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Going Loco - April 2020


#MuseumFromHome - 1466, Didcot's Pioneer

We’re delighted to be taking part in the Museum Association’s #MuseumFromHome event designed to share what Museums have been working on during lockdown.

Regular readers of this blog and sister column “Tuesday Treasures” will know they were launched within a week of the Government asking everyone to stay at home. The aim is to highlight some of our collection while we are closed and allow some of our volunteers to get involved as guest bloggers but crucially, they are designed to be sustainable and remain relevant once the Centre reopens.

Inevitably, much of the focus of staff working from home is related to short term arrangements and dealing with the many things that have been postponed, cancelled or changed as a result of coronavirus, but the team has also been looking ahead to our 60th Anniversary in 2021.

In 1961 four West London schoolboy friends, who had met while ‘spotting’ from the railway footbridge at Southall, felt that the Great Western Railway was poorly represented in British Railways’ preservation plans and decided to start a fund to buy a locomotive themselves! The letter they wrote to The Railway Magazine to garner support for their plan to save a 14XX 0-4-2 tank engine prompted an extraordinary response and the Society that formed as a result, went on to not only purchase locomotive 1466, but to establish a Railway Centre around the original 1932 Engine Shed at Didcot.

1466 was the first in what is now believed to be the most comprehensive collection of items relating to any one railway company, anywhere in the world and her preservation career is now over twice as long as the time she spent in active service.  She was used regularly at the Didcot Railway Centre and also visited a number of other heritage lines but was withdrawn from service in 2000 as extensive boiler repairs became necessary.

1466 at the inauguration of the Branch Line signalling in 1996 and on a visit to the Kent & East Sussex Railway in 1984 - Photos Frank Dumbleton and Alan Crotty

Plans are well advanced to return 1466 to steam, ready to take her rightful place at the heart of the Society’s 60th Anniversary celebrations in 2021, but with no visitor income to help fund the work, we need your help to get the charming, octogenarian tank engine back on the rails.  Around £60,000 is needed to complete the most extensive overhaul the locomotive has had since its final days with British Railways when it received a heavy intermediate overhaul at Newton Abbott in early 1961.

Much work on the £300,000 project has already been done with repairs to the wheels and motion largely complete and the locomotive is once again a rolling chassis. Extensive boiler work is still required including a new foundation ring, new smokebox, specialist copper welding to the firebox and the replacement of the crown stays.

Please help ensure this iconic and historic locomotive can delight generations of future visitors to Didcot and head to 1466 Appeal to contribute.


The Big Thirteen - lucky for some?

Lots of locomotive classes have their own number series. The majority of the Castles were in the 50XX and 70XX series, the Kings were in the 60XX series and the Halls were in the 49XX, 59XX, 69XX and 79XX series. There were also some dark, dusty corners of the GWR numbering system that were inhabited by all manner of oddities. The oddest of oddballs were numbered in the 13XX series. We are fortunate to have no fewer than three of these oddballs living with us here at Didcot. No. 1338 is the last surviving Cardiff Railway locomotive; No. 1340 is an Alexandra Docks Railway machine and has a great story, which is definitely for another time...

Which leaves us with the third and largest member of the group, No. 1363. While all three of these survivors are historically very important and indeed all three are of the saddle tank design, No. 1363 is of huge significance. Firstly, she is the oldest Swindon built engine in our collection and the only Swindon built saddle tank locomotive that survives in preservation.

Swindon constructed quite a few saddle tank locomotives over a long period of time, so why didn’t more survive? The simple fact is that the GWR switched to using the very efficient Belpaire style firebox on their boilers in the early 20th century. Earlier boilers all had a round top to their firebox. Making a round saddle-shaped tank to fit over a curved top firebox is relatively easy but you only have a look at any of the tender engines in our collection to see why the new firebox shape was a problem. These are a far more angled and faceted design. Try and fit a round water tank over the top of that! It becomes a very complicated shape, very quickly...

So, once Belpaire firebox became standard, the GWR decided to use either side tanks such as Prairie, 14XX and 72XX engines or for other types the water tanks were hung on the either side of the boiler like the pannier bags on a horse or bicycle. Thusly, the famous GWR Pannier Tank locomotives (like our No’s. 3650 & 3738) were born.

The vast majority of the earlier saddle tank locomotives simply got worn out and cut up long before preservation or in a few cases, had a Belpaire firebox boiler and matching pannier tanks fitted. So how did No. 1363 survive?

This leads us on to the second part of why she is so significant. She was designed under the reign of perhaps the greatest British locomotive engineer ever, George Jackson Churchward. To say that he designed her though would really be doing a disservice. Actually, saying she is built to a Swindon design at all is a fairly weak argument. The locomotives that inspired No. 1363 and her 4 sisters was an engine that had been built by Sharp, Stewart & Co. for the Cornwall Minerals Railway. These engines were all built in 1874 and, due to a leasing arrangement that came about due to the acute financial  difficulties the railway found itself in, had been looked after by the GWR since 1876 and owned by them by 1896 after a buy out.

Out of the 18 engines built, the GWR sold half of them very early on as surplus to requirements. They were built as side tank locomotives but the GWR started to fit some of their standard bits to them in order to make them easier for their staff and loco works to take care of them. They were renumbered from 1392 - 1400 and rebuilt as saddle tanks as well!

The 9 remaining ex Cornwall Mineral Railway engines were getting long in the tooth by 1910, when No. 1363 was built. The first was withdrawn as early as 1904 and although two of them managed to soldier on until 1936, it was clear that a replacement was needed. There was nothing essentially wrong with the design so Mr Churchward went to his then subordinate, a certain Harold Holcroft (a famous engineer in his own right) and essentially put the drawings on his desk and said ‘Swindonise this please!’

The result was the 5 members of the 1361 Class. They were in some ways a Swindon design but also retained many quirks of their more ancient forbears. The most striking of this is the quite unusual Allan Straight Link Valve Gear* (the bits that operate the valves that supply the steam to the cylinders). This was invented in 1855 by Alexander Allan and although common on the continent, was rare in the UK. They were originally built with a wooden cab roof (a steel version was fitted later) and chimneys that were too short(!). They did a very good job of filling the cab with smoke so a taller version was made and fitted.


Despite their outdated technology, their short wheelbase 0-6-0 design, light load on the track (12 tons per axle) and relatively high power for their size was ideal for their work on the tight curves of dockyards and the lightly laid track of some of the more ‘rural’ branch lines. So perfect indeed that when the cull of the original Cornwall Minerals Railway engines was completed in the 1930s, a second batch was built. This second batch was built firmly in the Belpaire firebox era and as a result were built as pannier tank engines. Of the 6 of these later type built, happily one is still in preservation at the South Devon Railway. Let’s hope we see these two operating together some time - a family reunion of sorts!

They survived simply because they were so useful. They were always in demand for their tasks. All of the 11 locomotives that were built by the GWR survived WW2 and were only withdrawn from service in the early 1960s. The five 1361 Class engines giving over 50 years of faithful service each. Not bad for something which was pretty much outdated when it was designed and constructed but the truth of the matter was that it was the right tool for the job. 

1363 is currently undergoing overhaul.

*Have a look at the intricacies of the Allan Valve Gear along with its more common Stephenson style mechanism here:


The County Conundrum – There’s Lots In A Name!

With the completion of our Saint Class replica, No. 2999 Lady of Legend, it is natural that one of the questions we get asked about a lot is Our County Replica, No. 1014 County of Glamorgan. Now, of course we could start with tales of this engine but the truth of the matter is that these were not the first GWR engines to be named after Counties*.

There was another class that dated back to 1904 which were very different machines. These locos were not the 4-6-0 design we are more familiar with but a 4-4-0 instead and looking far more like the Saint we have now instead of the 10XX County we are building. They were not entirely successful, being known as ‘Churchward’s rough riders’ the combination of a short coupled wheelbase and big cylinders making the ride on the footplate quite uncomfortable by all accounts. With the assistance of the GWS, a small group are forging ahead to recreate one of these locos so it will be interesting to see how it performs and if the reputation was deserved. There was also a 4-4-2 tank engine version too. An Atlantank perhaps?

The 4-4-0 38XX County Class were named, of course, after Counties! As there were 40 built, they used a LOT of County names. When you look down the list, English Counties such as Oxford & Middlesex rubbed shoulders with Welsh Counties such as Cardigan and Carnarvon and even Irish examples such as Cork and Kildare. The Irish examples may seem strange until you remember of course that Irish self-rule in what eventually became the Republic of Ireland only began in 1922. The last 4-4-0 County was built in 1912. 

The 10XX 4-6-0 County Class only totalled 30 machines that were built between 1945 and 1947 and as there were 10 Irish names in the original class, there must have been a temptation  to just reuse the old names from the original class. Seems simple but it wasn’t the case. Let’s look at No. 1007 County of Brecknock. There wasn’t a 38XX class called Brecknock. There was one called County of Brecon (No. 3822 - more of this number later!) These are different names for the same area. Other ‘new’ County names were Montgomery (No. 1021), Northampton (No. 1022) and Warwick (No. 1028), while names not transferred from the original County Class to the new one included Bedford (No. 3821) and Flint (No. 3826).

The two Counties of Hereford! 4-4-0 No 3828 at Old Oak Common on 11 October 1930 (Photo from the LCGB Ken Nunn collection) and 4-6-0 No 1017 ready to leave Paddington on 24 April 1948 (Photo by Ben Brooksbank)

Who’d have thought that a passion for steam could spark an interest in so many other subjects: changes of county and political lines, the development of language and identity, Irish home-rule and so on!

The GWR can also teach you Royal history. Look no further than the 60XX King Class - but that's for another week!

Reuse of names was perhaps surprisingly not uncommon on the GWR. Pendennis Castle is one of 3 different locomotives to carry that name. One of them being one of the modern GWR’s Class 57 diesels - the three incarnations are shown above.

More confusingly, numbers were also moved about, changed and reused. Our founder engine was renumbered after WW2 from No. 4866 to 1466 (which is a story for another blog). Finally, having mentioned No. 3822 County of Brecon, we do have to say that we have No. 3822 preserved at Didcot. It’s not a 4-4-0 38XX County - those were all scrapped by the end of 1933 - but another No. 3822 was built in 1940 but this time it was a 2884 Class 2-8-0 heavy freight engine. The moral of this story is that you need to look beyond the name or number - there might be some interesting stories just waiting for you to discover...

*There are some who say that the names are wrong as some of them should be ‘Shires’ (e.g. Oxfordshire) but having opened that particular can of worms, we shall retreat to a safe distance...


This week’s blog looks at the parts we maintain and look after to keep our locomotives steaming.  Many of them bear identification numbers. Some are just casting or mould numbers and the like but the interesting ones are the locomotive numbers that are stamped onto the components. Sometimes there are loads of them. Crossed out again and again. They are there to keep the part with the locomotive - especially when repairs are being done - but why so many different numbers? Surely this means that idea failed?! To understand why they are there, we need to look at how the GWR looked after its steam engines.

One of the reasons that steam engines were dropped in favour of diesel and electric locomotives is the sheer amount of maintenance required to keep them going. They required frequent visits to the loco works to be kept in tip-top condition. When they were sent was based on either mileage or time.

When a serious rebuild fell due, it meant stripping the loco right down to its constituent parts. To the bare frames. The frames are where the identity of the engine lies so things like tenders, boilers and so on were replacement parts. Tenders had their own works and the very next freshly overhauled example would be the next fitted to the loco as it left Swindon for testing. For most of the GWR standard types, there were also many more boilers than there were locomotives so there was little or no delay in waiting for a boiler. Old one off, new one on!

We now need to think about all the other bits, because parts do wear out. So, where items had worn out, new or refurbished components were fitted.  The Swindon works had a factory system constantly producing spares, so the throughput of the workshops was not delayed. Worn parts went back into the system to be reconditioned and the next available ‘as new’ part was fitted. Each item might have been through the works more than once and this is why the parts start collecting engine numbers. The parts that seem to have the most numbers on them tend to be axle boxes. In fact, some of the recovered units being used on the replica of No. 1014 County of Glamorgan were actually once used on County Class locomotives! Take a look at the photos below of 1014's axleboxes to see just how many locos they have previously been used on.

The more engines there were in a class, the more the bits got moved around. During the overhaul of No. 4079 Pendennis Castle for instance, parts from over 25 different Castle Class locos have been discovered on the engine. There were once 171 Castles built and those that carried components now fitted to 4079 include the famous (but sadly no longer with us) No. 4074 Caldicot Castle and the now preserved No. 7029 Clun Castle.

Locos that are members of very small classes like No’s 1363, 1340 and 1338 tend to have less mix and match parts. In fact No. 1363 was one of a class of just 5 machines and they were only ever taken into the works one at a time. Therefore, the majority of her parts are stamped up with just her number.

This fine old GWR tradition lives on at Didcot to this day; the old, ‘A’ size valve heads from No. 5051 Earl Bathurst were put into store after that loco had its valves bored out to the larger ‘B’ size. These will be used by Pendennis Castle as her new valve liners have returned all her valve sizes to the as new ‘A’ size.  So, next time you see one of our locomotives up close, take a good look at the component parts and you may discover that they have a history far beyond the engine they have been preserved as part of. . .

How many numbers can you spot on the axleboxes from 1014 County of Glamorgan?  And do you know the classes of locos they were previously used on?


The Centre is home to several remarkable locomotives and a replica dating from 1985 might not at first glance fit that description.  But the recreated “Iron Duke” fashioned largely using parts from two Hunslet Austerity 0-6-0 saddle tanks which started life looking like the locomotive below!  (No 23 survives and is seen in action on the Kent & East Sussex Railway).

The remarkable transformation resulted in a replica of broad gauge 4-2-2 ‘Iron Duke’ and was commissioned by the Science Museum for the 150th anniversary of the Great Western Railway and built by Resco (Railways) Ltd.   It is based on one of the first batch of the 29 strong Iron Duke class which was built in 1847 and withdrawn in 1871.

The first event of the 1985 GW150 celebrations took place 35 years ago today, on 3 April 1985, when the replica locomotive was formally named by His Grace the Duke of Wellington at a ceremony by the Albert Memorial in Kensington Gardens, London.

The Duke was a descendant of Arthur Wellesley, the first Duke of Wellington who defeated Napoleon at the Battle of Waterloo in 1815 and acquired the nickname Iron Duke during his time as Prime Minister in the 1820s.

The event featured ‘Iron Duke’ in steam and running on about 150 yards of track which had been laid by BR Western Region engineers. The locomotive was subsequently displayed at the National Railway Museum and toured a number of heritage railways.

The locomotive is now housed in the broad gauge Transfer Shed at Didcot, on loan from the National Railway Museum.




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