Grace's Guide is the leading source of historical information on industry and manufacturing in Britain. This web publication contains 147,153 pages of information and 233,401 images on early companies, their products and the people who designed and built them.
James Holden (1837-1925) of the Stratford Works
1925 Obituary 
The announcement of the death of Mr. James Holden, at Bath, on May 29th, at a great age, must have brought back to the memory of many of our readers the valuable work he did in the twenty-two and a-half years (July, 1885-December, 1907) during which he was locomotive superintendent of the Great Eastern Railway. He was born at Whitstable, Kent, on July 26th, 1837, and in due course became an apprentice in the railway works at Gateshead under his uncle, Mr. Edward Fletcher. Subsequently for a brief period he was manager of some private engineering works in Sunderland, and in 1865 he entered the railway service in the carriage and wagon department of the Great Western Railway, becoming in succession superintendent of the works at Shrewsbury and Chester. Later he was appointed manager of the extensive carriage and wagon works at Swindon and chief assistant to Mr. William Dean, the locomotive superintendent. Whilst on the Great 'Western Railway he was intimately concerned in the transformation from broad to narrow gauge.
On the retirement of Mr. T. W. Worsdell from the position of locomotive carriage and wagon superin- tendent of the Great Eastern Railway in 1885 Mr. Holden was appointed his successor. There, despite the good work that Mr. Worsdell had done during his three years' tenure of office. Mr. Holden found ample scope for his great technical and organising abilities. "Tell me this" were his first, words as he came to his office in the morning, and then would follow a string of searching questions as to the organisation, the personnel, the locomotives and rolling stock, in fact anything with regard to his department that could occur to an active, inquiring mind. He had the registers of the locomotives, carriages, and wagons carefully overhauled until he was satisfied that the information they contained was absolutely dependable. He watched expenditure with an eagle eye and a broad outlook: the resultant economies he effected were very real and much appreciated by the directors of this struggling railway. He found in existence many totally distinct types of locomotives, the results of the various amalgamations constituting the Great Eastern Railway. In a comparatively brief period he brought about a considerable reduction in the number of types and, as far as could be done, effected interchangeability of parts among the survivors.
1926 Obituary 
JAMES HOLDEN was born at Whitstable, Kent, on 26th July 1837, and commenced his engineering career as an apprentice, from 1852 to 1858, in the works of the North Eastern Railway at Gateshead under his uncle, Mr. Edward Fletcher, after which for a brief period he became manager of private engineering works in Sunderland.
In 1865 he entered the service of the Great Western Railway in the carriage and wagon department, becoming in succession superintendent of the works at Shrewsbury and Chester.
Later he was appointed manager of the Company's carriage and wagon works at Swindon and chief assistant to Mr. William Dean, the Locomotive Superintendent. Whilst on the G.W. Railway he was intimately concerned in the transformation of the system from broad to narrow gauge.
In July 1885 he was appointed locomotive, carriage and wagon superintendent of the Great Eastern Railway. In this new position Mr. Holden found ample scope for his abilities. Intimate and sound information on rolling stock matters led in time to resultant economies which were much appreciated by the directors of his Company. Amongst the difficulties confronting him he found in existence many totally distinct types of locomotives, the results of the various amalgamations constituting the G.E.R. system. In a comparatively brief period he brought about a considerable reduction in the number of types, and as far as could be done effected interchangeability of parts amongst the remainder.
His readiness to make a virtue out of a necessity is shown by the manner in which he turned to practical account the difficulty that faced the Railway Co. in the disposal of the tar from its oil-gas works. When thrown away as waste, this tar found its way into the river, and was a cause of complaint. Mr. Holden decided to use it as fuel, and from the experiments he made in that connection grew his well-known liquid-fuel injector with which at one time — before the price of liquid fuel became prohibitive as compared with that of coal — some eighty Great Eastern engines were equipped. (A fuller account of these matters will be found in the Proceedings 1889, page 70 et seq., and Proceedings 1911, page 1040.)
Mr. Holden opposed a rival scheme of railway electrification, and to demonstrate his views that quick acceleration could be obtained with steam locomotives, designed a tank engine with ten coupled wheels—known as the "Decapod." With this he succeeded in obtaining a speed of 30 miles per hour thirty seconds after starting, with a load of 300 tons.
He was also responsible for the alterations made in the suburban railway carriages in order to increase the seating capacity from five to six a side.
During Mr. Holden's tenure of office at Stratford, the extensive wagon-shops at Temple Mills were constructed, and the Chemical Laboratory at the Stratford Works was established. An engineering feat at the Stratford Works in 1891 was the assembling of a locomotive in the then world's record time of ten working hours. That the engine was "well and truly built" was evidenced by the fact that, being forthwith put under steam, it worked a long-distance heavy goods train.
In the subject of Engineering Education Mr. Holden took special interest, and in the Proceedings 1903, pages 337-9, will be found an account of his scheme in that connection which was adopted by the G.E. Railway.
He was at Stratford for twenty-two years and a half, retiring in December 1907.
He died at Bath on 26th May 1925.
He became a Member of this Institution in 1886.