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Brunelís Descendants Help with Building Restoration

Didcot volunteers, Tom Sweeney, Alan Whiffen and Ann Middleton, flank Zeb and Jim Noble, with the newly laid stone in the foreground.

On Wednesday 12th June the Great Western Society were delighted to welcome Isambard Kingdom Brunel's great-great-great-grandson, Jim Noble, and Jim’s son Zeb to lay one of the first plinth stones for our new station building at Oxford Road. We considered Jim to be the ideal person to perform this role for a Brunel inspired 1850s station building.

Jim has been a great supporter of Didcot Railway Centre. In 2010 he donned his stovepipe hat and led the parade at Didcot Christmas Street Fair and he also joined the celebrations for the 175th anniversary of the opening of the Didcot to Oxford line in 2019.

Heyford station building is a typical early Great Western Railway structure, based on Brunel’s design for the station at Box. These early stations feature a recessed section on the platform side, a substantial booking office porch and a canopy running all around the building. The cast canopy brackets are attractive items of Victorian ironwork capped with a lion's head mask filling the depth of the valance. Such buildings featured at, amongst other places, Aynho, Kidlington and Heyford.

Heyford station was donated to the Great Western Society in 1986, on the basis that we had to dismantle it and remove it from site! This was done by a team of volunteers, within a few months, since when an incomplete kit of building materials has rested around the railway centre generally looking untidy and getting in the way!

In the last few years much volunteer thought and effort has been dedicated to finally, reconstructing the building in its new home, and after some three year’s work clearing and preparing the ground, casting the massive reinforced concrete foundations and installing ducts and pipes for services, the building is finally starting to rise above ground level.

The plinth stones are newly cut stone, as the originals were so massive that they had to be left in the ground when the station was demolished. We have been fortunate that a benefactor provided a specific legacy to allow new stones to be cut, in the style of the originals. The new stones are significantly smaller than the originals, not needing to fill the full thickness of the walls (as the new building will feature a cavity wall) and separated into two layers horizontally to allow for the insertion of a damp-proof course. They are, however, by no means small, with many at over a third of a ton!

The stone laying is being undertaken by our contractor, who will be working with the volunteer team over the summer months. 

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