THE GLORIOUS AGE OF STEAM
In 1961, following the electrification of the London, Tilbury and Southend railway line, the first electric trains were introduced. Steam trains had regularly run on this line for over 100 years but the last scheduled steam train left Fenchurch Street heading for Thorpe Bay in June 1962.
Fittingly, in June 2012, fifty years later ‘The Duke’ a steam locomotive that has been lovingly restored, made this journey under full steam, attracting many sightseers.
The words below tell the story of how this engine was saved from the scrapyard. We thank Alex King who is Webmaster of the site www.dukeofgloucester.co.uk for allowing us to reproduce the information below.
A video, taken by Harry Faber, showing ‘The Duke’ as it passes through Benfleet railway station, can be viewed using the link at the bottom of this page.
When the rusty remains of ‘The Duke’ were rescued from a Welsh scrapyard in 1973, few people imagined that a complete locomotive would ever actually be seen again.The scepticism was essentially based on the fact that more than half the engine, including unique parts, was missing and this view was coloured by its less than glorious history. Unlike other big steam locomotives, which had established great reputations in British Railways’ service, ‘The Duke’ had been a failure. A mystery steaming problem had let down mechanical technology fifty years ahead of its time, and betrayed the potential of the engine to become a “World Beater”.
Fortunately the rescuers were not deterred and set out on what was described as “The Impossible Dream”. Their hopes were not only to restore ‘The Duke’ to full working condition but perhaps to find the mysterious problem affecting the boiler.
Thirteen years later, a giant steel “Phoenix” arose and began rewriting history. Two faults had been found in respect of the boiler during restoration, one a mistake in design, another a mistake in construction. After flawless performances on The Great Central Railway, ‘The Duke’ was brought up to main line running standards at Crewe and Didcot. In March 1990 a British Railways test run from Derby to Sheffield proved that the engine had been transformed into a Supersteamer, but this still had to be proved to the rest of the world.
Ray Hatton, a former Crewe fireman stated quite bluntly that, in the old days, if he was rostered for ‘The Duke’ he would go sick rather than endure the ordeal of trying to raise steam. In 1990, as a driver, Ray was astonished at the transformation in the locomotive and several years later he insisted on being allocated ‘The Duke’ in the Shap performance trials of 1995. The words of a photographer (Roy Avis), who witnessed the ascent, sum up the occasion perfectly:-
“A moment in history was captured, as the unique three-cylinder BR ‘8P’ 4-6-2 No. 71000 Duke of Gloucester, rebuilt from a Barry wreck, passed Tebay in the wind and rain of Monday October 2nd at the start of one of the most stirring steam-powered ascents of Shap ever recorded. The ‘Duke’ was the undoubted hero of the Days Out organised Shap Trials”.
But had ‘The Duke’ reached its full potential ? Finding the original faults had begun a tradition of investigating any apparent shortcomings of the engine and many improvements were made subsequently.
The 71000 Preservation Society, formed in 1973 became The 71000 Duke Of Gloucester Steam Locomotive Trust in 1977. Twenty years later The Heritage Lottery Fund awarded the latter a grant of £233,800 towards a programme of no less than seven major developments and a heavy general overhaul.