News Archive 2008

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2008 Christmas Draw in Support of 1363

1363 on display outside the Loco Shed in July 2008.

Now that 5322 has entered traffic, we are turning our attention to 1363. For more years than we care to remember, we have been wanting to commence restoration of 1363 and work will shortly begin on dismantling the locomotive in preparation.

Withdrawn from Laira in November 1962 and purchased by the Society in 1964, 1363 ran during the 1960s and 1970s at Totnes, Bodmin and Didcot finally being withdrawn from traffic pending a full overhaul at the very end of the 1970s. As such the last mechanical overhaul was in BR days in 1958 when it received a Heavy General at Swindon and so it will be receiving its first full overhaul in preservation. It will be necessary to replace part of the engine main frame as well as the rear drag box and 1363 will also need a new ash pan. The coal bunker was damaged just before withdrawal – indeed this ‘war’ damage almost certainly saved it and will need to be replaced and we know that the saddle tank also needs to be replaced.

Already we have just under £10,000 in the restoration fund, including some donations which had been held in escrow for 1363 for many years, as well as contributions which have been made to the restoration this year as a result of a couple of photographers charters organised by Phil Neale.

We hope you will agree that 1363 has been out of action for far too long and support us with this year’s Christmas Draw which is being devoted to getting its restoration under way. The draw will be held at Didcot at 2.30 pm on Saturday 3rd January.

1363 will be a very useful addition to the working fleet giving Didcot a further small locomotive to work the Branch; when it was operational 1363 was a popular locomotive amongst crews and we look forward to that happening again.

As usual, donations will also be most welcome and we are also providing a Banker’s Order form for those who feel that they may like or be able to provide regular monthly support to this restoration. At this stage we anticipate that the restoration will cost in the region of £60/65,000.

9 November 2008 – Great Western at War - Dedication of Churchward Mogul 5322

Col Cheetham on the footplate of 5322 with members of the restoration team; left to right Ciaran Johnson, Alex Beasley, Adam Bowler, Col Cheetham and Pete Gransden.

5322's return to active service in khaki was marked by a ceremony on Remembrance Day, Sunday 9 November - 90 years after the locomotive was on war service in France.

The locomotive was dedicated by Colonel S Cheetham MBE, TD, who outlined the role of the Royal Engineers and the Railway Operating Division during the first world war and later conflicts. Col Cheetham is the Senior Railway Engineer in the Corps of Railway Engineers, providing railway engineer consultancy to the Army and advising the Engineer-in Chief on railway policy.

A local folk singer, Hugh Crabtree, also performed a medley of first world war songs.

The ceremony also marked the completion of a 13 year restoration, which has recently seen 5322 move under its own power for the first time since September 1976. The engine has been restored as far as possible to its original 1917 appearance, when it served with the Railway Operating Division (Royal Engineers) on the Western Front.

Later in the afternoon after the early sunshine had given way to heavy rain - typical of the weather conditions that turned the battlefields of the Western Front into a sea of mud on so many occasions - 5322 was double heading with 3822, representing a GWR locomotive built during the second world war.

In its day 5322 was a typical GWR workhorse. One of a 340 strong fleet, they became the most widely used tender engines on the GWR, and the engine's own history, being shedded everywhere from Chester to Weymouth, is a testament to their usefulness. Today, it's now one of just 2 survivors, and is therefore extremely important in telling the story of every day life on the GWR, while its history with the ROD only increases its significance.

Not having had a full overhaul since the late 1950's, the engine's condition before the most recent restoration began was extremely poor, however we hope that our efforts have managed to breathe some youthful life back into the old thing.

Twenty GWR 2-6-0s were built in 1917 and sent when new to France. This was in response to a call from the army in the summer of 1917 for the British railways to supply a further 160 locomotives to help with transporting supplies from the Channel ports to the front line.

Frank Potter, General Manager of the GWR, reported at the time to his board of directors that these locomotives, "should as far as practicable be of one type, ie 0-8-0, and of high power, and arrangements were therefore made for them to be supplied by as few Companies as possible, these Companies in turn being allocated engines from the stock of other Railway Companies. In the case of the Great Western Railway, we have no engines of the 0-8-0 type, and it was impossible to release any of the 2-8-0 class as they are employed exclusively on the Admiralty coal traffic."

It was therefore decided that the GWR would supply 2-6-0s, which Frank Potter explained: "The Great Western type of 2-6-0 engines is in point of power and efficiency practically equal to other Companies 0-8-0 engines." Nevertheless, the GWR drove a hard bargain, as Frank Potter continued: "The whole of our stock is, however, badly needed for traffic work in this country, and it was, therefore, stipulated that the materials should be supplied by the Government to enable new engines of the class to be built, an output of five per month being aimed at."

A serving officer with the ROD, C E R Sherrington, recalled an encounter with 5322 in France in 1918. He wrote an article about it for the Great Western Echo in 1973:

"That night nearing the level crossing at Pont des Briques, where one turned off for the Mess, an eastbound train was rapidly overtaking me. A glance at my watch led me to hope that it was RCL* 21 running on time from Calais (Riviere Neuve) to St Omer, Hazebrouck and one or more railheads. There was no mistaking the type of locomotive – by the beat of its exhaust – a GWR Mogul, thus confirming that it was, almost certainly, one of the 53s doing such splendid work on those supply trains for the II Army.

She overtook me at the Pont des Briques crossing, with its metal rolling gates, and it was easy to see her number in large white letters on the tender – ROD 5322. Behind her were the customary 44 or so wagons, the supplies for two divisions. The gross load was some 770 tons: the wagons were not vacuum fitted, but, of course, had the French screw couplings.

The Great Western Moguls were admirable locomotives for this work: their predecessors on it, the Beyer Peacock 4-6-4 tanks, which were built for the Netherlands but never got there, were splendid machines but had inadequate brake power, being designed for suburban passenger trains. The LNWR class 27 0-8-0s, though fine pullers, had small diameter wheels for this work, and were more suited to heavier, slower, trains."

* RCL stood for Ravitaillement Calais – Ligne

2 November 2008 - Site Acquisition - A Statement From the Chairman of the Great Western Society

At the Annual General Meeting in September I mentioned our growing frustration at the lack of progress in negotiations with Network Rail to purchase the site and the fact that we had referred the matter to our local MP who had, some time ago, offered his help if we needed it.

The Great Western Society has held a lease for the site since the 1970s which runs until 2019; however there is a clause enabling Network Rail to give the Society six months notice to quit if it so chooses. The Society’s management has always felt that we should attempt to secure the long term future of Didcot Railway Centre by acquiring the freehold or a long term leasehold. 

In 2002 Ian Smith and I opened negotiations with Network Rail to achieve that aim which culminated in a letter from them in May 2007 saying they were prepared to sell the site subject to ORR approval, which would be submitted following confirmation that there would be no knock-on effects in the Didcot area from the rebuilding of Reading station.  Having clarified the site would not be required in connection with either the construction of a new diesel depot (Reading was the chosen location) or, subsequently, the Inter City Express project, it was assumed the projected purchase could proceed.

However, we have now received a further letter from Network Rail saying there has been a change of policy and the offer to sell the land is withdrawn. After six years of effort to achieve long-term security for Didcot Railway Centre we appear to have gone full circle rather than progress forwards. For the moment the status quo has not changed; the security of tenure remains as it always has been but therein lies the problem, it has not been improved which is our aim. A new lease has been suggested but with the short notice break clause which frustrates the larger site development plans we wish to undertake.  At present we are awaiting a response from our MP.

Richard Croucher

October 2008 - New 1014 ‘County of Glamorgan’ Web Site launched

1014 in August 2008

An independent web site, providing a historical context for the ‘County’ project, details of the restoration and all the latest news on the locomotive has recently been launched.

1014 County of Glamorgan Web Site

The Great Western Society is not responsible for the content of external web sites.

If you would like to help the ‘County’ project, why not Download the County appeal form (Word format).

29 October 2008 – Air-Raid Shelter Re-Opens

Air Raid Shelter
Phil Mercer (wearing tin helmet) with a group of retired Didcot railwaymen some of whom had worked in the engine shed during the war and had first hand experience of using the shelter.

The restored air raid shelter was re-opened on Wednesday 29 October by Phil Mercer of BBC Oxford. One of the few surviving shelters, the Didcot example was built by the GWR in 1940 and has been transformed into an evocative experience by the railway centre’s education team, helped by a grant from WREN (Waste Recycling Environmental Limited).

With the second world war a subject on the national curriculum, local schools assisted the project that will help to teach the realities of civilian life in wartime. A vintage radio broadcast speeches by Chamberlain and Churchill, and concealed loudspeakers produce the sounds of a bombing raid overhead, while the lights dim as the explosions get louder.

The shelter is built of semi-circular concrete sections, sunk about 2 metres into the ground. Further protection against blast and shrapnel is provided by a layer of earth about a metre thick, topped by stone blocks. It is known as a beehive shelter, because that is what the mound of stones above ground resembles. The shelter is reached by stairs that are curved to protect the doorway. A concrete tube at the opposite end provides an escape route if the stairs are blocked.

Over the years the shelter had become covered with a layer of grass and had a mature tree growing on top of it. During the summer the Didcot civil engineering gang stripped off the vegetation then carefully placed the stones and soil to one side. Once they had uncovered the concrete structure they repaired cracks and covered it with a large pond liner to prevent damage from moisture, then replaced the soil and stones. The shelter's date, 1940, is crudely scratched in the concrete lintel above the door.

8 November 2008 - Railtour Visits Didcot Railway Centre

The newly restored Earl of Mount Edgcumbe at Tyseley

The ‘Return To Steam’ tour of Castle Class, No. 5043 ‘Earl of Mount Edgcumbe’ scheduled for 25 October has been rescheduled to run on Saturday 8 November.

The tour will now be double headed with the ‘castle’ being assisted by No. 4965 ‘Rood Ashton Hall’.

The train will run on former Great Western metals, travelling from Birmingham (Snow Hill) to Didcot, via Leamington Spa, Banbury and Oxford.

This will be the ‘castle's’ first long haul train in preservation, since completion of its recent overhaul at Tyseley Locomotive Works. The tour will also provide an opportunity for the ‘Hall’ to repeat its ‘final journey before overhaul’ which visited Didcot on 15 March!

Fares include admission to the Didcot Railway Centre.

The Railtour is being run by Vintage Trains Limited.

27 September 2008 - Night Photo-Shoot with 3650

At the end of the evening the fire is thrown out of 3650

30742 Charters ran another of their 'night-shoots' at Didcot Railway Centre.

Star of the show was newly restored GWR Pannier tank 3650 in the Stephenson Clarke blue livery which it carried in post BR colliery service. The engine had been allowed to get suitably grubby leading up to the event. The locomotive will soon be repainted into GWR green so this was the only opportunity to see the engine in blue on a night shoot. It was also one of the last opportunities to photograph 1363 in BR black, as dismantling for overhaul is imminent. The evening focussed on the shed and coal stage with Panniers 3650 & 3738 joined by 1363, 5051, and 3822.

23 July 2008 - Pannier 3650 Steams in Blue

Members of the restoration team in the front of the locomotive outside the Transfer Shed

Great Western Pannier tank No. 3650 passed her insurance boiler examination on Wednesday 23 July and the restoration team then took her for a celebratory run on the branch line.

3650 was built in December 1939 and withdrawn in October 1963, when she was sold to Stephenson Clarke for use at an open-cast coal mine at Gwaun-cae-Gurwen. It appears that the locomotive then worked with the minimum of maintenance and was in dreadful condition when preserved in 1969. However, the Great Western Society believed she was worth buying as it might be the last chance to acquire a pannier tank. When 3738 was later purchased from Barry, this was in far better condition and was therefore restored first. 3650 is the result of 20 years dedicated work by her restoration team to repair the damage of six years in industrial use.

The Stephenson Clarke livery is a temporary one for 3650s running-in period. She will then be painted in GWR green, with a ‘shirt-button’ roundel as originally turned out in 1939. The repaint might take place even before the end of 2008, so industrial locomotive enthusiasts should hurry to Didcot to see an industrial pannier. The 3650 team say that for a small consideration they will make the locomotive dirty to give a more authentic industrial appearance.

The locomotive has since been running on several occasions on a trial basis and, if all continues to go well, is expected to be released into traffic at the August Bank Holiday weekend. It is intended that 3650 will be in steam on all three days of the weekend.

4 July 2008 - Filming Founder Members

Filming at Didcot
(l to r) Graham Perry, Mike Peart, Jon Barlow and the film crew

On Friday 4 July, three of the four founder members of the Great Western Society were at Didcot to be interviewed for a 60 minute programme in the BBC4 social history television series Timeshift.

The programme is looking at the last years of steam - from 1948 to the early 1960s, and will examine this era of steam, the emergence of trainspotting, the sense of romanticism and how, despite Beeching and the scrapping of steam trains, all this was kept alive through the preservation movement.

Jon Barlow, Mike Peart and Graham Perry talked about how they became trainspotters in the 1950s and how, as 16-year-old schoolboys in 1961, they decided to preserve a 14xx class steam locomotive. The letter they wrote to Railway Magazine in April 1961, seeking funds, was the start of a movement that became the Great Western Society and of the collection now housed at Didcot Railway Centre.

The fourth founder member, Angus Davis, now lives in New Zealand, and TV licence fee payers might be relieved to know that, unfortunately the BBC4 programme budget was not generous enough to fly him back to the UK for the interview!

The programme TimeShift - Last Days of Steam will be broadcast on BBC Four on Thursday 16 October at 9pm. Thursday evenings have a railway theme on BBC4 at the moment.

May 2008 - A Third Gauge at Didcot

The slate wogon in Devon
The slate wagon in Devon

The Great Western Trust is pleased to have purchased a Great Western ‘2 foot’ gauge slate wagon, after many years of searching for one, finally giving a ‘large’ item to represent the Great Western’s narrow gauge interests. 

The GW ran several narrow gauge lines such as the Corris, the Welshpool and Llanfair and the Vale of Rheidol, and GWR owned wagons of this type also featured on narrow gauge feeders to GWR standard gauge lines. 

The wagon concerned has not been finally identified but is thought to be from lot 413, Diagram O.49, ordered January 1903 and numbered 51-100.

It is currently in Devon, but should be brought to Didcot within the next few weeks, although it will need some considerable repairs before it can be put on display.  Once on display it will enhance the collection at Didcot where GWR vehicles of 7’ 0 1/4”, 4’8 1/2” and 1’11” will be available for comparison.

6 April 2008 - Wintry Scenes Didcot

Pannier hauled train
Pannier 3738 with a train on the main line

An unseasonably late overnight snowfall coinciding with a Steam Day at Didcot Railway Centre provided an unusual opportunity to see steam trains in the snow. This is something that we might expect, though rarely get, on the Santa specials, but did not anticipate in April!

As it was a relatively warm day, if you could get out of the wind and into the sunshine, the snow didn't last long, but for a few short hours we could enjoy what the gentleman from the Met Office described rather predictably as 'a winter wonderland'. We would hazard a guess, however that his 'winter wonderland' didn't have any steam trains in it - ours did!

15 March 2008 - A Steam Railtour Comes To Didcot

Rood Ashton Hall
4965 Rood Ashton Hall on the Turntable

A steam hauled excursion train from Solihull, hauled by Great Western Railway locomotive No.4965 ‘Rood Aston Hall’, visited Didcot on Saturday 15 March. The run marked what was expected to be the final journey of No.4965 before it's next overhaul.

Once the train, named the ‘4965 Adieu’, arrived at Didcot Parkway the locomotive was detached and came to the Railway Centre where visitors and railtour participants saw it being serviced at the engine shed alongside two of the resident Great Western ‘Hall’ class steam locomotives, No.5900 ‘Hinderton Hall’ and No.6998 ‘Burton Agnes Hall’. It was then turned on the turntable before returning its passengers to Solihull.

No.4965 ‘Rood Aston Hall’ is one of the Great Western Railway ‘Hall’ class, until the end of regular steam train operations a familiar sight in the Didcot area hauling a variety of trains from express passenger services to lowly goods trains. It is now part of the collection of the Birmingham Railway Museum.

11 March 2008 - Railmotor Power Bogie Arrives

The nearly complete power bogie and boiler assembly for the Steam Railmotor Project arrived at Didcot Railway Centre today.

Railmotor Power Bogie
The power bogie being shunted.
As a representative of the first generation of multiple-unit trains it provides an interesting comparison with the passing cross-country Voyager. Several generations down the line the Voyager is one of the newest multiple units.

The bogie and boiler were delivered separately by road, and then moved by rail to Didcot Railway Centre, where the two parts were assembled using the 50 ton hoist in the lifting shop.

The assembly will be on public display in the Engine Shed during the summer season when it can be viewed at any time the site is open. This, of course, will be the only opportunity for you to see the boiler and bogie ‘in the raw’ before it is encased in the coach body, so don’t hesitate to come and have a look at this unique sight.

9 February 2008 - Laira Night Photo Shoot

A private night photo shoot was organised by Martin Creese and Phil Neale with the intention of re-creating scenes of Laira shed in the 1950s.

1363 on Night Photo Shoot

Both 5058 'Earl of Clancarty' and 7909 'Heveningham Hall' made appearances thanks to wooden name and numberplates made by Karl Buckingham. However the real star of the show was saddle tank No. 1363 which had been specially repainted into BR black for the event.

Funds raised by the Photo Shoot will help to pay for the overhaul to full running order of No. 1363 which is due to start later on this year. No. 1363 will remain in BR Black until dismantling for overhaul begins.

22 January 2008 - Engineering Careers Day

Didcot Railway Centre hosted 28 students from St Birinus, Didcot, Didcot Girls School and Faringdon Community College for an Engineering Careers Day on Tuesday 22 January.

Engineering Careers Day

The students heard presentations from Network Rail on their Advanced Apprenticeship Scheme, including an insight from a third year apprentice. They learned about opportunities for working as signalling engineers, which included a comparison of modern computerised signalling with the 100 year old mechanical computer within the Railway Centre’s own historic signal boxes.

The opportunities for apprenticeships within the heritage railway sector were explained by a demonstration of the locomotive restoration work taking place at the Railway Centre.

The highlight of the day was a practical demonstration of Thermit welding. This is a special process which uses a chemical reaction to weld two pieces of rail together.

The day was voted a success by the students and organisations represented and is likely to be a regular feature at Didcot Railway Centre in the future.

10 January 2008 - 'New' Boiler for 1014 County Project

1014 Boiler

At precisely 10.14 (County of Glamorgan) on Thursday 10.01 (County of Bucks) the boiler of 8F 48518 was being lifted into a rail wagon at Didcot's West Yard for transfer to the Railway Centre. Once there it will be converted into a GWR No. 15 boiler as a major component in the re-creation of County 1014.

The complete locomotive had been moved by John Antell from Barry to Llangollen on Monday 7 January. The boiler was lifted from the frames on Tuesday and Wednesday. To simplify removal the smokebox, which was described as 'paper thin' anyway, was cut through in front of the tubeplate.

The expansion brackets at the firebox end had rusted solidly to the frames and the boiler had to be rocked to free it. First of all the front of boiler was lifted until the forward end of the expansion brackets came free and wedges were placed in the gap. The front of the boiler was then lowered until the rear end of the expansion brackets were released. In the process large amounts of rust and scale fell out of the gaps between the frames and the lower part of the firebox. The boiler was then lifted back onto John Antell's lorry and arrived in Didcot late on 9 January, for unloading on Thursday.


Recreating the golden age of the Great Western Railway