Didcot Railway Centre Historic Treasures

The town has had inhabitants for at least 9,000 years, although the earliest written record only dates from the 13th Century. Its main claim to fame is that it became a Great Western Railway junction in 1839, and continued to repair steam locomotives until these were replaced by electric power.

After we had disembarked from Queen Mary 2 at Southampton on a rainy Friday – and enjoyed London for a few days in our complimentary London Hotel in Hyde Park – we headed off to Wales to catch up with Rob’s family, and take a longboat ride up the Brecon Beacon Canal. Rob insisted we stop by at the Didcot Railway Centre in Oxfordshire, where there was so much to see. I suspect it has the makings of two posts.

Didcot General View
Didcot General View

The Didcot Railway Centre

In 1967, the Great Western Society leased the Didcot Railway Centre and has been restoring railway memorabilia there ever since. A modern railway network has completely surrounded it. The only way to get there is down a staircase, along a subway tunnel and back up again.

Hurry or we will miss the train at Didcot Railway Centre
Hurry or we will miss the train at Didcot Railway Centre

Steam Engines and Carriages

Historic treasures include a 1932 steam locomotive shed, the original loco repair shop and a 70 foot / 21 meter turntable with an inspection pit beneath. There are also three short stretches of railway track. The sights and sounds of a giant steam engine firing up and steaming off brought tears to my seasoned eyes.

Hey Good Looking What You Got Cooking
Hey Good Looking What You Got Cooking

In addition to the locomotives (I’ll save these until next week to keep you guessing) Didcot Railway Centre has over 40 carriages ranging from a Medical Officer’s Coach (built 1925 and converted during the Second World War)  to a Bogie Milk Churn Van from 1937. Many are in original, much loved if slightly tatty condition as one might expect. If restoration is inevitable, this can take the loyal band of volunteers ten years and more. Some things are not worth rushing.

Some mobile exhibits go on regular outings on tow behind the ‘puffing billies’, while others are static displays in the carriage shed at Didcot Railway Centre. I found the items awaiting restoration the most interesting of all. If I lived in Didcot, and not in Umtentweni near Durban South Africa I would worm my way in, and help sort them out. Meanwhile they moulder on beneath layers of dust. Oh what stories they would tell!

Great Western Society Didcot
The Great ‘Great Western’

The Great Western Society Railway Museum was under threat for many years, because the leaseholder Network Rail could serve a termination notice with six months grace. On 6 October 2011 they agreed a 50-year lease extension. Most visitors are oldies like me who grew up on steam and slept in tiny teak-lined compartments with six bunks. I wonder what youngsters will make of all this in 2061, when they come to visit Didcot Railway Centre.

Did I mention the possibility of going on a steam train ride at the Didcot Railway Centre? If you pop back some time next week – I am not saying exactly when – you can join me on one and I will tell you all about it. Meanwhile I will post a few pictures to keep you wondering. As they say, toot-toot and bon voyage.

About Richard Farrell

Richard FarrellI tripped over a shrinking bank balance and fell into the writing gig unintentionally. This was after I escaped the corporate world and searched in vain for ways to become rich on the internet by doing nothing. Despite the fact that writing is no recipe for wealth, I rather enjoy it. I will deny I am obsessed with it when I have the time.My base is Umtentweni in South Africa on the Kwazulu-Natal South Coast (30.7167° S, 30.4667° E). I work from home where I ponder on the future of the planet, and what lies beyond in the great hereafter. Sometimes I step out of my computer into the silent riverine forests, and empty golden beaches for which the area is renowned.

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