The Friends of the
National Railway Museum

South of England Group
Vice Presidents: Richard Hardy; Sir William McAlpine Bt, FRSE, FCIT, FRSA

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3 January 2006

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The Work of the GWR Preservation Group
by R. A. Gorridge, Chairman GWR Preservation Group
12 November 2001

In introducing Bob Gorridge to our November meeting, our own Roy Bell noted that they had first met at Barry scrapyard on a cold Sunday January in 1975. Bob took up the story - he was preparing to purchase an engine, however there wasn't much of interest on that occasion. Another visit, several months later, identified a potential candidate, albeit marked for sale to WSR! Negotiations enabled him to secure it. An advertisment in the Railway Magazine had previously intitiated the formation of the group. Membership was mainly drawn from West London - Roy was member 22. Within 9 months they had raised the purchase price of £6000 plus VAT. Another £2000 was needed to move the loco. There was the opportunity to restore the engine at Paington, where the members had decided to run it when complete, but this would have meant considerable travelling time for the restoration team. They contacted Swindon works but got the brush off. Bob then identified the old warehouse at Southall. A lease was signed with Walls Meat Company in 1979, and a bit of work on the track allowed the first engine to arrive later that year. They even cast covetous eyes at the adjoining Brentford branch for running.

Shortly after, Bob heard that the AEC works was about to closed and he successfully negotiated to buy their 1938 0-4-0 diesel shunter. The AEC driver gave instructions on how to drive it, although only how to use 2 gears - he had never used the higher gears in the company sidings! The Group's motive power grew again in the early 1980s following a visit to the Acton Main Power Station, where there were still 2 steam locos in operation. A tender for one of them was successful, and a RSH engine, which still had two years on its boiler certificate, duely arrived at Southall. A visit back to Barry saw them select a Pannier tank, which was basically just a running frame.

Then came the bombshell - Walls Meat Company had sold the site and wanted them out! Coincidentally, the Southall depot was closing. An exhausting two years trawl through BR bureacracy ended on 18 September 1992 with approval for the transfer - just-in-time because a writ had been served on them by the Walls Co. A full day's work saw the move from the old warehouse to Southall shed, but it was two further years before the site could be opened to the public.

Attendance grew until, by 1996 some 10,000 people visited during the year. Then in 1997 Railtrack refused to renew the lease. This was a bitter blow, especially as they had just secured a £250,000 local authority development grant. Despite protests nothing would change Railtrack's mind and Flying Scotsman were to move in. Despite Railtrack offering to find another site, there was still nowhere to move. Finally, Railtrack agreed to the use of a disused siding, along with a large heated industrial building, left after completion of the Paddington to Heathrow line. While a good facility for restoring stock, it cannot be opened to the public.

Meanwhile South West Trains' Strawbury Hill site was redundant. A planning application from the Group was successful. Back to Railtrack, but they said the lease had to be agreed with SWT. Unfortunately SWT would not agree a reasonable rent. Railtrack, who had previously said they would help secure an alternative site, refused to help. This is the current situation with SWT still making no use of the site and still refusing to reduce the proposed rent.

Because of all this uncertainty they lost some members but the group continues. Although not having public access, they raise money through a sales stand and even a touring jazz band. Restoration work continues, with the latest engine Pannier No 9682 achieving fame by hauling the Queen and Prince Philip on the Bodmin and Wenford Railway. It is currently on the North Norfolk. They hope to have it fitted with AWS equipment for running on Railtrack, and who knows, it may even run on the Brentford branch.

Meanwhile Flying Scotsman's use of the Southall site has not turned out as expected. Although the engine does come back to Southall, it spends most of its time at Stewart's Lane. There may therefore be some possibility of coming to some agreement with the current incumbents to use some of the site again.

Bob rounded off his talk with a short slide show, including some historic views of the site in 1893. This photo and several others in his show, originated from a celebration record of 25 years of progress by Otto Monsted, one of the first producer of margerine in the UK. They eventually became the Maypole Margerine comapany, and were subsequently taken over by Walls.