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Plating Over of GWR Tank Engine Cab Porthole Windows

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I've tried without success to find any suitable information on why and when the GWR plated over the small porthole windows in the cab fronts of various engines.

I have Vol 9 of the HMRS RCTS series, in which I can find no reference to these windows.

From searches so far it appears that the plating over was done during the late 1920's / early 1930's, but I have not found any explanation as to why this was done.

There must have been a very good reason, as the GWR would not have done the work unnecessarily.

I had assumed that it must have been on safety grounds, but then these portholes have been retro-fitted to 4566 and 5239 in preservation so that can't be the reason.

Does anyone know, or can anyone point me towards some relevant material (e.g. books, GW Journal editions, etc)?

Thanks.

Edited by GWR57xx
correction

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Might it be a Collett instruction?  I suggest this because the first locos to appear from new without them was the Collett 56xx.  It probably saved time in fabricating the cab front sheet, but that doesn't answer why the effort was made to plate over previous existing ones.  They are very high up, though, and even with the GW's high set cab floors couldn't have been much use for seeing out of.

 

A similarly puzzling piece of Collett logic is why the ventilators are 'handed' on the bowended suburban stock.  On gangwayed stock it is to have the vent in the centre of the compartment roof, as the corridors were handed, but there is no sense in having it offset on the suburbans, never mind having the offset handed!  Everything on a railway is done for a reason, even if it's a daft reason, but this one, discussed to death on the Hornby Suburban Bowenders thread last year, is a mystery, to which the porthole question must be added.  

 

As they used to say on QI, 'nobody knows...'

Edited by The Johnster
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First instance of plated over portholes I know of is June 1924 (on a Duke).

 

I think Johnster has got the reason right - except for early high-cabfloored locos (e.g. Counties, Saints, Stars), the portholes weren't particularly accessible. Also, they were in the 'drifting smoke line', so would have required regular cleaning.

 

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If I have got it right, it’s purely by accident and I deserve no credit, Ms P!

 

If this is the reason, why not just ignore them and let them get dirty?  

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I guess if the glass broke, then it would require renewing. Maybe they broke often enough for someone to decide enough was enough, they are of limited benefit anyway, let's just plate them over as they go through works?

When were the last survivors with glass portholes?

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Whatever the reason was, the policy of plating over appears to have been implemented very thoroughly and without exception.

I haven't found any photos of any engines later than about 1935 that still have these portholes in place.

This seems rather odd when compared to other upgrades that were made to these engines around the same period.

Taking the early 45xx's as an example: 

4500 to 4529 were built with straight drop ends, 4530 onwards with curved drop ends;

4500 to 4554 were built with inside steam pipes, 4555 onwards with outside steam pipes.

Some of the early engines were later given outside steam pipes, some not.

Similarly some were also given curved drop ends, some not.

But none as far as I am aware escaped the plating over of portholes.

The final batch of small straight-sided tanks (4555 to 4574 of 1924) were built without the portholes, which fits with Johnster's idea that it was a Collett instruction.

 

Edited by GWR57xx
Incorrect statement

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11 minutes ago, GWR57xx said:

 

The final batch of small straight-sided tanks (4555 to 4574 of 1924) were built without the portholes, which fits with Johnster's idea that it was a Collett instruction.

 

 

They were built with the porthole windows.

 

GWRJ 16 has a photo 4564 at Newton Abbot in June 1926 fitted with said windows, 

In addition, the 4575 were also fitted with them - GW steam 1934-1949 has a photo on page 4 of 4591 still fitted with them in 1938 - certainly the latest I have seen them still fitted.

 

Regards,

 

Craig

 

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I had assumed they were intended to let light in rather than to see out of. How much difference they would have made in most circumstances is questionable I should think. 

 

A completely uninformed speculation with no supporting evidence whatsoever... When did toughened glass become available? If there was a programme of fitting toughened glass to all windows on safety grounds at that time, plating over unnecessary windows would have saved money. But this is just a guess. Zero evidence.

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I'd always assumed they were there for a through draught  rather than to see out of, as some pictures seem to show them slanting open.  

 

Edited by jointline
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11 minutes ago, jointline said:

I'd always assumed they were there for a through draft  rather than to see out of, as some pictures seem to show them slanting open.  

 

 

I'd noticed that too and wondered the same.

I also thought perhaps they were there to allow the crew to see something along the top of the firebox / boiler that would otherwise be unobservable while being driven?

What would be behind them inside the cab? Would any additional pipework / gauges / controls etc have been added that would have necessitated their removal (I'd assume not because of 4566).

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ATC perhaps? Although I think that came very slightly later, and not all engines had it fitted at this time period.

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14 minutes ago, Miss Prism said:

I've never seen openable portholes.

 

 

Some photos show them apparently slanted open (pivoted horizontally in the middle with the bottom of the porthole outwards towards the chimney and the top backwards into the cab).

Not just tank engines but Armstrong & Dean tender engines too.

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6 minutes ago, GWR57xx said:

Some photos show them apparently slanted open (pivoted horizontally in the middle with the bottom of the porthole outwards towards the chimney and the top backwards into the cab).

 

If you are thinking of something like this, that is not a porthole in the sense being discussed by this thread.

 

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On 18/01/2020 at 13:38, JimC said:

I had assumed they were intended to let light in rather than to see out of. How much difference they would have made in most circumstances is questionable I should think. 

 

A completely uninformed speculation with no supporting evidence whatsoever... When did toughened glass become available? If there was a programme of fitting toughened glass to all windows on safety grounds at that time, plating over unnecessary windows would have saved money. But this is just a guess. Zero evidence.

 

I was wondering if that was the case too.

 

They appeared when the cabs were becoming more enclosed so I was thinking maybe the crews complained about a lack of light in the cab. During night they would have small lamps by the gauge glasses for illumination.

 

Maybe they were ineffective, so were deemed surplus to requirements and plated over.

 

 

Jason

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5 hours ago, Miss Prism said:

 

If you are thinking of something like this, that is not a porthole in the sense being discussed by this thread.

 

I think we're all singing from the same hymn sheet, and are distinguishing between portholes and front windows.  I've tagged a pic of a 56xx with one apparently open,  I'll see if I can dig it out if I have time. 

 

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7 hours ago, Miss Prism said:

I've never seen openable portholes.

 

Although the photograph you produced of the cab of Knight of the Thistle clearly shows them to have been hinged at the bottom and thus opening inwards.

 

Jim

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There are several photos here: gwr.org that show the portholes open.

Looks like I was wrong again - these all show the porthole hinged at the bottom and opening into the cab, not hinged in the middle.

But they are definitely OPEN!

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14 hours ago, Miss Prism said:

I've never seen openable portholes.

 

I have, but only on ships...

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11 hours ago, GWR57xx said:

There are several photos here: gwr.org that show the portholes open.

 

Hmmm. I really should have known that, shouldn't I?  My previous statements are rubbish. Oh well, getting egg on face is proving to be educational. Looking at the GAs of the Star and Great Bear cabs, there is indeed a hinge at the bottom. This would facilitate cleaning the front face of the glass. The fact that a porthole (at least on some designs) could be left in the open position lends credence to the ventilation purpose. There seems to be a catch on the top side of the porthole, so that it can be left open by a preset amount.

 

However, given that 99% of pictures show the portholes in the closed position seems to indicate crews found Churchward cabs not to require extra ventilation.

 

Caerphilly Castle was built with portholes, but I'm not sure whether all of the other nine of the first batch of Castles received them. My guess is that Collett made the decision to get rid of portholes in Spring 1924.

 

I can't determine the current build state of City of Truro's portholes. (2999 doesn't have hinges.)


star-cab.jpg.2e484c1875e47368f2d2b797624e0ec6.jpg

 

3121-cab.jpg.2c9b55046a2d02d6624d3bd570097cee.jpg

 

5322-porthole-2.jpg.f938d7dc078f80cd1180ae29529fb0d3.jpg

(Mogul 5322)

 

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This might not be appropriate, but on the Ffestiniog I have seen firemen looking through cab windows of locos to check the chimney exhaust in order to see if the loco was steaming properly. I wonder if these windows where positioned where they were for much the same purpose.

Cheers

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"Caerphilly Castle was built with portholes, but I'm not sure whether all of the other nine of the first batch of Castles received them. My guess is that Collett made the decision to get rid of portholes in Spring 1924."

 

Power of the Castles shows 4079, 4083, 4086 fitted with them. 4009 also retained them following rebuilding as a Castle in 1925.

 

Regards,

 

Craig W

Edited by Craigw
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4 hours ago, PenrithBeacon said:

This might not be appropriate, but on the Ffestiniog I have seen firemen looking through cab windows of locos to check the chimney exhaust in order to see if the loco was steaming properly. I wonder if these windows where positioned where they were for much the same purpose.

Cheers

One can see the chimney as it exhausts from the normal cab front windows, so it can’t be that.  The mystery deepens...

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