Steam Railway feature sample

Here’s a sample of one of the many fantastic features you can read in this month’s Steam Railway magazine.

‘Hall’ of fame

The 6989 Restoration Group has written itself into Barry folklore, reports TOBY JENNINGS.

On the main line again? It almost looks that way as  Wightwick Hall  runs gently along the Up side demonstration line at Quainton Road on December 11. THOMAS BRIGHT/SR

On the main line again? It almost looks that way as Wightwick Hall runs gently along the Up side demonstration line at Quainton Road on December 11. THOMAS BRIGHT/SR

It’s pronounced ‘Wittick’, not ‘White-wick’, as one might reasonably assume – or so the restorers of No. 6989 have been assured by local residents near its namesake, and other visitors who share Wightwick as a surname.

It’s important to get that straight now, because lots of people will be talking about this ‘Modified Hall’ pretty soon.

Just over 40 years after it left Barry scrapyard, the Hawksworth 4‑6‑0 has set a landmark in railway preservation history. Of the 213 locomotives that were rescued from Dai Woodham’s famous yard, it is the 150th to return to steam. 

Signed and sealed

As described last issue, your author’s battered, pencil-marked copy of The Barry List keeps track of every locomotive from that South Wales elephant’s graveyard that returns to steam, and after October 18, the grand total on its last page was reading ‘149 steamed – 80097 – 64 to go’. 

On Wightwick Hall’s footplate on December 11, as the locomotive was making one of its first runs under its own steam at the Buckinghamshire Railway Centre, the magic ‘S’ was written next to the number 6989 in the list, and the total ceremoniously altered to ‘150 steamed – 6989 – 63 to go’. 

Alan Vessey, one of two volunteers still with the 6989 Restoration Group who have been with the project since its inception, described the engine’s completion as “a dream come true… something I didn’t think I’d ever live to see, being aged 84!”

Yet ironically, had the group’s early and optimistic predictions come true, Wightwick Hall would have been closer to the 50th Barry restoration than the 150th. Or we could have been writing this article about an entirely different Western engine. 

real numbers…

The authentic GWR ‘150’ reporting number adorning Wightwick Hall’s smokebox door for its first moves was kindly loaned by the Great Western Society at Didcot. This turned out to be oddly appropriate, for Alan remembers that the original restoration team comprised “50% from Quainton Road and 50% Didcot men”, the latter led by Rod Thomas, a BR employee at Paddington and the 6989 Group’s first chairman.

They had originally been interested in ‘2884’ 2‑8‑0 No. 3803 (which, in the event, returned to steam at the South Devon Railway in 2006 and is now awaiting a further overhaul). But then they spotted the derelict, rusting hulk of Wightwick Hall.

“It was a sorry sight,” recalled Alan as he looked at the gleaming BR lined green machine simmering before him at Quainton Road. “It was black, streaked with rust and asbestos was bursting out of the boiler cladding.

“But now look at it – that’s through sheer perseverance!”

Jeff Jackson, who is writing a history of the epic restoration, takes up the story: “They discovered that the Bristol Suburban Railway Group [now the Avon Valley Railway] no longer wished to purchase No. 6989, so it could be ours for £5,000.

“The purchase of No. 3803 was therefore abandoned and a group was formed to raise the asking price for No. 6989. Some months later, as funds were steadily increasing, the asking price was raised to £8,500 owing to increased scrap metal values! This large jump was beyond our means, so a loan was secured from Adrian Tucker of the 6024 Restoration Team and the Quainton Railway Society.

“Subsequently, having fought off a competing bid, representatives of the newly formed consortium comprising Rod Thomas, John Wood (who trained as an apprentice at Old Oak Common), Brian Wheeler (a BR (WR) Signal & Telegraph engineer) and Roy Oxendale, plus members of the original group, represented by Eric Miller, Chris Tayler, Alan Vessey and his son Robin, went back to Barry on January 8 1977 and Rod Thomas handed over a cheque for £9,180, including VAT, for No. 6989 and a tender to Dai Woodham.”

Read more on pages 82-84 of Steam Railway SR488 – on sale now!