PRESERVATION HISTORY: Alexander Macdonald – From scrap to Swallows and Amazons: The 43924 story


It is nearly 50 years since the first steam locomotive was rescued from Barry scrapyard for preservation. Fiona Kennaugh tells the story of how her father, Alexander Macdonald, was instrumental in saving this locomotive, a move which was to open the door for a further 212 steam engines to leave the famous yard.

The only surviving Midland 4F 0-6-0 No. 43924 was built at Derby works in 1920 – for a cost of £5094 for the engine and £1454 for the tender. Its planned running life was to be a standard 45 years.

Nearly 50 years after it became the first engine to be saved from Barry scrapyard, Midland 4F 0-6-0 No. 43924 climbs towards Oakworth on the Keighley & Worth Valley Railway on November 5. KEN WOOLLEY

The Fowler 4F 0-6-0 is a class of locomotive designed by Henry Fowler who was the chief mechanical engineer of the Midland Railway, which then in turn became part of the London Midland and Scottish Railway in 1923.

Article continues below…

Enjoy more Heritage Railway reading in the four-weekly magazine.
Click here to subscribe & save.

They were nicknamed ‘Duck Sixes’ due to the wheel arrangement. No. 3924 was renumbered 43924 by BR on February 5, 1949 after Nationalisation in 1948.

No. 43924 doubleheading with LMS 4F 0-6-0 No. 44422 on the West Somerst Railway in 2017. FOTOPHILE 69

The engine spent most of its working life hauling coal and soda ash and relaying empty ICI tanks on the return journeys. Bristol Barrow Road, Gloucester, Leeds, Bridgwater, Chester and Temple Meads are mentioned frequently in its time line.

No. 43924 on a local goods train working near Gloucester in June 1962. COLOUR-RAIL.COM / W POTTER BRM366

Its last day’s service was at St Phillips Marsh yard on May 15, 1965, and it was withdrawn in June of that year and sold to Woodham Brothers’ scrapyard at Barry, South Wales on July 26, 1965.

Article continues below…
The list of requirements by BR for the movement of No. 43924 from Barry.

Over 200 engines and many more wagons were lined up in this scrapyard, owned and run by Woodham Brothers, one of them being David Lloyd Victor Woodham (aka Dai) a man eventually responsible for saving many steam engines from the cutters’ torch.

He realised astutely what the enthusiasts wanted and aided and abetted them as much as he could.

He had clearly seen the light himself as in a letter to Captain Peter Manisty dated April 21, 1976 Dai wrote: “I can truthfully say I now know the meaning of enthusiasm – may I take this opportunity of wishing you many happy and successful years ahead for steam preservation.”

Article continues below…

First to leave

Dai broke up the wagons first while leaving the engines until later, and as a result, out of a total of 297 engines purchased, no less than 213 eventually left his yard either by road or rail rather than being scrapped.

The first to leave for a life in preservation was No. 43924, the only Midland 4F in the yard, which brings into the story my father, Alexander Macdonald.

Article continues below…
The author and her father Alexander Macdonald on the footplate of No. 43924 in 2011. P WALKER


His involvement in railways and steam started early. Known as Alec or Alex, at the age of 16 he started his long career on BR at Bank Hall shed on Merseyside as a fitter.

Testament of Youth is the First World War memoir of Vera Brittain. The film was made by Heyday Films, and directed by James Kent. The railway sequences were filmed at Keighley station on March 25 – 27, 2014. The 4F was used alongside LNWR Coal Tank 0-6-2T No. 1054 and carriages from Vintage Carriage Trust and the Lancashire & Yorkshire Trust. The 4F was largely for general ‘set dressing’ and only really appeared in a sequence meant to be Charing Cross station. ROGER FRANCE

He worked in cramped filthy smokeboxes and lost the ends of two of his fingers on a lathe. Alec was offered a job for life or a cash payout in compensation.

He did believe steam would last his career out but steam was replaced earlier than he imagined.

Read more in Issue 236 of HR – on sale now!


Subscribe to Heritage Railway Magazine Enjoy more Heritage Railway reading in the four-weekly magazine. Click here to subscribe.

Article Tags:

About the Author