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Going Loco - April 2021


Busman's Holiday?

No. 22 in action on the Branch Line at Didcot

While we usually blog about our steam locomotive fleet, our diesels take something of a back seat. Phantom got its own Hallowe'en special last year but the rest have yet to feature. There is one however, that is a real survivor of the Great Western Railway. Diesel Railcar No. 22 is a real pioneer and she and her sisters had a massive impact on the railways that continues to be felt today. So, our redoubtable ‘Bus’ has a story to tell...

Railcars with internal combustion engines were not a new thing. The fantastic team with the 1903 Petrol Electric Railcar can ably demonstrate this in preservation. The post grouping ‘Big Four’ companies all dabbled in the technology prior to WW2 but arguably, nobody was as successful in this later period as the G.W.R. The idea was a simple one. The road going bus had already begun to make its mark on the transport industry. Why not try and scale it up just a bit so that it would fit on a railway?

LNER Petrol Electric Railcar preserved on the Embsay & Bolton Abbey Steam Railway - © Mike Heath

The G.W.R. chose the Associated Equipment Company or A.E.C. as its partner in this endeavour. A.E.C. had already dabbled in this arena, having previously built a version of their Regal single deck bus with a rail wheel conversion on it so that it could pretend to be a train. This just didn't quite take the idea far enough but it was an important stepping stone.

The AEC Regal coach converted for railway use. It underwent trials on the LNER. AEC photograph

In conjunction with the G.W.R., in 1933 a chassis was developed that incorporated a diesel engine and transmission that drove onto one of the two four-wheeled bogies. The chassis was encased under a streamlined body. This was designed to be highly aerodynamic and was the epitome of the prevalent Art Deco style of the time. There was a driver's cab at either end, it could handle nearly 70 seated passengers and had a luggage compartment as well.

Railcar No 1 in the AEC railcar shed at Southall. AEC photograph

The A.E.C. 130 horsepower Oil Driven* Railcar for Speedy, Economical Suburban Working (according to the A.E.C. publicity!) was given the G.W.R. No. 1 and was introduced to the press on 1 December via a series of promotional runs. The response was extremely favourable. No. 1 achieved 61mph during the trips and it was noted as being smooth and comfortable.

This led to 3 more vehicles being ordered in 1934. This second batch were designed for a different mission. The biggest difference was that the instead of just one engine and transmission, a second was fitted on the opposite side. The interior was redesigned to incorporate two lavatories and a small buffet. These were intended to take on high speed cross country duties and the extra power pushed the top speed to nearer 80mph. We are very fortunate that No. 4 is still looked after by our fellow Western fans at Steam museum in Swindon.

One of the 2,3,4 series of railcars under construction at Park Royal coachworks. AEC photograph

A series of differing designs of body shell and equipment was seen in the next batches of vehicles that ran up to No. 18. No. 17 was the first of two non-passenger railcars, fitted internally to carry parcels.

Railcar No 17 calling at Southall on the parcel service between London and Oxford introduced in May 1936. AEC photograph

Up to this point, the bodies, like the chassis, had been built by outside contractors.** Swindon took over for the last vehicles, only the chassis being built by A.E.C. These were the biggest departures stylistically from the originals. Gone were the flowing Art Deco lines, replaced by a more formal, austere but still pleasant angular design. The Final 20 followed a similar type breakdown with one being a parcels machine (No 34), some having the lower speed, high torque gearbox for pulling power and others the high speed low torque version. The last 4 were built single-ended as two twin sets (Nos 35 – 38).

Diesel railcar chassis showing, from left, fuel tank and air reservoir, AEC engine, fan and radiator with auxiliary water tank above. The photograph was published in the Great Western Railway Magazine February 1940 edition

It's worth talking a little bit here about the mechanics of the railcars. The two engines are very similar to those used for over 50 years in London Transport buses - A.E.C. 9.6 litre, direct injection 6 cylinder units. Each engine has its own Wilson epicyclic gearboxes that are of the pre selector type. This means that you move a lever to ‘tell’ the gearbox which gear is next. You then move the clutch lever and it automatically changes gear for you. There is a large accelerator pedal on the floor and the brake is very similar to the ones in the steam locos. Clever stuff! They are very pleasant to drive as a result. I know - the ‘bus gang’ kindly let me have a go when she was on test once!

One of the twin sets of single-ended railcars, Nos 35, 36,37, 38, with a trailer between to make a 3-car Diesel Multiple Unit. Photograph taken during a test run on the Brentford branch. AEC photograph

They were self-contained vehicles but could be linked together and work as multiple units with just one driver in charge. A feature common to modern rolling stock. They are exactly the right tool for the jobs that they were assigned to and they did those jobs brilliantly well - being popular with both the railway and the travelling public.

Railcars Nos 19 to 23 at AEC's Southall works. AEC photograph

No. 22 was part of the later ‘razor edge’ design batch. She was completed in 1940 and started work from Newport shed on 18 September of that year. She was quite nomadic in her day and worked in both urban locations like Reading and even venturing out to become a frequent user of the Severn Valley Line. Withdrawn in 1962, she luckily entered storage and from there was saved by a group from the Great Western Society in 1967. She went back to the Severn Valley in preservation and worked on the line until relocating for the final time to her home at Didcot in 1978.

While the ‘Bus’ has had a lot of work done on it over the years, including and almost total replacement of the bodywork sheeting and lots of mechanical work, she has never been out of service for too long. Not needing a boiler certificate helps! She is currently the only one of the three*** surviving G.W.R. railcars in operational condition and long may that continue!

No 22’s refurbished interior in 2010 with new linoleum, upholstery, and rexine on the lower level of the walls, with the rest repainted

Everything about the design of these machines was modern and forward looking. Enthusiasts call the initial classes of B.R. Diesel Multiple Units the ‘first generation’. I think that this does a great disservice in many ways to the massive success that the G.W.R. railcars represent. They were years ahead of their time and really did pave the way for the modern railway as we know it today. We steam loco works types even regard No. 22 as an ‘honorary steam engine’. The highest possible praise we can bestow...

Whilst the seating arrangement in No 22 has precluded her use during the pandemic we hope to use her at Open Days in the second half of the year so keep an eye on the What's On section of the website for details.

No 22 at Oxford Road with re-enactors during a Timeline Events photo charter

*Oil Driven = the old fashioned way of saying diesel!

**Park Royal and then The Gloucester Carriage and Wagon Co., in that order.

***The third, No. 20 is being restored at the Kent & East Sussex Railway. Maybe we can put the surviving multiple unit working gear in No. 22 to work some day?


Return of the Champion - Chapter 4

Hello again! Here's the latest news on the revival of the GWR's Champion, No. 4079 Pendennis Castle. We left it all on a bit of a cliffhanger last time. We had travelled back to 1924 to see her sister, No. 4073 Caerphilly Castle at the Empire Exhibition and this caused the London & North Eastern Railway (LNER) to get a bit upset about the GWR claiming that the Castles were the most powerful express passenger locomotives ever in the U.K. at that time. We clamber back into the time machine and go forward just a bit to early 1925...

By this time, No. 4079 is nicely run in. She has been operating out of London's Old Oak Common and has proved to be a strong and powerful machine. The engine had a regular crew. This was made up of Driver Young and Fireman Pierce. These two had made their way to the top of the coal sheet (the efficiency tables) at Old Oak Common. It became clear that these two were a force to be reckoned with. They were selected to take their steed to the LNER as the away leg of the trials. In preparation for this, the GWR secured a supply of the Yorkshire hard coal that the LNER used so that the crew could get used to it. This fuel is not as energy rich as the soft Welsh coal that they were used to but none the less, they soon mastered its use. They made their way to King's Cross shed in late April of 1925 and the LNER A1 Pacific locomotive No. 4474 Victor Wild went to the GWR. The first week for both crews were used so that they could learn the line and get used to their host's practices. For the record, the home engine on the GWR was No. 4074 Caldicot Castle*. The LNER did not have a great time at home. The first loco used in the trial was No. 4475 Flying Fox but that ran a hot axle bearing and had to be replaced by No. 2545 Diamond Jubilee which suffered a sander failure not long after. Sometimes, it's just not your week...

4079 exchange trial 1925 Kings Cross

The first train pulled out of King's Cross station by Pendennis Castle was a 16 coach beast and if you know anything about the exit from King's Cross, you will know that it is literally an immediate uphill battle. So confident were the LNER that this little 4-6-0 couldn't possibly get this train up the hill that a great deal of the top brass had gathered on the platform to see this upstart fail. There was also a lot of money changing hands at the loco shed that said the same thing. Young had been offered a banking (pushing) engine to get him started but he refused. The stage was set.

Young and Pierce were meticulous in their preparations and they had fresh dry sand, a boiler lightly feathering its safety valves and with little ceremony, she was off. Young was a master of his craft and with just the slightest hint of a slip that Young arrested immediately, Pendennis Castle roared up the hill. Mouths were left agape back on the platform and wallets at the shed were no doubt lighter. In fact, No. 4079 had really got the bit between her teeth and put down times between the terminus and Finsbury Park that were previously unheard of. One day she went through that station in 5 minutes 20 seconds. Impressive enough for a 120 ton loco but she was pulling 330 tons behind her! The trains in the trial week following ranged between 445 to 480 tons but Pendennis, Young and Pierce still put up times that ranged from 5 minutes 42 seconds to 5 minutes 57 seconds. Think of the skill of the crew alone in being able to maintain that level of consistency over unfamiliar and very challenging terrain. True masters of their craft...

The trips alternated between King's Cross to Grantham or Peterborough and return. Frankly, the failures of the LNER locos as well as the faultless performance of the Castle swung things mightily in the GWR's favour. The events on the GWR main line were becoming comical. It seems that fairly early on it turned into something of a race and No. 4074 was doing its best to turn up earlier and earlier at its destination. The author C. J. Allen was on many of the trial trips on both railways and he wrote about how Driver Rowe must have had a ‘very liberal interpretation of the speed restrictions!’ All of this culminated in Caldicot Castle turning up in Plymouth almost exactly 15 minutes EARLY! So what were the results of the trial? Well, you know how I like a cliffhanger?

Meanwhile, back in the 21st century, the final leg of the restoration of No. 4079 continues apace. The steam circuit from the regulator box down to the cylinders is inching towards a complete, functioning system. The boiler inspections this time round specified a look at the superheater header and after a series of tests in the presence of our boiler man has resulted in a solid thumbs up. As soon as this was sorted, it found its way back to its position in the smokebox. No. 4079's new superheater elements were then slid into place and they just await some new fixings to lock them into place.


Smokebox pipes and General pipes

The steam pipes are being worked on from the header on down. A new set of bent pipes had been ordered a while ago so a series of templates were made up with the measurements being take from the life expired sections and jigs were fabricated so that we could cut all the new parts to the correct shape and prepare them so that our coded welder - Andy Bennet - can apply the ‘electric glue’.** He has sorted everything inside the smokebox for us and the team fitted them back in place as they returned from Andy's shop. Again, a few items of hardware are the only things at the time of writing stopping us doing the final fitting. Don't worry though, the order is in the post! The last fabrication task here is to get the sections forming the new outside pipes that go from the smokebox to the outer cylinders welded and fitted. The glands on the pistons and valves had not been fitted but these are also now in place. We get ever closer to a steam tight front end...

Boiler Cladding

Which leads us to discussing the progress with the cladding. This is always the job that nobody wants to do but my team have been bravely pushing forward to get it all to fit neatly. Add into the mix the need to add the insulation as well and the fact that the sheets are large, unwieldy and flexible and you can understand what ‘fun times’ this job presents! The last bit around the cab front is the current focus. This is a bit more complex as it all fixes around the cab structure and there are bolts that go through various bits of the cladding of the boiler in the cab and the shaped angle iron sections that serve as the trim around the firebox on the outside. The driver's side is pretty much there and next weekend threatens to see us move to the fireman’s side.

Cab Fittings

Then we need to add the backhead cladding (the stuff under the cab controls) and then a mixture of original and new pipework will be plumbed in to join all the bits together. The pipes between the injectors, the steam heat lines and their steam supply valves being the most obvious missing bits. The cab roof is also getting much needed attention. This was the last large component that was unrestored. It has been taken to pieces and is having a small amount of corrosion treated and a nice new coat of paint applied.

It's exciting times at Pendennis Castle H.Q. *** The current situation hasn't made this easy but my team have pressed on. I am really lucky to have such a fine bunch of people coming with me on this journey and indeed looking after her for me while I was unable to attend. We are getting really close now and we hope that you are all as excited about our progress as we are. It's not long now before this mighty machine will turn her wheels for herself for the first time since 1994. We can't wait to share this amazing locomotive with you all. See you soon!

All the best,

Drew and the Pendennis Team

Mike Edwards

It was with heavy heart that we received the news that Mike Edwards, one of Pendennis Castle's stalwart team members from the earliest days of the project had passed away after a long fight with illness. Mike was always the consummate gentleman, a good friend to us all and put in a great deal of effort to help us get No. 4079 where she is today. I cannot express how sad we all are that he will not see the locomotive he loved so much return to action. We send our deepest sympathy to his family and friends. Our thoughts are with you all at this difficult time.

Mike Edwards, G.W.R. - Gone With Regret.

*Although this loco is long scrapped, the middle wheel rod retaining nut on No. 4079 is marked up as once being part of No. 4074. It’s still with us in spirit and to have a bit of it on No. 4079 is fantastic!

**Welding - get it?!

***The Lifting Shop, Didcot Railway Centre. I know you all had this Bond villain type lair in mind with laser sharks and a volcano but it's sadly not that exciting...


The Return of the Little Warrior

Ok - our No. 4079 Pendennis Castle updates* are usually titled ‘Return of the Champion’ and we are all looking forward to seeing that legends return but we have recently been really pleased to have one of our smallest locos return to the active fleet. As this one is named after the protagonists in Homer's Iliad, it felt like our ‘little warrior’ deserved equal treatment. So, like the Iliad, this is an epic tale so grab a cuppa and enjoy!

The Avonside Engine Company based in Avon Street, St. Phillips, Bristol was actually a later incarnation of several previous firms. It started out in 1837 as Henry Stothert & Co. and as such built two of the broad gauge Firefly class 2-2-2 locomotives (Arrow and Dart)** and then eight of the smaller Sun class 2-2-2s for the G.W.R. By 1841 another partner had joined the firm and this resulted in the somewhat terrifying name change to Stothert, Slaughter & Co. At their ‘Avonside Works’ they continued to build a few broad gauge engines for both the G.W.R. and the Bristol and Exeter Railway. In 1856 another change at the top resulted in the business being renamed again to the equally scary sounding Slaughter, Grüning & Co...

It finally became the Avonside Engine Company in 1864. They continued to do occasional work for the G.W.R. building some of the replacements for the Firefly class - the Hawthorn 2-4-0s. A few of these were rebuilt into tank engines and worked until the end of the broad gauge in 1892. While all this broad gauge glory was relatively short lived, a much later product has proved to have enormous staying power. An order for one of their SS class 0-4-0 locomotives was received from a company called Messrs Dunn & Schute*** of Newport Town Docks.

The SS class has an 0-4-0 wheel arrangement and was built to diminutive proportions. For example, the engine only weighed just short of 23 tons. Its driving wheels were 3’ in diameter and it could carry 630 gallons of water and about ½ ton of coal. Small by most standards. What this design lacked in size, it made up for in usefulness. The wheelbase (distance between the driving wheels) was small too. This meant it was quite capable of going round tight curves in the track. As tight as a 4 wheeled freight wagon would go and that pretty much set the lower limit for curved track radii. This, and its low weight meant it really could go anywhere that rails had been laid. Its twin 14” diameter, 20” stroke cylinders and 160psi boiler pressure gave it a tractive effort of about 11,100lbs. **** This gave the engine a reasonable amount of grunt for its size and as the good Reverend would write a few years later, made her a ‘really useful engine’. We will get back to the Reverend Awdry later...

Avonside Works No. 1386 was eventually named Trojan and you have to wonder if this was due to a reputation for strength when compared to its size! The loco was used by Dunn & Shute until 1903 when it was purchased by the Alexandra (Newport & South Wales) Docks and Railway Company (A.D.R.) This was one of a number of Welsh lines that sprung up in the early days of railways. As the name suggests, the company ran Newport Town Dock. When this proved impossible to improve and update, the company started a new second dock called the Alexandra Dock opening in 1875. They also eventually ran limited passenger services both on the railway and the road. Trojan joined a somewhat eclectic group of locomotives which eventually included nearly 40 different tank engines. This even included some locomotives from the Metropolitan Railway in London who saw out their years far from their original homes. Trojan and her classmate Alexandra never received numbers while working for the A.D.R. but kept their names.

The A.D.R. disappeared under the 1923 Grouping act. This act was designed to stem the losses being made by a large part of the British railway network. Before 1923, there were 120 separate companies, many sharing local rivalries and competing for the same traffic. This rationalisation came from the experiences of government control of the railways in the First World War and was a sort of half way house between the railways being private companies and the industry being nationalised. This split the country into 4 areas, each with its own railway company known collectively as the ‘Big Four’. These were The Southern Railway, The London, North Eastern Railway, The London, Midland and Scottish Railway and The Great Western Railway. As you might be able to gather from the name, the G.W.R. was already a large company and was the least changed by the act. It did however absorb a number of smaller lines, the A.D.R. being one of them. All of their assets became G.W.R. assets, including Trojan. As a result, all of the A.D.R. fleet received G.W.R. numbers with Trojan and Alexandra becoming Nos. 1340 and 1341 respectively although they retained their names. The G.W.R. numbers below No. 1400 became a sort of dumping ground for all the weird and wonderful oddities, one offs, small classes and absorbed engines.*****

Trojan was used at quite a few different depots from Cardiff, Radyr, Oswestry and even a short spell at Greenford in London. The G.W.R. soon found that it had little use for Trojan and it wasn't long before it was withdrawn from traffic. This happened in July 1932 and this usually would have resulted in a one way trip to the scrapyard but for one very good point. Trojan was a small and very useful shunting engine. There was plenty of demand out there at the time for a loco of her calibre and she had plenty of life left in her. Instead of the cutter's torch, it was off to auction and she was bought by the Netherseal colliery at Burton-on-Trent, Derbyshire. It was here she saw out the war years, helping to keep the country supplied with fuel through those dark days.

In 1947, she was purchased again - this time by Alders (Tamworth) Ltd. This was her final operational posting and it was here that she saw out the end of her career in the shunting yard of this Staffordshire paper mill. By the mid 1960s however, even the mighty Trojan was showing its age and she was withdrawn from service. She came to the attention of John True, a society member and the man responsible for also saving No. 1338 and coach No. 416. Through a somewhat protracted negotiation, he managed to secure the future of this by now unique survivor.

John True in 2002 with 1340

No. 1340 was delivered to Didcot in 1968 but remained on the ‘to do’ list for a long time due to the by now terrible state of her boiler. The original was so bad that it was scrapped and a replacement unit was thankfully available. This boiler needed modifications in order to work for Trojan and it was sent off site for this to be done. Unfortunately this deal never came to fruition for a range of reasons and the boiler found its way back to Didcot as a kit of parts. This is where Didcot stalwart Peter Gransden got involved and took on the project. He and his small band took the bull by the horns and wrestled this loco back to life with its first steaming on its ‘new’ power plant being in 2002.

The launch of 1340 in September 2002 with Pete Gransden - middle

She put in 10 years of faultless service and was duly retired at the end of her boiler certification period. It was realised a few years ago that there could well be a pressing need for ‘branch line sized’ engines at Didcot and as the works was pretty full with Saints, Castles, Counties and a few others at the time(!), she was sent off site to be overhauled. The return of this tiny yet mighty beast is a welcome sight and heralds the first of a few releases back into traffic of Didcot machines which we hope to achieve in our 60th year. Bear in mind as well that she will celebrate an anniversary of her own next year - 1 and ¼ centuries old!

We are so glad to have this cheeky little engine back home where it should be, pulling trains and making people smile. Why do I say cheeky? Well, look at the illustrations of Percy in the Thomas the Tank Engine books. Now look at Trojan. See the family resemblance?

Trojan” will return to service on May 1 at a ceremony to be performed by local MP, David Johnston OBE - find out more

*New one coming soon - I haven't forgotten you Pendennis fans!

**Just like our fantastic replica of the class leader Firefly.

***If ever a company name sounded like it should be in a ‘Carry On’ movie - this is it!

****Of course you went to my blog on how to work out tractive effort and worked it out for yourself before reading this didn't you?

***** Although the 10XX series was later reused for the County Class 4-6-0s.


The Ten More Things Treasure Hunt

As we march ever closer to the return to public operations at Didcot, we thought that we would set you off looking for another 10 interesting things. So, here is your homework for today! I don't want to hear any excuses for it being late now. Unless you are making dog food, Rover didn't eat it...

1) No. 5 Shannon is rather secretive about where she keeps her water...

Shannon is a well tank. This means that the water tank that supplies her boiler is in between her frames. The other locos in the collection all have their tanks either in a tender or in some fairly obvious water tanks on the engine itself. With one exception. Railmotor No. 93 keeps its water in a well too but this is below the passenger compartment so is slightly more difficult to describe as a true well tank. The two weird looking things either side of the boiler, in front of the cab, are the filler flaps and pipes for the tank.

2) The Original Firefly had not much in the way of brakes.

When you are in the transfer shed, looking at the beautiful broad gauge replica engines, have a look at the tender of Firefly. There you will see the handbrake handle. This was the only brake on the original locomotive. That's it. A bit scary when you consider it routinely did 60mph. Oh, and the brake blocks were made of wood so, if they got too hot, they could catch fire. Oh, and there were only brakes on that one side of the tender too.

3) No. 6023 King Edward II is wheely grateful

Sorry about the pun. If you look on the cab steps of the engine you will see a brass plaque with a list of names on it. These are all the amazing and generous people that literally got No. 6023 back on her feet again. While in the scrapyard, her rear driving wheel set was damaged and was cut up. Its remains are on display not far from Didcot Halt station. The people on this list donated the money to make the new wheels.

4) No. 6023 King Edward II is also wheely well tagged.

There I go again with the same pun... If you look at the small webs cast between the spokes on No. 6023's driving wheels, you will see each one has some letters cast into them which show each of her operators. The middle ones are marked G.W.R. (Great Western Railway), the front B.R/W (British Railways Western Region) and the rear - the new set - G.W.S. (Great Western Society).


5) The pipes on the wall in the loco shed.

So, if you look on the left hand side of the loco shed as you come in, you will see one of the holes in the wall is a bit like a shop counter. This is the oil store and the counter was used to distribute the oil to the loco crews each day. What you might not have noticed is the pipes on the wall. These pipes are used to put the various oils into the large storage tanks. How? You connect up the oil drum to the oil tank and then connect a locomotive brake to the vacuum fitting and you then use the vacuum of the locomotive brake to ‘suck’ the oil out the drum and into the tank. Clever stuff, right?!

6) Hall Class Spares

When we built No. 2999 Lady of Legend, one of the big changes was that we needed to make to No. 4942 Maindy Hall was to replace the cylinder block. There are several differences between the Hall and the early Saints that meant that if we were going to go the whole way, it needed changing. We are gluttons for punishment as you know! This means that there is a spare Hall Class Cylinder block on display. If you go towards the Railmotor Shed, opposite the mortal remains of 52XX Class 2-8-0 No. 5227, you will see it.

The cool thing is that if you look at it, It's 2 of the same casting bolted back to back. Interchangeable for left and right. Also, the small holes at the top are the valves and the larger ones at the bottom for the cylinders. You can tell which of the two rings of ports in the ends of the valves are for what. The larger ones are for the exhaust. This is because the steam has more volume once it's been used and therefore needs more space to get out of the cylinders. 

7) The Manor is a Mogul. Sort of...

We have the sole surviving Churchward 43XX Class 2-6-0 Mogul No. 5322. This much is obvious, but we do have a number of parts from some more Moguls. It's just that they aren't attached to a Mogul! When the first batch of Manor Class locomotives (including our very own No. 7808 Cookham Manor) were designed, a great deal of the mechanical components were standard, off the shelf parts. This made use of the fact that a number of the 43XX Class Moguls were being withdrawn and scrapped at the time. These parts were simply overhauled and fitted to the Manors. Have a look at No. 7808's parts. If you find a 4-figure number stamped into one of them that begins 43, 53, 63, 73 or 93 then you've found a bit of Mogul!* Get sleuthing loco detectives.

8) Diesel Railcar No. 22 is a bus.

The GWR Diesel Railcars are a quintessentially G.W.R. machine but the way they move is essentially the same as a bus of the same period. It has two AEC 9.6 litre, direct injection 6 cylinder engines with Wilson epicyclic gearboxes. These engines are almost the same as those used in London Transport buses for over 50 years. No. 22's nickname on site therefore is ‘The Bus’. Look down the sides and you will see the engine inspection panels, radiator grilles and the driveshafts going to the wheels.

9) The Teddy Bear ;was going in as the Castle was going out.

Our Class 14 diesel No. D9516 (nicknamed the Teddy Bear - look at it head on!) was completed at Swindon in October 1964. No. 4079 Pendennis Castle had been purchased for preservation by Mike Higson that same year and taken to Swindon for restoration. It is therefore probable that the two were in the works at the same time, or at least very close to the same time. There are pictures of No. 4079 in Swindon surrounded by Class 14s being built. So as one Class went out, another came in. Sadly for the Class 14, changes in B.R. meant that it was only in service with them for barely 3 ½ years. No. 4079 worked for 40 years, 16 of those under B.R. One has to wonder where the value for money for the U.K. taxpayer was...

10) The Gent's Loo

Ok, surely there is nothing interesting about the loo in the engine shed?! Well, yes there is. The first stall as you walk in has the evidence of where it was once fitted with a lock. This was because it was set aside purely for the shedmaster's, er, convenience? Clear evidence of the social hierarchy in the loco shed. Sorry ladies, this is one you can't and probably don't want to see! Gents, if you do see it, perhaps you will be flushed with success?

I'll get my coat...

Well, there we are. Another ten things that you didn't know about our incredible engines, rolling stock and their wonderful home. We are really looking forward to seeing as many of you as possible (and as safely as possible) back where you belong, enjoying our favourite place to be. It gives us, as volunteers, no greater pleasure that to see you, as visitors, smile as you walk round. Enjoying taking a train ride and soaking in the atmosphere. To see a youngster in awe as they see their first living steam engine is a regular occurrence but one that never gets old. We have (understandably) been sorely denied these ‘perks of the job’ for too long. See you soon!

*Not all of these numbers are on No. 7808. It's up to you to find out which ones!


This Is Just Purrfect

The role of shed cat has been a vital one since the start of the steam age and it’s a tradition that we proudly upkeep. Thomas and Marmalade are the latest in a long line of railway servants who we throw a light on with today’s blog. Without further amew, er, I mean ado...


Marmalade Left and Thomas Right

It is not widely known that Isambard Kingdom Brunel was a great lover of cats. His cat, Mr Rivet, was an enormous ginger tom who was known for his ability to sort nuts and bolts into appropriate sizes if rewarded with a titbit of food. This cat was a great favourite of his whole household and at the encouragement of his children, he set forth a place in his greatest venture for his feline friends. A notable difference in those early cats was that they tended to be a fair bit wider than the twentieth century examples. There were various branches of the Great Western Railway Feline Services Division (G.W.R. F.S.D.). Their primary goals were to ensure the wellbeing of the employees and passengers alike and to keep down the vermin population.

Tiddles, another broad gauge cat, used to live in the subterranean Ladies lavatory off platform 1 at Paddington

A budding young feline could become a Station Cat. They were often tasked with entertaining the children of passengers while they waited for trains and were recognisable by their shiny brass collars engraved with the animal’s name. Paddington’s F.S.D. servants were the most aspired to position and were all named after famous personalities of the G.W.R. In the same tradition as loco names, their names and numbers were reused multiple times and passed down from cat to cat. Famous names were: F.S.D.(St) Nos. 8373 Dean, 3206 Churchward, 6016 Brunel and 3631 Felix Pole.

Signal box cats were an elite group that were specially selected for their intelligence. They were trained to know when a signalman was looking tired, distracted or were incapacitated and take appropriate action. This was never more apparent when on morning of the 1st April 1898, a signalman in the Twyford East box collapsed, effectively leaving it unattended. Sensing the danger, F.S.D.(S&T) No. 9704 Tibbles leapt up and, using his paw, managed to press the bell code instrument. This alerted a neighbouring signalman who, realising the danger, managed to stop an imminent collision between a freight train and the 16:30 London to Bristol express. Tibbles became a national hero and when he passed away, aged 16 in 1907, his remains were interred in a small stone sarcophagus, under a special statue on platform 1 at Twyford station. This was removed during WW2 for safe keeping and was subsequently lost. Thankfully, it was rediscovered in the collection of famous collector Mr R. U. Fuweall and was bequeathed to the G.W.S. upon his passing in 1993. It is now safely in the hands of the GWT at Didcot.

The goods shed division only selected the fittest of the candidates as there was often a surfeit of vermin - particularly where foodstuffs were being transported. The cats in this division all had their own scorecard and the known tally of despatched vermin was kept on a small brass plate that dangled from the collar of each animal. The numbers on the plate could be swapped out and had a tiny lock on to prevent tampering. This was in response to an incident whereby the workers at Truro Goods shed had begun betting on the tally of the resident cats. One enterprising chap started changing the figures to ‘suit his own pocket’. This resulted in a fight over ill-gotten gains and a fair bit of embarrassment for the G.W.R. The top scorer of all time was F.S.D.(G.D.) No. 8996 Lightning whom in 1934 got a yearly total of 1,505 pests dispatched from Bristol Goods shed.

The division of most interest to us is of course the loco shed cat. They had myriad duties including the obvious pest control but also training the shed crews to watch where they were putting their feet. Steam locomotives sheds were dangerous places in the dark and a well-placed cat could serve a timely warning to keep your eyes open. The next thing you tripped over could land you at the bottom of an inspection pit or turntable well... A tradition after about 1910 was to have your shed’s cat wear a collar emblazoned with the sheds letter code on it (Didcot’s cats for example wore DID). In B.R. days this was changed to a small brass tag with the updated codes on (81E for Didcot). The other great tradition was that they were named after locomotive classes. Cats that have appeared on Didcot’s roster over the years include F.S.D.(L.D.) Nos. 4414 Barnum, 2755 Firefly and the sadly short lived 7966 Great Bear.

The most famous of all the shed cats is without doubt F.S.D.(L.D.) No. 2235 Mogul of Plymouth Laira shed. Being a wartime cat, his fur was the specified unlined black. On the night of the 1st April 1942, an air raid by the Luftwaffe had seen a great deal of bombs dropped on the area around the shed. Once emerging from their shelters, the loco staff were confronted by Mogul, who refused to let any of the clerical workers or even the shedmaster himself back into their offices. He deliberately tripped up the boilersmith AND the fitter after they were tasked with moving him out of the way. One of the fireman had been sent to get a cab weather sheet to place over and capture the seemingly irate moggy when he looked in the window of the office as he went past. There he got the shock of his life as sat in the middle of the room was an unexploded German bomb. Mogul almost certainly saved a good few lives that day. The PDSA Dickin Medal was instituted in 1943 to honour the work of animals in World War II. Mogul received his in 1945 and gained special dispensation from management to wear the medal ribbon bands proudly on his collar for the rest of his career.

While there was always a certain amount of friction against the F.S.D. - mainly from the C.S.D. (Canine Services Division) - the service continued well into the B.R. era, finally falling victim to the budget cuts and service withdrawals of the Beeching era. They never ate the chocolate but they always seemed to get the cream. The memory of these amazing, clever and sometimes brave examples of Felis Catus continues to be perpetuated by us at Didcot and at a number of heritage railways around the country. Next time you see Marmalade or Thomas strolling around the site, undertaking their duties, pause for a moment and think back to the generations of their kind that came before. Oh, and the Blog Team hope you all had a great April Fools’ Day...


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