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5043 – a fabulous performer but why?

5043 - best of all the Castles?

I can’t begin to say what a marvellous engine 5043 Earl of Mount Edgcumbe is. It continues to tear up the record books as far as performances go, on Shap, in Scotland and on its home patch. Indeed, pretty much everywhere it goes, it flies the flag for the very best of what GWR locomotive design was. It goes like the wind and I am quite sure that its official maximum speed of 75 mph has been well exceeded on many occasions when the inspectors have their, er, gaze averted.

One thing is odd, though: why is it so good compared with the other Castles? I am sure the double chimney and improved superheating gives it the edge over 5029, 5051 and 5080 but is it better than Clun Castle in its preserved days?

I am not aware that Clun was ever one of those Castles that had a reputation for being a real sprinter. The best in GWR days was said to be 5006 Tregenna Castle, seen famously in those classic photos of the Cheltenham Flier. Clun only developed its reputation for being there at the end and that famous Plymouth to Paddington trip on 9 May 1964 (even if the real star that day was, in fact 6999, Capel Dewi Hall!).  Other Castles varied in service: 7018 Drwsllwyn Castle, for example, was a real donkey until its improved front end revolutionised its performance but even then, 5043 was one of those that just flew.

5043 was, I understand, one of the engines of choice for The Bristolian and there are many photos of it on that train. What I do not understand is how an engine that had such a reputation for free steaming, reliability and speed back then can endure all those years as a rusting hulk at Barry, more years in the gloom of Tyseley shed lined up as a donor engine for 7029 and then emerge once again every bit as good as it was, enhancing the reputation it previously had. It beats me. Swindon was the master of standardisation and the bits were rotated often but 5043 is still a better engine than other Castles.

The same seems true of A4s. Despite its moment of glory on Stoke Bank in 1938, Mallard was never the best of them, apparently, and crews preferred 4498 Sir Nigel Gresley and 2509 Silver Link. Many were also sorry that Silver Fox was never saved as that was ‘a good’un’ as well.

So it’s a mystery. The only people who would have any sort of answer to this are those folk of a spiritual persuasion who would say that everything that is built has its own energy and that makes it unique, even if it uses standard parts and is made in exactly the same way as all the others.But I bet that wont satisfy the engineers among you!

And, before you ask, no, I dont have the astrological birth chart for 5043 – although it might be interesting!!

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