£25 steam loco celebrates 50 years in preservation

By Geoff Courtney

A veteran steam locomotive bought for £25 after its withdrawal in the 1960s, that has become a favourite with visitors to a West Sussex railway, is celebrating 50 years in preservation.

It is Polar Bear, a 2-4-0T built by W G Bagnall and now a star attraction on Amberley Museum’s 2ft gauge line.

Bargain loco: Bagnall 2-4-0T Polar Bear that was bought for £25 after its withdrawal in the 1960s, is seen in action on its home line at Amberley Museum in West Sussex. Built in 1905, the loco is currently celebrating 50 years in preservation with a series of public appearances. AMBERLEY MUSEUM

The diminutive locomotive emerged from Bagnall’s Stafford works in 1905 (works No. 1781) and was shipped across the Irish Sea to the Isle of Man, where it joined another Bagnall 2-4-0T, 1896-built Sea Lion, on the Groudle Glen Railway near Douglas.

So named because the line ran along the glen to a seaside terminus that overlooked a zoo, the pair was replaced by battery locomotives in the early-1920s, but this was unsuccessful and the two steam locos returned in 1927, each with new boilers. Business was brisk before the war, but declined in the 1950s and the railway closed in 1962, by which time Polar Bear was the only operational engine.

Astonishingly low price

The entire operation – the two locomotives, coaches and line – were offered for sale for what today may seem to be an astonishingly low price of £50, but with no takers Polar Bear was sold in June 1967 to Brockham Museum Association in Surrey for £25. The association’s collection was moved to Amberley in 1982, and a year later the 2-4-0T returned to traffic after completion of a restoration that had been started at Brockham.

Read more in Issue 230 of HR – on sale now!

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