The idea for a new class of two cylinder, 4-6-0, mixed traffic locomotive on the Great Western Railway came from George Churchward, Chief Mechanical Officer at the time, in the years preceding the First World War.
His proposal envisaged combining the standard Swindon No.1 boiler with driving wheels of 5’ 8” to deliver a combination of good pulling power and good acceleration, vital in the design of an efficient mixed traffic locomotive. For any number of reasons, and despite his other proposals all coming to fruition, the design was not pursued and it was to be the 1930s before the idea was revived.
Charles Collett had replaced Churchward as CME in 1922 and in 1936, under pressure from the GWR’s Operating Department, he sought to replace Churchward’s ageing 4300 class 2-6-0 locomotives with a new design, based on Churchward’s original idea for a mixed traffic locomotive.
The GWR 6800 ‘Grange’ class utilised a number of parts from the rapidly withdrawn ‘4300’s in their construction, notably the driving wheels and motions and the first example, No.6800 Arlington Grange, was turned out from Swindon on August 27, 1936. A further nineteen locomotives had entered traffic by the year end, followed by forty in 1937 and another twenty in 1939, but the onset of the Second World led to the postponement, then cancellation, of the building programme.
Essentially the ‘Grange’ class were similar to the ‘Hall’ class, albeit with smaller wheels and the boiler pitched lower in the frames and Collett had also taken the opportunity to provide larger side windows in the cab, a screw reverser, lamp brackets on the smokebox door and 9” piston valves.
The increase in tractive effort over the ‘Hall’ class, their excellent acceleration and easy steaming nature made the ‘Grange’ class a favourite with the crews and they were used on a variety of mixed traffic duties, in particular as Pilots from Newton Abbott. From here, over a twenty five mile stretch of line characterised by tough gradients known as ‘The South Devon Banks’, the Granges would pilot trains, often loaded to twelves coaches and weighing in excess of 500 tons, over Dainton Bank (1 in 40), Rattery (1 in 50) and Hemerdon (1 in 42).
Originally the class were paired with Churchward 3,500 gallon tenders, many coming from the withdrawn ‘4300’ class locomotives, including four with modified higher sides and longer fenders and in time Collett’s own 3,500 gallon tenders were used.. From 1942, Collett’s larger 4,000 gallon tenders were used and, just occasionally, Hawksworth straight sided tenders.
Withdrawals started with No.6801 Aylburton Grange on October 27, 1962, with a further eight locomotives going by the end of 1963 and twenty five going in 1964. The last of the class, No.6872 Crawley Grange, was withdrawn on December 31, 1965 and none survived the cutter’s torch to make it to preservation.