Cadbury No. 1: the tiny tank locomotive that started it all

By: Ian Crowder

First written in 2009, latest update August 2021


22nd April 1984 was quite a special day in the history of the Gloucestershire Warwickshire Railway.


That's because a diminutive red tank locomotive and a single blue-and-grey railway coach set off from Toddington station on a journey along 700 yards of track … and into the future.  The then Minister of Transport, the Rt Hon. Nicholas Ridley MP had just snipped the ribbon marking the re-opening of the line and was aboard that  first train.


The GWR had, earlier that year, completed purchase of the 15 miles of derelict track bed from a point south of Hunting Butts tunnel on the outskirts of Cheltenham to just north of the site of Broadway station.


If that was the 'acorn' then the 'mighty oak' is today is a fully-operational, 14-mile line that must surely have been the vision that those early pioneers who, seeing 'Cadbury No. 1' shuffle off on its first short trip, dreamt of seeing.  Today a fleet of main line engines, including one of the largest express locomotives in the country: Merchant Navy class Pacific no. 35006 Peninsular & Oriental SN Co  is among a magnificent fleet of steam and heritage diesel locomotives handling trains of up to eight carriages.  But the line is still has huge scope for development and growth.


But what of that tiny tank locomotive? Where is it now?


The engine in question was a delightful Avonside 0-4-0T which was built to shunt the sidings at the Cadbury chocolate factory in Bournville, near Birmingham.  Cadburys were very proud of their locomotive fleet.  This particular engine, resplendent in red-brown 'Bournville' livery with the legend 'Cadbury Bournville No. 1' picked out in gold leaf on the tank side, was immaculately turned out as were the rest of the factory's fleet.  Those were the days when chocolate and cocoa travelled by train to destinations all over the UK - long before the days of motorways and juggernaut road transporters.  Cadburys ceased using rail transport in 1976.


Cadbury No. 1 was completed in 1925 at the Avonside Engine Company in Bristol, as works number 1977; one of four similar locomotives supplied to Cadbury.  It operated at Bournville until 1963 when it was sold to the Dowty Railway Preservation Society whose base was at Ashchurch in Gloucestershire, on a site owned by Dowty Mining. In 1982 the Society was given notice to quit as the site was to be redeveloped. The following year, agreement was reached to move the 10 miles to Toddington, and the standard-gauge rolling stock, including Cadbury No. 1, was transported to the GWR.  A steel two-road locomotive shed (known by volunteer staff as 'the Dowty shed') was also moved and it served the railway well until the present David Page locomotive shed was built.


Dowty Railway Preservation Society started concentrating on laying the narrow gauge railway at Toddington and changed its name to the North Gloucestershire Railway Company.  However, Cadbury No. 1 enjoyed its moment of glory when it operated the first public train on 22 April 1984.  This was a 'push-pull' service, and all trains on the GWR were so operated until the line reached Winchcombe in 1987 where a run-round loop was installed.


The little Avonside tank remained the only steam locomotive available at the GWR until the end of 1985 when its 10-year boiler certificate expired after a year-long extension and Peckett 0-4-0ST John took over (this locomotive remains at Toddington and is at the time of writing undergoing an extensive overhaul). However, as the line grew, small industrial locomotives were clearly becoming less appropriate and the North Gloucestershire Railway Company decided to sell engine to the Birmingham Railway Museum at Tyseley. It was overhauled and spent a number of years operating there before, once again, its boiler certificate expired and it has since remained stored next to the Tyseley turntable.


To mark the 25th year of operation on the GWR it appeared at the 25th Anniversary Cotswold Festival of Steam, 23rd to 26th May 2009.  Although not in steam, it received a cosmetic overhaul and appeared resplendent in its smart Cadbury livery.


It was a reminder of how far the GWR has gone over the past quarter of a century.  From 0-4-0 tank locomotive to the might of a Merchant navy pacific, the railway's motive power is a powerful reminder of just how much the railway has progressed.


2021 marks the 40th Anniversary of the formation of Gloucestershire Warwickshire Steam Railway Plc which was formed to purchase as much as possible of the former Stratford-upon-Avon to Cheltenham ex-GWR main line.  If that was the acorn that started it all then today we do indeed have a mighty oak which, surely will become mightier yet.



Click on the images below to enlarge them.