by Cliff Thomas

GWS stars boost Didcot numbers

Published: 16th August 2013

Didcot Railway Centre has seen a big boost in visitor numbers.

The return to Didcot of The Great Western Society’s high profile restorations, blue ‘King’ No. 6023 King Edward II (which was completred and run in at the Great Central Railway) and Railmotor No. 93 accompanied by matching trailer No. 92 (restoration of the trailer having been completed at the Llangollen Railway) seem to have helped get the Centre’s season off to an terrific start with visitor figures 16% up on last year.

No. 6023 and the Railmotor/trailer will remain at Didcot through the summer, although they will not necessarily be in steam on the same dates – check for operating details.

Railmotor’s August steamings

The only confirmed visit for the Railmotor in 2013 is to the Barry Tourist Railway (without trailer) where it will be steamed for the August 31-September 1 ‘Barry At War Weekend’ and at Christmas. For next year, it has been booked to appear at the Severn Valley Railway’s 2014 spring gala.

There are no present arrangements for No. 6023 to run anywhere other than at Didcot. Crucial discussions currently in progress concern whether it will be operated on the main line. Running on the national network was certainly envisaged during restoration of the ‘King’, but the delays encountered in getting No. 6023 into top notch operating condition have had a significant impact, not least in it not being registered in time to qualify for free fitting of GSMR equipment. Such equipment (with a price tag in the £20-30,000 range) will be required if main line running is to be achieved – and that raises questions over whether such expenditure could be recovered in operating fees.

Didcot ‘becomes’ Plymouth Laira in the 1950s

Didcot has entertained a series of photo charters during June/July. Capitalising on the period when ‘King’ No. 6023 King Edward II carried its blue livery and with Didcot’s GWR 2-6-0 No. 5322 also currently carrying a BR black livery, the charters aimed to create the look of Plymouth Laira shed in the 1950s.

To add a third period-correct loco, the charter organisers also requested that the GWS’s out of ticket 0-4-2T No. 4866/1466 be repainted black. This loco is something of a Didcot icon – its purchase direct from BR in 1964 after three years of fundraising by four schoolboys led to the formation of the Great Western Society and, a few years later, the advent of Didcot Railway Centre.

Until 1946 the loco was No. 4866 but BR re-numbered Nos. 4800-4874 as Nos. 1400-1474 that year. It initially ran at Didcot in black as No. 1466 but following repairs during 1998 it returned to service in 1999 in its 1936 GWR green livery as No. 4866.

It was withdrawn in 2000 needing significant boiler attention and is awaiting its third major overhaul in preservation, but a fund has been established aimed at ensuring its return to steam for 2017, the 50th anniversary of the society moving into the Didcot site. While it is now BR black, expect it to return under its own power as GWR green No. 1466.

Lottery cash to be sought for coaling stage

The Great Western Society is putting together a bid for Heritage Lottery cash to help with restoration of Didcot’s coaling stage and water tank. The distinctive structure is a Listed building in need of attention, but no work can start until the application has (one hopes) secured HLF approval.

Meanwhile, the exterior of Didcot’s museum extension should be finished by the end of this year, followed by completion of the interior and fitting out early in 2014. Later this year work will commence on the first stages of re-erecting Wantage bus garage, an ex-GWR wooden building was dismantled some years ago and put in store. It will be put up on the ‘Centre Sidings’ land at Didcot and house ex-GWR horse drays.

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