Writers of railway history have not been kind to Edward Bury. He has been derided as a builder of tiny old-fashioned engines, obstructively stuck in the past while greater men were pushing locomotive development forward. He has been denigrated by authors from Stretton onwards. He was described by Ahrons as "endowed richly with the commercial instinct" and by a more recent writer as "above all a business man" but in reality it seems that the money-making instinct was the very thing Bury lacked. His first concern was always in running the railway efficiently; if he placed orders with his own firm it was because he knew he could rely on his own products. Kennedy was later to complain that if he had only had a good commercial man as partner he would have carried on with the Clarence Foundry.
All the evidence shows that Bury was liked and respected by his men. "By a union of strictness and kindness" he gained their confidence in his judgment and integrity. 'Veritas Vincit' said he was "the most particular Superintendent in England in the selection of enginemen" and Bury himself described his L&B footplatemen as regular and well-behaved who gave him no trouble. In 1839 he said that although without powers to do so, he had fIned one or two of them a sovereign each, but gave out rewards for good work. Some men took to the work at once, he said, but others would never make engine drivers; he had already promoted five or six firemen to drivers. Mostly labourers originally, the L&B engine drivers were "men of great activity and of great ability to get out of a difficulty."
At first the L&B did not carry third-class passengers because the directors could see no profit in it, but Bury argued that they had a duty to do so, because "the railways have, or will destroy all other means of communication" including the stage wagons and carriers' carts used by the poor. He spoke to the Board repeatedly about this, until eventually one daily slow train was put on to carry third-class passengers - albeit at the fairly expensive fare of 1 1/2d a mile - in October 1840.
Bury's legacy, from the railway workshops at Wolverton and Doncaster down to such details as the net parcel rack and the varnished teak livery, undoubtedly includes many improvements in locomotive design which have been credited to others. A rather reserved, cultured and speculative product of the eighteenth century, he was very unlike the generation of locomotive superintendents which succeeded him. His was no ragsto-riches story and was therefore of no interest to Samuel (Self-help) Smiles who wrote so many popular biographies of engineers; it was left to Bury's widow to publish a short memoir, which few could have seen.
Now Edward Bury can be recognised as a great railway organiser, as well as one of the greatest locomotive pioneers. It was not for nothing that he was elected a Fellow of the Royal Society in 1844, the only locomotive engineer so honoured until Sir William Stanier a century later.
His widow believed Bury had "devoted the best energies of his life to the success of the London & Birmingham Railway".