Published: 5th May 2015
The April 13 visit to the Severn Valley Railway commenced at Bewdley station where HRH The Princess Royal was greeted by Mayor of Bewdley, Cllr Derek Killingworth. Looking on were volunteer staff and children from Bewdley Primary School.
Following a summary of the flood damage repair programme, the focus of the last Royal Visit to the SVR made by HRH the Prince of Wales and the Duchess of Cornwall in 2008, The Princess was introduced to an enthusiastic group of SVR pioneers, the station staff and younger volunteers.
Although this was her first visit to the Severn Valley Railway the Princess is no stranger to steam locomotives and heritage railways, notably her local line the Gloucestershire Warwickshire Railway. She did not hesitate in accepting an invitation to board the footplate of suitably bulled-up No. 7812 Erlestoke Manor to ride to Kidderminster. On arrival, HRH The Princess Royal remained aboard the ‘Manor’ chatting with driver Paul Fathers and fireman Ryan Green about the ins and outs of driving and firing a steam engine.
The SVR is currently celebrating its 50th anniversary. Waiting to greet the Princess were Keith Beddoes, Christopher George, Columb Howell and Roger Hobson - four of the young railway enthusiasts who had gathered in their local pub half a century ago and decided to re-open the line which was closed in 1963. The welcome party at Kidderminster also included an enthusiastic, flag-waving group of children and teachers from Comberton Primary School.
The Princess Royal was asked to unveil a plaque celebrating 50 years of the SVR. While the sun was shining, a gust of wind blew the curtain covering the plaque apart before the ‘official’ unveiling – a natural intervention which much amused both Princess and on-lookers!
With the anniversary plaque properly unveiled, The Princess made a short speech congratulating the SVR on its Golden Jubilee and thanking all those involved in the visit, describing the footplate ride as, “a real treat”. She then signed the visitors’ book and was presented with a billy can and whistle as a memento of her footplate experience.
The ceremonial aspects of the visit were followed by a tour of the Carriage Works at Kidderminster during which HRH The Princess Royal met volunteers and young apprentices from the Heritage Skills Training Academy, one of a range of key projects financed by the fundraising efforts of the SVR Charitable Trust and the SVR’s 2012 Share Offer scheme. The tour included apprentices demonstrating their work in the upholstery shop, paint shop and on the mechanical floor.
The SVR Charitable Trust is currently raising money to fund the 2015 intake of apprentices to its Heritage Training Skills Academy. Anyone who would like to make a donation can visit www.svrtrust.org.uk and click the ‘donate now’ button.
“It was a true delight to welcome HRH The Princess Royal to The SVR – she is very engaging, enthusiastic and friendly and is extremely knowledgeable about steam railways and engineering, commented SVR General Manager, Nick Ralls. “She was extremely complimentary about our buildings, personnel and achievements and was more than happy to chat to volunteers about steam locomotives. She seemed to enjoy her footplate experience so much that it looked like she could have stayed up there chatting to our volunteers for much longer if she didn’t have a tight schedule to keep to!”
This may have been The Princess Royal’s first visit to the railway, but the SVR is no stranger to Royal guests. HRH the Duke of Gloucester has been its patron since 1998 and visited several times, including to officially open The Engine House Visitor Centre at Highley in 2009.
HRH Prince and Princess Michael of Kent visited in 1993 aboard the Orient Express, Princess Alexandra has visited in a personal capacity and HRH The Prince of Wales and the Duchess of Cornwall came to celebrate the re-opening of the line in 2008 following the extensive works to repair damage caused during the dreadful 2007 floods.