Published: October 12, 2016
Story and Photographs by Andrew P.M. Wright Swanage Railway official photographer and press officer
A classic Somerset and Dorset steam locomotive that hauled passenger and freight trains between Bournemouth and Bath – via Poole, Broadstone and Blandford – for almost 40 years is to star in the Swanage Railway's three-day Autumn Steam Gala.
The annual event will see Friday and Saturday evening timetabled passenger trains run in the dark on the newly restored four-mile line between Norden and the River Frome, near Wareham, for the first time since January, 1972, when British Rail closed the branch line to Corfe Castle and Swanage.
Built in 1925, the Somerset and Joint Railway Fowler-designed 7F No. 53809 ran on one of Britain's most popular railway lines among railway enthusiasts – the Somerset and Dorset – which was closed 50 years ago in 1966.
Also taking part in the three-day gala from Friday to Sunday, 14 to 16 October, 2016, (inclusive) is a fellow visitor – a powerful Stanier 8F locomotive No. 48624 which spent its working life based in the London area.
Dating from 1943, No. 48624 is the only surviving member of the class to be built by the Southern Railway for hauling heavy freight, munitions and troop trains during the Second World War.
As well as a frequent steam train service between Norden, Corfe Castle, Harman's Cross and Swanage, the gala will also see some steam trains operating on the Swanage Railway's newly restored four-mile section of line between Norden and the River Frome, within sight of Wareham.
Running to a point half a mile south of Worgret Junction – at the River Frome – on the main London to Weymouth line west of Wareham station, the trains will have a steam locomotive at each end.
Fowler 7F No. 53809 and Stanier 8F No. 48624 will be joined by the Swanage Railway's fleet of steam locomotives – Victorian-designed M7 tank No. 30053 built in 1905, late 1920s Southern Railway U-class No. 31806 and 1940s Southern Railway Battle of Britain class Bulleid Pacific No. 34070 'Manston'.
Swanage Railway General Manager Matt Green said: "With two visiting classic steam locomotives built in the 1920s and the 1940s – and six trains a day running to the River Frome near Wareham, two of them in the evening when it's dark – this year's Autumn Steam Gala will be one to remember.
"It was a Stanier 8F locomotive that hauled one of the last passenger trains – an enthusiasts' special from Bath to Bournemouth via Blandford and Broadstone – on the last day of Somerset and Dorset line in March, 1966.
"The Somerset and Dorset 7F locomotives were marvellous locomotives and were the workhorses of the Somerset and Dorset line, from Broadstone to Bath via Blandford, for almost 40 years. No. 53809 was withdrawn in 1964.
"Built in 1943 at Ashford in Kent, 8F No. 48624 was withdrawn by British Railways in 1965 and sent to a scrapyard at Barry in South Wales. It escaped the cutter's torch after being purchased by dedicated enthusiasts in 1981 who took 28 years to restore it to full working order," explained Mr Green.
The award-winning Purbeck Mineral and Mining Museum, next to Norden station, will be open during all three days of the gala, as will be the goods shed museum, exhibition coach and cinema coach at Corfe Castle station.
The refreshment kiosk on the platform at Norden station, as well as the station buffet coach at Swanage, will be open during the three-day steam gala – as will the fund-raising shop at Swanage station.
A £10 supplement is payable for travel on the Norden and the River Frome steam trains but gala rover ticket holders can travel on these trains for free.
The Swanage Railway welcomes new volunteers – for an informal chat, contact Swanage Railway volunteer co-ordinator Mike Whitwam on 01929 475212 or email '[email protected]'.