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Published: April 5, 2017

Story and Photographs by Andrew P.M. Wright                                                                                         Swanage Railway official photographer and press officer

An evocative celebration of the 50th anniversary of the end of steam trains in southern England – gathering the largest number of working Bulleid Pacific locomotives since the summer of 1967 – has resulted in the most successful steam gala in the history of the Swanage Railway.

The three-day 'Strictly Bulleid' event – staged between Friday, 31 March, and Sunday, 2 April, 2017 – saw a record-breaking 5,700 passengers carried on the trains all hauled by the classic 1940s-built Bulleid Pacific class of steam locomotives.

The record-breaking 5,700 passengers carried is more than the population of Wareham and four times the population of Corfe Castle.

For the special event, steam trains also operated on the Swanage Railway's four-mile newly completed extension from Norden station westwards to the River Frome – half a mile short of the main London to Weymouth line and within sight of Wareham.

Swanage Railway general manager Matt Green said: "We had an absolutely fantastic 'Strictly Bulleid' event with some 110 volunteers and staff helping to stage the event each day. It was a real Bulleid bonanza enjoyed by everyone.

"It has been a memorable and record-breaking event with the largest gathering of working Bullied Pacific steam locomotives in one place since the end of main line southern steam in the summer of 1967 – 50 years ago.

"We also had a record-breaking number of visitors to the event and while we had some train delays, in what was a tight timetable, there was a great atmosphere about the place.

"The quality of the workmanship that has gone into the visiting Bulleid Pacific steam locomotives was incredible. All the engines performed well, they were well-liked by the footplate crews and they came with some excellent locomotive owners and representatives," he added.

Designed by Oliver Bulleid for the Southern Railway during the Second World War, the massive Bulleid Pacific steam locomotives were built at Eastleigh and Brighton during the mid to late 1940s for hauling long express trains between London and the coast – from Kent down to Cornwall.

Matt Green added: "The 'Strictly Bulleid' event saw the most intensive operation of train services over the nine-mile branch – from Swanage to the River Frome, half a mile short of the main line near Wareham – since the major infrastructure works along the line were completed last year.

"Our volunteers and staff really pulled out all the stops to help put on a fantastic show and we have received many compliments from visitors who really enjoyed the event and appreciated the huge amount of work and dedication that went into staging it.

"The 'Strictly Bulleid' steam gala committee – as well as a great number of volunteers and staff – put in a phenomenal amount of hours to help us mark in style 50 years since the end of steam trains in the south of England. I can't thank them enough because the event's success is a result of their planning and hard work during the three days.

"The Swanage Railway's hard-working retail and catering outlets were exceptionally busy and we expect them to have produced record takings once the figures have been fully analysed," added Mr Green.

For one of the event's visiting Bulleid Pacifics – Battle of Britain class No. 34053 'Sir Keith Park' – it was the first time that the classic locomotive was seen at Swanage and Corfe Castle since the summer of 1964 when it hauled a long train from the Purbeck seaside resort to London's Waterloo station.

Swanage Railway Trust chairman Gavin Johns was equally delighted with the success of the Strictly Bulleid commemorative event: "The wonderful turnout for, and success of, this event – bringing many people to the Isle of Purbeck – demonstrates the continuing interest in what the Swanage Railway offers.

"Our volunteers and staff worked really hard to plan and deliver this complex event and its success reflects this dedication. The 50th anniversary of the end of steam in the south of England was celebrated in style," he added.

It was on Sunday, 9 July, 1967, that the last Bulleid Pacific steam locomotives hauled long express trains, at speeds of up to 100 mph, between London, Basingstoke, Southampton, Bournemouth, Poole, Dorchester and Weymouth.

The end of steam trains on British Rail's Southern Region on Monday, 10 July, 1967, saw electric trains brought in between London and Bournemouth with diesel trains operating between Bournemouth and Weymouth.

The huge frames of yet to be restored West Country class Bulleid Pacific No. 34010 'Sidmouth' were on display at Corfe Castle station during the 'Strictly Bulleid' event.

And the Swanage Railway's Herston engineering works – on the outskirts of Swanage – was open on the Saturday and Sunday so the public could admire Battle of Britain class Bulleid Pacific No. 34072 '257 Squadron' in the final stages of its complex restoration.

The four Bulleid Pacific steam locomotives that visited the Swanage Railway for the three days of Bulleid brilliance were West Country classes No. 34046 'Braunton' and No. 34092 'City of Wells' as well as Battle of Britain classes No. 34053 'Sir Keith Park' and No. 34081 '92 Squadron'.

The fifth Bulleid Pacific appearing at the 'Strictly Bulleid' commemorative event was Swanage Railway-based Battle of Britain class No. 34070 'Manston' sporting its original 1940s air-smoothed casing over the boiler.

Certified for hauling excursion trains on the main line and based in London, visiting Bulleid Pacific No. 34046 'Braunton' appeared in the guise of fellow Bulleid Pacific No. 34052 'Lord Dowding' scrapped in the 1960s.

The award-winning Purbeck Mineral and Mining Museum was open next to Norden station as was the popular goods shed museum, exhibition coach and cinema coach at Corfe Castle station.

There were also enthusiast and trade sales stands at Swanage and Corfe Castle stations.

The Swanage Railway always welcomes new volunteers so for an informal chat, contact Swanage Railway volunteer co-ordinator Mike Whitwam on 01929 475212 or email '[email protected]'.