Published: 15th July 2016
The Talyllyn Railway opened for goods traffic in 1865 and shortly thereafter introduced passenger services. In 1951 operation of the line was taken over by the Talyllyn Railway Preservation Society, the 2ft 3in gauge line based at Tywyn on the west coast of Wales (a short walk from Tywyn’s national network station) thus became the world’s first preserved railway.
150 years of continuous passenger operation is an anniversary worthy of marking in style and the Talyllyn did just that, organising seven successful gala events over the course of 14 months. The celebratory series reached a conclusion with ‘The Grand Finale’ over July 1-3.
Central to ‘The Grand Finale’ was a celebration of the 150th birthday of TR’s Fletcher, Jennings-built 0-4-0WT No. 2 Dolgoch (63/1866), one of TR’s two original locomotives. The other original TR loco, slightly older having been delivered while the line was being built, is 0-4-2ST No. 1 Talyllyn (42/1864) – also built by Fletcher, Jennings but to a somewhat different design.
Just nine locomotives built by Fletcher, Jennings at the engineering works at Lowca, near Whitehaven in West Cumbria, survive - five in Britain of which three are operational. The others, none of which are steamable, all being abroad.
To provide a once in a lifetime event, Talyllyn Railway managed to gather all five UK-based surviving Fletcher, Jennings locos – between them encompassing three different gauges - together at Tywyn Wharf station. Not only that, all three operational survivors were in steam, Dolgoch and Talyllyn on their 2ft 3in gauge home line with Bluebell Railway’s Fletcher, Jennings 158/1877 Captain Baxter running on a specially laid temporary standard gauge line in the south yard of the station. Narrow gauge locos have occasionally appeared at standard gauge events in the past, but rail.co.uk believes a standard gauge loco steaming at a narrow gauge gala is unprecedented.
The magnificent line-up of Fletcher, Jennings products was completed by the presence of Amberley Museum’s 0-4-0T 172L/1880 Townsend Hook and its sister, Narrow Gauge Railway Museum Trust’s 173L/1880 0-4-0T William Finlay. Both 3ft 2.25in gauge locos – thought to be the only two steam locomotives in the world built to this unusual gauge - were unveiled following newly completed cosmetic restorations. Moreover, William Finlay was being seen in public for the first time in many years. Having been purchased by Narrow Gauge Railway Museum Trust last year it was taken out of storage and restored by Heritage Painting and I D Howitt Ltd. Later this year it will become an exhibit in the museum building at Tywyn.
Captain Baxter, Townsend Hook and William Finlay all originally worked for Dorking Greystone Lime Company and the trio were reunited over the weekend for the first time since Betchworth Quarries closed in 1960.
On the Saturday morning recently appointed TR general manager Tracey Parkinson accompanied by TRPS chairman Jane Garvey cut a 150th birthday cake for Dolgoch and led a spirted rendition of, ‘Happy birthday dear Dolgoch.’ The venerable birthday girl then made a similarly spirited departure from Tywyn hauling VIP’s in a train of original TR passenger stock.
As if the Fletcher, Jennings reunion at Wharf station and the astonishing sight of Captain Baxter offering steam footplate rides at the birthplace of railway preservation as we know it were not enough, the railway laid on a range of other gala attractions. These included slate trains, mixed trains and, on the Sunday, Nos. 1 and 2 hauling TR’s entire original passenger stock of four carriages and a brake van to Nant Gwernol.
Also in steam were TR’s other operational steam locomotives, Kerr Stuart 0-4-2ST Edward Thomas, Barclay 0-4-0WT Douglas and Barclay/TR 0-4-2T Tom Rolt. More steam, albeit small scale, could be found on the Llechfan Garden Railway associated with the Talyllyn’s volunteer accommodation at Wharf were a garden railway gala was in full swing.
A fascinating booklet entitled The Lowca Legacy penned by National Railway Museum Senior Curator, Anthony Coulls, was launched at the event. All profits from sales of the booklet will go towards the Narrow Gauge Railway Museum Trust’s appeal to cover the cost of purchasing and cosmetically restoring William Finlay.