GWR 175 ‘unforgetable day’

Tuesday, April 20 2010

GWR Castle class 5043 Earl of Mount Edgcumbe and ‘hush-hush’ coach.
Photo White Horse Pilgrim.

(Click image to see original and read an account of The Bristolian’s run on White Horse Pilgrim blog)

The Great Western Railway was – and for tens of thousands of its devotees still is – simply the best railway in the world. The Great Western Railway Company was founded at a public meeting in Bristol in 1833, and the Act of Parliament authorizing the construction of the railway between London and Bristol received Royal Assent on 31st August 1835. It is this later date that is considered to be the ‘birthday’ of the railway and this year, a number of special events are being held this year to celebrate the GWR’s 175th anniversary.

On Saturday 17th April, Vintage Trains Limited, in partnership with First Great Western, organised one of the most memorable of the anniversary events – a recreation of the GWR named express train The Bristolian – with a non-stop train from London Paddington to Bristol and return  – the first such non-stop run since the end of British Railways steam in the 1960s. The locomotive chosen to haul the train – Castle class locomotive, 5043 was completed in March 1936 in the GWR’s Swindon works. Originally named Banbury Castle, the locomotive is nearly half as old as the GWR!

In 1937, the locomotive was renamed Earl of Mount Edgcumbe1 after one of the GWR directors. Based at Old Oak Common shed, she was a reliable and popular engine. In May 1958, in the twilight years of British Railways steam, 5043 was fitted with a double chimney which considerably improved efficiency. On 5th June 1958, the locomotive reached 98 mph on the up Bristolian.

Earl of Mount Edgcumbe received her last heavy overhaul at Swindon in February 1962. She finished her days based at Cardiff East Dock Shed where she was withdrawn from service in December 1963. She was stored until spring 1964. Was she the subject of an abortive preservation attempt like the last Peppercorn Class A1 pacific, 60145, Saint Mungo? Or was her brief reprieve because the Western Region’s locomen simply could not bear to send such a historic locomotive to her grave?

After her brief reprieve, 5043 was sold to Woodham Brothers scrap yard at Barry Island, South Wales. There together with nearly 300 other condemned locos she was slowly stripped of parts and left to rot in the corrosive sea air. In September 1973, 5043 was purchased to be a source of spares for preserved Castle class, 7029 Clun Castle. There was no thought of restoration, 5043 was to be cannibalised as necessary to keep 7029 steaming and what could not be reused would be eventually scrapped.  The loco was moved to Tyseley for safekeeping. Here many parts were removed and the stripped loco stored pending its eventual disposal.

A quarter of a century passed. During this time many seemingly ‘hopeless and impossible’ steam locomotive restorations had been proved to be realistic and achievable. Tyseley Locomotive Works had tackled a number of such projects and had developed the skills necessary to bring back 5043 to life. A feasibility study was undertaken regarding the possibility of restoring 5043 to the condition necessary to be able to run on BR’s mainlines.

In 1997 – 34 years after 5043 had been withdrawn from service by BR – Birmingham Railway Museum Trust officially launched the project to restore Earl of Mount Edgcumbe. The objectives included that the locomotive should be able to run on BR mainlines and should be restored to her late 1950’s condition with a Hawksworth tender and a BR double chimney. On 3rd October 2008, nearly 45 years after 5043 was last steamed, she moved again under her own power!

It is very fitting that 5043 was chosen to haul the non-stop Bristolian re-enactment. White Horse Pilgrim was on the train. He writes in his blog,

Today I made perhaps the most remarkable train journey of my life, one of a fortunate few passengers recreating something that has not happened in nearly half a century – the first opportunity in my lifetime to make this trip.

The event being celebrated is the 175th anniversary of the opening of the Great Western Railway, that creation of our greatest engineer Isambard Kingdom Brunel.

And sums up his trip,

I may never again have the opportunity to make such an amazing journey. So I shall remember today’s trip for the rest of my days.

So why if you are wondering what made this run so extraordinary – and believe me it was extraordinary – click on the image at the head of his article and read the whole of WHP’s account for yourself!


1 Steam locomotives, even if they are named after Earls, are always ‘she’ never ‘he’ ot ‘it’.


Unfortunately current Network Rail regulations do not allow steam locomotives to run faster in Britain than 75 mph. (Though Tornado is reported to have reached 87 mph during one of its test runs!) So there was no attempt on Saturday at beating the 98mph recorded speed that 5043 achieved during on June 3rd 1958. Since the demise of steam, water troughs, which allowed steam locomotives to pick up water while on the move, have all been removed. However 5043 was provided with an additional water tender –  a specially adapted ex motorail  coach – which made possible Saturday’s historic runs between London Paddington and Bristol Temple Meads, the likes of which had not been seen for nearly 50 years!



One comment

  1. HI calling all old loco men firemen based at TYSELEY from 1952-69. My Father was a driver there. Can any one with memories or photo’s of the late JACK ROBERTS get in touch – taffskiroberts@msn.com

    Many thanks, as I now follow in his footsteps nearly 25 yrs as a driver.

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