Tuesday, 3 June 2008

'Duchess' visit previews exciting August for steam railway

AN overnight visit to the West Somerset Railway by the express steam locomotive ‘Duchess of Sutherland’ provided a preview of a more exciting visit to come in August.
The Duchess briefly visited Bishops Lydeard on June 1, the first time in 30 years when the locomotive had been on the former branch line.
It will next be seen at Bishops Lydeard on Wednesday, August 20, when it will arrive with a ‘Cathedrals Express’ from London Victoria, before handing over the train to a West Somerset Railway engine for the onward journey to Minehead.
Railway general manager Paul Conibeare said: “The sight of a ‘Duchess’ making a second visit to the line was one that drew a lot of visitors to Bishops Lydeard station on Sunday afternoon and whetted our appetites both for the engine arriving with a ‘Cathedrals Express’ run by the Steam Dreams operator in August and hopefully a further visit in which it will use our new Minehead turntable.”
Built at Crewe in 1938, number 6233 ‘Duchess of Sutherland’ is one of three surviving members of a Class of 38 express steam locomotives designed by Sir William Stanier to work the heaviest and fastest express trains between London Euston, the North West of England, and Scotland, such as the ‘Royal Scot’, the ‘Caledonian’, and the ‘Merseyside Express’.
They fulfilled this role for a quarter of a century until the first generation of diesel locomotives displaced them in the early 1960s.
Three survive, but ‘Duchess of Sutherland’ is the only one working trains, principally on mainline excursions.
However another of the surviving trio, 6229 ‘Duchess of Hamilton’ has travelled over the whole length of the Minehead branchline, albeit not under its own power.
In 1964, ‘Hamilton’ was taken to the Butlins holiday centre in the town where it was displayed until March 10, 1975, when it was towed back to the mainline by a Class 25 diesel locomotive, a train movement which took place in the period between the closure of the Minehead line by British Railways in 1971 and its re-opening as the modern West Somerset Railway in 1976.
Had the line not been there, albeit ‘mothballed’ and overgrown, it is doubtful that the engine could have been removed along the local roads.
It is now in the National Railway Museum, in York.
‘Duchess of Sutherland’ was initially saved from scrap by being displayed at a Butlins Camp in Scotland, but is now owned privately and is a popular sight with steam enthusiasts across the land and travellers on excursion trains.
  • Our photographs show (TOP) ‘Duchess of Sutherland’ at Bishops Lydeard in company with the Somerset and Dorset Railway Trust’s 7F locomotive number 88, which is a regular performer on the West Somerset Railway, and (BELOW) the ‘Duchess’ arriving at Bishops Lydeard with its crew’s support coach. Photographs by Humphrey Davis and Andy Wray, respectively.