Thomas Russell Crampton (1816–88)

Thomas Russell Crampton is best-known as the designer of a distinctive type of steam locomotive that was more popular in continental Europe than in his native England, but he was also a distinguished civil engineer who built railways, waterworks, gas supply systems and telegraph networks in many countries.

He was born at Broadstairs on the Kent coast, and worked as a young man on the Great Western Railway where he assisted Sir Daniel Gooch in the design of the company’s famous ‘Firefly’ class 2-2-2 locomotives. In 1843 he took out a patent for what came to be called the Crampton locomotive, whose characteristics were a low boiler and large driving wheels on an axle behind the firebox. Its success was perhaps due more to its wide steam passages, generous bearing surfaces and large heating surfaces rather than to its unorthodox configuration. The first was ordered for the Namur & Liége Railway in 1845. Some 320 were built, only 45 of them for railways in the United Kingdom. None is preserved in Britain, but a French example, Le Crampton, is one of the treasures of the railway museum at Mulhouse.

From 1848 Crampton practised as a civil engineer, carrying out various projects for the South Eastern Railway in England, building railways in the Ottoman Empire and laying the submarine telegraph under the Straits of Dover in 1851. Crampton was responsible for the building of a waterworks in Berlin in 1855 for which he was granted the Prussian Order of the Red Eagle the following year. In France he became an officer of the Legion of Honour in 1855 in recognition of the locomotives that he designed for French railways. His company also undertook smaller projects and in the early 1870s his two sons Thomas Hellas Crampton and John George Crampton directed the construction of the East & West Junction Railway between Fenny Compton and Stratford-upon-Avon in the English Midlands.

Crampton always maintained his links with his native Broadstairs. In 1851 he established, financed and built the town’s gasworks, and in 1859 formed the Broadstairs Water Company, whose waterworks is now the town museum, and includes the 24.38m high Crampton Tower, at the top of which is a 386,000 litre tank that provided pressure for the distribution system.