Published: 19th June 2015
The steel-framed half-brick four-road locomotive shed at Didcot was completed in June 1932 by the Great Western Railway. It officially closed as a steam shed on Monday 14 June 1965, the final three locomotives having left the previous day – No. 7816 Frilsham Manor towing two ‘Hall’ class locomotives to Oxford shed. Shed staff were photographed waving goodbye, the Didcot Advertiser of June 17 captioning the sight of the departing locomotives as, “one which will never be seen again."
Half a century later, the sight certainly was seen again. The image was recreated, 50 years later to the day, this time placing No. 7808 Cookham Manor in the same position at the engine shed doors with a gang of workers to replicate waving goodbye.
While the precise scene was a recreation of events 50 years earlier, the fact is locomotives have been steaming out of the shed for many years after it had officially closed. The Great Western Society took over the former GWR (and later BR) locomotive depot in 1967 and have progressively developed the site into a top-class heritage railway attraction. In fact, Frank Dumbleton, the photographer who recorded the recreation, confirms the image had to be tightly cropped so no other locomotives were visible in the picture!
An intriguing twist to the ‘final’ departure is that one of the locomotives hauled away by Frilsham Manor on 14 June 1965 was No. 7927 Willington Hall. This locomotive is now partially back at Didcot, its frames and cylinders being incorporated in construction of new-build ‘County’ No. 1014 County of Glamorgan.
National Railway Museum’s 1985-built broad gauge replica 4-2-2 Iron Duke received an appropriate spruce up in preparation for the 18 June 200th anniversary of the Battle of Waterloo. The original Iron Duke was built at Swindon Works in 1847. With 8ft diameter driving wheels and 7ft 0¼in gauge, the ‘Iron Duke’ class were giants compared with other locomotive of the time.
The Duke of Wellington – the ‘Iron Duke’ - commanded the armies which defeated Napoleon Bonaparte's forces in 1815 at the Battle of Waterloo. This battle decisively ended the wars that had convulsed Europe since the French Revolution in the early 1790s, ushering in a period of relative peace, material prosperity and technological progress during which the railways were developed in Britain.
The replica Iron Duke was built (utilising components from two Hunslet ‘Austerity’ 0-6-0STs) for the NRM to commemorate the 150th anniversary of the Great Western Railway and for a period ran on a length of broad gauge track at the NRM’s York museum hauling replica broad gauge carriages. Subsequent to expiry of its boiler ticket it was displayed at Toddington during the Gloucestershire Warwickshire Railway’s GWR175 gala in 2010 and in December 2013 arrived on loan to Didcot Railway Centre. Presently a static display at Didcot’s broad gauge Transfer Shed, there are aspirations to undertake an overhaul and return it to steam.