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Didcot Railway Centre

Didcot Railway Centre is a former Great Western Railway engine-shed and locomotive stabling point located in Didcot, Oxfordshire, England, which today has been converted into a railway museum and preservation engineering site.

Didcot Railway Centre
Didcot Railway Centre.JPG
General view, including engine sheds, of part of the site
Established1967
LocationDidcot, Oxfordshire, England
Coordinates51°36′49″N 1°14′41″W / 51.613509°N 1.244772°W / 51.613509; -1.244772Coordinates: 51°36′49″N 1°14′41″W / 51.613509°N 1.244772°W / 51.613509; -1.244772
TypeOperational Railway museum
Key holdingsGWR 6000 Class No.6023 King Edward II
GWR 4073 Class No.4079 Pendennis Castle
GWR Firefly Class Firefly
OwnerGreat Western Society (site leased from Network Rail)
Public transit accessDidcot Parkway station
WebsiteDidcot Railway Centre
Reconstructed mixed-gauge, 1,435 mm (4 ft 8 12 in) standard gauge / 7 ft 14 in (2,140 mm) track

Contents

BackgroundEdit

The founders and commercial backers of the GWR supported Isambard Kingdom Brunel's scheme to develop an integrated railway and steam-ship service which allowed trans-Atlantic passengers and freight quicker passage to and from London to New York City. However, whilst backing the scheme the railway had to make a profit, and so it took a number of detours and added both mainline and branchline traffic to increase its domestic earnings. This earned the railway the nickname The Great Way Round from its detractors.[1]

Whilst the route from London Paddington to Reading was relatively straight, the then obvious most direct route to Bristol would have taken the railway further south, thus avoiding both Didcot and Swindon. However, passenger and freight traffic both to and from Oxford and onwards to the West Midlands in part dictated a more northerly route. Secondly Brunel had originally planned to cut through Savernake Forest near Marlborough, Wiltshire to Bristol, but the Marquess of Ailesbury, who owned the land, objected - having previously objected to part of the Kennet and Avon Canal running through his estate (see Bruce Tunnel). With the railway needing to run near to a canal at its midpoint - as it was cheaper to transport coal for trains along canals at this time - and with need for the branch northwards to Cheltenham via Stroud, Swindon was the next logical choice for the junction (and later railway works), 20 miles (32 km) north of the original route. This dictated that the Oxford junction also be moved northwards, and hence via Didcot.[1] The Great Western Railway built the first rail line through Didcot in 1839 and opened its first station in 1844.

ConstructionEdit

 
Didcot Railway Centre, Oct 2001

Due to the technical operational difficulties of running and maintaining a mainline service from London to Bristol, as well as the need for servicing locomotives going to Oxford, Didcot became an obvious midpoint maintenance and stabling point. Having built a timber-framed 7 ft 14 in (2,140 mm) broad gauge shed on the original site during the railways development west in the 1800s, in June 1932 a new steel-framed half-brick 4-road through shed (210 by 67 feet (64 m × 20 m)), was completed by the GWR under the Loans and Guarantees Act (1929). With shed code DID, it also included a repair shop (84 by 42 feet (26 m × 13 m)), coaling stage (43 by 36 feet (13 m × 11 m)), sand furnace (10 by 10 feet (3.0 m × 3.0 m)) and 65 feet (20 m) turntable plus associated offices (210 by 15 feet (64.0 m × 4.6 m)).[1] During World War II, a standard steel-framed with corrugated tin-panel covered ash shelter was erected.[1]

OperationsEdit

After World War II, the site remained virtually unchanged during the nationalised ownership of British Railways (BR), but for taking on the new code of 81E. The standard allocation of locomotives remained the same, with Halls, Dukedogs and Panniers making up the bulk of the depot's fleet.[1]

ClosureEdit

With the replacement of steam with diesel traction under the Modernisation Plan, the shed became redundant and was closed in June 1965.[1]

Formation and site leaseEdit

The Great Western Society (GWS) was offered the use of the former Didcot locomotive depot, taking it over in 1967. In the 1970s, the Society negotiated a long-term lease with BR which was to expire in 2019. But this was subject to a six-month termination clause which could force the GWS to quit the site, and which could be operated at any point in time by lease-holder Network Rail (NR).

In an attempt to secure a long-term future for the society, in 2002 the GWS opened negotiations with NR to either purchase the site or extend the lease. In a letter dated May 2007, NR informed the GWS that they were prepared to sell the site subject to Office of Rail Regulation (ORR) approval. It had been thought the site could be subject to need as a depot, either due to: the rebuilding of Reading station; a Crossrail project depot; or the Intercity Express Programme. After expressing some concern at the slow speed of negotiations at the GWS annual meeting in September 2008, NR wrote to the GWS to advise that the site was no longer available for sale, and although a lease extension was still on offer it was still subject to the previous six-month termination clause. The GWS then wrote to their local MP Ed Vaizey, and placed any long term development plans on hold.[2] As of 6 October 2011 Richard Croucher (Chairman of the Great Western Society) signed a new 50-year lease with Network Rail, therefore preserving the site for at least another 50 years.

Museum and railway centreEdit

 
Travelling Post Office
 
A reconstruction of Isambard Kingdom Brunel's atmospheric railway, using a segment of the original piping at Didcot Railway Centre
Railways around Didcot
Moreton Junction
Main to relief line crossovers
Didcot East Junction
 
Didcot Parkway
Didcot Railway Centre
 
Didcot West Junction
 
 
 
Didcot North Junction
Foxhall Junction
Didcot Power Station
 
Milton Park

Today the GWS have developed the site, which still retains many of the original GWR buildings and features, as both a working steam locomotive and railway museum, engineering maintenance centre, and railway line offering short rides to visitors.

Access via Didcot Parkway station brings the visitor into the southern end of the site, at the start of the ramp coal wagons would take up to the coaling stage. Beyond this is the original 1932 four-road engine shed, and beyond this the original repair shed and 1988 constructed locomotive works, both of which have restricted access due to safety concerns. Beyond this lies a Ransomes & Rapier 70 feet (21 m) turntable and pit, originally built for the Southern Railway and installed at Southampton Docks.

The centre regularly holds events such as steam and diesel railcar days. Members of the Great Western Society are active in the preservation of locomotives and rolling stock. Certain 'new-build' projects to create locomotives that did not escape wholesale scrapping are also undertaken at Didcot, such as the completed Firefly locomotive, a 'Saint' class (using a 'Hall' class chassis and boiler) and a 'County' class locomotive (using a 'Hall' class chassis and an LMS '8F' class boiler).

The Railway Centre is used a period film set and has featured in works including Anna Karenina, Sherlock Holmes: A Game of Shadows and The Elephant Man.[3]

Running linesEdit

 
The former broad-gauge transfer shed is now used as a station building on the branch line
 
The broad-gauge transfer shed in its original location, with the provender store behind

There are three short lengths of running track, each with a station at both ends:

  • Branchline: starts at a typical GWR wayside halt, named Didcot Halt, and runs north on the western edge of the site towards the transshipment shed. Dating from broad gauge days, this was used for transferring goods from broad to "narrow" (i.e. 4 ft 8 12 in or 1,435 mm standard gauge) rolling stock and vice versa. It was moved to its present location carefully from its nearby original site.
  • Broad gauge Line: the broad gauge line of 7 ft 14 in (2,140 mm) starts from the transshipment shed, and runs halfway back down the branchline. The 2005 replica GWR Firefly is housed within the shed when not running
  • Mainline: starts opposite the site entrance, using a pre-fabricated concrete station platform from Eynsham, and runs on the eastern-edge of the site to a newly built platform at the other. Long-term plans include the reconstruction of the Brunel-designed building from Heyford station on this platform.

AccessEdit

The railway centre is entirely surrounded by active railway lines and has no road connection of any kind. Public access is on foot from a subway at Didcot Parkway station, which links the centre by rail to London and much of southern and central England. Wheelchair and pram access is practically nonexistent; they have to be carried up a flight of concrete steps. Although this contravenes the Disability Discrimination Act, the Great Western Society is unable to improve it since the site is owned by Network Rail.

CollectionEdit

Steam LocomotivesEdit

Steam Locomotives
Class Number (&Name) Image Status Notes
RS&H 0-4-0T No.1
Bonnie Prince Charlie
  Static Display Awaiting overhaul. Painted in lined light green livery.[4]
George England 0-4-0WT No.5   Static Display Built 1857, latterly owned by the Wantage Tramway. After inspection, too much original metalwork would need to be replaced to be brought back into working order.[5]
GWR Steam Railmotor No.93   Operational Built 1908. Restoration completed in 2012. Often runs with trailer carriage No. 92.
GWR 1000 Class 1014
County of Glamorgan
Under Construction Built 1946
Kitson & Co. 0-4-0ST No.1338   Static Display Built 1898. Ex-Cardiff Railway[6]
GWR 1340 Class 1340
Trojan
  Under Overhaul Built 1897. Ex-Alexandra (Newport and South Wales) Docks and Railway. Painted in GWR green livery. Undergoing overhaul off site[7]
GWR 1361 Class 1363   Under Overhaul Built 1910. Undergoing a major overhaul with significant work being undertaken on both the boiler and frames.
GWR 1400 Class 1466   Under Overhaul[8] Built 1936. This was the first locomotive bought by the society. This locomotive is now under overhaul and is expected back in service in 2021.[9]
Hunslet 0-6-0ST No. 2409
King George
Under Overhaul Built 1942. Currently being restored and rebuilt into a Thomas the Tank Engine lookalike.
GWR 2900 Class 2999
Lady of Legend
Under Construction. Originally built 1929. Using components from No. 4942 Maindy Hall. Will run as a 4-6-0 most of its boiler ticket when complete, but will run as a 4-4-2 for periods of time.[10]
GWR 5700 Class 3650   Under Overhaul Built 1939. Undergoing a ten-yearly overhaul which began in 2018.
GWR 5700 Class 3738   Static Display Built 1937. Out of service August 2013 due to boiler crack
GWR 2884 Class 3822   Static Display Built 1940. Appeared in the Queen music video Breakthru.
GWR 4073 Class 4079
Pendennis Castle
  Under Overhaul Built 1924. This locomotive was repatriated from Australia in 2000 after spending 22 years in the country.
GWR 5101 Class 4144   Operational Built 1946. Boiler ticket expires 2025.
GWR 4073 Class 5051
Earl Bathurst
  Static Display Built 1936. Currently wearing its former name, Drysllwyn Castle.
GWR 5205 Class 5227   Static Display Built 1924. One of the Barry Ten, it was purchased in 2010 to provide parts for the construction of the new-build GWR 4700 Class No. 4709. After donating its axleboxes and fourth axle to the project, it moved to Didcot in 2013 following storage at a private site. Currently on display in ex-scrapyard condition as a reminder of the challenge that preservationists had to conquer. The boiler is to be used for the GWR 3800 Class new-build project.
GWR 4300 Class 5322   Static Display[11] Built 1917. Withdrawn in 2014 due to boiler problems, though its boiler ticket expires in 2018.
GWR 4575 Class 5572   Static Display Built 1929
GWR 4900 Class 5900
Hinderton Hall
  Static Display Built 1931
GWR 6000 Class 6023
King Edward II
  Operational Built 1930. Returned to steam in 2010 after completion of a lengthy restoration from scrapyard condition, was even originally purchased as a spares donor for sister engine 6024 King Edward I. On loan to the Dartmouth Steam Railway for the 2018 summer season. Boiler ticket expires in 2020
GWR 6100 Class 6106   Static Display Built 1931
GWR 5600 Class 6697   Static Display Built 1928
GWR 6959 Class 6998
Burton Agnes Hall
  Static Display Built 1949
GWR 7200 Class 7202   Under Restoration Built 1934
GWR 7800 Class 7808
Cookham Manor
  Static Display Built 1938
GWR Firefly Class Firefly   Static Display Built 2005. Replica of early Broad Gauge 2-2-2[12]
GWR Iron Duke Class Iron Duke   Static Display Built 1985. Replica of early Broad Gauge 4-2-2. On loan from the National Railway Museum.

Diesel LocomotivesEdit

Diesel Locomotives
Class Number (&Name) Image Status Notes
GWR Railcar No.22   Operational Built 1940
Hunslet DL 26   Operational[13] Built by Hunslet of Leeds in 1957 and arrived at Didcot in 1978. It was the only diesel shunter at the site for many years until the arrival of 08604. Most of its duties tend to be light shunting
British Rail Class 08 08604
Phantom
  Operational[14] Built Derby Works as D3771, allocated to: Longsight (9A) June 1959; Stockport Edgely (9B) July 1959; Longsight (9A) April 1965, unofficially named Ardwick; renumbered 08604 February 1974; stored Swindon Works 1981; Tyseley TMD February 1984, unofficially renamed Javelin, officially then named Phantom; Bescott November 1988; Derby Etches Park November 1992; withdrawn in July 1993. Sold to GWS and moved to DRC September 1994
British Rail Class 14 D9516   Operational Built 1964. Bought from the Wensleydale Railway in 2014.
GWR 18000 18000   Static Display Arrived 29 July 2011. Owned by Pete Waterman[15]

Other rolling stockEdit

The GWS has an extensive supporting collection of GWR rolling stock, including three of the GWR Super Saloons that serviced the boat train traffic to Plymouth.

Carriages
Type Number (&Name) Image Status Notes
Churchward Auto Trailer No. 92   Restored to run with Steam Railmotor 93. Built at Swindon, 1912.
Collett Full Brake No. 111   No current plans to restore. Built at Swindon, 1934.
Collett Auto Trailer No. 190   Built at Swindon, 1933.
Hawksworth Auto Trailer No. 231   Operational Built at Swindon, 1951
Bristol & Exeter Railway Broad Gauge Coach No. 250 Enough of body remains to reconstruct a small compartment. Built between 1852 & 1892
Dean 4w 1st 2nd Composite No.290   Restoration began in Summer of 2011. Built at Swindon, 1902
Hawksworth Passenger Brake Van No. 316   Built at Swindon, 1950
Hawksworth Passenger Brake Van No. 333 Built at Swindon, 1951. Acquired from the Gloucestershire and Warwickshire Railway.
Dean 4w Brake Third No. 416   built at Swindon, 1891
Churchward 'Monster' Carriage Truck No. 484 Built at Swindon, 1913.
Collett Third No. 536 Operational Built at Swindon, 1940
Churchward 'Python' No. 565 Currently in use as a workshop and stores vehicle. Built at Swindon, 1914.
Travelling Post Office No. 814   Not currently operational. Built at Swindon, 1940.
Dean Full Brake No. 933   Restoration was almost complete as of 2011 Built at Swindon, 1898
Dean 4-Wheel Third No. 975   Restoration complete. Restored to recreate a Victorian train. Built at Swindon, 1902.
Collett Third No. 1111 No plans to currently restore. Built at Swindon, 1938.
Medical Officers' Coach No. 1159 Originally a Churchward Passenger Brake Van - Toplight Built at Swindon, 1925.
Collett Full Brake No. 1184 Being restored. Built at Swindon, 1930.
Collett 'Excursion' Third No. 1289   built at Swindon,1937
Dean 8 Compartment Third Clerestory No. 1357 Awaiting major restoration in carriage shed. Built at Swindon, 1903.
Dean Third No. 1941   Operational. Built at Swindon, 1901.
Hawksworth Brake Third No. 2202 Operational. Built at Swindon, 1950
Hawksworth Brake Third No. 2232 Tis vehicle is initially being restored as a locker room for staff. Built at Swindon, 1950
Dean 6-wheel Family Saloon No. 2511   Operational Built at Swindon, 1894
Collett 'Siphon G' No. 2796 Restored. Operational Built at Swindon, 1937.
Churchward “Dreadnought” 9 Compartment Third No. 3299 One of the first coaches acquired by the Great Western Society. Now requires a major restoration. Built at Swindon, 1905.
Churchward Non-Corridor Brake Third No. 3755   Operational, comes out of the shed occasionally. Built at Swindon, 1921.
Churchward Non-Corridor Brake Third No. 3756 Requires restoration. Built at Swindon, 1921.
Churchward Toplight Corridor Third No. 3963 There are no current restoration plans. Built at Swindon, 1919.
Collett Third - Bow Ended No. 4553 No plans to currenly restore. Built at Swindon, 1925.
Collett 8 Compartment Bow-Ended Third No. 5085 Built at Swindon, 1928.
Collett Brake Third No. 5787 No plans to currently restore. Built at Swindon, 1933.
Collett All Third No. 5952   No plans to currently restore. Restoration may commence once 7371 has been completed. Built at Swindon, 1935.
Dean 6-Wheel Tricomposite No. 6824 Built in 1887. Was a convertible coach, originally built for the Broad Gauge.
Collett Composite No. 7285   Built at Swindon, 1941.
Collett Composite No. 7313   Restored. Built at Swindon, 1940.
Collett Brake Composite No. 7371 Under restoration. Built at Swindon, 1941.
Hawksworth Brake Composite No. 7372   Operational Built at Swindon, 1948.
Collett Brake Composite No. 7976 Built at Swindon, 1923.
Collett Special Saloon No. 9002   Operational. Built at Swindon, 1940. Used by Winston Churchill, General Eisenhower and the Royal Family during WWII.
Hawksworth First Class Sleeping Car No. 9083 Operational Built at Swindon, 1951.
Collett Super Saloon No. 9112 "Queen Mary" No current plans to restore to service Built at Swindon, 1932.
Collett Super Saloon No. 9113 "Prince of Wales" Under Restoration Built at Swindon, 1932.
Collett Super Saloon No. 9118 “Princess Elizabeth” Built at Swindon, 1932.
Dean Composite Diner No. 9520 No plans to currently restore. Built at Swindon, 1903.
Collett 'Centenary Diner' No. 9635   Built at Swindon, 1935.

Two Broad Gauge replica carriages were also made by the GWS:

Broad Gauge replica carriages
Type Number (&Name) Image Status Notes
Six-Wheeled, Second Class, Broad Gauge Covered Carriage BG1   On display Built in 1984
Six-Wheeled, Third Class, Broad Gauge Open Carriage BG2   On display
Wagons
Type Number (&Name) Image Status Notes
Six-Wheel Milk Tank S4409   Built in 1931 as four wheeler. Rebuilt in 1937 as six wheeler. Ex-Southern Railway.
Tool Van No. 1 Part of the breakdown train vehicle group. Built in 1908.
Tar Wagon No. 1 Often used in demonstration goods trains on open days. Built in 1898
6w Drinking Water Tank No. 101 Built in 1948.
Department Mess Van No. 263 Built in 1905. Rebuilt by BR from a GWR 25t brake van No. 56867.
Oil Tank Wagon No. 745   Painted in light buff with a red band with WD branding. Built in 1912 by Hurst Nelson.

ReferencesEdit

  1. ^ a b c d e f E.T. Lyons. An Historical Survey of Great Western Engine Sheds: 1837–1947. Oxford Publishing. ISBN 086093019X.
  2. ^ "Latest news – Didcot Railway Centre". Didcotrailwaycentre.org.uk. Retrieved 2012-08-07.
  3. ^ "Didcot is 'most normal town in England', researchers claim". BBC News. BBC. Retrieved 10 May 2017.
  4. ^ No. 1 – Bonnie Prince Charlie. Didcotrailwaycentre.org.uk (2007-12-25). Retrieved on 2011-03-02.
  5. ^ No.5 – Shannon/Jane. Didcotrailwaycentre.org.uk (2010-07-11). Retrieved on 2011-03-02.
  6. ^ 1338 – 0-4-0ST. Didcotrailwaycentre.org.uk (2010-11-01). Retrieved on 2011-03-02.
  7. ^ 1340 – Trojan. Didcotrailwaycentre.org.uk (2007-10-07). Retrieved on 2011-03-02.
  8. ^ "1466/4866". Didcot Railway Centre. 3 July 2013. Retrieved 8 February 2015.
  9. ^ "News Archive - 2013". Didcot Railway Centre. Didcot. 1466 'Now available in Black'. Retrieved 8 February 2015.
  10. ^ http://www.thesaintproject.co.uk/Pages/AtlanticOption.html
  11. ^ "5322". Didcot Railway Centre. Retrieved 8 February 2015.
  12. ^ Fire Fly – 2-2-2. Didcotrailwaycentre.org.uk (2010-11-27). Retrieved on 2011-03-02.
  13. ^ "DL 26". Didcot Railway Centre. 20 October 2007. Retrieved 11 March 2018.
  14. ^ "08 604 "Phantom"". Didcot Railway Centre. 19 August 2010. Retrieved 8 February 2015.
  15. ^ "News | Latest News". Didcot Railway Centre. Retrieved 2012-08-07.

External linksEdit