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Join us for an evening event at Didcot Railway Centre as we remember the earliest days of the Great Western Railway with two replica locomotives built as a tribute to the days when 'standard gauge' was seven feet and a quarter inch and everything else was considered narrow gauge!
The broad gauge was a creation of the legendary engineer Isambard Kingdom Brunel and existed from the start of the Great Western Railway up until 1892 when the last of the seven foot line was converted to what we now know as standard gauge in line with the main lines of the remainder of the country. Following the report of the Royal Commission on Railway Gauges in 1846, the Gauge Act was passed which insisted on four foot, eight and a half inches becoming the standard gauge across the country for new railways. Existing GWR lines continued as either broad or mixed gauge for nearly fifty more years and on eventual full conversion, the locos and stock were withdrawn and scrapped.
Our two locomotives for the evening are Iron Duke and Fire Fly. Iron Duke (named after the Duke of Wellington) is a replica of the 29-strong 1846-47 'Iron Duke' (later Alma) class of engine which were extremely fast locomotives capable of running at 55 miles per hour over prolonged distances and with a top speed of around eighty miles per hour. Amongst other duties, the locos hauled The Flying Dutchman named express which ran originally between London (Paddington) and Exeter St David's stations. The Flying Dutchman was named after a famous racehorse which won both the Derby and the St Leger in 1849 and was for many years the world's fastest train; it ran until 1892. The replica loco was constructed for the 150th anniversary of the GWR in 1985 and is part of the National Collection, now based permanently at Didcot.
Fire Fly is a replica of a Daniel Gooch 2-2-2 fast passenger design dating from 1840. There were 62 locomotives in the class in total, some of which lasted in traffic until 1879; the original Fire Fly remained in service for thirty years until 1870. A member of the class features in Joseph Mallord William Turner's famous oil painting Rain, Steam and Speed - The Great Western Railway (in the collection of the National Gallery in London) and class member Phlegethon hauled the first train to carry a British monarch, Queen Victoria, with both Gooch and Brunel on the footplate for the occasion. The replica was constructed over a twenty year period by the Firefly Trust. The loco first steamed in 2005 and now falls under the umbrella of Great Western Preservations Limited.
Our event will start at 17.00 hours and continue until approximately 22.00. One locomotive will appear on the two replica coaches originally commissioned by the NRM to accompany Iron Duke, the other will pose alongside in the broad gauge siding. Though neither locomotive is currently operational, a little TimeLine magic with smoke machines and lighting should ensure that our scenes are brought to life in a thoroughly realistic manner. No event would be complete without correctly attired re-enactors so expect there to be a good dose of period dressed engine crews and Victorian Passengers to top off what we expect to be an exceptional event.
As far as we know, there has never been a charter featuring the broad gauge at Didcot and we hope this enticing prospect will tempt you to join us for a journey back in time.