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News Archive - 2015

Thomas on Songs of Praise!

Pete Waterman on Thomas at Didcot Halt

Thomas the Tank Engine and Didcot Railway Centre will feature on Songs of Praise on Sunday 18 October.

We had a visit from pop impresario and railway enthusiast Pete Waterman, during one of our Days Out With Thomas, on 4 October. He was filming for a BBC Songs of Praise programme celebrating 70 years of the Rev W Awdry's Thomas the Tank Engine.

The programme is scheduled for broadcast at 4.15pm on Sunday 18 October, see the BBC Website for more details.

Why not come and see Thomas at his next visit to Didcot Railway Centre?

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

‘Railways on the Air’ at Didcot Railway Centre

Radio Operator

The weekend of 26-27 September sees Didcot Railway Centre, join with many other heritage railways in an event called ‘Railways on the Air’, using the call sign GB0DRC.

The Railways on the air (ROTA) weekend takes place each year on the weekend closest to the 27 September.

This date celebrates the anniversary of the first steam powered passenger railway which took place in 1825 - on a line in the North East of England from Stockton to Darlington. Appropriately therefore, the weekend is co-ordinated by the Bishop Auckland Amateur Radio Club.

38 heritage railways are due to participate in this growing, but, unusual event. Interestingly, this includes two railways in India!

Thus, all of these railways, each with their own call sign, will be able to communicate with each other, and other radio hams all over the world. Visiting members of the public will also get the chance to communicate by radio with other railways.

Ann Middleton, Commercial Manager, said, “It is an interesting event, commemorating an extremely important part of railway history, which hopefully, will encourage visitors to visit Didcot Railway Centre and see something different”.

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

‘County’ Locomotive Frames Return to Didcot

County Frames

The project to build a new 4-6-0 County class locomotive - 1014 ‘County of Glamorgan’ took a big step forward on Thursday 20 August with the return of the frames from Tyseley Locomotive Works.

The frames had been at Tyseley for the horn guides to be machined and the six driving wheel axleboxes to be fitted. They were transported to Didcot west yard by road on Thursday, and transferred to a wagon for the short trip to the railway centre where they were lifted and returned to the rails, with the front end supported on the locomotive's own bogie and the rear on a 4-wheel truck, on Saturday 22 August.

The axleboxes may now have to be lapped into the axles, depending on how accurate our measurements were! This could take some time, so there may be a short delay before the next significant step of re-wheeling the locomotive.

For more information on the County Locomotive and other major Didcot Railway Centre based projects see our Special Projects page.

Book Signing - Saturday 29 August

Book Cover

David Maidment, the author of a new book entitled ‘Great Western Eight Coupled Heavy Freight Locomotives’ will be at Didcot Railway Centre from mid-day on Saturday 29 August to sign any copies purchased from our bookshop.

The book is the first of a series of Locomotive Profiles to be published by Pen & Sword. According to the publishers, it describes the conception, design, building and operation of the fleet of powerful locomotives built in the first half of the twentieth century to meet the demands of the growing South Wales coal and steel industries and the West Midlands area served by the Great Western Railway. Whilst concentrating mainly on the standard designs of the great locomotive engineer, George Jackson Churchward, the 28XX and 47XX 2-8-0 locomotives, it also covers the 2-8-0 and 2-8-2 tank engines designed for the South Wales Valleys mining areas and coal exports through Newport, Cardiff, Barry and Swansea Docks, and other 2-8-0 locomotives acquired by the Great Western to cope with the increased industrial needs during both world wars - the RODs, Swindon built 8Fs, WDs and American S160s. It also covers the earliest designs of the Barry and Port Talbot Railways intended to cope with the valley coal traffic. The book is copiously illustrated with 150 black and white and 50 coloured photographs and is a comprehensive record of some outstanding freight locomotives, many of the oldest engines still operating to the end of steam on British Railways in the mid 1960s, sixty years after they were designed.

A recent review in the Great Western Echo notes that “it's the astonishing variety and quality of the photographs that really makes an impression. the selection from all periods is superb, with many rarities in colour too. This is a thorough study of the GWR's heavy freight engines which concludes with a technical section of diagrams and weights for each class.”

Didcot on TV - Partners in Crime

Partners in Crime

Didcot Railway Centre becomes Paris in a new series which starts on BBC1 next Sunday, 26 July, at 9pm. 'Partners in Crime' is based on an Agatha Christie novel.

The BBC’s introduces the first episode: ‘It’s 1952, and Tommy and Tuppence Beresford, an ordinary married couple, are thrust into a web of international espionage after a chance encounter on a return train from Paris.’

Tommy is played by David Walliams and Tuppence by Jessica Raine. The train from Paris is played by GWR Ocean Saloon No. 9112 'Queen Mary' at Didcot!

See the BBC website for more information about the series, including the filming locations used.

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

Air Raids and Rationing - Saturday 8 August

Air Raid Shelter

To mark the 75th anniversary of the Battle of Britain the GWS Education Team are giving a series of half hour presentations concerning living in Britain during World War Two.

The programme will start in the Science, Learning & Railways carriage classroom with a pictorial presentation of the hardships of rationing, blackouts and bombing etc. This will be followed by an experience of what it was like to be in an Air Raid, conducted in our authentic industrial Air Raid Shelter. The presentations are scheduled to run at about 45 minute intervals and are limited to about 15 or so people at a time.

These are a part of our Primary Schools’ WWII programme and are suitable for all ages, however the Air Raid Shelter is accessed by a short flight of steps and regretfully may be inaccessible to wheelchair users.

Evening Photography Event - 18 July

Evening Photography

Together with Neil Cave's Timeline Events we are delighted to be able to offer another of the increasingly popular evening events at Didcot Railway Centre, this time featuring the recently returned to steam 'large prairie' No 4144 as star of the show.

The '5101' class 2-6-2T has been out-shopped in early British Railways livery and, when posed alongside some members of the Didcot home fleet, will recreate a transitional period from 1948, shortly after Nationalisation but before many locos had been repainted out of their Great Western identities. At the time we are seeking to portray, 4144 would have been just two years old, having been built at Swindon in 1946.

Our other principal loco, pannier tank No 3650, was built in 1939 and will appear in her GWR livery. This mixture of liveries would have been a common sight in 1948 and for some time beyond that, as locos were by no means re-liveried immediately and some stayed in Great Western livery for months, and one or two for years!

As well as these two locos, other home-based members of the fleet will be posed strategically around the yard in front of the shed with burning rags in their smoke boxes to create the impression of a steam era shed with engines gently simmering as they build steam prior to going out on regular duties.

Our photography will start at 5pm when the centre closes to the public and we will continue through twilight until after dark, until 11pm. As well as loco crews and as something different, we will include scenes featuring female cleaners, which would have been a common occurrence in the 1940s. We will have full use of the site and will try to include the turning of at least one of the locos for photography during daylight hours. During twilight and after dark we will position the locos inside the shed, a popular location for photography as it is a totally original structure dating back well into the days of the Great Western Railway. To conclude proceedings, we will photograph the ever-popular fire disposal scenes in front of the coaling stage.

The cafe will be open for hot food during the evening and the event promises to provide many cameo scenes reminiscent of the twilight of the GWR era and the birth of British Railways (Western Region). We look forward to seeing many of you at Didcot in July for another memorable photographic evening.

Event cost: £50.00 per person, which includes access to the railway centre throughout the day from 10.30.

For more details, and to book your place, see: Neil Cave's Timeline Events website.

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

New Volunteers Day

Volunteers Week

Didcot Railway Centre is celebrating Volunteers’ week with a New Volunteers Day on Saturday 6 June 2015 - 10:30 am to 5 pm. All kinds of volunteer opportunities are available.

Ann Middleton, Trustee, said “We have a great team of volunteers and are always looking for more help.  Extending our voluntary teams will help us allocate more funds to our restoration and development work.  When I started volunteering here in the Shop, I never dreamt I would end up driving our Diesel Railcar.”

Volunteers are central to the work of countless charities and organisations. They are a valuable presence in many communities, helping out in places as diverse as sports clubs, libraries, schools and hospitals.

Volunteers’ Week was established in 1984, to recognise the work that volunteers do and showcase the varied volunteering opportunities that exist. This year, as well as thank you events organised by charities, volunteers are being encouraged to share their own stories and motivations on social media using the hashtag #ivolunteer.

Justin Davis Smith, director of volunteering at the National Council for Voluntary Organisations, which coordinates Volunteers’ Week in England, said: “Volunteers’ Week is the perfect opportunity to recognise volunteers who put their time, energy and enthusiasm into helping others. Whether it’s clearing out a local park, or helping with a reading club or food bank, volunteers are the social glue keeping our communities together. This week of events across the country will, I hope, show people how much their contribution is valued.”

Star Tugs at Didcot

The Star Tugs

For the weekend of 6/7 June Didcot Railway Centre is delighted to host the Star Tugs:

Both days are steam days so trains will be in operation on the running lines and Sunday 7 is also the date of Didcot Railway Centre Transport Rally

Diesel Gala Details


D2120, from Sir William McAlpine’s Fawley Hill railway, has now arrived to complete the line up for the Diesel Gala and Real Ale Festival to be held over the Spring Bank Holiday Weekend: Saturday 23 - Monday 25 May. The other diesels are:

On Saturday and Sunday the Diesel Railcar will run until 8 pm. Last admission is at 7:30pm and there will be a reduced rate of admission after 3:30pm. We will close at 5pm on the Monday and normal admission prices and last admission times will apply.

Musical entertainment will be provided by: Saturday - Tim Valentine(keyboard), Sunday - Oxford Ukuleles, Monday - Local buskers, Troubshort & Turnipseed.

The real ale festival will include 12 cask ales and 12 other bottled ales, and six ciders.

We also now have a working timetable for the weekend, though please note that 50035 will not be working on Sunday, and the 56006 is not currently operational.

Didcot Goes (Rail) Blue


Some of the visiting diesel locomotives have arrived in advance of the Diesel Gala and Real Ale Festival to be held over the Spring Bank Holiday Weekend: Saturday 23 - Monday 25 May.

Three locomotives have arrived so far:

These will be joined by

and also, possibly, some additional locomotives from DBS.

On Saturday and Sunday the Diesel Railcar will run until 8 pm. Last admission is at 7:30pm and there will be a reduced rate of admission after 3:30pm. We will close at 5pm on the Monday and normal admission prices and last admission times will apply.

Musical entertainment will be provided by: Saturday - Tim Valentine(keyboard), Sunday - Oxford Ukuleles, Monday - Local buskers, Troubshort & Turnipseed.

The real ale festival will include 12 cask ales and 12 other bottled ales, and six ciders.

Radstock North Signalbox will be open to visitors.

You can buy advance tickets on Ticketweb (Booking fee applies) - a free Didcot Railway Centre glass will be given on the day to all those presenting adult and senior tickets bought this way!

You will need to present your ticket to claim your DRC glass.
If you've purchased a family ticket you will be issued with 4 tickets (2 adult + 2 child). You will be entitled to collect 2 DRC glasses but must present all 4 tickets on the day to claim them.

Commemorating VE Day


Pannier Tank No. 3650 will commemorate the 70th Anniversary of VE Day with a special steaming at Didcot Railway Centre on Saturday 9 May.

In addition to the advertised Heritage Diesel Day at Didcot, 3650 will shunt locomotives 3822 and 3738, in their wartime black livery, to the front of the shed and they will be decorated accordingly to mark the occasion.

The paint has been removed from 3650's brass safety valve bonnet which has subsequently been polished to mark the end of the years of austerity.

3650 will perform morning and afternoon shunting demonstrations in front of the shed and will run with Didcot's wartime goods train on the main demonstration line for an hour at lunchtime.

At 2pm there will be a dedication by 3650's Padre, Fran Childs, to those GWR staff who lost their lives during the conflict.

Please come along and join us in this commemoration, in period dress if you like.

The Winning Plate


As part of an event on Sunday 26 April, when residents of the OX11 postcode area around Didcot were given free entry to the railway centre, we held a raffle for a unique plate painted by local artist Charlie Davies, depicting the three Didcot Power Station cooling towers which were demolished in July last year.

The plate was kindly donated by the artist and the 'No Two Things' shop in the town, with all proceeds going to the railway centre.

The winner was Martin Parr, seen here holding Isaac Parr, with the Mayor of Didcot, Scott Wilgrove, presenting the plate. The raffle raised £170 for the Mayor’s Charity.

Six Thames Valley Railways discount vouchers

Thames Valley Railways

Didcot Railway Centre has again teamed up with:

to offer visitors discounts on future visits.

All the attractions in the scheme give every visitor a £2 discount voucher that can be used for a return visit or to visit any of the other participants.  The even better news is that the discounts continue. When visitors pay their admission charge on their next visit to any of the six attractions, and redeem their voucher or vouchers, each visitor will be given another £2 discount voucher, making this a self-perpetuating offer. The other unusual thing about this promotion is that the offer is transferable.  So if visitors are unable to use the vouchers, they can give them to friends or other family members to use.

There are a small number of exclusion dates for each railway when the vouchers cannot be used.  Otherwise, the discounts are available until 22 November 2015.

  1. The offer is transferable. If you can’t use it please pass it to someone who can!
  2. This offer is not usable in conjunction with any other promotion, discount or offer.
  3. Only one voucher can be used for one ticket.
  4. There is no cash alternative and the voucher is not for re-sale.
  5. The voucher has no cash value.
  6. Photocopies will not be accepted
  7. The attractions have the right to refuse admission.
  8. The offer is valid between 14 March and 22 November 2015.
  9. In the case of Didcot Railway Centre the following dates are excluded from this offer: 2/3/4 and
    23/24/25 May, 7 June and 3/4 October.
  10. In the case of STEAM-Museum of the Great Western Railway the following dates are excluded from
    this offer: 12/13 Sept, 3/4 Oct and 5/6 Dec and any other special day or evening events.
  11. In the case of Swindon and Cricklade Railway the following are excluded from this offer: 8/9 August,
    12/13 September, 30/31 October and all Murder Mystery and Moonraker dining trains.
  12. In the case of Chinnor Railway the offer is NOT valid on ANY EVENING SPECIALS.
  13. In the case of Cholsey and Wallingford Railway the vouchers are redeemable only on
    scheduled services.

Visitors are advised to check opening times on attraction websites while planning their visit.

This is the fourth year of this promotion and the number of railways involved has doubled from three to six over that time.

Free Day Out for Local Families

Visitors outside the Refreshment Rooms

On Sunday 26 April 2015 Didcot Railway Centre will once again open its doors to welcome all Didcot residents absolutely free of charge. Free entrance will be granted to anyone who provides evidence they live at an address with an OX11 postcode.

This is a fantastic opportunity for local people to visit the centre and see the work that goes on there. Whether your interest is local history, the wonderful steam and diesel engines or just a fun day out Didcot Railway Centre has something for every one. We are always looking for new volunteers, so if you fancy helping out in the future, please chat to us.

On the day there will be opportunities to ride on the trains behind heritage diesels and see the steam engines in the engine shed. For younger members of the family the education centre will be organizing a colouring competition and story time and children’s entertainers will be on site - so bring the family and join in the fun.

The Mayor of Didcot, Councillor Scott Wilgrove, will be attending, and raffle tickets to win a beautiful glass plate will be on sale. The plate has been painted by local artist Charlie Davies and depicts the power station in all its glory! The plate was kindly donated by the artist and No Two Things and all proceeds will go direct to the Railway Centre. There will be a range of real ales and soft drinks on sale, the restaurant provides a good range of reasonably priced food and drink; or if it is a sunny day you can bring a picnic. So come rain or shine you can make the most of your day with us.

A Great Western Themed Gala

1450 at Arley on the Severn Valley Railway

In commemoration of the 50th Anniversary of the closure of Didcot Engine Shed the Mayday weekend gala event (2-4 May) will feature visiting GWR locomotives, as well as seeing our own home fleet in action and the relaunch of Prairie Tank No. 4144 after overhaul.

The visitors will be Pannier Tank No. 1501 (courtesy of 1501 Pannier Tank Association) and 1450 (courtesy of Push Pull ltd) both with thanks to the Severn Valley Railway.

Other attractions include:

Didcot visits Model Railway Shows

Didcot Railway Centre stand with Gerry Norris

Gerry Norris, a member of the Didcot Railway Centre Education Team, regularly takes a railway centre information stand to Model Railway Exhibitions. If you are going along to any of the following, please do say hello.

Bookings for Didcot Railway Centre display stand for 2015

3/4 January Scout Rail - Kidlington
14 February Newbury Model Railway Exhibition
21 February Kenavon Railway Society - Reading
28 February Abingdon Model Railway Exhibition
14 March Modrail 2015 - Steam, Swindon
9 May Loddon Vale Model Railway Club - Arborfield
4 July Beaconsfield Model Railway Exhibition
12/13 September Swindon Railway Festival 2015 - Steam, Swindon
26 September Earley Model Railway Exhibition
31 October Abingdon Model Railway Exhibition - Didcot
November White House Model Railway Exhibition - Hampton, Middlesex

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

4144 Steams Again


On Wednesday18 February 2-6-2T No 4144 had her boiler inspected in steam by the insurance company and we're pleased to report that all went well.

The restoration team then took her onto the main demonstration line for a bit of exercise in the late afternoon sunshine, before returning to the lifting shop to complete the final jobs in the loco's restoration.

Hopefully, it should not be long now before this lovely locomotive is completed, finish painted and running passenger trains at Didcot Railway Centre once more.

Starlight Wish of a Lifetime at Didcot Railway Centre

Daniel Bainbridge

Didcot Railway Centre was proud to help Starlight Children’s Foundation grant Daniel Bainbridge’s wish of a lifetime last Sunday. Starlight Children’s Foundation is the UK’s leading wish granting charity for children and young people with serious and terminal illness.

Ten year old Daniel from Abingdon was diagnosed shortly after birth with Neurofibromatosis, a genetic disease that causes tumours to grow along the nerves. Late in 2012, Daniel was also sadly diagnosed with an Optic Pathway Glioma; a type of slow growing brain tumour. Since then, Daniel has undergone intense chemotherapy.

Despite all these challenges, Daniel has remained positive, often cheering up other children on his ward. Daniel’s mother, Julia, wrote to Starlight, to ask them to help grant Daniel’s wish to be a train driver.

The Foundation contacted Didcot Railway Centre, and plans were put in place for Daniel to have a footplate ride on a steam engine, speak to a train driver about what it’s like to drive a train and explore the engine shed.

Daniel was shown around the railway centre by the Mayor of Didcot, Councillor Scott Wilgrove, who also loaned Daniel his chain of office!

Neil Swan, CEO of Starlight Children’s Foundation, said “We are delighted to be granting Daniel's wish-of-lifetime this weekend and to be creating precious memories for his family to cherish. The positive focus that a Starlight wish brings really does have a beneficial effect and helps to restore the fun and magic of childhood. We are extremely grateful to Didcot Railway Centre for their assistance in helping make Daniel's wish come true.

Details of the Starlight Children’s Foundation can be found on their website.

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

A Valentine's Day Boost to Castle Restoration

Cheque Presentation
Members of the 'Pendennis Castle' team, standing left to right, Keith Turfrey, Richard Croucher, Dudley Allewey, Kevin Paul (holding cheque), Clive Sparling, Angus Pottinger, Jim Secchi, Drew Fermor (holding cheque) and Mike Bodsworth. On the locomotive's chassis are left to right Andrew Vaughan, Charlie McCarthy and Ben Shakeshaft.

On Saturday 14 February, during a book signing to launch the Haynes Owner's Workshop Manual for the GWR/BR (WR) Castle class, a cheque for £2,500 was presented by Kevin Paul, Sales Manager of Haynes Publishing, to Drew Fermor, the book's author who is also the Project Manager for restoration of 4079 ‘Pendennis Castle’ at Didcot Railway Centre.

Drew said “Drew said: "My long-suffering and very supportive partner affectionately refers to Pendennis Castle as ‘the other woman'! It is appropriate, therefore that the generous gift to the 'other woman' was presented on Valentine's Day. This money will go into the restoration fund for 'Pendennis Castle'. It represents the photograph budget for the book, thanks to the generosity of the photographers whose work is published in it and who all agreed to donate their reproduction fees to the locomotive's fund”.

Book Signings - 14 & 22 February

Book Signings

On Saturday 14 February the author of the new Haynes Castle Class Manual, Drew Fermor, will be at Didcot Railway Centre to sign copies of the book and talk about his work restoring the iconic locomotives.

Drew is the project manager for the restoration and mainline running of No 4079 Pendennis Castle at Didcot Railway Centre. He says:

When the Castles were built after World War I they proved an instant hit, and were the pinnacle of engineering at both a power and efficiency level. Their reign was short lived but they captured my heart and that of thousands of other enthusiasts. I have been involved in a torrid affair with one of them for nearly ten years now. My long-suffering and very supportive partner affectionately refers to Pendennis Castle as ‘the other woman! In that time I have become project manager and the obsession has continued. I am thrilled to be able to share this passion with readers through the book, and look forward to meeting fellow enthusiasts and signing copies at the event.

On Sunday 22 February the author of a new book ‘What the Railways Did For Us’, Stuart Hylton, will be at Didcot Railway Centre to sign copies of the book.

Stuart is a member of the Education Team at Didcot Railway Centre. He says:

It is hard, from a distance of nearly two centuries, to imagine the impact the coming of the railways must have had at the start of the nineteenth century. Their physical impact was dramatic enough – great mechanical horses, breathing fire and smoke and drawing impossibly heavy trains at unimaginable speeds, across a landscape transformed by the embankments and cuttings, viaducts and tunnels which their passage demanded. However, they would also transform the way war was conducted and peace was maintained; prove to be one of the drivers of the dramatic industrial growth of the nineteenth century; create opportunities for many to become enormously wealthy, but impoverish many more, who invested unwisely; cause the state to think again about the policy of laissez-faire that was its default position; transform our leisure; radically re-shape our towns and cities and change our very notions of time and how we measured it.

How Many Mayors ... ?

Mayors and Council Leaders

On Saturday 10 January the Mayor of Didcot, Cllr Scott Wilgrove, hosted an event for mayors of local towns and other council leaders to visit Didcot Railway Centre. The group travelled in a 102-year-old railway carriage, No 92, and took turns to ride on the footplate of 75-year-old pannier tank locomotive No 3650 that was hauling their train.

In this photograph of the group with 3650, those wearing chains of office in the front row are, right to left: Cllr Scott Wilgrove, Mayor of Didcot; Penny Wilgrove, Mayoress of Didcot; Cllr Anne Purse, Leader of Oxfordshire County Council; Cllr Helen Pighills, Deputy Mayor of Abingdon-on-Thames; Cllr Jane Titchener, Mayor of Wallingford; Mark Savery, Mayor of Wallingford's Consort; Cllr Margaret Turner, Deputy Leader of South Oxfordshire District Council; Michael Turner, Margaret Turner's Consort; Cllr Des Healy, Deputy Mayor of Didcot; Cllr Jeannette Matelot-Green, Mayor of Thame.

The group also had a tour of the carriage works and of the locomotive works to see restoration projects in progress.


Recreating the golden age of the Great Western Railway