Excursion to the Swanage Railway
6 July 2018
It is always nice to have some sunshine on a trip to the seaside but during a long spell of hot weather I did have some concerns that either our 1960s Bristol Greyhound coaches or the passengers would get overheated. Mike Walker provided two vehicles from the Bristol Omnibus Vehicle Collection in case of mechanical problems. Mike’s friend, Stuart Turner, came as the second driver. In the event all went well for our party of twenty five members and guests although it did get very warm on board without the benefit of air conditioning.
Unfortunately Mike Walshaw, who was due to conduct us around the signal boxes at Corfe Castle and Swanage, had not recovered sufficiently from a recent operation so Tony North kindly took this on. Tony is the Manager of the Signal and Telegraph Department on the Swanage Railway. We divided into groups of five for the signal box visits. Two groups were able to go into the box at Corfe Castle before we caught the 12.02 train to Swanage. They were welcomed by the signalman on duty who, together with Tony North, explained the workings of the box and in particular the method of signalling trains on and off the Network Rail lines at Worgret Junction and the communications with the Basingstoke Signalling Control Centre. When we arrived at Swanage there was time for lunch and three more groups took their turns to visit the signal box there. Again Tony North and the young signalman were very kind to us and made our visit interesting and entertaining.
At 14.00 our coaches arrived to take us to Herston Works. This visit had been arranged by Roy Kethro who has a long association with Southern Locomotives Ltd. When we arrived we were met by Ron Bennett. This sprightly 91 year old quickly had our attention as he explained that he started volunteering for SLL at the age of 70. With no previous engineering experience (he had been a building surveyor) Ron has carried out various jobs over the years but has now settled down as a painter of locomotives. He told us about the origins of SLL in the early 1990s and the progress that they have made in restoring exBarry scrapyard locos. Some have run the course of their 10 year boiler ‘ticket’ and then need another major overhaul. The company currently owns seven locos including five Bulleid pacifics. In the workshop at the moment are West Country No. 34028 EDDYSTONE and N class 260 No. 31874. This latter loco is being worked on by Swanage Railway staff and volunteers. SLL are not directly connected with the SR although the workshop is rented from the railway (and owned by the local authority). It was noted that this building is not ideal for its purpose as there is no rail connection and no pit or lifting equipment but the restorers still manage to do some excellent work.
Returning to Swanage station we had time for afternoon tea before catching the train back to Norden, the railway’s Park & Ride station just beyond Corfe Castle. Actually our 16.40 departure was slightly delayed due to a lineside fire. The locomotive in use on all the trains during our visit was exLSWR T9 440 no. 30120 which is part of the National Collection although normally resident on the Bodmin and Wenford Railway. Leaving Norden slightly late, we were back in Wells at 20.00.
Grateful thanks to Mike Walker, Tony North and everyone else who helped make this a memorable day out.