The room he led me to seemed like less of a museum, and would be better described as a large, out of use workshop – the original one of Brunel’s construction, he explained. In the soft rays of the sky casting through the windows, stood many oddly proportioned pieces of metal and mahogany; grand pieces of beautiful – yet misguided – industrial, kinetic architecture.
“These are what remains of Brunel’s locomotive designs, William. Every one, here, was a pitiful failure.”
He went along the vast room to light the dusty gas lamps along the walls, steadily illuminating the mismatched liveries and occasionally chipped, battered and scraped frames of these once-grand engines.
Many were partially assembled; some in pieces. Some even seemed to be under repair.
Like his office, the room seemed entirely silent compared to the chatter, clattering and industrial noises provided by the main workshops. A light breeze softly leaked into the room, catching the odd cobweb that adorned funnels and safety valves.
Gooch’s wooden-soled engineer’s shoes clattered against the hard, concrete floor as he lit the lights, casting shadows of the great beasts against any surface that took them.
Built in collaboration with T.E. Harrison and Isambard Kingdom Brunel, the 'Hurricane' was delivered on the 6th of October 1838 - an experiment into the idea of large driving wheels and light axle loads. She was preceded by her identical twin, 'Thunderer', some four months earlier.
With perhaps the largest set of driving wheels ever fitted to a locomotive, it shouldn't be surprising that there were high expectations from the fledging industry towards what seemed like the natural conclusion of the modern Express engine. Brunel was not a talented engineer of locomotives, and had to rely largely on the work of one Thomas Elliot Harrison to inform his designs. Harrison had informed many other leading gentlemen in the field, but his ambition - coupled with Brunel's love of experiment - was left unchecked in the whims of the Great Western Railway.
Delivered by Hawthorne's locomotive works of Newcastle on the 6th of October, 1838, the three-piece locomotive was a rather clear carbuncle to most who understood the concept of adhesion.
Brunel was very strict in the idea of low axle weight and slow cylinder speeds - and Hurricane, at least, ticked off these easily. Regardless, the engine simply hadn't the ability to pull, with so little weight upon her driving wheels that she'd have spent most of her trials slipping into oblivion.
Mind, the GWR were lovers of self-promotion, and some said that the engine reached 100mph - almost certainly false, but as they claimed...
"At the end of September, 1839, when the 31 miles of the line was open to Twyford, the driver of Hurricane, having obtained a promise from the directors that they would provide for his wife and family if an accident happened to him, undertook to drive the "Hurricane" to Twyford at the speed of 100 miles an hour; and, allowing three miles for getting up speed and stopping, it is stated that he successfully covered 28 miles at the rate of 100 miles an hour."
One has to wonder if the engine could possibly remain stable at such a pace - and if the Victorians could claim such speeds so casually. Some even went on to claim that Brunel himself had taken the footplate!
In any sense, neither engine ran for much over 10,000 miles, and would live out their days as stationary boilers and spare parts.