Moonraking…

Yesterday and today saw Chris Beet & I heading south to visit Steam – The Museum of the Great Western Railway at Swindon – in Wiltshire, hence the moonraking of the title, a local legend. The NRM has a number of artefacts on loan there, not least several items of rolling stock. It is situated in part of the former GWR works in the buildings to the left of this photo which shows the electric traverser once used to access some of the workshops.

I had not visited since 2004 and Chris had never been, so it was an ideal opportunity to meet the staff there and also acquaint ourselves with the collection items housed there. A selection of the smaller items at Steam are stored in an area called The Storehouse, very similar to the Warehouse at York, but full of Western Region and GWR related artefacts only.


The story of Swindon is intractably the story of Swindon folk, and the displays have many delightful cameos, such as these two foundrymen having a break – the set dressing makes this look like any corner of the works from its working days.

Another innovation is that of showing (or shewing,as the GWR would have written it) a GWR 42xx tank loco in dismantled state under overhaul, with female labourers and fitters as would have happened in World War 2. A fascinating display on building and repairing locos, there is a similar section on carriage building. For those who really want to know, the loco is 4248.

I needed to undertake a Conservation Assesment of the AEC GWR Railcar No.4 which is housed at Steam, a 1933 built machine from the first series of such vehicles. I fell for its marvellous interior…

…which included this super little buffet – I wonder if it ever broke even given the relatively small number of seats in the single unit railcar?

Swindon pride is exemplified in the Castle class loco 4073 “Caerphilly Castle” which is shown as a stand alone example of Swindon craftsmanship and lovingly cared for along with the rest of the locomotives by the dedicated volunteer “Tuesday Gang”.

Here’s the Dean Goods, what a lovely engine this is…

At the other end of the date spectrum is 9400, a Hawksworth designed pannier tank from the 1940s, when the Dean Goods of the 1890s was still in service.

Occupying prime location at the platform and station display is the last one of all, the last steam loco built for British Railways, built at Swindon in 1960 and thus 50 years old this year, class 9F “Evening Star”.

After an overnight stay in the town and an evening walk around the railway village, we headed back north today via Didcot Railway Centre, 14 minutes by train from Swindon and another loan partner for us. This year is the 175th anniversary of the Great Western Railway, and Didcot, based in the former GWR loco depot, has just completed a mammoth 9 day festival celebrating the fact. Here, one of the visitors, 7827 “Lydham Manor” from the Dartmouth Steam Railway, is seen at the entracne to the shed, with other rolling stock to the right.

Another pair of visitors included Bill Parker’s prairie tank 5521, seen here with newly reliveried GWR icon “City of Truro” running in 1915 livery as 3717 – and Chris & I were delighted to see this one of ours as it’s the first time we’d seen in since repainting.

The shed exudes steam shed atmosphere and the two Castles here, 5029 “Nunney Castle” on the left and 5051 “Earl Bathurst” on the right could have come straight out of the 1950s in this shot.

A further view down the shed shows how closely the Great Western Society have captured the feel of a GWR locomotive running shed.

In the workshop, we were interested to see progress on another GWR icon, 4079 “Pendennis Castle”, being overhauled after its return from Australia. In 1923 this had been displayed alongside 4472 “Flying Scotsman ” at the British Empire exhibition, so it was good to see that there is a chance we might be able to pair up these two famous engines again in the not too distant future.

Finally, we took a look at the newest engine on site, and one built mainly at Didcot, the broad gauge replica “Firefly”. Words cannot describe the broad gauge set up on site now – go and experience it for yourself, there’s nothing like it.

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About Anthony Coulls

Anthony is Senior Curator of Rail Vehicles at the NRM and has been an active heritage railway volunteer since 1988
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