Unfortunately, Britain often fails to honour the memory of its most talented sons and daughters.

Thomas Russell Crampton was one of the most accomplished inventors and engineers of the Victorian era.  By designing the Crampton steam locomotive, he may be justly described as the Father of the High Speed Train.  Throughout his life he developed an astounding succession of new projects, and was granted many patents.

Far from simply being a locomotive designer, he was a very capable civi Engineers, was vice PresidentC being responsible for important railway building schemes in Britain and abroad.  He also invented a furnace which burned powdered fuel, a revolving furnace used in both iron and steel making, a system of cast iron military forts, brick-making machinery and a tunnel boring machine.  He designed and built gas works and waterworks.  Perhaps his crowning achievement was the laying of the first successful submarine telegraph cable between Dover and Calais.

In addition to all the works listed above, Thomas Crampton played a very active part in a wide range of professional bodies.  He served on the Council of the Institute of Civil Engineers, was vice President of the Institution of Mechanical Engineers, Vice President of the Society of Arts, a Member of the Council of the Society of Telegraph Engineers and Electricians, a Member of the Societe des Ingenieurs Civils de Paris, a Member of the Iron and Steel Institute of Great Britain, or the Cleveland Institution of Engineers, of the North Staffordshire Institute of Mining and Mechanical Engineers and of the Smeatonian Society!

In recognition of his valuable services, he was made an Officier of the Legion d’Honneur by Napoleon III of France and was awarded the Order of the Red Eagle by Frederick William of Prussia.  In shameful contrast, Britain has completely failed to honour him.

Thomas Crampton was born on 6th. August 1816 at Prospect Cottage ( now on Dickens Walk ) in Broadstairs, Kent, the son of  John and Mary Crampton.  His father, a plumber and architect, paid for his private education.  On 21st. May 1831, at the age of 14, he was articled to Mr. John Hague of Cable Street, Wellclose Square, London.  After serving his time, he began a career in engineering in 1839 as assistant to Marc Brunel, later joining the Great Western Railway at its drawing offices in Swindon as assistant to Daniel Gooch, for whom he produced the drawings for the ‘Firefly’ class of locomotives.


Part of Crampton’s work was to assist Gooch in making a strong case to the Board of Trade and key Members of Parliament for the Great Western’s broad gauge of 7’1/4” in preference to the far more widespread gauge of 4’ 81/2”.  Although the larger dimensions permitted larger, more powerful machines, Crampton was privately convinced that a low – mounted boiler, together with large driving wheels behind the firebox, would allow for wider steam passages, large heating surfaces and generous wheel bearing surfaces – all on the more popular and cheaper narrow gauge.  Unknown to his superiors, he worked on a design of his own in his spare time, which he patented in 1843.

Crampton left the Great Western Railway in 1844, taking up a post with John and George Rennie and working with them on a number of important engineering projects.  However, he was also actively promoting his new locomotive design, and in 1845 he received his first order: three locomotives with 7’ driving wheels and a 14.5 sq.ft. fire grate for the Namur & Liege Railway in Belgium.

S.E.R.-Crampton namur

The London & North Western Railway, the powerful company which bordered the Great Western, took notice of Crampton’s revolutionary locomotive patent as a means of countering broad gauge publicity.  Working with the L&NWR’s Locomotive Superintendent Mc Connell, Crampton produced two locomotives based on his design for Belgium, named ‘London’ and ‘Courier’.  These were followed in 1851 by the much larger and more powerful ‘Liverpool’ with a huge firebox which needed two firemen to feed it with sufficient coal.  ‘Liverpool’ won a gold medal at the 1851 Great Exhibition, where Crampton also exhibited his locomotive ‘Folkestone’ for the South Eastern Railway, one of a class of 10.  The S.E.R. had also purchased three of his original Belgian design of locomotive, and more ‘Cramptons’ came into service on the neighbouring London, Chatham and Dover Railway for which Crampton oversaw the building of 3 lines.


However, it was in France and Germany that the Crampton patent locomotive had by far its greatest triumphs. The expanses of the North European Plain with its long distances between major cities were ideal territory for light trains running at sustained high speeds, and the tracks were straight and well-maintained. Tribute must also be paid to the Cail engineering company of Paris which took Crampton’s design and refined it superbly, paying particular attention to balance, grate design and adhesion. The result was a class of locomotive which not only dominated the Est, Nord and PLM railways for over 40 years but also won export orders to countries such as Russia and Egypt. ‘Crampton’ became as much a generic term as ‘Hoover’ in the 20th. century, and “je vais prendre le Crampton” became the accepted phrase to use when catching an express train. Napoleon III had a great personal enthusiasm for ‘Cramptons’, and, when Queen Victoria and Prince Albert paid a royal visit to France, he insisted that one should pull the Royal Train from Calais. Thomas Crampton was later rewarded by his elevation to the rank of ‘Officier’ of the Legion d’Honneur.


In the same years, several German states produced their own Crampton locomotives,beginning with ‘Die Pfalz’, a replica of which is now in Nurmburg Railway Museum. They were a great success, and were soon a common sight on a number of German railways.

Not content with his railway achievements in Germany, Crampton was, in 1855, responsible for the building of the Berlin Waterworks. In 1856, a grateful Frederick William of Prussia appointed him to the Order of the Red Eagle.

1851 was a momentous year for Thomas Crampton. In addition to his triumph at the Great Exhibition, he succeeded in designing his own telegraph cable and in successfully laying it across the English Channel. Prior to this, he had also raised the £10,000 required to finance the project! He may, therefore, truly be called the Father of submarine telegraphy.

In the same year, he initiated the Broadstairs Gasworks scheme, contributing a large part of the capital himself, and eventually carrying out the construction. In 1859, he designed and built Broadstairs Waterworks, again providing some of the capital, and building an 80’ high water tower which now forms the centrepiece of the Crampton Tower Museum. Throughout his life, he maintained an interest in his home town, and later donated a clock to holy Trinity Church.


Thomas Crampton was wholly or party responsible for the construction of a number of railway lines which later became part of the London, Chatham & Dover Railway. For this purpose, he entered a partnership with Sir Morton Peto and Edward Betts. They constructed lines between Strood and Dover, Sevenoaks and Swanley and Herne Bay and Faversham. Unfortunately, the partnership became insolvent, and Crampton was made personally bankrupt in 1867, but he managed to keep his good name and continue in business. Abroad, he was responsible for building lines between Smyrna and Aidin and Vrna and Rustchuk, as well as being a partner in the Mont Cenis Pass Railway.

For the remainder of his life, Crampton continued to produce inventions at a remarkable rate. Most notably, he produced a furnace for heating and puddling using coal dust, one giving good service at Woolwich Arsenal and another operating in Middlesborough. In papers which he read in 1873 and 1874, he described how temperature could be controlled closely and wear and tear substantially cut. However, the Bessemer and open hearth methods were found to be more economical.

In 1882, he produced a revolutionary automatic tunnel boring system in which debris was conveyed away in pipes by hydraulic motors, mixed with waste water, thus eliminating all locomotives, wagons and lifting machinery. The system was demonstrated in the experimental works of the Channel Tunnel Company, and described by Crampton in a lecture given in Leeds in 1882.


Thomas Crampton died at his home, Ashley Place in Victoria Street, London, on 19th. April 1888, aged 72, leaving his second wife, Elizabeth, six sons and one daughter. He was noted for his strong and independent nature, and also for his kind and genial nature and his ability to inspire and encourage.