Sunday 3 December 2023

Time to remember what really matters

35006 'P&O' & 7820 'Dinmore Manor' inside the DP Shed at Toddington - 10th November 2023
People often say that life is brimming with chances, opportunities and challenges, and to a certain extent, I would agree. However, as for life itself, the reality is that you only get one chance. Circumstances can change in the blink of an eye and without any warning. Life has its ups and downs, and having had a fair few of these myself in recent weeks and months makes you appreciate what matters. It's a sad fact of life that there is someone somewhere in a worse position than you are. The periods of darkness test our resilience, mental strength and the belief that light is at the end of the proverbial tunnel. Our so-called 'First World Problems' pale into insignificance with everything else going on in the world.
 The Great Western Railway War Memorial at London Paddington station - Photo courtesy of Jack Boskett
As I'm writing this on the 11th November, it's exactly one year to the day that I was out on the footplate of 7903 'Foremarke Hall' with John, Ade, and Liam, operating the 'November Race Specials' between Toddington and Cheltenham Racecourse. Readers may recall at the time that I found the day very moving, and it only feels like yesterday that we were observing the 2 minutes silence before carrying out the run around of the coaching stock at Cheltenham. This year we weren't scheduled to run trains on 'Armistice Day', with the race trains taking place next week on the 17th & 18th November. Nonetheless, the fact that trains aren't operating today doesn't make the date in question any less significant.

A Lancaster Bomber drops poppies over Green Park in London. This was taken in 2012 just after a ceremony took place by the late Queen Elizabeth II to unveil a memorial for 55,573 men of Bomber Command who never came home - Photo courtesy of Jack Boskett

Regular visitors and commuters to London's Paddington station will no doubt be familiar with The Great Western War Memorial that is located on platform 1. It was designed by the renowned sculptor Charles Sargeant Jagger and architect, Thomas Smith Tait. Jagger was known for his powerful and evocative war memorials, and his work often depicted the grim realities of warfare. The memorial was unveiled on 11th November 1922, and it commemorates the employees of the Great Western Railway who lost their lives during World War I. It was later updated to include the casualties from World War II. 3312 men and women gave their lives. Around one third of the GWR's workforce left to serve in 'The Great War'.

The memorial after Remembrance Sunday, 2021 - Photo © Andrew Davidson (CC BY-SA 4.0)

The inscription, updated to include Second World War casualties - Photo © Cnbrb (CC BY-SA 3.0)

The slogan "The war to end all wars" is commonly associated with World War I and originates from the 1914 book by H. G. Wells. Sadly, as we know, the slogan was somewhat idealistic and the aftermath of the war contributed towards the outbreak of World War II. Over 100 years later there is still war and conflict ongoing somewhere in the world, whether that be in Ukraine, or in the Middle East, to name but a couple of examples. It's a stark reality that no-one could have imagined all those years ago. I mentioned at the beginning of this piece about 'First World Problems', and seeing others endure unimaginable suffering puts the aforementioned problems into perspective. Hopefully things will get better for all.
7903 Foremarke Hall crossing Stanway Viaduct during October - Photo courtesy of Jack Boskett
In terms of our heritage railway in the Cotswolds, now more than ever, it's time to remember why we volunteer
We volunteer because we enjoy it.
We volunteer because we care.
We volunteer because it's our history.
We volunteer because it's our heritage.
We volunteer because it makes a difference.
We volunteer because it gives something back.
We volunteer because it matters.
We volunteer because it helps to preserve a railway for current and future generations.
We remember those volunteers who gave their time, dedication, skills, and knowledge with effort and enthusiasm.

Without the sacrifices of the generations before us, we would not be fortunate to have the wonderful railway that we have here today. We owe it to them to continue forward and 'carpe diem'. Like all heritage railways, we're always on the lookout for new volunteers, so if you're interested, please do get in touch with us! Any help would be most appreciated!

Video courtesy of Jack Boskett
Armistice Day is not merely a date on the calendar; it is a living testament to the enduring resilience of a nation and the railways that bore witness to its trials and tribulations. Our railway network, like the veins of a living being, continues to pulse with the memories of heroes who, in their silent departure and triumphant return, left an indelible mark on the tracks of time. On the 11th November, we stand on the platforms of history, not simply as humble passengers but as custodians of a legacy forged in the crucible of war and preserved in the quiet dignity of remembrance.
7820 'Dinmore Manor' receiving attention inside the DP Shed at Toddington - 10th November 2023

With a world that seemingly never stands still in both the literal and figurative sense, it's important that we never lose sight of our past, our history, and those who gave the ultimate sacrifice. War and conflict shows humanity at its most raw and vulnerable, and demonstrates how fragile and precious life really is. We thank all those who fought for our freedom.
Many lives were lost, many lives were saved, and many lives will be remembered.
Remembrance means different things to different people, whether you are someone who has served in the armed forces or not. It gives us the opportunity to remember friends, family, comrades, special occasions, the good times and the bad, but probably most of all, it makes us remember what really matters and to give thanks and respect to those who never came home. For me, it's appreciating the things that you have rather than those you do not. I have a loving family, friends, food and water, a roof over my head, and my health. Many people throughout the world do not have these things.
"They shall grow not old, as we that are left grow old:
Age shall not weary them, nor the years condemn.
At the going down of the sun and in the morning
We will remember them."

As the sun goes down on another day, I will leave you with this to listen to here.
Alex (the sooty one!). 
All published photographs are my own unless otherwise stated/credited.

Monday 4 September 2023

Blimey Parky, is that the time?

BR Standard Class 4 4-6-0 No. 75014 'Braveheart' on shed at Toddington - 24th March 2023
It is rather alarming when you glance at your calendar and realise that it's September, a fair number of events have happened, and it's been a few months since I last updated this blog. However, much like our steam engines, these things cannot be rushed and as the old English proverb says "Good things come to those who wait". Well, that's the general idea anyway, and I must confess to being a little frustrated that things have been moving at a rather sedate pace of late (as I'm sure some of you readers are). Whenever I attempt to sit down and write something here, I find myself being dragged into another activity (although it's usually a GWSR related matter!). I really could to with obtaining a 'Do Not Disturb' sign to stick on my door, or maybe a 'Not To Be Moved' (NTBM) board would be more appropriate. I'm sure I could borrow one from the department for lets say... a month, or two! Either that, or I simply chain myself to my desk!
Anyway, you may recall that when I wrote the last general blog update, we'd had a very successful start to the 2023 season with the ever popular 'Race Trains' steaming us into action during the middle of March. Now is as good a time as any to pick up where we left off. With the 2023 'Cheltenham Festival' out of the way, the rest of March saw 75014 taking charge of our service trains along with the DMU on the blue timetable. With only one steam locomotive in operation, this allowed for further maintenance to continue on members of the home fleet. Upkeep and maintenance is a never ending affair, but having high standards pays dividends in the long run, and, on the whole, we're blessed with a high level of both locomotive availability and reliability. This has become even more important this year following the departure of the much loved 4270. You can read more about 4270 in two previous blog entries, which are available here and here.
35006 undergoing maintenance to the LHS piston valve assembly - 24th March 2023

With our Rebuilt Merchant Navy No. 35006 not required in service until mid-April, the opportunity was taken to give the piston valve assembly on the left hand side (drivers side) of the locomotive some much needed maintenance to ensure smooth operation in service (the right hand piston valve assembly was serviced around a similar time last year). As with everything on a steam locomotive, tolerances are very tight and everything has to fit back perfectly to exacting measurements. This reduces the risk of uneven and excessive wear and tear while in operation, not to mention locomotive failure in the worst case scenario. Any failures are costly to both the steam loco department and the railway as a whole. For those less familiar with a steam locomotive operation, you might be thinking, what is a piston valve?
In simple terms, a piston valve (sometimes referred to as a slide valve on earlier locomotive designs, see here) controls the flow of steam within a steam locomotive. The valve controls the admission of steam into the cylinders and its subsequent exhausting, enabling a locomotive to move under its own power. Further reading can be found here.
35006 undergoing maintenance to the LHS piston valve assembly - 24th March 2023
Another area which received attention was the firebox, and specifically the grate that the fire sits on while the locomotive is in operation. 35006 is fitted with a finger grate which can be rocked forwards and backwards to aid with the disposal of the ash/clinker once the locomotive is back on shed (and generally requires less effort with the fire irons as a result, which is appreciated by the cleaners!). The finger grate is made up of two independent rocking sections, one on the left hand side of the firebox, and another on the right hand side. The finger grate is rocked manually by using a metal bar that fits inside a receptacle which sits underneath the footplate floor (under a flap) just in front of the large firebox doors.
Over time, the fingers on the grate wear out and become life expired, thus require replacing with newer ones, much like the firebars inside a GWR firebox for example (these expand and contract with the changes in temperature), and have a tendency to warp out of shape, which is no good for a fire if there are big gaps!. The photo below shows the grate with the 'fingers' removed (there are well over 100 of them), which reveals the rocking mechanism on either side of the central section. The fingers slide on to the thick cross-members which are illustrated below. It's not exactly a quick job to do!
A rather empty looking grate inside 35006's firebox - 24th March 2023
Here is a pallet load of life expired/worn out fingers, and to say that they are rather heavy would be a bit of an understatement. New ones were transported to the loco from the support van using a wheelbarrow, and after what seemed like endless trips back and forth, you certainly felt like you'd earned your tea and biscuits! I'm rather partial to the odd finger or two, the Cadbury's variety to be precise, so please don't be alarmed, although sadly we didn't have any in the mess room at the time. Maybe I should drop a hint to Andrew as it would have been rather apt? Mind you, he's more of a Mini Roll man and seems to have a rather good relationship with the local Spar shop at Toddington!

A pallet load of life expired/worn out rocking grate fingers from 35006 - 24th March 2023
Bulleid 35006 P&O leaving Winchcombe and into Greet tunnel - Video © kruiskop1
Meanwhile, on the other side of the DP shad, great progress was being made with 3850 and specifically the axle-boxes, in readiness to reunite the locomotive with her wheelsets. Axle-boxes are one of the more critical components of a railway vehicle. The axle-box is the housing of the bearings, which support the axle-load of the vehicle, and the confinement of the lubricant required to maintain the performances of the bearings.
Left had side of 3850, showing a number of the axle-boxes - 24th March 2023
Left had side of 3850, showing a number of the axle-boxes - 24th March 2023

One of 3850's axle-boxes in situ - 24th March 2023

3850's wheelsets - 24th March 2023
A few hours later and a drum roll please... and she's down! 
3850 reunited with her driving wheels - 24th March 2023

Well someone looks pleased with the result, or is that because the paparazzi have appeared? - 24th March 2023

Hello sunshine! - Photo courtesy of Dave Henley - 25th March 2023
 At long last we are now able to tell the time! - 30th March 2023
To the eagle eyed visitors amongst you, earlier in the year you might have noticed that a new clock appeared on the outside of the DP shed. It sure does look the part and it means we are now able to check the time instantly rather than having to resort to modern technology (otherwise known as the mobile phone!). Fortunately, the clock is fitted with GPS technology which means that we don't have to resort to climbing up a ladder every time the hour needs changing, much to the relief of Nigel! At the same time as the clock was installed, the opportunity was taken to check the floodlights. 
Nigel performing maintenance on one of the floodlights - 30th March 2023
2807 basks in the spring sunshine at Toddington - 4th April 2023

News from the footplate
In more recent news, I'm delighted to report that Tom Wright passed out last month as a newly qualified driver in the steam department. Well done Tom!

Ian Butler & Tom Wright with 7820 - Photo courtesy of Tom Wright - 3rd August 2023
7820 Dinmore Manor & 45149 arrive at Toddington Station 3rd August 2023 - Video © Locomotive Adventures 

I titled this piece on the subject of time and Michael Parkinson (known as 'Parky' to many over the years). As many of you will be aware, the much loved television presenter and broadcaster died on the 16th August at the grand age of 88. Much like our steam locomotives, 'Parky' came from a very different time, a different age, and a different generation. A time when, similar to our new shed clock, things were distinctly analogue and we didn't have the likes of Facebook, TikTok, and other social media platforms seemingly engrossing our lives. Unlike many TV 'Chat Shows' today, Parkinson's interviews always centred around the guests, rather than the so-called 'Celebrity Hosts'. He will be missed.
Similar to the late Terry Wogan, he was never the star of the show, and that's why the format worked in my opinion. As the rather aptly titled studio album by Kenny Rogers says, "They Don't Make Them Like They Used To".
 Terry Wogan interview - Parkinson - BBC - Video © BBC Studios

 7903 & 75014 warming up on shed, 2807 can be seen on the left - 4th April 2023
Michael Portillo paid us a visit as well. The episode featuring the GWSR is currently available to watch on BBC iPlayer.
7903 approaches Broadway with a service from Toddington - Photo courtesy of Jack Boskett
Michael Portillo filming at Broadway - Photo courtesy of Jack Boskett

At the African and Caribbean Heritage Centre in Wolverhampton, Michael finds out about the impact of Enoch Powell's 1968 speech on immigration in Wolverhampton and across the nation. In Kidderminster, he discovers the site of a secret wartime enterprise: a subterranean world of shafts, workshops and offices known as the Drakelow Tunnels.

In the cathedral city of Worcester, Michael joins pupils of King’s Hawford School to hear about their chosen sport, pigeon racing. The Gloucestershire Warwickshire Steam Railway transports Michael back to the 1950s and on to Cheltenham, on the edge of the Cotswolds, where the town’s splendid jazz festival is gearing up for its 25th anniversary.

GWRT £1.5m Stanway Viaduct Appeal
On a completely different subject, please consider donating to the GWRT's £1.5m appeal for Stanway Viaduct if you can.

Further information about the appeal can be found on the Stanway Viaduct Appeal page. See here for details.

Journey Through Steam Roadshow Valuation Day on track for 1st October
  • Antiques Roadshow expert Paul Atterbury to attend special valuation event
  • Visitors invited to bring Steam & Diesel era railwayana along to be valued
  •  Special event organised by Broadway Museum & Art Gallery and the GWSR
Three valuers including the author, railway historian, and BBC Antiques Roadshow expert Paul Atterbury are all set to attend a special event to value railway memorabilia on Sunday 1st October 2023. The event, organised by Broadway Museum & Art Gallery, in partnership with the Gloucestershire Warwickshire Steam Railway (GWSR) and GW Railwayana Auctions (GWRA) is to take place at Lifford Hall, Lower Green, Broadway, WR12 7BU between 10am & 3pm.

Visitors are invited to bring steam and diesel era memorabilia along to be valued including railwayana such as: locomotive name and works plates, station totems and signage, signalling items, railway posters, paperwork and ephemera, plus any rolling stock or miniature railway related items.

As visitors to Broadway and the local area will know, the hugely popular ‘Journey Through Steam’ exhibition which has been extended until the 12th November 2023, resulted in Broadway Museum and the GWSR winning the 2023 ‘Heritage Railway Interpretation Award’ sponsored by Morton’s Media, publishers of Heritage Railway magazine. The award was presented at the Heritage Railway Association Awards ceremony in Birmingham, on Saturday 11th March 2023. 

If you’re a fan of all things antiques and collecting railwayana in particular, then this is an event not to be missed. For further details about the event, please visit or contact

Important Note: New websites were launched in February for both the GWSR and the GWRT, thus any pre-existing bookmarks to the main blog page via the old GWSR website will no longer work. The new websites can be found by visiting (GWSR) and (GWRT).

All of the departmental blogs can now be found on a new main blog page here:
For those of you who use Facebook, here are a number of GWSR related groups which are worth following:
35006 - 35006 Group
THL - The Honeybourne Line - a GWR mainline in the making
Until next time folks... there's much more on the way. I'm doing my best to catch up, so please bear with me.

I leave you with a certain theme tune here.
Alex (the sooty one!). 
All published photographs are my own unless otherwise stated/credited.