Didcot Railway Centre’s unique Great Western Railway ‘Saint’ Class locomotive has received a highly commended accolade in the prestigious Museums + Heritage Awards 2020 placing it in the top three restoration and conservation projects nationally.
The locomotive, No. 2999 ‘Lady of Legend’, is a recreation of an iconic type of Great Western steam engine last seen in 1953 when the last of the original examples was scrapped. The £825,000 project was undertaken by a team of dedicated volunteers and took almost 24 years to complete with 2999 taking to the tracks in 2019.
To celebrate, 2999 will be in steam and working passenger trains on Saturday 24 and Sunday 25 October as part of the Centre’s series of Autumn Steam Days. Visitor numbers are strictly limited and tickets must be booked in advance. The ‘Saints’ were the blueprint on which the GWR based their designs for the first half of the 20th century. Examples of subsequent developments can be seen alongside ‘Lady of Legend’ at Didcot which houses the most extensive collection of locomotives from one railway company anywhere in the world.
Chief Executive, Emma Jhita, said, “This is wonderful news, a real tribute to the hard work and enthusiasm of the team here at Didcot. It is particularly rewarding to be recognised nationally, especially as we’re not a conventional museum or gallery”.
Anna Preedy, Director of the annual Museums + Heritage Awards commented: “Being able to share such great news, in announcing the winners of the 2020 Museums + Heritage Awards, has been a real privilege. As we work together to recover, these Awards are a timely reminder of the exceptional creativity and determination of this sector, characteristics which are demonstrated so well by all of our winners”.
In addition to riding behind ‘Lady of Legend’, visitors on 24 and 25 October will also have the chance to get up close to the locomotives in the spacious engine shed which has remained largely-unchanged since it was built in 1932 and now houses magnificent preserved locomotives some of which have steps to allow visitors to climb onto the footplate!
The large, well-ventilated carriage shed will also be open with coaches dating from Victorian times to the 1940s that evoke bygone eras. See the VIP Saloon reputed to have been used by General Eisenhower during the preparations for D-Day and later used in the GWR Royal Train!
The Saint’s 19th Century predecessors are represented by replicas of broad-gauge locomotives ‘Iron Duke’ and ‘Fire Fly’ which were the high speed trains of their era and can be seen with very rare surviving track from Brunel’s original broad gauge railway, while diesel locomotive D9516 working a demonstration goods train will bring transport from a more recent era to life.
The engineering excellence that went to create 2999 was also recognised by the Heritage Railway Association in February when the project won the first-ever Chairman’s special prize at the organisation’s annual awards.