The 6989 Restora­tion Group has writ­ten it­self into Barry folk­lore, re­ports TOBY JEN­NINGS.

Steam Railway (UK) - - CONTENTS -

No. 6989 Wightwick Hall – the 150th ex-Barry lo­co­mo­tive to be re­stored

It’s pro­nounced ‘Wittick’, not ‘White-wick’, as one might rea­son­ably as­sume – or so the re­stor­ers of No. 6989 have been as­sured by lo­cal res­i­dents near its name­sake, and other vis­i­tors who share Wightwick as a sur­name.

It’s im­por­tant to get that straight now, be­cause lots of peo­ple will be talk­ing about this ‘Mod­i­fied Hall’ pretty soon. Just over 40 years af­ter it left Barry scrap­yard, the Hawksworth 4-6-0 has set a land­mark in rail­way preser­va­tion his­tory. Of the 213 lo­co­mo­tives that were res­cued from Dai Wood­ham’s fa­mous yard, it is the 150th to re­turn to steam.


As de­scribed last is­sue, your au­thor’s bat­tered, pen­cil-marked copy of The Barry List keeps track of ev­ery lo­co­mo­tive from that South Wales ele­phant’s grave­yard that re­turns to steam, and af­ter Oc­to­ber 18, the grand to­tal on its last page was read­ing ‘149 steamed – 80097 – 64 to go’.

On Wightwick Hall’s foot­plate on De­cem­ber 11, as the lo­co­mo­tive was mak­ing one of its first runs un­der its own steam at the Buck­ing­hamshire Rail­way Cen­tre, the magic ‘S’ was writ­ten next to the num­ber 6989 in the list, and the to­tal cer­e­mo­ni­ously al­tered to ‘150 steamed – 6989 – 63 to go’.

Alan Vessey, one of two vol­un­teers still with the 6989 Restora­tion Group who have been with the pro­ject since its in­cep­tion, de­scribed the en­gine’s com­ple­tion as “a dream come true… some­thing I didn’t think I’d ever live to see, be­ing aged 84!”

Yet iron­i­cally, had the group’s early and op­ti­mistic pre­dic­tions come true, Wightwick Hall would have been closer to the 50th Barry restora­tion than the 150th. Or we could have been writ­ing this ar­ti­cle about an en­tirely dif­fer­ent Western en­gine. The au­then­tic GWR ‘150’ re­port­ing num­ber adorn­ing Wightwick Hall’s smoke­box door for its first moves was kindly loaned by the Great Western So­ci­ety at Did­cot. This turned out to be oddly ap­pro­pri­ate, for Alan re­mem­bers that the orig­i­nal restora­tion team com­prised “50% from Quain­ton Road and 50% Did­cot men”, the lat­ter led by Rod Thomas, a BR em­ployee at Padding­ton and the 6989 Group’s first chair­man.

They had orig­i­nally been in­ter­ested in ‘2884’ 2-8-0 No. 3803 (which, in the event, re­turned to steam at the South Devon Rail­way in 2006 and is now await­ing a fur­ther over­haul). But then they spot­ted the derelict, rust­ing hulk of Wightwick Hall.

“It was a sorry sight,” re­called Alan as he looked at the gleam­ing BR lined green ma­chine sim­mer­ing be­fore him at Quain­ton Road. “It was black, streaked with rust and as­bestos was burst­ing out of the boiler cladding.

“But now look at it – that’s through sheer per­se­ver­ance!”

Jeff Jack­son, who is writ­ing a his­tory of the epic restora­tion, takes up the story: “They dis­cov­ered that the Bris­tol Sub­ur­ban Rail­way Group [now the Avon Val­ley Rail­way] no longer wished to pur­chase No. 6989, so it could be ours for £5,000.

“The pur­chase of No. 3803 was there­fore aban­doned and a group was formed to raise the ask­ing price for No. 6989. Some months later, as funds were steadily in­creas­ing, the ask­ing price was raised to £8,500 ow­ing to in­creased scrap metal val­ues!

This large jump was beyond our means, so a loan was se­cured from Adrian Tucker of the 6024 Restora­tion Team and the Quain­ton Rail­way So­ci­ety.

“Sub­se­quently, hav­ing fought off a com­pet­ing bid, rep­re­sen­ta­tives of the newly formed con­sor­tium com­pris­ing Rod Thomas, John Wood (who trained as an ap­pren­tice at Old Oak Com­mon), Brian Wheeler (a BR (WR) Sig­nal & Tele­graph en­gi­neer) and Roy Ox­en­dale, plus mem­bers of the orig­i­nal group, rep­re­sented by Eric Miller, Chris Tayler, Alan Vessey and his son Robin, went back to Barry on Jan­uary 8 1977 and Rod Thomas handed over a cheque for £9,180, in­clud­ing VAT, for No. 6989 and a ten­der to Dai Wood­ham.”


With the ‘Mod­i­fied’ se­cured, the vol­un­teers be­gan work­ing at Barry to pro­tect it against the salty sea air from the Bris­tol Chan­nel, and gen­er­ally make it look more pre­sentable. In the lat­ter, at least, it seems they were suc­cess­ful.

In his book The Barry Lo­co­mo­tive Phe­nom­e­non, Peter Ni­chol­son re­counts: “The founder of the Barry Steam Lo­co­mo­tive Ac­tion Group’s Mid­lands group, Harry ‘H’ Bar­ber, de­cided that an en­gine was not prop­erly dressed with­out a chim­ney. Af­ter a few at­tempts he per­fected his glass fi­bre repli­cas to such good ef­fect that, when No. 6023 King Ed­ward II was of­fi­cially ex­am­ined, the re­port read ‘chim­ney in po­si­tion’

– as good an ac­co­lade as ‘H’ could hope for!”

Some­thing very sim­i­lar hap­pened with Wightwick Hall, ex­plains Jeff: “The group put a resin replica num­ber­plate on No. 6989’s cab­side to re­store its iden­tity.” The replica was so con­vinc­ing that some­one mis­took it for the real thing and tried to steal it, he adds.

The next step was the move to Quain­ton Road but, says Jeff: “Hav­ing had to spend more than was ex­pected on the pur­chase, lim­ited funds dic­tated that the group could move ei­ther the ten­der or the en­gine, but not both. The de­ci­sion as to which to move first was made for them when it was dis­cov­ered that No. 6989’s bo­gie would have to be re­moved for the lo­co­mo­tive to fit on the low-loader.

“Fur­ther funds were raised and a visit made to Did­cot Rail­way Cen­tre to work out how best to re­move the bo­gie from a ‘Hall’. The work­ing party went back to Barry on Jan­uary 8 1978 to re­move the bo­gie and load the now 0-6-0 ‘Hall’. The ten­der had been col­lected on July 23 1977, ar­riv­ing at Quain­ton the fol­low­ing day.

“No. 6989 was above the weight limit for the Sev­ern Bridge (the sec­ond bridge was not built then), so the jour­ney had to be made via Chep­stow and Glouces­ter, with an overnight stop in Chel­tenham.”

The haulage con­trac­tor was Mike Lawrence of High­bridge, who played a sig­nif­i­cant part in the Barry story – Wightwick Hall be­ing the fifth of around 80 lo­co­mo­tives that he trans­ported to their new homes. Re­calls Jeff: “Not long af­ter­wards, Mike in­vested in a new rig that could have ac­com­mo­dated the whole en­gine and saved us hav­ing to re­move the bo­gie!”


From the very be­gin­ning of its life, Wightwick Hall was set­ting mile­stones; al­though com­pleted un­der BR aus­pices on March 25 1948, it was the penul­ti­mate steam lo­co­mo­tive or­dered by ‘God’s Won­der­ful Rail­way’ prior to na­tion­al­i­sa­tion.

The gods were smil­ing on it for its first moves in preser­va­tion, too – a crisp and still win­ter’s day, with a cloud­less sky in which the col­umn of steam from its safety valves was vis­i­ble some miles from Quain­ton.

In con­trast, the en­gine’s un­load­ing there on Tues­day Jan­uary 10 1978 “was car­ried out in very un­pleas­ant con­di­tions. There was a black frost and bare hands would stick to the metal.”

On the pre­vi­ous “cold and damp Mon­day evening” when the low-loader ar­rived at Quain­ton, the press were also in at­ten­dance – a re­porter from the lo­cal Bucks Her­ald. Asked for a state­ment, and with the eter­nal op­ti­mism of the preser­va­tion­ist, Eric ‘Dusty’ Miller – then the group’s chief fund-raiser – replied: “We paid more than £8,000 for her. Struc­turally she is very sound and the boiler is in good con­di­tion.

“It’ll take three to five years to com­plete the work.”

And so the work be­gan – but it would take a great deal longer than three to five years.

There can’t be a Barry restora­tion pro­ject any­where that has not had to track down com­po­nents scat­tered to the four winds, but for Wightwick Hall, it seems that some are so near and yet so far.

As the ‘Mod­i­fied’ gin­gerly inched its way into the his­tory books un­der its own steam on De­cem­ber 11, it was just a few yards from Quain­ton’s Up side restora­tion shed. Here, some of the parts taken from it at Barry are thought to re­main – but the group can no longer get at them.

Ex­plains Jeff: “We found out in 2015 that some items were buried at Quain­ton as a pre­cau­tion against theft be­cause there was no ef­fec­tive con­trol of en­try to the site at that time. Un­for­tu­nately, the cur­rent team was not made aware of this and we sus­pect some com­po­nents ended up in the foun­da­tions of the Up yard shed.”


From the very be­gin­ning of its life, Wightwick Hall was up­hold­ing the pride of the Great Western Rail­way. When turned out from a newly na­tion­alised Swin­don Works, in­stead of wear­ing BR’s new lined black liv­ery, it was car­ry­ing the tra­di­tional green, al­beit with ‘Bri­tish Rail­ways’ let­ter­ing on the ten­der.

Says Jeff: “Around Fe­bru­ary 1948, BR in­structed Swin­don Works that by the end of that week no more green paint was to be made in their paint fac­tory. Five hun­dred gal­lons of Brunswick green was hur­riedly made to beat this dead­line and stored in un­la­belled five­g­al­lon drums. Once the drums were opened, they had to be used!”

The ded­i­cated vol­un­teers have also stuck to Swin­don tra­di­tion. To en­sure ac­cu­rate re­pro­duc­tions of the name­plates, Alan Vessey re­calls how the en­gine’s name­sake hall near Wolver­hamp­ton

– a special needs school since 1956 – al­lowed him to “climb up onto one of their side­boards” to take a brass rub­bing of the orig­i­nal name­plate dis­played on the wall.

The brass bead­ing on the re­sult­ing replica ‘plates was made by Swin­don cop­per­smith Trevor Trem­blin – but, de­spite ap­pear­ances, the letters are nei­ther brass nor cop­per, but gun­metal. Char­lie Jones, the group’s chief en­gi­neer, as­sures us that this was “not un­com­mon” at Swin­don.


From the very be­gin­ning of its life, there seem to have been odd par­al­lels of his­tory for Wightwick Hall. Per­haps it was al­ways meant to be the 150th Barry restora­tion.

Dur­ing Novem­ber and De­cem­ber 1959, when al­lo­cated to Worces­ter, it worked in turns with class­mate No. 6984 Ows­den Hall on the ‘Cam­brian Coast Ex­press’ be­tween Shrews­bury and Wolver­hamp­ton – and 60 years later it is cur­rently cou­pled to a Col­lett 4,000-gal­lon ten­der hired from Ows­den Hall, whose own restora­tion from Barry con­di­tion is near­ing com­ple­tion at the Swin­don & Crick­lade Rail­way.

Wightwick Hall’s own ten­der is still to be com­pleted; the one with which it en­tered Barry was bought by the GWS for No. 5051 Drys­ll­wyn Cas­tle, so the 6989 Group ac­quired ten­der No. 2825, which was last paired with No. 7927 Willing­ton Hall.

With former ‘Barry Ten’ en­gine Willing­ton Hall now dis­man­tled to pro­vide parts for the new ‘Grange’ and ‘County’, it’s heart­en­ing to know that its ten­der will still feed coal and wa­ter to an­other ‘Mod­i­fied Hall’. But to fin­ish said ten­der, the group still needs £20,000 – so the fund-rais­ing ef­forts are not over yet.

Chris Tayler is the group’s other long­est-serv­ing vol­un­teer, hav­ing been its trea­surer for all of those 40 years – but he pays trib­ute to his wife Ann, who runs the group’s sales coach and who, he es­ti­mates, “has raised two-thirds of the funds”.

“It goes to show what a group with­out big fi­nan­cial back­ing can do,” he says. Char­lie adds: “The only back­ers have been our own mem­bers – and at times there’s only been four or five of us.”

Chris’s son Mike, who was aged seven when the group was formed, con­cludes: “We’ve not tot­ted up the cost as we would scare our­selves.”


Over the 50 years (and count­ing) of the Barry story, many have crit­i­cised the col­lec­tive ef­fort to buy so many lo­co­mo­tives from the leg­endary scrap­yard, on the grounds that all it achieved was to scat­ter its con­tents across the coun­try in dozens of ‘mini-Bar­rys’, where the wrecks con­tinue to rot in sid­ings with­out the finance or man­power to re­store them. Which makes it all the more fit­ting that Wightwick Hall should set the land­mark of the 150th Barry restora­tion, and that Quain­ton Road should be the lo­ca­tion.

For in its early days, Alan re­calls, the cen­tre “was al­ways known as the ‘Barry of Buck­ing­hamshire’,” with Wightwick Hall, ‘72XX’ 2-8-2T No. 7200, No. 6024 King Ed­ward I, ‘West Coun­try’

No. 34016 Bod­min and BR ‘4MT’ 2-6-0 No. 76017 all gath­ered there in var­i­ous stages of restora­tion… or re­ceiv­ing no at­ten­tion at all.

“But we’ve out­lived those days,” he con­tin­ues, ob­serv­ing how all of those lo­co­mo­tives have been re­turned to steam – with the ex­cep­tion of No. 7200.

In the cen­tre’s Down side restora­tion shed, just a stone’s throw from where Wightwick Hall made its first moves, that heavy freight tank is now at an ad­vanced stage of restora­tion – and the im­pres­sive ‘72XXs’ are the last class res­cued from Barry of which we have still to see an ex­am­ple steam in preser­va­tion.

More than 50 years af­ter the first ac­qui­si­tion from Barry, the le­gacy of Dai Wood­ham’s yard con­tin­ues. We are still achiev­ing his­toric mile­stones – and there are more to come.


On the main line again? It al­most looks that way as Wightwick Hall runs gen­tly along the Up side demon­stra­tion line at Quain­ton Road on De­cem­ber 11.


On the foot­plate of a mov­ing Wightwick Hall, the lo­co­mo­tive is ‘signed off’ as hav­ing re­turned to steam in The Barry List.


The graf­fiti con­veys new hope for a for­lorn­look­ing Wightwick Hall at Barry in 1977, sand­wiched be­tween re­built and orig­i­nal Bulleid ‘Pacifics’. The 6989 num­ber­plate on the cab­side is the resin replica re­ferred to in the text.


The BR traf­fic no­tice for No. 6989’s move­ment to Barry in 1964.


The Quain­ton Rail­way So­ci­ety’s re­ceipt for the pur­chase of Wightwick Hall – al­though in­ter­est­ingly, it does not spec­ify which lo­co­mo­tive they had bought.

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