Published: 17th July 2015
The Talyllyn Railway Act received Royal Assent on July 5 1865. The railway has been in continuous operation since it opened, so 150 years of operating is a landmark anniversary well worth marking in style. Moreover, following formation of the Talyllyn Railway Preservation Society in 1951 the 2ft 3in gauge line became the first railway in the world to be taken over and run by a preservation society – effectively founding the railway preservation movement as we know it today.
The Talyllyn is marking its 150 years with events throughout this year but ‘The 150th Party’ over July 3-5 was always pitched as being The Big One. This, the most ambitious gala the railway has ever attempted, promised much as a series of announcements were made in the build up to this long weekend in Tywyn. The brilliantly successful event delivered everything promised – and more.
Tywyn Wharf station presented a spectacle few would ever have envisaged occurring, a pair of iconic Welsh 2ft gauge locomotives steaming beside each other alongside the TR’s 2ft 3in gauge metals.
The pair of temporary lines accommodated Ffestiniog Railway’s George England 0-4-0STT Prince and Welsh Highland Heritage Railway’s Hunslet 2-6-2T Russell. For obvious reasons of gauge, no Ffestiniog or Welsh Highland locomotive has ever previously steamed at the Talyllyn.
Prince, dating from 1863, is the oldest narrow gauge locomotive currently able to steam. Its visit placed it alongside TR’s similarly veteran original locomotives, Fletcher, Jennings pair, 0-4-2ST No. 1 Talyllyn (dating from 1864) and 1866-built 0-4-0WT No. 2 Dolgoch – the three oldest operational narrow gauge locos and surely a unique gathering of historic narrow gauge steam.
Hunslet 2-6-2T Russell (a mere whippersnapper in dating from 1906?) has been at Wharf station in the past, but not in its present glorious condition. Built for the Portmadoc, Beddgelert & South Snowdon Railway Company, which became part of the Welsh Highland Railway in 1922, in 1942 it was requisitioned and worked at an opencast ironstone site in Oxfordshire and sold post-war to work on the clay systems on Dorset’s Isle of Purbeck. Out of service in 1953, Russell was purchased (for £70!) by The Birmingham Locomotive Society and taken to Talyllyn’s Tywyn Wharf station where it remained a static exhibit until April 1965.
When it departed it was initially taken to Kinnerley, subsequently arriving at what is now Welsh Highland Heritage Railway in 1970 where it was restored to steam. Following withdrawal for what transpired to be a decade-long overhaul, Russell returned to service last summer. Half a century after leaving, it was back at Wharf, an immaculate contrast with the woebegone condition it presented when last in Tywyn.
With two guest locomotives and TR’s five operational steam locos lined up for photographs on July 3 the largest number of locomotives in steam to ever be gathered at Wharf was presented. How could the TR top that for July 4? Simple – bring out-of-ticket Hughes 0-4-2ST No. 3 Sir Haydn (awaiting dismantling for overhaul but left intact to ensure its 150 Party appearance) down from Pendre works to join the carnival.
Is eight locomotives (seven of them in steam) the largest ever assembly of steam locos at Wharf? No little debate ensued since it hinges on how one counts static exhibits in the past, but all agreed the sight was spectacular!
The participants in what could be a once-only jamboree comprised: Fletcher, Jennings 0-4-2ST No. 1 Talyllyn (TR), Fletcher, Jennings 0-4-0WT No. 2 Dolgoch (TR), Kerr Stuart 0-4-2ST No. 4 Edward Thomas (Corris, now TR), Barclay 0-4-0WT No. 6 Douglas (RAF Calshot, now TR), TR 0-4-2T No. 7 Tom Rolt (based on ex-Bord na Mona 3ft gauge Barclay), George England 0-4-0STT Prince (FR), Hunslet 2-6-2T Russell (NWNGR/WHR, now WHHR) and Hughes 0-4-2ST No. 3 Sir Haydn (Corris, now TR – static).
And to cap that? Assemble a sextuple-headed train to depart under the charge (in order from the front) of No. 7 Tom Rolt, No. 3 Sir Haydn (not in steam), No. 4 Edward Thomas, No. 6 Douglas, No. 2 Dolgoch and No. 1 Talyllyn. The leading four came off at Pendre, Nos. 1 and 2 then continuing double-headed up the line for the remainder of the trip.
Amid the ‘firsts’, records and highlights the three days presented a series of special trains and operations. July 3 featured The Sesquicentenarian train. After breaking through an appropriate banner held by actor Timothy West and TRPS President, David Mitchell, No. 1 Talyllyn hauled guests to Abergynolwyn. There, Timothy West (accompanied by his actor wife Prunella Scales) buried a time capsule filled with items assembled by local school children.
The actual date of the Talyllyn Railway Act receiving the Royal Assent was marked on July 5 by a re-enactment of The Centenarian train. Following a speech by guest of honour Lord Faulkner, President of the Heritage Railway Association, and an expression of thanks to TR volunteers and staff by TR general manager Chris Price, this train also broke through a banner (held by Lord Faulkner and David Mitchell) before departing.
Other special trains included a re-enactment of the last public pre-preservation train, a special ‘Mail Train’ carrying First Day Covers of special 150th anniversary railway stamps, demonstration goods and slate trains – and there was even a special Wedding Train slotted into the timetable on July 4 conveying a wedding party to Abergynolwyn.
The footplate crew of the next departure managed a passable rendition of ‘Here comes the bride’ on the whistles of No. 7 as they passed the wedding special at Abergynolwyn!
While the July 3-5 150th Party was the event for which all the stops were pulled out, it will be well worth visiting the Talyllyn to soak up more 150th anniversary atmosphere at the remaining special events. These are The 1865-2015 Gala (August 7-9), The Heart of Gold Weekend (August 29-31) and The Heritage Weekend (September 25-27). Each event is tailored to carry its own special flavour around the central anniversary theme.
TR’s Wharf station is a short walk from Tywyn’s national network station – the Cambrian Coast line passes at right angles within yards of the wharf which gives the Talyllyn station its name!