News Archive 2011

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When Thomas met Father Christmas

Thomas, Fat Controller and Father Christmas
Thomas, The Fat Controller and Father Christmas

Thomas has been enjoying himself at Didcot Railway Centre, taking all his young friends to see Father Christmas in his grotto, to receive a Christmas present. Day Out With Thomas to Meet Father Christmas days are on 3/4, 10/11, 17/18 and 21/22 December. Duck is also around giving rides in our vintage carriages, and our shop and restaurant are open. Next weekend 17/18 December is really pretty full up with all of Thomas' young visitors, but don't worry if you haven't booked your place yet as there is still room to come and see Thomas on Wednesday 21 or Thursday 22 December.

If you'd like to visit on either of those dates, just 'phone us on 01235 817200, during office hours, to book your place. See our Day Out With Thomas page for more information.

‘Pendennis Castle’ Class 57 Model Available Now

Model Class 57

A limited edition 'OO' gauge model of Class 57 diesel locomotive 'Pendennis Castle' that was unveiled at the Centre last summer, commemorating the 175th anniversary of the GWR, is now in stock and available to purchase. The Bachmann model faithfully depicts the lined green livery and comes with presentation box, numbered certificate and etched brass name and numberplates.

Commissioned jointly by RAIL EXCLUSIVE models and the Society, the majority of the 1,000 item run has been pre-ordered and has been delivered to customers. New purchasers please call 01780 470086 anytime, or visit

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

Both standard and 'DCC sound'-fitted models are available, with a small stock of the former available in the Didcot shop. The Society will benefit from all sales of this model as a donation to restoration projects will be made by the commissioning party once the model becomes as sell-out.

New Lease Secures Didcot Railway Centre for the Future

Richard signs the lease
Richard signs the lease.

Thursday 6 October became a historic day in the saga of Great Western Railway preservation when Richard Croucher, Chairman of the Great Western Society, signed the lease of Didcot Railway Centre for exchange with Network Rail. The signing took place in the Museum and Archive at the railway centre, watched over by the GWR clock that formerly did duty at Paddington station.

Richard said: “I am pleased that we have now raised sufficient funds to be able to complete the acquisition of the new 50 year lease of Didcot Railway Centre and we would like to thank everyone who has supported us and made a financial contribution to allow the Great Western Society to achieve this aim. It draws to a close nine and half years of negotiations and I would like to thank my colleague Ian Smith for his perseverance throughout this time and encouragement to just keep going. We are now starting to look at the next stages of development at Didcot Railway Centre, which the long-term security of tenure allows us to undertake.

Trojan's Last Stand

1340 with vintage coach No. 416 during the recent GWS 50th birthday celebrations
1340 with vintage coach No. 416 during the recent GWS 50th birthday celebrations.

Locomotive No. 1340 - ‘Trojan’ will be coming out of service in October. To mark this event an additional steam day will be held on Saturday 8 October to bid her farewell for the time being.

‘Trojan’ was built by the Avonside Engine Company of Bristol in 1897 for Messrs Dunn & Shute of Newport Town Dock. She was purchased by the Alexandra Docks Railway in 1903. On absorption of that railway into the Great Western in 1923 she received the number 1340.

‘Trojan’ arrived at Didcot in April 1968 and, after a protracted overhaul, entered traffic, for the first time in preservation, in 2002.

She will now need to have the boiler removed and inspected, and no doubt other work, before she can steam again. Initially however No. 1340 will join the ranks of our locomotives on static display.

How about a Railway Experience in 2012?


Would you like the chance of a lifetime to realise a childhood ambition and drive a steam engine.

The remaining railway experience days for 2011 are now fully booked - but the dates for 2012 have been announced:

Want to know more?

Great Western Society Honoured with HST Nameplate

Richard Croucher, Mark Hopwood and Mike Peart (one of the founder members of the GWS) hold a third nameplate, which  was presented for display at Didcot Railway Centre in the Museum and Archive.
Richard Croucher, Mark Hopwood and Mike Peart (one of the founder members of the GWS) hold a third nameplate, which was presented for display at Didcot Railway Centre in the Museum and Archive.

In recognition of 50 years at the forefront of UK railway preservation, Train Operating Company, First Great Western has named High Speed Train power car No. 43024 after the Great Western Society. The nameplate reads: Great Western Society 1961 – 2011, Didcot Railway Centre.

The nameplate was unveiled by the Managing Director of FGW, Mark Hopwood, at a ceremony at the centre at noon, on Saturday 10 September, on the first day of the GWS' 50th Anniversary Gala. Mark commented, “It gives me great pleasure to be able to recognise the achievement of the Great Western Society. While First Great Western prides itself on innovation and looking to the future, we also respect and recognise the rich railway heritage of the Great Western Railway. I believe this is a wonderful way to recognise the contribution the Great Western Society has made to railway preservation.

Chairman of the GWS, Richard Croucher said, “The Great Western Society is delighted that First Great Western should honour our first 50 years of railway preservation by the naming of one of their HST power cars at Didcot Railway Centre, and we look forward to seeing it traverse the old Great Western Railway territory over the forthcoming years”.

Coach No. 290 has Lift-Off

The underframe being re-assembled
The underframe, having been cleaned and painted is in the process of being re-assembled

The body of Coach No. 290 has been separated from the underframe to allow restoration to commence.

290 was built in 1902 as a composite with two 1st class and two 2nd class compartments. After it was replaced by more modern carriages 290 became a tool van at Chester, which helped it to survive into the preservation era. However, the interior was completely stripped and will all need to be replaced.

The reason for all the activity now is that a film company has hired the underframe so they can put a new body on it for a forthcoming production to be filmed at Didcot. Once the filming is finished the railway centre will have a restored underframe for 290, making a major step towards eventual restoration of the vehicle which has been in the restoration queue at Didcot for some time.

Unusually 290 is fitted with Mansell wheels which have a steel rim and a steel centre connected by teak segments that are supposed to make the vehicle quieter to ride in. A cable connecting the rim and centre provides an electrical connection to make sure the vehicle works track circuits. Being for 1st and 2nd class passengers, 290 gets the quiet wheels while 3rd class passengers in other coaches make do with noisy steel wheels. The Mansell wheel was patented by Richard Mansell, 1813 - 1904, who was carriage superintendent for the South Eastern Railway at Ashford, and later became locomotive superintendent for the railway.

The team is making fast progress with restoring the chassis, having stripped and painted the metalwork and started on re-assembly. Is this the only preserved GWR vehicle whose wheels carry the famous LNER varnished teak livery?

Unique Gas Turbine Locomotive Arrives

GWS member Graham Ward leaning out of the cab of the 08 shunter, in his normal vocation of diesel  driver for D B Schenker
GWS member Graham Ward leaning out of the cab of the 08 shunter, in his normal vocation of diesel driver for D B Schenker

On 29 July, prototype gas turbine locomotive No 18000 finally arrived at Didcot Railway Centre having completed the short rail journey from Didcot West Yard.

Owned by the Pete Waterman Trust, the locomotive will be handed over to Didcot Railway Centre to be the new custodians, in an official ceremony on 10 September, during the first of two weekends celebrating the 50th anniversary of the Great Western Society.

18000 was ordered by the Great Western Railway in 1946, and delivered in 1949 to the newly nationalised British Railways. Built by the Swiss company, Brown, Boveri et Cie, the locomotive spent its working life on the Western Region of British Railways, operating express passenger trains out of London Paddington station.

With many unforeseen maintenance and reliability problems, the locomotive was not as successful as hoped, and was withdrawn by British Railways in late 1960. Stored at Swindon Works for four years, it returned to mainland Europe, where, for more than ten years, it was used, in substantially altered form, with the gas-turbine power unit removed, for experiments concerning the interaction between steel wheels and steel rails, under the auspices of the International Union of Railways. In 1975 it was moved to Vienna and displayed outside the Mechanical Engineering Testing building.

In the early 1990s it returned to the UK, where it spent periods at Crewe, Barrow Hill Engine Shed and, most recently, at the Gloucestershire Warwickshire Railway.

The journey from West Yard started at 15:15, arriving in the sidings alongside Didcot station at 15:20. The locomotive was parked there for three hours until the Friday rush hour had calmed down, and 18000 could be towed the final few yards into the railway centre, arriving at 18:50.

Now that 18000 is at Didcot, a group is being formed to undertake conservation work and information displays. There is no realistic possibility of re-instating the original type of power unit, therefore, a different approach is to be taken. It is intended to work towards returning No 2 end cab - the more complete one - to original condition. Externally, some repairs are needed, to be followed by a repaint to the original livery of black and silver. Internally, there is a good deal of conservation to be undertaken. The intention is to use 18000 as the focal point of a display relating to the post WW2 business plan for the 1950s, published by the GWR under the title NEXT STATION, of which the new gas turbine electric locomotive was an important part.

Further research work is also being undertaken on and off site, our greatest wish is find an original sound recording ...

6023 King Edward II - Update

6023 King Edward II in action at Didcot Railway Centre in April 2011
6023 King Edward II in action at Didcot Railway Centre in April 2011

6023 has now completed its running in on the Mid Norfolk Railway and arrives back at Didcot on 10 August.

During its stay in East Anglia it operated for 22 days and ran 1822 miles. The locomotive has completed all that it had been sent to do and the Great Western Society would like to thank the Mid Norfolk railway for their assistance in achieving this. Mechanically 6023 passed with flying colours but a few snags have shown themselves which need rectification before 6023 can re-enter traffic. Unfortunately one of those is a small oil pipe into the centre driving wheel axle box underkeep which has been fouled by being hit by a spoke which will necessitate the centre driving wheel set having to be dropped out to achieve the repair.

As a result it will not be possible for 6023 to attend the Severn Valley and Great Central galas this autumn and the Great Western Society is sorry for the disappointment this will cause although it is hoped that attendance at a similar event in due course can still be arranged.

6023 will be on show at Didcot for the GWS 50th Anniversary Gala in September. Work will continue to allow 6023 to debut on the main line during 2012.

47xx Project Given Go Ahead

A magnificent sight that with your help will be seen again. No. 4700 the doyen of Churchward's 47xx mixed traffic 2-8-0 in action.

A superb response to the Great Western Society’s proposal to build a new example of Churchward’s iconic 47XX 2-8-0 mixed traffic locomotive means that the scheme will now definitely be taken forward. Extensive interest has been backed by cash donations and a considerable amount of behind-the-scenes work has already taken place.

The project has also received a major boost following the acquisition by the GWS of three donor locomotives (4115, 5227 and 2861) and a 3500 gallon tender from the Vale of Glamorgan Council in May 2010.

In October 2010 the GWS appointed Paul Carpenter as 4709 Project Manager working under the direction of GWS Locomotive Manager Dennis Howells MBE, who has masterminded the restoration of 6023 King Edward II and the construction of the power bogie for the ex-GWR Steam Railmotor No. 93, both of which have recently been completed. Since October Paul has assembled a Core Design Team which has spent the winter researching and acquiring original works drawings. These are allowing the Project Team to identify parts from the donor locomotives which are suitable for the 2-8-0. This work has revealed that there are far more parts in common between the 47XX and the donor locomotives than had been anticipated.

In particular, the front end assembly of the 4115 – which shares the same coupled wheel diameter as the 47XX – will make a significant contribution to the project. The 2884 and 47XX locomotives had identical cylinder blocks with the exception of the saddle and it is proposed to use the cylinder block from 2861, which has the later block with outside steam pipes. The team has devised a unique method of accommodating the different saddle support diameters which has found favour with the approving bodies. 2861 will also provide many other parts for the 47XX.

Study of the drawings has also indicated that many components below the running plate of 5227 are also common with the 47XX class. In particular the axle boxes and horns from 5227 can be transferred directly to the 47XX class. This is quite important as we knew that the trailing coupled axle box was of a unique design.

5227 has a badly damaged cylinder block (part of the block appears to have been blown off, possibly with the front cylinder cover), so consideration is being given to sectioning the cylinder block as an educational exhibit at Didcot to show how a cylinder worked. The Swindon No. 4 boiler from 5227 has also been earmarked for the proposed 38XX 4-4-0 as part of the Three Counties Project, if and when that project is progressed.

‘Team 47‘ has also produced a Project Plan which sub-divides the work into 15 modules. This allows for flexibility during the construction programme and location of the works with parallel work streams. Preparations are being made to start physical work on the 47XX Project and it would be nice to be able to cut the frames and drill them in the near future to establish the first step towards the chassis.

The Society intends to retain all the parts from the donor locomotives for future use, either as spares or for use with other projects. The team is also in discussions with potential sponsors and these talks look very promising.

The Society already has a 4,000 gallon tender in its possession which is relatively complete although it requires a full overhaul and restoration.

If you are interested in seeing a 47XX 2-8-0 grace the railway again, there are two key things you could do to help the project progress:

If you would like to give financial support with a donation of any size or a regular contribution, please contact Richard Croucher, Chairman, Great Western Society, at Didcot Railway Centre, Didcot, Oxon, OX11 7NJ (

Equally, if you would like to join the working parties for this historically-important project, please contact Paul Carpenter by email at

18000 Nearly Arrives!

18000 in Didcot West Yard
18000 is lifted from the Road Transport in Didcot West Yard

GWR prototype Gas Turbine locomotive arrived in Didcot West Yard in Tuesday 19 July. Due to height restriction the locomotive had been transported off it bogies and so two cranes were used, firstly to lift the bogies back onto the rails and then to place the locomotive onto the bogies.

The locomotive will now need to be formally inspected before it can be towed across Network Rail lines to Didcot Railway Centre, but this is expected to happen within a week or so, after which the locomotive will be displayed at the centre.

The locomotive was originally ordered in 1946 by the Great Western Railway from Brown Boveri of Switzerland, but not delivered until 1949.

The locomotive spent its working life hauling express passenger trains from Paddington before being withdrawn in late 1960. The machine, as is perhaps inevitable with prototypes, proved neither reliable nor cheap to run. After withdrawal the locomotive was kept at Swindon Works for four years before being repatriated to mainland europe where the gas turbine was removed and the locomotive used as a testbed for experiments on rail-wheel interaction.

Once these experiments were concluded the locomotive was put on display in Vienna in 1975 and was eventually secured for preservation in the UK in the early 1990s initially being stored at Crewe.

Click on the picture below for a short archive clip of 18000 in action, from the British Pathe archive.

Pendennis Castle Cylinder Liners Fitted

The Pendennis Castle Team
The Pendennis Castle team with their cauldron of boiling nitrogen, (left to right) Colin Nicholls, Chris Handby, John Marrow, Duncan Ward, Russ Heyluer, Mike Bodsworth, Paul Brett and Clive Sparling

One of the final major steps in restoration of 4079 Pendennis Castle's running gear - fitting new valve and cylinder liners - took a step forward on 12 July when valve liners were shrunk into place.

The job was carried out by John Marrow and Duncan Ward of Bryn Engineering, with assistance from members of the 4079 restoration team. Each of the locomotive's valves which control the four cylinders has two liners, front and back. The liners were shrunk by cooling in liquid nitrogen before being pushed into place, where they become a tight fit when they expand on warming up.

Sunday 31 July - South Oxfordshire Diesel Day

08604 at Didcot Railway Centre
08604 at Didcot Railway Centre

Didcot Railway Centre and nearby Cholsey and Wallingford Railway have got together to offer diesel locomotive enthusiasts the opportunity to ride behind four 08 diesel shunting locomotives in one day, on Sunday 31 July, for the first time in South Oxfordshire.

Better known for using steam traction, the use of a diesel locomotive on passenger trains is something of a first for Didcot Railway Centre. This is also the first time that Didcot has hosted a joint event with the Cholsey & Wallingford Railway

In celebration of this link, there will be admission discounts at each venue, on production of the admission ticket from the first. First Great Western runs trains from Cholsey to Didcot (normal First Great Western fares apply), with trains from Didcot to Cholsey departing at 21 minutes past the hour and trains from Cholsey to Didcot departing at approximately 6 minutes past the hour.

As always with preserved locomotives, the usual clause of ‘subject to availability’ applies. At Didcot Railway Centre the diesel locomotive is expected to be in action on the branch line between 11:00–12:00 and on the main demonstration line between 13:00–14:00 and 16:15–16:45. Between 14:00 and 16:15 08604 will be shunting the TPO set ready for the TPO demonstration at 1500.The GWR diesel railcar will also be in operation (and for the steam fans 5322 and Fire Fly will also be hauling trains).

Built by British Railways between the years 1952 – 1962, the 08 class of diesel shunters was the largest single class of diesel locomotive ever built in the UK, numbering 1193 in total. Two of the three 08 locomotives at the Cholsey & Wallingford Railway also saw industrial service after being retired from British Railways, both going on to work for Guinness of Park Royal, London, in 1985, for a further 12 years, before entering preservation.

Three New Steam Locomotives

Steam Railmotor and Tornado
Steam Railmotor and Tornado

Another hugely successful open day at Didcot Railway Centre on Saturday 11 June was a testament to the public interest in the three newest steam locomotives in the UK built to main line designs - Fire Fly completed 2005, Tornado completed 2008 and Steam Railmotor No. 93 completed 2011.

One visitor commented: “Came again yesterday, 4hrs from Manchester on train, 3rd time this year, another superb event and the railmotor on the branch line looked awesome - oh and not forgetting the A1 which looked amazing as well”.

Tornado is on view daily at the railway centre until 17 June, although she will not be in steam and some of the time will be spent on routine maintenance.

The Steam Railmotor is next scheduled to be in steam on Saturday 18 June and then on 25/26 June, when Fire Fly will also be in steam.

Tornado Breezes In

Tornado rests on the ash road at Didcot Railway Centre

On Thursday 9 June 60163 Tornado arrived at Didcot Railway Centre from The North Yorkshire Moors Railway. The journey took the locomotive through Carlisle, Crewe (where there was an overnight stop) and Birmingham.

The locomotive is sporting its new British Railways brunswick green livery and Friday's job is to polish the locomotive in readiness for the steam day on Saturday. The locomotive will remain on display at the centre until 17 June, but is only expected to be in steam on Saturday 11 June, when it will be joined by newly launched Steam Railmotor No 93, and broad gauge replica Fire Fly.

As well as offering those in the south their first sight of Tornado in her new livery, the day offers a unique opportunity to see the UKs three newest steam locomotives, in steam, at the same venue.

A New Marketing Concept for Railway Operators - the SDMU!

The SDMU - or would the Great Western Railway have called it a DSRM (Diesel and Steam Rail Motor)?

A trial carried out at Didcot Railway Centre in driving rain on Monday 30 May involved coupling steam and diesel powered carriages together to provide the world's first SDMU (steam and diesel multiple unit).

This offers a real freedom of choice hitherto denied to passengers, of selecting to travel either in a steam or diesel unit in the same train. In railway marketing terms it is sure to be a winner. To judge by passenger loadings in the photograph the steam portion of the train proves to be more popular with travellers.

More seriously this unusual combination concluded the Steam Railmotor No. 93 launch weekend with a spectacle never seen before, and unlikely to be seen again, as the diesel unit has now been returned to Chiltern Railways. The Steam Railmotor however remains at Didcot Railway Centre and is scheduled to run on 4, 11, 18, 19, 25 and 26 June.

Didcot is the Depot of the Year

The Engine Shed Society plaque
Eddie Lyons (l) presents the plaque to Richard Croucher (GWS Chairman)

Didcot Railway Centre was delighted to be presented with the Engine Shed Society's - Depot of the Year Award.

The plaque was presented to Richard Croucher by Eddie Lyons, Chairman of the Engine Shed Society and long standing Great Western Society member. In his youth (in the 1960s) Eddie produced a comprehensive book on all Great Western Engine Sheds, published by OPC and regarded by many as the definitive work on the subject. Last year's award went to Barrow Hill.

The aims of the Engine Shed Society are:

New Volunteers Day - Saturday 4 June

A group of volunteers
Some our volunteers - presumably enjoyng themselves!

As 2011 is the European Year of the Volunteer, and 1- 7 June Volunteers Week, Didcot Railway Centre will be holding a New Volunteers Day on Saturday 4 June.

This is a fantastic opportunity for prospective volunteers to join those at the railway centre, in helping to ‘recreate the golden age of the Great Western Railway’ by operating the trains, maintaining and restoring the 'exhibits' and interacting with our visitors.

On the operating side, there is currently a particular need for guards, signalmen, and station masters.

Maintenance and restoration includes not only, work on our locomotives and rolling stock, but also, on civil engineering and landscaping. At present for example we are especially looking for project managers and structural engineers to manage forthcoming site development projects.

Visitor focused work can include staffing the ticket office or the shop, stewarding the relics museum, or helping on the catering side. We also need help with administration, such as managing our membership, and with our education projects.

There are structured training programmes, and we would emphasise that previous railway knowledge or experience is not a requirement. Enthusiasm and common sense, however, are highly valued!

Saturday 4 June is a regular steam day, so, new volunteers will get a chance to see how the centre operates, and see how the various roles work together.

Prospective volunteers should come to centre entrance where they will be directed to the Enquiry Office. They will then be shown round the centre and introduced to any groups in which they may have an interest.

Come to Didcot Railway Centre and discover the volunteering opportunities available. Your help and enthusiasm is needed and it is a great way of meeting new friends!

For more details, please telephone Didcot Railway Centre on 01235 817200, or e-mail for more details.

A Whirlwind Visit for Tornado!

Tornado on a previous visit, together with broad gauge replica Fire Fly
Tornado (in earlier LNER apple green) on a previous visit, together with broad gauge replica Fire Fly

New build Peppercorn A1 Pacific locomotive 60163 Tornado will visit Didcot Railway Centre from 9 to 17 June.

This will be the first opportunity for most people to see 60163 Tornado, in her new, British Railways, Brunswick Green livery.

On Saturday 11 June, for one day only, this world famous locomotive will be in steam and working at the railway centre, together with newly launched Steam Railmotor No 93, and broad gauge replica Fire Fly. This offers a unique opportunity to see the UKs three newest steam locomotives, in steam, at the same venue. (Whilst the Steam Railmotor is in many ways a restoration of the original machine of 1908 - the power bogie, or locomotive part of the vehicle - is all new build).

Other than on 11 June, Tornado will be on static display at the centre during her visit.

The Great Western Society would like to thank the A1 Steam Locomotive Trust for the visit of 60163 Tornado.

100 Years of the Self-Propelled Passenger Carrying Rail Vehicle

No 93 on-shed at Didcot Railway Centre
No 93 on-shed at Didcot Railway Centre

In order to celebrate the return to traffic of Steam Railmotor No. 93, Didcot Railway Centre will be featuring a variety of railcars, railmotors and multiple units, spanning 100 years of development, over the Spring Bank Holiday weekend (28-30 May).

The oldest vehicle in use, and the star of the show will, of course, be Steam Railmotor No. 93 of 1908, which is to be formally launched on Saturday 28 May.

The Railmotor will be joined by other vehicles from the Didcot collection, including a typical Great Western/British Rail (Western Region) Auto Train, featuring 0-4-2T locomotive 1466/4866 on static display, and the fully operational GWR Diesel Railcar No. 22 of 1940 which has recently returned to traffic with a newly refurbished interior.

The 1960s will be represented by a class 121 'bubble-car', courtesy of Chiltern Railways, hopefully in 'original' green livery. First Great Western will be providing a class 165 'Thames Turbo', built in the 1990s, and a brand new Chiltern Railways class 172 'Turbostar' will bring us right up to date.

Photographic line-ups of these units in various combinations are envisaged throughout the bank holiday weekend and it is hoped that we will be able to offer rides in some of the visiting units as well as in our own steam railmotor and diesel railcar.

Steam Railmotor No. 93 to be launched at Spring Bank Holiday Weekend

No 93 on trial on our main demonstration line whilst a modern Cross-Country DMU passes the Railway Centre
No 93 on trial on our main demonstration line whilst a modern Cross-Country DMU passes the Railway Centre

Following a 13 year restoration, involving the manufacture of a new vertical boiler and power bogie, Steam Railmotor No. 93 is to be officially welcomed back into traffic over the Spring Bank Holiday weekend (28-30 May).

During the weekend there will be line-ups featuring; the steam railmotor, an auto train, GWR Diesel Railcar No. 22, and three or four more modern diesel multiple units (courtesy of Chiltern Railways and First Great Western). The steam railmotor will be giving rides on each day of the event.

The launch ceremony itself will be at 11:30am on Saturday 28 May and will be conducted by Adrian Shooter, CBE, Chairman of Chiltern Railways. One hour later, the new dedicated steam railmotor shed will be officially opened. The shed, which is a copy of the railmotor shed at Southall, was built largely with a legacy from Charles Whetmath, and the ceremony will be performed by his Aunt, Mrs Joyce Hancock.

The, now unique, Railmotor No. 93 is the forerunner of all self-propelled multiple unit trains, around the world. The importance of this vehicle in the development of such trains cannot be under-estimated and the display of vehicles at Didcot Railway Centre over the weekend hopes to do justice to this pivotal role by showing something of the evolution of such trains.

Built in 1908, the railmotor was withdrawn in 1934, and converted to an auto-trailer, for push-pull working. Condemned in 1956, it was subsequently converted into a mobile office. The Great Western Society acquired the vehicle in the early 1970s with the intention that one day it would be restored to its original condition. Work started in the early 1990s to build a new power bogie to the original design, and thanks to a Heritage Lottery Fund grant to rebuild and restore the coach at the Llangollen Railway.

Now resplendent in 1912 crimson lake livery, it is only when you step aboard this unique vehicle, that the scope, the depth, and the quality of this restoration can be fully appreciated. The railmotor exudes period atmosphere, exhibiting the extreme attention to detail and authenticity that has characterised the restoration from start to finish. Bearing in mind that, not many years ago, this was a derelict hulk, every detail of the period interior has been faithfully recreated. For example, the exquisite fabric for the roller blinds was specially woven in Holland; the seating moquette was made to the original pattern, and the gas lights were recreated by specialists, Sugg.

A Visit from Brunel's Great Great Great Grandson (and Son!)

Jim and Zebedee Noble with Fire Fly
Jim and Zebedee Noble with Fire Fly

On Saturday 30 April Didcot Railway Centre was visited by Jim Noble, the great, great, great grandson of Isambard Kingdom Brunel. While at the railway centre Jim, along with his five-year-old son Zebedee, rode on the broad gauge Fire Fly, an exact replica of the original built in 1840 that would be instantly recognisable to their illustrious ancestor. The right hand photograph shows Jim and Zebedee at the controls of Fire Fly, standing exactly how Brunel would have stood on Monday 13 June 1842 when he drove the Phlegethon, a sister engine of Fire Fly, on Queen Victoria's first ever train journey, from Slough to London.

Isambard Kingdom Brunel, born 1806, was the illustrious civil engineer who built the Great Western Railway and designed many of the bridges, tunnels and stations which are still used today by trains that are heavier and faster than even he could have imagined. Among Brunel's visionary ideas was the broad gauge with rails seven feet apart, which enabled the Great Western Railway to build larger trains that ran faster than those on other companies. However, the advantages were outweighed by the disadvantages of not being able to run through trains where broad and standard gauge met. The last broad gauge lines were converted to standard gauge in 1892, and Didcot Railway Centre is now the only place with a broad gauge running line to exercise Fire Fly.

Wantage Tramway No.5 of 1857 to Steam Again?

No. 5 on static display at Didcot Railway Centre
No. 5 on static display at Didcot Railway Centre

An appeal has been launched to return the unique George England 0-4-0WT WTCo No. 5 (known as Shannon or Jane) to full working order in time for the Great Western Society's 50th anniversary celebrations in September.

The appeal is a collaboration between the National Railway Museum who own the locomotive, the Great Western Society, and Steam Railway magazine.

The appeal target is a mere £14,000, as although it is 35 years since the locomotive last steamed, initial inspections indicate that she does not require too much work.

Last used at the Stockton & Darlington 150th anniversary celebrations in 1975, Shannon was withdrawn with a suspected crack in the copper tubeplate. Modern techniques can now fix such fractures with relative ease. Most of the work will centre on the boiler which also requires a de-tube, de-scale and re-tube.

Built in 1857, No. 5 is the only remaining standard gauge locomotive built by George England, the only other 'Englands' being two foot gauge examples on the Ffestiniog Railway.

The locomotive was originally ordered for the Sandy and Potton Railway in Bedfordshire, where she was named 'Shannon'. After various moves she was purchased by the Wantage Tramway company in 1878 where she became No. 5 (and unofficially known as 'Jane'). Jane spent a fairly uneventful life at Wantage until closure of the line in 1946, after which she was displayed at the GWRs Wantage Road Station until that too closed in 1965.

The National Railway Museum say “Shannon is a particularly rare and special locomotive in the collection, due to her age and style of manufacture. To ensure that her originality and character are kept for future generations, we are writing a Conservation Management Plan for the engine, something we insist on for any conservation or restoration work. This details the locomotive's construction, its history, its significance, but also includes a condition survey and engineering assessment. An options appraisal is included to ensure that the possibilities are fully explored but also allow for the engine not to be compromised in any way that the NRM are unhappy with - this complies with our duty of care to such an ancient and fragile machine. Thus it is that we will explore the materials, previous repairs and restorations and work out a careful way forward as a result, whilst complying with statutory requirements for boiler work and such like. It is a fascinating and necessary piece of work, and will stand for all time alongside the locomotive as a significant conservation management tool.”

When returned to steam it is believed that No.5 will be the oldest working standard gauge steam locomotive in the western hemisphere, and possibly, the world.

5 April 2011 - Two Visitors from the West

6024 and 70000
6024 King Edward I and 70000 Britannia

On Tuesday afternoon two visiting main line locomotives arrived at Didcot following their recent appearance at the West Somerset Railway Spring Steam Gala. 6024 King Edward I and BR Britannia Class 4-6-2 No. 70000 Britannia were serviced on shed before Britannia continued on to West Coast Railways depot at the former GWR shed at Southall.

6024 King Edward I, will be remaining at Didcot over the Easter Bank holiday and we would hope to pose the two Kings together on occasion. On Easter Saturday, 23 April, 6024 and newly restored 6023 King Edward II will be double heading on our main demonstration line - The first time two Kings have been seen working together in 49 years!

2 April 2011 - Long Live the King!

4965, 5043, 6023 and 5051
4965 Rood Ashton Hall, 5043 Earl of Mount Edgcumbe, 6023 King Edward II and 5051 Earl Bathurst

The crowds came out to witness the 'coronation' of the Great Western Society's latest, and most ambitious, restoration project - 6023 King Edward II at Didcot Railway Centre. Boosted by the 300 or so travellers on the steam-hauled 'Coronation Express’ railtour from Birmingham, the centre was extremely busy all day.

The railtour was double headed by 4965 Rood Ashton Hall and Castle class 5043 Earl of Mount Edgcumbe and the opportunity was taken to pose King Edward II with the visiting locomotives, and one of Didcot's Castles 5051 Earl Bathurst.

Great Western Society Chairman, Richard Croucher, outlined the long history of the project, and thanked all those involved, before asking Steve Davies MBE, Director of the National Railway Museum, York, to perform the official launch.

Mr Davies speech was full of superlatives including; ‘breathtaking’, ‘awe inspiring’ and ‘the stuff of dreams’. He described the locomotive as ‘a living embodiment of that quintessentially British characteristic – determination’, explaining that ‘only the determined could hold the vision of this day in their sights for the last two decades - only the determined could pour energy, strength, ingenuity, patience, willpower, devotion and sheer grit into a project of such magnitude in the quantity required to secure their goal’. He also emphasised the importance of this and other projects currently being undertaken by the GWS in the preservation of national heritage - ‘here to tell a story for a modern generation’.

6023 will also be running during the Easter and May Day bank holiday weekends. Over Easter the only other King in working order, 6024 King Edward I, will be visiting Didcot Railway Centre, primarily for various maintenance tasks to be undertaken, but we would hope to pose the two Kings together on occasion and definitely intend to double-head the pairing on our main demonstration line on Easter Saturday.

Finishing Touches for 6023 King Edward II

Finishing Touches
Bob Timmins applies the famous double red route classification to the cabside

The final touches are now being applied to 6023 King Edward II in preparation for his formal return to service on Saturday 2 April at Didcot Railway Centre.

Great Western Trust Museum Re-opens with New Exhibits after winter closure

The Model of Gooch
7 1/4 inch gauge model of 4-4-0 'Gooch'

The Great Western Trust museum at Didcot Railway Centre reopened for the 2011 season on Saturday 19 February and is now open on every day that the railway centre is open to the public.

Among the new exhibits for 2011 is a whistle which came from 6028 King George VI after it was wrecked in the Norton Fitzwarren accident of November 1940. The whistle was found in a field adjacent to the crash site by a schoolboy from Blundell's School who had cycled out to view the scene the day after the accident.

Also newly displayed for 2011 is the 7 1/4 inch gauge model of the 4-4-0 Gooch which was bequeathed to the Trust by Professor Sir Hugh Ford who died in May 2010.

Sir Hugh started his career as a premium apprentice at the GWR's Swindon Works in the 1920s, and went on to help to revolutionise the production of both plastics and metals in Britain. He built the model of Gooch as a retirement project and ran it on his garden railway and at the Guildford Model Railway Society. His wish was that the model would be housed for public display as close as possible to Brunel's original GWR main line.

The Single-Chimney King's Speech

A test steaming for 6023 - 20-Jan-2011
A test steaming for 6023 - 20-Jan-2011

Colin Firth may have done a good job with King George VI's stammer, but the Oscar for recreating the authentic voice of a GWR single-chimney King goes to 6023 and the restoration team at Didcot.

The almost complete locomotive had its first test steaming on 20 January when it moved under its own power for the first time since 1962. It was also the first occasion that the exhaust beat of a single-chimney King had been heard since the mid 1950s. There are a few snags to be fixed before the locomotive can be painted ready for its public launch, but overall the test steaming was a success.

6023 King Edward II will be formally launched on Saturday 2 April 2011 at Didcot Railway Centre by Steve Davies MBE, Director of the National Railway Museum, York. 6023 will also be running on Sunday 3 April, and during the Easter and May Day bank holiday weekends.

Securing the Future of Didcot Railway Centre

A view of the shed from the water tower
A view of the shed area from the Water Tower

In its 50th anniversary year the Great Western Society has launched the most important appeal in its history which, if successful, will see Didcot Railway Centre secured for generations to come.

As well as the Society’s 50th anniversary, 2011 marks 44 years of its occupation of the former GWR engine shed at Didcot. Since the GWS took up residence at 81E in 1967 many thousands of voluntary man-hours have gone into creating Didcot Railway Centre, which today covers some 20 acres and includes not only the Grade II listed shed building and coal stage, but also a locomotive works, carriage shed, turntable, transfer shed, museum, two standard gauge demonstration lines and a broad gauge railway.

Many of us have come to think of Didcot Railway Centre as an institution – home to the remarkable GWS collection of locomotives, rolling stock and thousands of GWR artefacts. It is a place where the Great Western Railway will always live on... or is it? The reality is that the site’s future is far from certain. The present lease held by the GWS expires in 2019, a factor that has made it difficult or impossible to obtain grants for many of the projects the GWS wants to undertake. The need to secure the Society’s tenure at Didcot is paramount.

After very lengthy negotiations, Network Rail has now agreed to grant the GWS a new 50 year lease at a much reduced rental of £1,000 per annum, compared to the present rental of £13,800 per annum. The purchase price of the new lease is £125,000 plus expenses, with 50 percent payable on completion and the remaining 50 percent a year later.

Acquisition of the new lease will enable the GWS to make progress on development plans, including extension of the museum, construction of a Broad Gauge Engine House, reconstruction of the station building from Heyford, improved public access, a visitor centre with upgraded catering facilities and an enlarged shop, repairs to the coal stage and water tower, and development of the Centre sidings area.

At the expiration of the new lease in 2061 Network Rail or its successors will be obliged to offer the Society a further lease; this arrangement is as close as you can get to a freehold on active railway land.

People can help either by making a one-off donation with a cheque made out to Great Western Society Limited, or by spreading a contribution with a monthly Banker’s Order over 10 months. Either send your cheque to Richard Croucher, Chairman, Great Western Society Ltd, Didcot Railway Centre, Didcot, Oxon OX11 7NJ, or complete the Banker’s Order form on the Appeal Leaflet.

The Great Western Society is a Registered Charity (No. 272616) which allows contributions to be supported by the Gift Aid scheme at no further cost to the donor. Any surplus money raised will be put towards the further development of Didcot Railway Centre.

The GWS needs to act fast to secure the new lease and hopes that as many people as possible will feel able to contribute towards this vital step, at the same time making the Society’s 50th anniversary year one to remember forever!

Steam Railmotor Launch Plans

Railmotor No. 93
Railmotor No 93 approaching Yatton
on Wednesday, 22nd May 1929.
Photo: H C Casserley, courtesy of John Lewis

Steam Railmotor No.93 is now in the final stages of restoration and the public launch has been fixed as Saturday 28 May at Didcot Railway Centre.

After that date it will enter traffic at Didcot and be operated on both the main demonstration line and the branch line on days to be advertised on this web site.

Richard Croucher, Chairman of the Great Western Society said:
“The entry into traffic of Steam Railmotor No.93 is probably the most historically-important event in railway preservation today representing as it does the doyen of self propelled railway vehicles, the successors of which can be seen throughout Britain's railways today with the Diesel and Electrical Multiple Units. This is the culmination of the best part of a quarter of a century's work which began with the painstaking investigation of GWR Steam Railmotors in the 80s by the late Ralph Tutton who unearthed a plethora of information which allowed the Great Western Society team to design and build the power bogie for the Railmotor and the eventual restoration of the original 1908 coach body.

Following thorough research, physical work began on the Project in 1998 which has been managed by a small project team, and since then members of the Society and other supporters have raised over £750,000 which has not only allowed the power bogie to be built, but also a new Steam Railmotor shed - based on the original which stood at Southall. This sum also included our contribution towards the restoration of the coach and the auto trailer No. 92 which has been mainly funded by a Heritage Lottery Fund grant of £768,500.

We hope that all railway enthusiasts and members of the general public will appreciate riding in a vehicle in the style of a century ago.”

6023 King Edward II Launch Plans

Cab of 6023
Lagging and cladding being fitted around 6023’s firehole doors.

The long-awaited public launch of 6023 King Edward II has been set for Saturday 2 April 2011 at Didcot Railway Centre. The locomotive will be in the early British Railways blue livery, with the launch being performed by Steve Davies MBE, Director of the National Railway Museum, York. 6023 will also be running on Sunday 3 April, and during the Easter and May Day bank holiday weekends.

Richard Croucher, Chairman of the Great Western Society said, “This is the culmination of more than 20 years work at Didcot, which has been our most ambitious restoration project yet. It is a tremendous achievement by a group of volunteers and our supporters who have raised over £700,000 and put in more than 40,000 hours work. It was probably the biggest ‘no hoper’ at Barry and 6023 has subsequently inspired other projects such as the Saint and the County. We hope that all railway enthusiasts will appreciate seeing a single-chimney King in action again, for the first time in more than 50 years.”

6023 will remain on display at Didcot Railway Centre until early June, when the locomotive will depart for the Mid-Norfolk railway to undertake mileage accumulation in preparation for entry to running on the main line later in the year. The locomotive will return to Didcot for the main summer season from mid July onwards.

The Mid-Norfolk Railway will be issuing its own timetable for when 6023 will be running in June and July.


Recreating the golden age of the Great Western Railway