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HISTORIC 'BRITANNIA' – THE FIRST OF ALMOST A THOUSAND NEW POST-WAR STEAM LOCOMOTIVES – TO STAR IN SPRING STEAM GALA

Published: March 23, 2015

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

She was the first of almost a thousand new Standard class post-war steam locomotives and was built by British Railways at the start of the new Elizabethan era of the 1950s – summing up forward-looking optimism after almost six years of the grinding and costly Second World War.

The massive 94-ton express train leviathan of steam also had the honour of hauling the funeral train of King George VI, the present Queen's father,  from King's Lynn in Norfolk to London following his death during February, 1952, at Sandringham House.

Now, history is to be made on the Swanage Railway when No. 70000 'Britannia' – the Concorde of its time that hauled express passenger trains at up to 90 mph – hauls service trains on the Swanage Railway for the first time as it stars in the heritage line's Spring Steam Gala from Friday, 17 April to Sunday, 19 April, 2015 (inclusive).

It will also be the first time that the other steam locomotive starring in the gala event – the classic and powerful 1930s 'Schools' class main line express No. 925 'Cheltenham' from the National Railway Museum's prestigious National Collection – has hauled passenger trains on the Swanage Railway.

The three-day event will see 'Britannia' and 'Cheltenham' haul passenger trains between Norden Park & Ride, Corfe Castle, Harman's Cross, Herston and Swanage as part of an intensive timetable.

Swanage Railway Interim General Manager Matt Green said: "We are delighted to be able to run 'Britannia' on the Swanage Railway for the first time because she is so historic as well as being such a magnificent and powerful steam locomotive.

"We are extremely grateful to 'Britannia's owners, the Royal Scot Locomotive and General Trust, for giving us this marvellous opportunity to run such an impressive locomotive through the Isle of Purbeck countryside and past the ruins of Corfe Castle. It will be an impressive sight and one that certainly won't be forgotten.

"Built in early 1950 at Crewe, 'Britannia' was the first of 999 new Standard class locomotives – of varying sizes and power classifications – to be built by the newly created British Railways with the design combining decades of railway knowledge and experience into the best possible engine.

"Back in the steam days of the 1950s and 1960s, the Standard class seven 'Britannia' hauled prestigious express trains at up to 90 mph as well as heavy freight trains in the east and north-west of England. On the Swanage Railway, she won't be running any faster than 25 mph," he added.

The 55-strong Britannia class of steam locomotives was designed for fast mixed traffic work with wide route availability on all principal routes.

The class featured a large boiler with a wide firebox – to maximise efficiency and power output – as well as all working parts being easily accessible for maintenance and repair.

The large footplate was also designed to make the driver and fireman's job as easy and convenient as possible, thereby also improving the efficiency and productivity of the locomotive crew for whom visibility from the footplate was increased.

No. 70000 'Britannia' was built at the British Railways engineering works in Crewe, Cheshire, during 1950 and completed in January, 1951 – being was allocated to Stratford depot on the Eastern Region of British Railways.

Matt Green explained: "The new Britannia class transformed the Liverpool Street to Norwich train service instantly with a two-hour schedule which also involved regular running at 90 mph while the locomotives' other work included heavy boat trains from Harwich in Essex."

Displaced by diesel locomotives in the mid-1960s, 'Britannia' was transferred to the north-west of England to work heavy trains between Manchester, Carlisle, Glasgow and Perth.

Eventually, the 15-year old locomotive was withdrawn from Newton Heath depot in Manchester during May, 1966 – the year that England won the World Cup against West Germany at Wembley.

Initially, No 70000 was put in store to become part of the National Railway Museum's National Collection but a fellow member of the Britannia class – 'Oliver Cromwell' – was chosen because it was the last steam locomotive overhauled by British Railways.

In 1969, the year that man first landed on the Moon, 'Britannia' was purchased by a group of enthusiasts – returning to steam on the Severn Valley heritage line eleven years late in 1980.

The late 1980s saw the leviathan of steam restored to main line running condition during the late 1980s and 'Britannia' is mainly based at Southall in west London, for servicing and maintenance, from where she hauls excursion trains on the national railway network and also visits preserved lines such as the Swanage Railway.

Prince Charles rode on the Royal Train behind No. 70000 'Britannia' in January, 2012, when he re-dedicated the locomotive which carried a specially painted white cab roof, as it did back in 1952 when it had the sad duty of hauling the funeral train of Prince Charles' grandfather.

Britannia briefly visited the Swanage Railway, in June 2012, when she hauled a London to Swanage Cathedrals Express day excursion.

Swanage Railway train times – and special event details – are available online at www.swanagerailway.co.uk or by telephone on 01929 425800.