Didcot unveils complete ‘Saint’
Didcot and Steam Railway appeal supporters turn out for final appearance by No. 2999 before spring steam launch.
Just a week after ‘Patriot’ No. 5551’s Remembrance Day appearance, another new-build 4-6-0 emerged – GWR ‘Saint’ No. 2999 Lady of Legend at Didcot Railway Centre on November 17/18.
Like the Fowler ‘5XP’ (see New-Build News), the Great Western Society’s Churchward locomotive was not yet ready to steam, and carried a temporary coat of BR unlined black paintwork – but provided a tantalising glimpse of an extinct class and a window into a lost part of the steam era.
It masqueraded as not one but two long-scrapped ‘Saints’ – carrying the original name and numberplates from No. 2908
Lady of Quality on one side, and replica plates of No. 2983 Redgauntlet on the other.
It was also the first sighting of a ‘Saint’ in black since 1953, when the last example – No. 2920 Saint David – was scrapped. However, the nationalised look was temporary, as the plan is to officially unveil No. 2999 in Edwardian-era GWR lined green when it is ready to steam, expected next spring (see also our new-build survey on pages 84-88) and it will not carry lined BR black as previously planned (SR462).
In a remarkable link to the
early history of the class, one of the visitors to the Sunday of the event was Myra Blair, the granddaughter of GWR engineman Henry James Robinson, who in May 1906, allegedly drove the newly built ‘Saint’ No. 2903 Lady of Lyons at 120mph.
The light engine run from Swindon to Stoke Gifford and back was undertaken to ascertain if a locomotive fresh from the workshops could attain 100mph.
It was first reported in The Times of January 14 1932 in an item about Mr Robinson’s retirement as GWR chief locomotive inspector, which prompted correspondence between The Railway Magazine and GWR Chief Mechanical Engineer Charles Collett, who had also been on No. 2903’s footplate as assistant manager of Swindon Works.
Although some timings with a stopwatch were calculated at 120mph, and the time for the 4½ miles between Little Somerford and Hullavington was booked as two minutes, Collett responded that “while the object of running a new engine on its first trip at over 100mph was achieved, the timing could not be regarded as accurate and the 102.3mph of
City of Truro in 1904 must remain the best duly authenticated railway speed record that this country has yet witnessed.”
From left, GWS Chairman Richard Croucher, Peter Gransden, Ali Matthews, Ron Hows and 2999 Project Manager Peter Chatman.
Myra Blair, granddaughter of Henry James Robinson who was credited with driving No. 2903 at over 100mph, on a test run in May 1906.
Gloss black covers the externally complete ‘Saint’ No. 2999 alongside Didcot engine shed on November 17.