Didcot Railway Centre
|Location||Didcot, Oxfordshire, England|
|Type||Operational Railway museum|
|Key holdings||GWR 6000 Class No.6023 King Edward II|
GWR 4073 Class No.4079 Pendennis Castle
GWR Firefly Class Firefly
|Owner||Great Western Society (site leased from Network Rail)|
|Public transit access||Didcot Parkway|
|Website||Didcot Railway Centre|
The founders and commercial backers of the Great Western Railway (GWR) supported Isambard Kingdom Brunel's scheme to develop an integrated railway and steamship service which allowed trans-Atlantic passengers and freight quicker passage between London and New York City. However, whilst backing the scheme the railway had to make a profit, and so it took a number of detours and added both mainline and branch line traffic to increase its domestic earnings. This earned the railway the nickname The Great Way Round from its detractors.
Whilst the route from London Paddington to Reading was relatively straight, the then obvious most direct route to Bristol would have taken the railway further south, thus avoiding both Didcot and Swindon. However, passenger and freight traffic both to and from Oxford and onwards to the West Midlands in part dictated a more northerly route. Also, Brunel had originally planned to cut through Savernake Forest near Marlborough, Wiltshire to Bristol, but the Marquess of Ailesbury, who owned the land, objected – having previously objected to part of the Kennet and Avon Canal running through his estate (see Bruce Tunnel). With the railway needing to run near to a canal at its midpoint – as it was cheaper to transport coal for trains along canals at this time – and with the need for the branch northwards to Cheltenham via Stroud, Swindon was the next logical choice for the junction (and later railway works), 20 miles (32 km) north of the original route. This dictated that the Oxford junction also be moved northwards, and hence via Didcot. The Great Western Railway built the first rail line through Didcot in 1839 and opened its first station in 1844.
Due to the technical operational difficulties of running and maintaining a mainline service from London to Bristol, as well as the need for servicing locomotives going to Oxford, Didcot became an obvious midpoint maintenance and stabling point. Having built a timber-framed 7 ft 1⁄4 in (2,140 mm) broad gauge shed on the original site during the railway's development west in the 1800s, in June 1932 a new steel-framed half-brick 4-road through shed (210 by 67 feet [64.01 m × 20.42 m]), was completed by the GWR under the Loans and Guarantees Act (1929). With shed code DID, it also included a repair shop (84 by 42 feet [25.6 m × 12.8 m]), coaling stage (43 by 36 feet [13.1 m × 11.0 m]), sand furnace (10 by 10 feet [3.0 m × 3.0 m]) and 65 feet (20 m) turntable and associated offices (210 by 15 feet [64 m × 5 m]). During World War II, a standard steel-framed with corrugated iron-panel covered ash shelter was erected.
After World War II, the site remained virtually unchanged during the nationalised ownership of British Railways (BR), but for taking on the new code of 81E. The standard allocation of locomotives remained the same, with Halls, Dukedogs and Panniers making up the bulk of the depot's fleet.
Formation and site lease
The Great Western Society (GWS) was offered the use of the former Didcot locomotive depot, taking it over in 1967. In the 1970s, the society negotiated a long-term lease with BR which was to expire in 2019. But this was subject to a six-month termination clause which could force the GWS to quit the site, and which could be operated at any point in time by lease-holder Network Rail (NR).
In an attempt to secure a long-term future for the society, in 2002 the GWS opened negotiations with NR to either purchase the site or extend the lease. In a letter dated May 2007, NR informed the GWS that they were prepared to sell the site subject to Office of Rail Regulation (ORR) approval. It had been thought the site could be subject to need as a depot, either due to: the rebuilding of Reading station; a Crossrail project depot; or the Intercity Express Programme. After expressing some concern at the slow speed of negotiations at the GWS annual meeting in September 2008, NR wrote to the GWS to advise that the site was no longer available for sale, and although a lease extension was still on offer it was still subject to the previous six-month termination clause. The GWS then wrote to their local MP Ed Vaizey, and placed any long-term development plans on hold. As of 6 October 2011[update] Richard Croucher (Chairman of the Great Western Society) signed a new 50-year lease with Network Rail, therefore preserving the site for at least another 50 years.
Museum and railway centre
Today the GWS have developed the site, which still retains many of the original GWR buildings and features, as both a working steam locomotive and railway museum, engineering maintenance centre, and railway line offering short rides to visitors.
Access via Didcot Parkway station brings the visitor into the southern end of the site, at the start of the ramp coal wagons would take up to the coaling stage. Beyond this is the original 1932 four-road engine shed, and beyond this the original repair shed and 1988 constructed locomotive works, both of which have restricted access due to safety concerns. Beyond this lies a Ransomes & Rapier 70 feet (21 m) turntable and pit, originally built for the Southern Railway and installed at Southampton Docks.
The centre regularly holds events such as steam and diesel railcar days. Members of the Great Western Society are active in the preservation of locomotives and rolling stock. Certain 'new-build' projects to create locomotives that did not escape wholesale scrapping are also undertaken at Didcot, such as the completed Firefly locomotive, a 'Saint' class (using a 'Hall' class chassis and boiler) and a 'County' class locomotive (using a 'Hall' class chassis and an LMS '8F' class boiler).
There are three short lengths of running track, each with a station at both ends:
- Branchline: starts at a typical GWR wayside halt, named Didcot Halt, and runs north on the western edge of the site to a platform, named Burlescombe Station, at the transshipment shed. Dating from broad gauge days, the shed was used for transferring goods from broad to "narrow" (i.e. 4 ft 8+1⁄2 in or 1,435 mm standard gauge) rolling stock and vice versa. It was moved to its present location carefully from its original site nearby.
- Broad Gauge Line: the broad gauge line of 7 ft 1⁄4 in (2,140 mm) starts from the transshipment shed, and runs halfway back down the branchline. The 2005 replica GWR Firefly is housed within the shed when not running
- Mainline: starts from the Main Line Platform opposite the site entrance, using a pre-fabricated concrete station platform from Eynsham, and runs on the eastern-edge of the site to a newly built platform, named Oxford Road Station, near the transshipment shed. Long-term plans include the reconstruction of the Brunel-designed building from Heyford station on this platform.
|Railways around Didcot|
The railway centre is entirely surrounded by active railway lines and has no road connection of any kind. Public access is on foot from a subway at Didcot Parkway station, which links the centre by rail to London and much of southern and central England. Wheelchair and pram access is practically nonexistent; they have to be carried up a flight of concrete steps. Although this contravenes the Disability Discrimination Act, the Great Western Society is unable to improve it since the site is owned by Network Rail.
|Class||Number (& Name)||Image||Status||Notes|
Bonnie Prince Charlie
|Static Display||Awaiting overhaul. Painted in lined light green livery.|
|George England 0-4-0WT||No.5||Static Display||Built 1857, latterly owned by the Wantage Tramway. After inspection, too much original metalwork would need to be replaced to be brought back into working order and so the locomotive remains on display.|
|GWR Steam Railmotor||No.93||Static Display||Built 1908. Restoration completed in 2012. Often runs with trailer carriage No. 92. Boiler ticket expired in 2021|
|GWR 1000 Class||1014
County of Glamorgan
|Under Construction||1946 design|
|Kitson & Co. 0-4-0ST||No.1338||Static Display||Built 1898. Ex-Cardiff Railway|
|GWR 1340 Class||1340
|Operational.||Built 1897. Ex-Alexandra (Newport and South Wales) Docks and Railway. Painted in GWR green livery. Underwent overhaul off site and returned to Didcot in March 2021, entering service on May 1st.|
|GWR 1361 Class||1363||Under Overhaul||Built 1910. Undergoing a major overhaul with significant work being undertaken on both the boiler and frames.|
|GWR 1400 Class||1466||Under Overhaul||Built 1936. This was the first locomotive bought by the society. This locomotive is now under overhaul at the Dean Forest Railway and is expected back in service in 2022.|
|Hunslet 0-6-0ST||No. 2409
|operational||Built 1942. Currently being restored and rebuilt into a Thomas the Tank Engine lookalike.|
|GWR 2900 Class||2999
Lady of Legend
|Operational||Originally built 1929 (Completed 2019). Using components from No. 4942 Maindy Hall. Will run as a 4-6-0 most of its boiler ticket when complete, but will run as a 4-4-2 for periods of time. 2999 was launched into traffic on the weekend of 5–7 April 2019. Boiler ticket expires 2029.|
|GWR 5700 Class||3650||Under Overhaul||Built 1939. Undergoing a ten-yearly overhaul which began in 2018.|
|GWR 5700 Class||3738||Static Display||Built 1937. Out of service from August 2013 due to boiler crack.|
|GWR 2884 Class||3822||Static Display||Built 1940. Appeared in the Queen music video Breakthru. Withdrawn from service in 2010.|
|GWR 4073 Class||4079
|Operational||Built 1924. This locomotive was repatriated from Australia in 2000 after spending 22 years in the country. Pendennis Castle is now operational as of 2022.|
|GWR 5101 Class||4144||Operational||Built 1946. Boiler ticket expires 2025. Visiting the Kent & East Sussex Railway|
|GWR 4073 Class||5051
|Static Display||Built 1936. Currently wearing its former name, Drysllwyn Castle.|
|GWR 5205 Class||5227||Static Display||Built 1924. One of the Barry Ten, it was purchased in 2010 to provide parts for the construction of the new-build GWR 4700 Class No. 4709. After donating its axleboxes to the project, it moved to Didcot in 2013 following storage at a private site. Currently on display in ex-scrapyard condition as a reminder of the challenge that preservationists had to conquer. The Standard No. 4 Boiler, pony truck wheel set, 2 pony truck axleboxes, 4 horn guides and 2 eccentric sheaves are being transferred to the new build Churchward County GWR 3800 Class 3840 "County of Montgomery".|
|GWR 4300 Class||5322||Static Display||Built 1917. Withdrawn in 2014 due to boiler problems.|
|GWR 4575 Class||5572||Static Display||Built 1929|
|GWR 4900 Class||5900
|Static Display||Built 1931|
|GWR 6000 Class||6023
King Edward II
|Static Display||Built 1930. Returned to steam in 2010 after completion of a lengthy restoration from scrapyard condition, was originally purchased as a spares donor for sister engine 6024 King Edward I. Boiler ticket expired in 2020|
|GWR 6100 Class||6106||Static Display||Built 1931|
|GWR 5600 Class||6697||Static Display||Built 1928|
|GWR 6959 Class||6998
Burton Agnes Hall
|Static Display||Built 1949|
|GWR 7200 Class||7202||Under Restoration||Built 1934|
|GWR 7800 Class||7808
|Static Display||Built 1938|
|GWR Firefly Class||Firefly||Static Display||Built 2005. Replica of early Broad Gauge 2-2-2|
|GWR Iron Duke Class||Iron Duke||Static Display||Built 1985. Replica of early Broad Gauge 4-2-2. On loan from the National Railway Museum.|
|Breakdown Crane||RS1054||Under restoration||Built 1930. Ex LMS Cowan Sheldon 50 ton steam crane|
|Steam Crane||23059||Static Display||Built 1954. Thomas Smith and Sons (Rodley) Ltd, Leeds|
|GWR Railcar||No.22||Operational||Built 1940|
|Hunslet||DL 26||Operational||Built by Hunslet of Leeds in 1957 and arrived at Didcot in 1978. It was the only diesel shunter at the site for many years until the arrival of 08604. Most of its duties tend to be light shunting. DL26's residence at Didcot for forty years was recently celebrated.|
|British Rail Class 08||08604
|Operational||Built Derby Works as D3771, allocated to: Longsight (9A) June 1959; Stockport Edgely (9B) July 1959; Longsight (9A) April 1965, unofficially named Ardwick; renumbered 08604 February 1974; stored Swindon Works 1981; Tyseley TMD February 1984, unofficially renamed Javelin, officially then named Phantom; Bescott November 1988; Derby Etches Park November 1992; withdrawn in July 1993. Sold to GWS and moved to DRC September 1994|
|British Rail Class 14||D9516||Operational||Built 1964. After a post-BR industrial career, bought for preservation by Gerald Boden and based at Great Central Railway and then Nene Valley Railway. Bought from the Wensleydale Railway in 2014.|
|GWR 18000||18000||Static Display||Arrived 29 July 2011. Owned by Pete Waterman|
Other rolling stock
|Churchward Auto Trailer||No. 92||Restored to run with Steam Railmotor 93.||Built at Swindon, 1912.|
|Collett Auto Trailer||No. 190||Operational, although was in workshop on 7 April.||Built at Swindon, 1933.|
|Hawksworth Auto Trailer||No. 231||Operational, although was in workshop on 7 April.||Built at Swindon, 1951|
|Bristol & Exeter Railway Broad Gauge Coach||No. 250||Enough of body remains to reconstruct a small compartment.||Built between 1852 & 1892|
|Dean 4w 1st 2nd Composite||No.290||Restoration began in Summer of 2011.||Built at Swindon, 1902|
|Dean 4w Brake Third||No. 416||Built at Swindon, 1891|
|Collett Third||No. 536||Operational||Built at Swindon, 1940|
|Dean 4-Wheel Third||No. 975||Restored||Built at Swindon, 1902. Restoration complete. Restored to recreate a Victorian train.|
|Collett Third||No. 1111||No plans to currently restore.||Built at Swindon, 1938.|
|Collett 'Excursion' Third||No. 1289||Built at Swindon,1937|
|Dean 8 Compartment Third Clerestory||No. 1357||Awaiting major restoration in carriage shed.||Built at Swindon, 1903.|
|Dean Third||No. 1941||Operational.||Built at Swindon, 1901.|
|Hawksworth Brake Third||No. 2202||Operational.||Built at Swindon, 1950|
|Hawksworth Brake Third||No. 2232||This vehicle is initially being restored as a locker room for staff.||Built at Swindon, 1950|
|Dean 6-wheel Family Saloon||No. 2511||Operational. Was rescued and preserved from a house and placed on the underframe of a GWR 6-wheel van.||Built at Swindon, 1894|
|Churchward “Dreadnought” 9 Compartment Third||No. 3299||One of the first coaches acquired by the Great Western Society. Now requires a major restoration.||Built at Swindon, 1905.|
|Churchward Non-Corridor Brake Third||No. 3755||Operational, comes out of the shed occasionally. Now in GWR livery.||Built at Swindon, 1921.|
|Churchward Non-Corridor Brake Third||No. 3756||Under restoration.||Built at Swindon, 1921.|
|Churchward Toplight Corridor Third||No. 3963||There are no current restoration plans.||Built at Swindon, 1919.|
|Collett Third - Bow Ended||No. 4553||No plans to currently restore.||Built at Swindon, 1925.|
|Collett 8 Compartment Bow-Ended Third||No. 5085||Built at Swindon, 1928.|
|Collett Brake Third||No. 5787||No plans to currently restore.||Built at Swindon, 1933.|
|Collett All Third||No. 5952||No plans to currently restore. Restoration may commence once 7371 has been completed.||Built at Swindon, 1935.|
|Dean 6-Wheel Tricomposite||No. 6824||Stored on an LMS 6w underframe.||Built in 1887. Was a convertible coach, originally built for the Broad Gauge.|
|Collett Composite||No. 7285||Built at Swindon, 1941.|
|Collett Composite||No. 7313||Restored.||Built at Swindon, 1940.|
|Collett Brake Composite||No. 7371||Under restoration.||Built at Swindon, 1941.|
|Hawksworth Brake Composite||No. 7372||Operational||Built at Swindon, 1948.|
|Collett Brake Composite||No. 7976||Built at Swindon, 1923.|
|Collett Special Saloon||No. 9002||Operational.||Built at Swindon, 1940. Used by Winston Churchill, General Eisenhower and the Royal Family during WWII.|
|Hawksworth First Class Sleeping Car||No. 9083||Operational||Built at Swindon, 1951.|
|Collett Super Saloon||No. 9112 "Queen Mary"||No current plans to restore to service||Built at Swindon, 1932.|
|Collett Super Saloon||No. 9113 "Prince of Wales"||Under Restoration||Built at Swindon, 1932.|
|Collett Super Saloon||No. 9118 “Princess Elizabeth”||Built at Swindon, 1932.|
|Dean Composite Diner||No. 9520||No plans to currently restore.||Built at Swindon, 1903.|
|Collett 'Centenary Diner'||No. 9635||Built at Swindon, 1935.|
Two Broad Gauge replica carriages were also made by the GWS:
|Six-Wheeled, Second Class, Broad Gauge Covered Carriage||BG1||On display||Built in 1984|
|Six-Wheeled, Third Class, Broad Gauge Open Carriage||BG2||On display|
Non-passenger-carrying coaching stock
|Tool Van||No. 1||Stored amongst the other vehicles beside Swindon's loco shed.||Built in 1908 at Swindon.|
|Tool Van||No. 47||Stored under cover with 9083 and 2232, used as a stores van.||Built in 1908 at Swindon.|
|Tool Van||No. 56||Stored amongst the other vehicles beside Swindon's loco shed.||Built in 1908 at Swindon.|
|Collett Full Brake||No. 111||No current plans to restore.||Built at Swindon, 1934.|
|Hawksworth Passenger Brake Van||No. 316||Built at Swindon, 1950|
|Hawksworth Passenger Brake Van||No. 333||Built at Swindon, 1951. Acquired from the Gloucestershire and Warwickshire Railway. Now a sales vehicle.|
|Churchward 'Monster' Carriage Truck||No. 484||Built at Swindon, 1913.|
|Churchward 'Python'||No. 565||Currently in use as a workshop and stores vehicle.||Built at Swindon, 1914.|
|Travelling Post Office||No. 814||Not currently operational.||Built at Swindon, 1940.|
|Dean Full Brake||No. 933||Restoration was almost complete as of 2011. Now operational by 6 April 2019 in GWR livery.||Built at Swindon, 1898|
|Medical Officers' Coach||No. 1159||Originally a Churchward Passenger Brake Van - Toplight||Built at Swindon, 1925.|
|Collett Full Brake||No. 1184||Being restored and modified to run with GWR TPO 814. Last bow-ended full brake.||Built at Swindon, 1930.|
|Collett 'Siphon G'||No. 2796||Restored. Operational||Built at Swindon, 1937.|
|Six-Wheel Milk Tank||S4409||Operational||Built in 1931 as four wheeler. Rebuilt in 1937 as six wheeler. Ex-Southern Railway. Recently painted in the Co-op's green livery with the lettering "MILK C.W.S SERVICE".|
|Special Cattle Van||No. 752||Built in 1952 at Ashford. Diagram W17.|
|'Bloater' Fish Van||No. 2671||Built in 1925, Swindon.|
|'Fruit C' Van||No. 2862||Built in 1939 at Swindon.|
|'Fruit D' Van||No. 2913||Built in 1941 at Swindon.|
|'Fruit' Van||No. 47886||Operational with Dean brake system.||Built in 1892 at Swindon.|
|Tar Wagon||No. 1||Often used in demonstration goods trains on open days.||Built in 1898|
|6w Drinking Water Tank||No. 101||Built in 1948.|
|Department Mess Van||No. 263||Stored amongst unrestored stock||Built in 1905. Rebuilt by BR from a GWR 25t brake van No. 56867.|
|Oil Tank Wagon||No. 745||Painted in light buff with a red band with WD branding.||Built in 1912 by Hurst Nelson.|
|'Rotank' Flat Wagon||No. 3030||Built in 1947 at Swindon.|
|Goods Van||No. 4166||Unrestored, used for storage.||Ex-LMS. Purchased from MoD Bicester for storage by the locomotive department. Stored beside locomotive workshop at the end of line of unrestored stock.|
|Goods Van||No. 4167||Unrestored, used for storage.||Ex-LMS. Purchased from MoD Bicester for storage by the locomotive department. Stored beside locomotive workshop at the end of line of unrestored stock.|
|Four wheel 7-plank mineral wagon||No. 10153||Restored||Built by Gloucester RCW. Ex-Taff Vale Railway, only surviving TVR wagon. Most likely 1880s because of the handbrake gear.|
|Iron Mink||No. 11152||Restored, not operating.||Built in 1900 at Swindon.|
|"Toad" Brake Van||No. 17447||Built in 1940 at Swindon.|
|4 wheel 5-plank open wagon||No. 18553||Operational||Built in 1927 by Sheffield C&W.|
|'Mite' Single Bolsters||Nos. 32337 & 32338||Non-operational||Built in 1881 at Swindon.|
|'Coral A'||No. 41723||Awaiting restoration.||Built in 1908 at Swindon.|
|'Pollen E'||Nos 84997-85000||Restored, on Loan from NRM||Built in 1909 at Swindon|
|'Crocodile F' bogie well trolley||No. 41934||Few left. Stored outside.||Built in 1908 at Swindon as Crocodile G, modified 1909 as Crocodile F, Diagram C12.|
|'Hydra D' machinery wagon||No. 42193||Few left in existence. Stored out in the open.||Built in 1913 at Swindon.|
|Grain Wagon||No. 42239||Built in 1927 at Swindon.|
|'Loriot L' machinery wagon||No. 42271||Built in 1934 at Swindon.|
|Oil Tank Wagon||No. 43949||Built in 1901 at Swindon.|
|16ton 'Toad' brake van||No. 56400||Unrestored||Built in 1900 at Swindon. Originally 14-ton but later 16-ton. Stored amongst other unrestored stock, inside verandah is covered by inside tarp for protection.|
|20ton 'Toad' brake van||No 68684||Restored||Built in 1924 at Swindon|
|Mink A ventilated van||No 101720||Restored||Built in 1924 at Swindon|
- E.T. Lyons (1979). An Historical Survey of Great Western Engine Sheds: 1837–1947. Oxford Publishing. ISBN 086093019X.
- "Latest news – Didcot Railway Centre". Didcotrailwaycentre.org.uk. Retrieved 7 August 2012.
- "Didcot is 'most normal town in England', researchers claim". BBC News. 29 March 2017. Retrieved 10 May 2017.
- No. 1 – Bonnie Prince Charlie. Didcotrailwaycentre.org.uk (2007-12-25). Retrieved on 2011-03-02.
- No.5 – Shannon/Jane. Didcotrailwaycentre.org.uk (2010-07-11). Retrieved on 2011-03-02.
- 1338 – 0-4-0ST. Didcotrailwaycentre.org.uk (2010-11-01). Retrieved on 2011-03-02.
- "1340 - Trojan". Didcot Railway Centre. Retrieved 7 April 2021.
- "1466/4866". Didcot Railway Centre. 3 July 2013. Retrieved 8 February 2015.
- "News Archive - 2013". Didcot Railway Centre. Didcot. 1466 'Now available in Black'. Retrieved 8 February 2015.
- "2999 Lady of Legend – The Saint Project: The Atlantic Option". Archived from the original on 26 April 2012.
- "Didcot Railway Centre".
- "Home". Churchward County Trust. Retrieved 14 March 2022.
- "5322". Didcot Railway Centre. Retrieved 8 February 2015.
- Fire Fly – 2-2-2. Didcotrailwaycentre.org.uk (2010-11-27). Retrieved on 2011-03-02.
- "DL 26". Didcot Railway Centre. 20 October 2007. Retrieved 11 March 2018.
- "08 604 "Phantom"". Didcot Railway Centre. 19 August 2010. Retrieved 8 February 2015.
- "News | Latest News". Didcot Railway Centre. Retrieved 7 August 2012.
- Official website
- Listed building information:
- for Didcot Railway Centre