Fawley Hill storming the grade. Courtesy of Cliff Thomas

Centenary Celebration in Sir Willaim McAlpines Back Garden

Published 10th June 2013

Bletchley Signalbox completes weekend of rare rail events

The 100th birthday of a one-time contractors steam locomotive brought a fabulous celebration of transport to the grounds of Fawley Hill in mid-May. Burt Bacharach and Hal David limited themselves to ‘Trains and Boats and Planes’ in their 1960s hit song. The May 18-19 celebration of transport at Sir William McAlpine’s Fawley Hill estate near Henley on Thames had no such constraints.

Trains we will come on to, but the boats (admittedly displayed on trailers rather than afloat) and planes (a succession of machines appearing overhead including that aerial icon which transfixes everyone, a Spitfire) being joined by steam traction engines and rollers, classic cars, military vehicles and, well frankly you name it – including Camels and Shire Horses.

Storming steam action

The star of the show – the event after all was centred on celebrating its 100th birthday – had to be Sir William’s Hudswell Clarke 0-6-0ST Sir Robert McAlpine & Sons No. 31 (HC1026/1913) which raised the echo’s as it stormed the fearsome gradient past his house.

The climb, said to be between 1 in 14 and 1 in 13, is believed to be the steepest on a standard gauge adhesion line in Britain. Tickets were rapidly snapped up to ride in the wagon and brake van hooked on the drawbar of a game little loco which was originally a contactors engine operated by the family business, but has run on Sir William’s private line for the last 48 years.

While Sir Robert McAlpine & Sons No. 31 worked the ‘main line’, Aveling Porter 0-4-0WT Sir Vincent 8800/1917 (visiting from David Buck’s private railway) was also in steam to provide periodic shunting demonstrations in front of Sir William’s railway museum.

Additional railway interest was provided by the Ffestiniog Railway’s Hunslet 0-4-0ST Lilla which appeared as a static exhibit during a stopover between a spell of operating at the Lynton & Barnstaple Railway in Devon and returning to its North Wales home.

Ivo Peters’ Bentley

A decidedly famous car, the 4.25 litre Mk.VI Bentley (NHY581) once owned by the late railway photographer Ivo Peters and bought by Julian Birley (a heritage railway director, owner of two steam locomotives and a past ‘Preservationist of the Year’ award recipient) was also present. What an appropriate transport link to appear at the event, the car which enabled the photographic recording of many now-lost railways, not least the Somerset & Dorset Joint Railway so loved and impeccably recorded for posterity by Ivo Peters.

And we have not even mentioned the music stage, metal casting demonstrations, fun fair………………………!

Bletchley Signalbox - The other unique railway opening on May 18

Rail fans were given a dilemma on May 18, go to Fawley Hill or visit Bletchley Signalbox. Both openings were a first and certainly Bletchley Signalbox will not be opened again anytime soon!

It was opened for four hours on Saturday May 18 by Network Rail and some of the London Midland revenue protection inspectors. The signalbox was decommissioned over Christmas and the very rare opportunity was taken to open it up before the 1960s equipment is removed. Hundreds of visitors aged between 5 and 85 years old queued to visit for a tour of the 1960s signalbox.

Old boys return!

The opening also attracted some former Bletchley signallers from decades ago who also helped explain what they did and how things worked. Everybody without exception took dozens of photographs from the unique position over the west coast main line!

Over £600 was raised on the day and the London Midland Just Giving charity scheme will match fund 50% of the total raised for The Railway Children charity. (Phil Marsh)

Two events that raised funds for charities that will long be remembered thanks to railway staff giving their time for worthy causes.

Written by Cliff Thomas and Phil Marsh

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