by Cliff Thomas

Vale of Rheidol’s biggest-ever event – read all about it!

Published: 29th July 2015

September promises to be a big month for narrow gauge lines in mid-Wales

Vale of Rheidol Railway is organising the biggest enthusiast event ever held by the 2ft gauge line. September 26-27 is billed as a Steam Festival rather than a gala, but without doubt will be an event to saviour.

Topping the bill

Two locomotives will make their preservation steam debuts at the Festival; VoR’s own ex-Penrhyn slate quarry Hunslet 0-4-0ST Margaret (605/1894) and privately owned Kerr Stuart ‘Sirdar’ class 0-4-0T 1158/1917 Diana. Both are in the final stages of restoration in the magnificent new works facility recently built at VoR’s Aberystwyth terminus. The works is being developed, aided by a £288,000 Coastal Communities Fund grant, as the centre of a heritage skills development project entitled ‘Our past is their future’.

Margaret – the loco which cheated the scrap man

Margaret last steamed in November 1950. By the mid-1960s Penrhyn considered she was fit only for scrap – and sold to an enthusiast on that basis. The purchaser had a similar opinion, viewing Margaret as a potential source of parts for other projects when he collected her from Coed-y-Parc in 1966.

That the collection of components to which Margaret had been reduced transformed into a restoration project is down to the late Revd E. R. (Teddy) Boston who ran the now-closed Cadeby Light Railway to which the locomotive had been taken. The restoration which had never been intended was, in the event, never completed.

Following changes of ownership work restarted and progressed until 1999 when the late Alastair Lamberton sadly died. Margaret was then purchased by Vale of Rheidol Railway which, being unaware of exactly what had been completed were obliged to dismantle her and start again. Work accelerated following completion of VoR’s new workshops with Margaret’s debut targeted for the September Steam Festival.

Diana – forestry, slate and salvation

Kerr Stuart ‘Sirdar’ class 0-4-0T 1158/1917 Diana, which spent her working days on the Kerry Tramway and at Oakeley and Pen-yr-Orsedd slate quarries, also last steamed in 1950. She is one of only two ‘Sirdar’ class locos known to exist, the other being a National Monument in Namibia.

Purchased by Denis Davies in 1978, during the 1990s Alan Keef Ltd undertook substantial work on Diana and a new boiler was constructed by Bartlett Engineering. She returned to South Wales for completion but Mr Davies died before she reached the stage of being steamed.

Diana was purchased in 2014 by Talyllyn Railway volunteer Phil Mason. Assessment of her condition revealed that seven years of open storage had taken its toll, hence Phil opted to have the VoR re-start work from scratch, Diana being the first locomotive to enter VoR’s Aberystwyth works for contract restoration.

Since arriving in July 2014 Diana has been stripped back to her frames for shot blasting followed by reassembly. The boiler has been hydraulically tested and she will also be ready for public unveiling – in her original appearance with a weather board rather than the cab added later – at the September event.

Work on Diana at the VoR is being overseen by general manager Llyr ap Olo (a.k.a ‘Shad’) – whose great-grandfather worked on Diana when she received attention at Britannia Foundry, Porthmadog, in 1945!

And there is more

In addition to Margaret’s and Diana’s steam debuts VoR core locomotives 2-6-2Ts No. 8 Llywelyn and No. 9 Prince of Wales will be handling main line trains to Devil’s Bridge and VoR’s Kerr Stuart ‘Wren’ 0-4-0ST 3114/1918 also set to be in action.

Five locomotives in steam would be a significant Vale of Rheidol event, but further visiting locomotives are expected to be announced shortly, hence our assertion of the September 26-27 Festival being the VoR’s biggest enthusiast event ever.

Opened in 1902, the 11 ¾ mile Vale of Rheidol Railway has operated a tourist passenger service between Aberystwyth and Devil's Bridge from the beginning. Noted for its scenery, sharp curves and steep gradients many view its location as providing one of the most attractive narrow gauge rides in Britain.

Contrary to the widely held view that BR steam ended in 1968, steam continued on VoR under BR auspices until 1989 when the line became the first part of BR to be privatised. Under private ownership substantial investment to secure VoR’s infrastructure and equipment has been undertaken. Although it carries over 50,000 visitors a year, from an enthusiast viewpoint the railway has rather hidden its undoubted light under a bushel until recent times.

That is significantly changing as a series of developments raise the lines profile. The Steam Festival follows on the heels of the acclaimed visit of the Ffestiniog Railway’s George England 0-4-0STT Palmerston in autumn 2014. The September Festival is going to be a ‘must’ - watch these pages for updates!

Moreover, VoR is easily reached by rail, its terminus being shared with Aberystwyth’s national network station which now enjoys an enhanced service to the West Midlands.

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