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Going Loco

BLOG - A closer look at our collection of historic locomotives

With a collection of locomotives dating from Victorian times to the 1960s, there's plenty to discover.



We’re NOT going on a summer holiday...

(With sincerest apologies to Cliff Richard)

As it’s English Tourism Week, and there can’t be too much of the real thing going on right now, we thought that we would take you on a virtual journey with the aid of our GWR locomotive collection. Of course, Brunel’s original intention was to have the trains meet the steamships at Bristol and that GWR took you to New York but we digress. Let’s see how far we can get from Didcot. The rule is that it has to be a GWR loco that is definitely named after a place (not a historical or mythical figure) that actually exists. Join us if you will...

There is a whole plethora of suggestions of places to visit and indeed many of the locomotives were named after tourist attractions that the GWR could help you reach. Canny folk these old school GWR types - subliminal messaging on the engines... As classes got bigger and bigger, the net got cast wider and wider as examples on the GWR network dried up. This is particularly apparent in the Halls and Castles. Let’s have a look at the engines in our collection named after places and see if we can get provide some inspiration for you when normal travel and tourism resumes - after you have visited Didcot Railway Centre of course!

Cookham Manor (No. 7808) isn’t an easy one to tie down as a destination as there really isn’t a specific building called Cookham Manor today. There are a few buildings that could well have acted as the local manor house but as these are all private dwellings or businesses, we had better not direct you tourists there... So, breaking the rules slightly, having a look in the excellent Stanley Spencer Museum and then a bite to eat and a drink in one of the many pubs and restaurants in the little high street there is your best bet frankly! It’s only about 30 miles from Didcot as the crow flies and it’s rail connected too by the former and indeed our friends in the modern GWR.


Hinderton Hall (No. 5900) is just outside Neaston in Cheshire. It is notable in that it was designed in 1856 by noted architect Alfred Waterhouse who you may know from his work on the Natural History Museum in London and Manchester Town Hall. It has been used as offices in the past and is now open for events and functions. This gets us out to 186 miles from the centre.


Burton Agnes Hall’s (No. 6998) namesake is in Yorkshire. It was built for Sir Henry Griffith between 1601 to 1610 and it stands adjacent to the still surviving Norman Manor House from 1173. In immaculate condition, it is normally open for visitors and events venue and is 212 miles from our little corner of Oxfordshire.


Drysllwyn Castle (a.k.a. Earl Bathurst, No. 5051) is sited on a small rocky hill between Carmarthen and Llandeilo. This is English Tourism week so we can’t go into depth here. Sneaky website address below however - quite interesting, shhhhh! That gets us 165 miles from home shed.


Also in Wales, The County of Glamorgan (No. 1014) has a lot of great attractions in it and although our initial inspiration was English Tourism Week, we have included a link to their tourist website below. To give us our measurement, Barry Island where the former site of the famous Scrapyards is would be about a 122 mile journey from Didcot.

The frames of our County replica return us to England as they come from Willington Hall (No. 7927). The building is in Cheshire and is a grade II listed structure built in the Neo-Elizabethan style in 1829. Its slightly smaller that it was as originally built and is used today as a hotel which requires any of us at Didcot to have to travel 158 miles if we want to stay there.


Pendennis Castle (No. 4079) is an artillery fort built on the orders of King Henry VIII (No. 6013 - not preserved but we just couldn’t resist it!) between 1540 and 1542. It is situated just outside Falmouth in Cornwall and was under siege in the English Civil war by the parliamentary forces who were led by Oliver Cromwell (No. 70013 - in the NRM collection. We promise to stop now...). It is a English Heritage property and a trip there from 81E will be one of 255 miles, giving us our local distance champion!


Just for fun, let’s look a beyond our collection and open the history books. The Star Classes. There have been two. The first set of engines were broad gauge, built near to the middle of the 19th Century. The second were standard gauge, built in the early 20th Century. They followed basically the same set of names. Sadly, not all of the Star Class names refer to specific celestial bodies (eg: Red Star or Rising Star) but for certain we can definitely tie down these few to specific heavenly objects.

The perennial favourite Evening Star (built in 1839 or 1907 or by BR as a Class 9F 2-10-0* in 1960) is an alternative name for the planet Venus and is about 25,000,000 miles away. Morning Star (1839 or 1907) is possibly confusingly also named after Venus. You can then have Dog Star (1839 or 1907) which refers to Sirius which is in the constellation Canis Major - hence the name. Actually, it’s a binary star made of the larger Sirius A and the smaller white Dwarf Sirius B. One of the closest of our stellar neighbours, it’s at a distance of 8.6 light years or 50,560,000,000,000 miles away. Which would have taken our weekend getaway destination crown, if it were not for our winner.


Which smashes it out of the park. . .

North Star (1837 or 1906), Polar Star (1840 or 1907) and Lode Star** (1841 or 1907*) all refer, in one way or another to Polaris. The Pole Star, beloved of navigators here on Earth due to its brightness and position approximately above the North Pole. It is, wait for it, about 433 light years away. That is a staggering 2,545,000,000,000,000 miles away from Didcot.

This post was done with the most cursory of glances, so for a bit of lock down fun, but it’s now your turn. How much further from Didcot than our loco names could you travel on a GWR name plate? There are four categories:

English destinations

Other U.K. place names

International travel


The loco need not be preserved. It has to be definitely named after a real place and may not be something that was probably named after something else - for example the broad gauge engine Mars or Jupiter were named after the Roman gods and not the planets. Please post your answers on our Facebook page. Over to you...


*Both No. 4003 Lode Star and No. 92220 Evening Star are part of the National Collection along with No. 70013 Oliver Cromwell. Please consult their website to find out where they are currently located.

** The word lodestar (it can be spelt without the space as well) can also be a used to describe any star that can be used as a navigational reference point but its etymological origin is as an archaic name for Polaris. This is from the archaic word lode which means way, path or road. Which brings this footnote full-circle...



A valve by any other name could be a gear?

Let’s dive under the skin of our locos for today’s blog post! There are lots of valves on a steam locomotive. Arguably, the most important are the two on top of the boiler - the safety valves. These allow an excess of steam pressure to be released if it goes too high. Without these, things could go very wrong - quickly... We will save boiler talk for another day, however. There are valves that control the whistles. It was not unknown for, on rare occasions, these valves to get stuck open. Imagine the noise! There isn’t any easy way to stop it while the engine is in steam either. Today, let’s look at the valves that make the engines go: the ones next to the cylinders.

These valves do a two-fold job. They allow the fresh or live steam from the boiler into the side of the piston so it can push on it. It also opens the exhaust port to allow the steam that has been used on the other side of the piston to escape up the chimney and make that lovely noise we all like to hear(!). These valves are moved backwards and forwards by the valve gear - a complex subject in its own right. Through the valve gear, we can make changes to the way the valves operate. In the same way a car has gears, a steam engine has a similar sort of setting called cut off. This is controlled by the reverser. The reverser can be either the pole type - a long lever with just a few settings on it but quick to use or a screw type which has a huge range of different settings, adjusted by winding a handle. This takes more time and effort to operate, however. Later passenger and mixed traffic engines as a rule had screw reversers. Engines that primarily did slower goods work or shunting that needed to change direction frequently have pole reversers. As she is based on an earlier passenger loco, No. 2999 “Lady of Legend”, bucks this trend and has a pole reverser! (Iron) horses for courses...

Just like a car, you pull away in the equivalent of 1st gear which is, on a steam engine, is usually marked off on the reverser at 75%. This means that for 75% of the total distance that the piston travels from one end of the cylinder to the other, live steam is being allowed to push on it. So, Lady of Legend has a piston stroke of 30” (762mm). At 75% cut off, when the piston starts its journey down the cylinder, live steam will be injected until the piston gets to a point 22.5” (571.5mm) or 75% along its travel to the other end. The final 25% of the journey is to allow the steam to do its work and expand.

Now you don’t drive your car around in first gear (we hope...) and likewise, you don’t do the same with a steam engine. If you left the engine in 75% cut off, you will empty the boiler of steam very quickly and end up with a very grumpy fireman. So, what you do is to go ‘up the gears’ by reducing the cut off. So, as you accelerate your express train out of Paddington, you go through 50% to a cruising speed of, perhaps, around 70 to 80 miles an hour at roughly 25% cut off. At these low cut offs, the idea is that the locomotive has overcome the weight of the train and is now just keeping it rolling. This requires less energy. So, the valve is now only allowing steam in for just 7.5” (190.5mm) or 25% of the pistons travel. The amount of steam going in is less and the steam is being allowed to expand much further. This is much more efficient.

If the engine starts to work harder going up a hill for example, the driver will increase the cut off and the fireman will have to work that bit harder to keep up. He should of course get a bit of relief on the other side of the hill as when it rolls down with the help of gravity. Thank you Sir Issac Newton...

Don’t forget that steam loco pistons are double acting. Unlike in a car engine, a steam locomotive piston is driven in both directions. Forwards and backwards. That’s two changes of direction in one revolution of the wheel per piston. That’s four very precise changes of valve position and therefore piston direction for every revolution of the driving wheels for a two-cylinder engine like No. 2999. With four Cylinders machines like our King or Castles, you need eight very accurate changes per revolution. Now consider how many revolutions per second are being done by the wheels of that King or Castle if it was going all out at 100mph...

This photograph shows No 7018 soon after she was the first of the Castle class to be fitted with double chimney in May 1956. She is hauling the Torbay Express from London to Kingswear, and under test with cables leading from the smokebox to the dynamometer car which is the leading vehicle in the train.



Taking The Water

Amongst the varied collection at the Railway Centre, we have a rather unusual piece of steel channel which is currently tucked out of the way in the corner close to our Science of Railways carriages

The item in question is a short section of water trough. These were located at strategic points on the Great Western Railway to allow steam locomotives to pick up water on the move and thereby eliminating the need to stop to fill up.

The nearest set of troughs to Didcot were situated at Pangbourne, about 12 miles away as the crow flies and around 17 minutes by stopping train. All four lines were equipped with the troughs, which were fed by water from a small treatment plant situated next to the railway.

To pick up water the fireman would lower a scoop underneath the locomotive’s tender scoop once the tender was over the trough, and raise it when the water indicator showed the tank approaching full and definitely before the end of the trough. If the fireman was slow in retracting the scoop, the tender would overflow from the rear filler and deluge the leading coach of the train!

The following is an abbreviated extract from the GWR’s instructions to enginemen:

The speed when putting in the scoop to pick up water must not exceed 50mph. The water will go into the tender when the speed is about 20mph and no more will be picked up at 50mph than at 25 or 30, but rather less, because at the higher speed the water heap up at the back of the tank and overflows before it has time to settle down level.

Doubling the speed more than doubles the pressure of the water on the nose of the scoop. At 30mph the pressure on the scoop when in the water is about 5cwt ad 60mph the pressure is 20cwt

Drivers should examine and try the working of the scoop when over a pit, before each trip.

As well as the section of trough, we also have a pick up scoop.  This comes from the tender of 6023 “King Edward II” and was removed when there was a possibility that the locomotive could operate on Network Rail. As the Society can reach more visitors by hiring locomotives to other heritage railways, the scoop will be refitted to 6023’s tender, another step in increasing the authenticity of the locomotive’s condition.

Photographs show trains picking up water at Goring troughs.





No. 3822 – Built To Serve

Sitting in the running shed at Didcot is a huge and powerful beast. At the moment, she is resting, awaiting her moment in the works again after the Heavy Freight Gang has finished the restoration of No. 7202. This locomotive, despite being one of the youngest engines in the shed has an impressive history.

No. 3822 is the number proudly displayed on her cab sides but as you cast your eye over this monster 2-8-0 tender locomotive a few things don’t quite add up. She is undoubtedly a GWR design. Despite her less glamorous purpose as a heavy freight locomotive, the elegant lines of the Standard No. 1 boiler and the brass safety valve bonnet clearly show this. But as you look at her, the first thing that is noticeable is that she wears an unusual livery. These locomotives were often painted black in British Railways days but she quite clearly wears the GWR legend on her tender. Furthermore, as you look up those cab sides you can see that there is a hole for a window but it’s plated over with a sheet of steel. This isn’t just a heavy freight machine - this is a war machine. This is a soldier of the home front and it’s a part of WWII history that is often overlooked.

No. 3822 is a member of the illustrious 28XX family of locomotives that date all the way back to 1903 and the first of the 2-8-0 heavy freight locomotives to appear in the UK and was designed by none other than Mr George Jackson Churchward. The prototype machine as originally numbered No. 97 but when series production began in 1905, she became the first member of the 28XX Class as No. 2800. In this first batch 84 were built, the last one - No. 2883 - appearing in 1919. When Mr Churchward’s successor, Charles Benjamin Collett, needed more heavy freight locomotives with the looming spectre of a new world war on the horizon in 1938, a slightly updated version of the spectacularly successful design called the 2884 Class began construction. Another 83 were built with the last one being turned out in 1942. The world was in a very different situation to the one that No. 97 was born into in 1903...

The railway that No. 3822 first turned her wheels on was no longer the place where speed records, luxury and glamour were the watchwords. Gone was all this to be replaced by the need to get war materiel to the right place at the right time. Gone were the traditional green liveries, replaced by the somber austerity black colour. The cab windows had been taken away and plated over in order to prevent the searchlight like glow of the fire of the engine working hard being seen by enemy aircraft, leading them in to a target. In fact the whole of the cab received a kind of heavy canvas tent like structure to prevent the light reaching the skies. A replica has been made for No. 3822 in preservation and when you see it in place you are immediately struck by the lack of two things. The ability to see out of anything but the front cab windows and the ability to get fresh air into the cab.

The position of locomotive crew was a reserve occupation in WW2. This meant that despite the call up to military service of tens of thousands of men across the country, due to the huge amount of skill and knowledge required to operate a steam locomotive on the rail network of the time, they were expected to carry on doing their jobs. Bear in mind that you are doing all this work in a cab that has become akin to an oven, that you can barely see the track ahead because of both the restricted view afforded by the screens and the blackout in general and you were doing all this on regular wartime rations. Oh yes, and your shifts are now super long too. The railway is now absolutely clogged with freight trains. It all had to be there immediately or sooner and couple that with situations whereby the track was under attack from enemy bombing raids and you get a recipe for some very extended timetables.

It wasn’t unusual for a crew to have to work a locomotive beyond its usual limits and pull loads far greater what it would do normally. If you weren’t doing that it was also not unusual for a crew to join a train in a goods loop, waiting for authorisation to proceed and twelve to fourteen hours later get of the engine perhaps having not moved at all. Hours and hours of work in dreadful conditions with a lack of food and sleep and driving along a railway that possibly ended in a bomb crater 100 yards ahead that the blackout was concealing. There was a speed restriction of 60mph in effect on the entire UK rail network as well. This didn’t help make the timetable situation any better, especially as the long, largely un-braked freight trains were limited to 25mph even before the war. Despite this, stories of trains being chased into tunnels by enemy aircraft to act as a makeshift air raid shelter were not unheard of.

The risk to life and limb wasn’t just in the cab of the locos either, each train had a guard on board. If the loco crew were caught out in an air raid, they may get a minimal amount of protection under their engine but the guard was in a wooden bodied vehicle... The UK railway was the stage for some quite remarkable acts of heroism, the best know of which has to be the sacrifice and stoicism shown by the crew of an LNER munitions train at Soham, Cambridgeshire in 1944 that caught fire. The crew of the train and the local signalman managed to uncouple the burning wagons and pull them away from the village saving many lives but at the cost of the life of Signalman Frank Bridges and Driver Benjamin Gilbert. The crater left when the small portion of the train exploded was 66 feet (20.1 m) in diameter and 15 feet (4.6 m) deep. It demolished a lot of the railway infrastructure around it including the station. In an astonishing display of resilience, there were freight trains running a mere 18 hours after the incident and a full service was running the next day.

Born into war, No. 3822 tells the story of her conflict. Along with No. 5322 (a WWI veteran), they have the privilege of carrying the history of the Great Western Railway and the two world wars. Next time you look up at them, take a moment to remember that they are in effect rolling war memorials. Whilst we today naturally remember the victory of 1945, we must never forget or take for granted the blood, sweat and tears shed in order to secure that outcome. Lives were laid down by both the enlisted personnel and those who fought on the home front, keeping the nation safe and the war machine running.

It is perhaps also fitting that we consider this aspect of the past, given the current world situation. Let us also spare a moment too for the soldiers protecting us today on the medical front line of our modern home front. Keeping them moving? The railways are helping to get those key workers to and from their battlefronts. Many of our volunteers at Didcot are also employed on the modern railway as part of their day job. The railway continues to serve.


Lest we forget...

The danger to locomotive crews was such that Didcot Shed was provided with an Air Raid Shelter to keep enginemen safe.  The original shelter now houses a AV experience so that school children and other visitors can get an impression of what it was like to ride out an enemy attack.



#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 make 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 ‘Swindonize 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.



There's nothing more quintessentially Great Western than a green pannier tank at the head of a local goods or working a short passenger train on a bucolic branch line.  While some appeared in black in GWR days, more were similarly liveried under the auspices of British Railways and several sported distinctive London Transport maroon when they were sold to that network but very few panniers appeared in blue!

Our first Going Loco blog focuses on one such rarity, 3650 which is amongst the collection Didcot. Following withdrawal in 1963, the engine was purchased by Stephenson Clarke Ltd, a private colliery operator at Gwaun-cae-Gurwen in South Wales, and painted in their distinctive blue colour, complete with bright red lettering! The guise was recreated for the loco's running in turns in 2008 after a major restoration lasting some 20 years. 

Later repainted into the more familiar green livery, the loco was a regular performer until 2016 and is currently undergoing overhaul in our workshops.

The team overhauling 3650 have compiled a photographic history of the locomotive, with an emphasis on her time at Didcot which gives an insight into the work required to keep our historic locomotives in action, and is an ideal way of discovering more while staying at home. Download 3650 Then & Now (1.6 MB .pdf file).

 Check the 3650 group's Facebook page for the latest updates.


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