey on the 21st. She was then sent via Woodhead to Doncaster on 23rd, who made a few small modifications and took her on a test run to Retford and back before sending her to Darlington to take part in the Stockton & Darlington Railway Centenary celebrations (organised by Oliver Bulleid). The actual procession took place on 1st July, and she was exhibit number 42. She was then put on display from 4th July through until the 18th, when she returned to Doncaster for painting black and running in trials.
The trials complete, she was allocated to Barnsley shed on 25th August, 1925, and settled down to her intended task, banking trains of 1000 tons up Worsborough incline. She was soon reallocated to Mexborough shed on 17th October 1925.
An observer noted shortly after its introduction 'It is a large locomotive and cannot be expected to work suddenly at full efficiency after, perhaps, a considerable wait at the foot of the bank. The bank is only three miles long and the engine's initial climb took only thirteen minutes. It was fully six or seven minutes before the boiler began to "make" steam and at the top of the bank, when the boiler was steaming freely against the injector, the regulator had to be shut, no more work for the engine being expected for half-an-hour, this including the return trip and waiting for a train'
The Garratt was one of only a few locomotives to be so restricted in where they performed their duties. One problem that arose was that as she only drew water from one source, and that source was exceptionally soft, there was no build up of scale to protect the boiler internals. Accordingly she entered Doncaster works on 26th July 1925 for a re-tube, returning to traffic on 25th August. Unfortunately, this wasn't the end of the problem. She was back in Doncaster on 14th July, 1927 with a cracked firebox tubeplate, again attributable to the soft water. She returned to traffic on 8th October, having had the number of boiler tubes reduced from 259 to 239 to avoid weakening the area around the flange. She was back in works yet again on 25th September, 1928 and this time it was discovered that the firebox roof stays were badly corroded. She didn't re-emerge until 9th February the following year. By now enough was enough, and a chemical treatment system was installed to solve the problem.
On 31st March, 1930, she worked perhaps her most auspicious train, express passenger. She hauled a train of 20 special traffic wagons from Hexthorpe to Sheffield Victoria for a demonstration to local industrialists. En-route she stopped (at Attercliffe Road?) and collected the Lord Mayor of Sheffield, who travelled on the footplate to Victoria.
This run proved to be her last for a while, as she was sent to Doncaster for a new firebox on the same day. However, work didn't actually start until 20th October. There has been some speculation as to the reason for the delay, but it was at this time that Beyer, Peacock prepared a drawing for the fitting of a rotary bunker. She emerged from works on 11th December, 1930, without the rotary bunker.
Life then settled down, the only other special occasion being an exhibition at Hunslet (Leeds) Goods Yard on 11th & 12th May, 1935.
On 17th March, 1946, she was re-numbered 9999, and following Nationalisation, became 69999 on 19th November, 1948. The BR numbering followed the LNER style, with the locomotive number on both front and rear tanks and the buffer beam, and 'BRITISH RAILWAYS' spelt out along the boiler frames.
In 1949 the locomotive's boiler was approaching the end of it's working life, and as the electrification of Woodhead was in full swing, alternative employment would need to be found to justify the expenditure.
On 7th March, 1949 she was transferred to Bromsgrove for banking on Lickey incline, the intention being that she replaced the existing machine, the 0-10-0 No. 58100, which was more than 5 years older then the Garratt. Despite having been used for banking for the last 24 years, the local crews complained that they had difficulty in judging the distance between the front of the locomotive and the end of the train. On 10th March she was turned on the King's Norton - Bournville - Lifford triangle. By the end of the month she had also acquired a lamp to allow the locomotive crew to see where the end of a train was during the hours of darkness.
The steam reverser had a tendency to creep when working hard, resulting in the locomotive becoming stuck. One occasion when this happened she was banking a freight hauled by LMS Garratt No. 47972, and had to be rescued by No. 58100. That would have been a combination to see!
Despite these changes being made, she wasn't welcome, and was returned to Mexborough shed on 11th November 1950, where she was placed in store. However, in February 1951 she was back at work on her old stomping ground, banking up Worsborough.
On 6th August 1952 she made her first visit since delivery to Gorton works, having been sent there for conversion to oil burning. This was completed by December of that year, when she was steamed once and laid aside. Officially returned to traffic some 9 months later, on 5th September, 1953, she worked a test train from Dewsnap to Crowden and back. Gorton had also updated her livery, and now she carried her number on the cab side, and had a 'lion and wheel' emblem on both the front and rear tanks. The number was no longer carried on the buffer beam.
All was not well, and she re-entered Gorton on 1st February 1953. She ran a few more test trains up until April, and was again placed in store. There she remained until being returned to traffic on 28th June 1955, and the following day set off light engine for Bromsgrove. Again. The period in store hadn't done her a lot of good as she ran hot at Burton-on-Trent, and again at Saltley the following day. By 3rd July she was back at Burton where the offending wheels were dropped and sent to Doncaster for remedial work. Eventually she was back at Bromsgrove on 7th July.
This visit proved to be no more successful that the previous, and even shorter. On 13th September 1955 she was placed in store at Bromsgrove, before being moved to Burton on 16th. On 3rd October 1955 she was returned to Gorton via Chesterfield, Chinley and Guide Bridge, and on 9th October she was officially placed in store. This time there was to be no reprieve. No alternative work could be found, so she was officially withdrawn on 23rd December 1955, having already arrived at Doncaster's scrap yard. She was broken up during February and March 1956.
Yeadons Register of LNER Locomotives, Volume 9, by Willie Yeadon, Pub Booklaw/Railbus
Locomotives of the LNER, Part 9B, Pub RCTS
Nigel Gresley, Locomotive Engineer, by F.A.S.Brown, Pub Ian Allan