Blue King for GCR autumn steam gala

Published: 05:09PM Dec 5th, 2010
By: Robin Jones

Exclusive by Robin Jones

Blue-liveried GWR 4-6-0 King Edward II is to top the bill at the Great Central Railway’s big autumn gala in 2011.

Blue King for GCR autumn steam gala

No 6023 King Edward II at Didcot in July 2006 when the locomotive was displayed in blue before the boiler was removed for final restoration. FRANK DUMBLETON

The event, last highlighted in Heritage Railway issue 143, has now become so popular that it has been decided to extend it over four days rather than the usual three.

The 2011 gala will be held from Thursday 6 October to Sunday 9 October and will feature trains passing every few minutes on the unique double-track heritage main line.

As first revealed in Heritage Railway issue 39, in June 2002, the Great Western Society, which has restored the single-chimneyed King from Barry scrapyard condition, has always hoped to use the GCR for the locomotive’s main line testing.

The GCR has provision to run locomotives at up to 60mph with a line possession in force.

As reported in Heritage Railway issue 144, the King will be officially launched into traffic at Didcot on 2 April by Steve Davies, director of the National Railway Museum.

Kit will then undergo 1000 miles of running-in on the Mid-Norfolk railway during June and July before spending the high summer at Didcot.

King Edward II will then be the star turn at the Severn Valley Railway’s three-day Autumn Steam Gala from 23-25 September following the confirmation of a running agreement between the railway and the GWS.

The engine once dubbed ‘Project Impossible’ because its rear driving wheels were sliced by acetylene torch during its 22-year stay in Woodham’s scrapyard, Barry, will haul its first passenger trains on former GWR metals for almost 50 years, when it is turned out at the SVR gala alongside another four-cylinder GWR sprinter, Tyseley-based No 5029 Nunney Castle.

The two copper-capped 4-6-0s will operate alongside at least five other Great Western locomotives at the September event, hauling authentic chocolate-and-cream and carmine-and-cream trains, but the railway reveals that it is presently negotiating on two additional ‘celebrity guest’ engines for the event, and a further announcement is expected soon.

The capture of King Edward II, now in the final stages of its £700,000 rebuild at Didcot, is a real coup for the SVR, for it will be able to offer gala visitors the first chance to see a single-chimney King in action against an authentic GWR backdrop for the first time in more than half a century. For many, it will also be the first sight of a King in the British Railways blue livery which was carried by Class 8 locomotives between 1949 and 1953.

Severn Valley Railway general manager Nick Ralls voiced his delight at capturing 'the blue King' for the railway's showcase enthusiast event.

"We try hard to live up to a reputation for 'pulling out the stops' and doing something very special for our autumn steam gala," he said, "but it gets tougher each year trying to trump the previous year's spectacle. With 6023 King Edward II as the star turn at the gala alongside 5029 Nunney Castle, we have something completely unique to offer enthusiasts.”

The King will spend October at the GCR prior to undertaking main line test runs.

While at Loughbourough, it will haul normal service trains and the line’s new Pullman-style dining set, in addition to taking a starting role in the gala.

The GC gala will have a GWR theme, following the LNER theme of the 2010 gala, and it is hoped to bring in other big-name Swindon engines to star alongside KEII.

Statistics for 6023 King Edward II

*Built GWR Swindon 1930.

*Allocated initially to Newton Abbott for working London expresses over the South Devon banks, but moving variously between Newton Abbot and Laira (Plymouth) sheds until August 1956 when it was reallocated to London’s Old Oak Common, and worked expresses between Paddington and Wolverhampton.

*Painted in BR ‘experimental blue’ in 1949, and later in the darker Caledonian Blue livery adopted by BR, before reverting back to Brunswick Green livery.

*Final months in service between September 1960 and withdrawal in June 1962 were based on Cardiff (Canton), for working expresses to and from Paddington.

*Withdrawn 1962 and sent to Woodham’s scrapyard, Barry, Glamorgan, for cutting. Rear driving wheels sliced by acetylene torch to allow movement following a shunting accident in the scrapyard.

*Retrieved from Barry in 1984 by Barry Steam Locomotive Action Group (for £15,000), but resold to Harvey’s (of Bristol Cream Sherry fame), for £21,000, as a restoration project by the Brunel Engineering Centre Trust at Bristol.

*Sold on again to the Great Western Society in 1989 (for £16,000, including transport costs), and moved to Didcot in March 1990, when restoration recommenced.

*Boiler hydraulic tested on 15 March 2010, and boiler test steamed for the first time on 12 April 2010.

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