Avon Valley Railway holds biggest ever gala event over two days featuring four locomotives.
In recent years the Avon Valley Railway has steadily developed a gala event to close its main operating season. Its 2011 affair was the biggest yet, running over two days for the first time and all-steam involving four locomotives. As it transpired, a problem with a home-based loco (Polish 0-6-0T TkH No. 4015 Karel) also meant the line entertained three visiting steam locomotives.
Topping the bill for the October 15-16 2011 event was the Mid-Hants Railway’s ‘Black Five’ No. 45379. A big locomotive for the three-mile line for sure, but not a stranger to Bitton station, the hub of AVR operations. The 1937-built ‘Black Five’ was withdrawn by BR in July 1965 and entered Barry scrapyard the following October.
It languished in the South Wales seaside air until May 1974 when members of the Bristol Suburban Railway Society (predecessor of today’s AVR) bought it and took it to Bitton.
In the early years of the AVR several large locomotives rescued from scrapping found a refuge at Bitton and over time most, for varying reasons, have moved on. After staying at Bitton through the 1970s and 1980s, No. 45379 departed for the Great Central Railway (Nottingham), eventually to be sold again, still un-restored, to the Mid-Hants Railway Preservation Society. It arrived at the Mid-Hants Railway in March 2002 and after a few years awaiting its turn for attention at Ropley works, September 2010 saw it return to steam for the first time in 45 years.
Little surprise then that the AVR were keen to see No. 45379 run on the Midland metals of the line which it had called home for so long after escaping the cutting torch.
While the ‘Black Five’ may have been the star, the supporting act was the South Devon Railway’s attractive outside-cylinder GWR Pannier No. 1369. For many years a Swindon works shunter, the loco subsequently found fame working the Weymouth Quay branch and later, while based at Wadebridge shed handling china clay trains on the Wenford Bridge branch in Cornwall.
The third of the visiting trio was Llangollen Railway-based Hunslet 0-6-0ST Jessie (HE1873/37) – brought in to handle turns which would have been undertaken by out of action AVR-based TkH Karel – with the fourth loco being Bitton resident RSH 0-6-0T 7151/1944.
While not the longest line in preservation, although if long-term plans come to fruition that will certainly change, the nature of the Avon Valley Railway with its Bitton hub roughly in the centre of a line which goes to Oldland Common in one direction and Avon Riverside in the other provided constant steam action.
Two passenger trains ran, plus a demonstration freight, with motive power swapped around between the three trains. Although a mishap on the Saturday morning took the passing loop at Bitton out of action for a time, regular crossing of services at the main station kept the considerable crowds fully entertained under the autumn sunshine.