Saintly visit to the Gloucestershire Warwickshire Steam Railway

Ian Crowder
February 21, 2024

• Cotswold Festival of Steam to welcome new-build ‘Saint’ class locomotive • Locomotive 2999 Lady of Legend makes first visit to the Cotswolds • Four types of GW 4-6-0s together for first time in preservation • Cotswold Festival of Steam, 25-27 May 2024: tickets now available

The Gloucestershire Warwickshire Steam Railway (GWSR) will be blessed by the visit of a Saint for its Cotswold Festival of Steam, 25-27 May 2024.

The Saint in question is the newly-built Great Western Railway replica of ‘Saint’ class 4-6-0 steam locomotive no. 2999 Lady of Legend and it perfectly fits the theme of the event, ‘Western Workhorses’.  

The Saint class was a genuinely ground-breaking design introduced by the Great Western Railway’s Chief Mechanical Engineer, G J Churchward, in 1902.  The locomotive incorporated many revolutionary ideas that offered outstanding performance.  It influenced steam engineering right up to the last locomotives built for British Railways.  It was the first of the Great Western Railway’s express locomotives to have six driving wheels instead of the widely-used four: small locomotives that were beginning to struggle with increasingly heavy trains.

The new locomotive was designed and built by the Great Western Society at Didcot Railway Centre, steaming for the first time in 2019 and fulfilling the ambition of many to see an example of this famous class running once again.  Although 77 ‘Saints’were built between 1902 and 1913, all had been withdrawn by 1953: superseded by more modern designs that nevertheless followed the principles established by Churchward.

Tom Willson, Chairman of the event’s organising committee, says: “Seeing the Saint grace the rails of the GWSR really is a dream come true for the many supporters of our railway.

“We are deeply grateful to the Great Western Society and Didcot Railway Centre for entrusting us with their fine new locomotive.  It is an extremely elegant design that will look very much at home on our beautiful Cotswold railway.”

Richard Jermyn of the Great Western Society added: “We are equally delighted to see Lady of Legend appear at the GWSR, an ambition we have held since the locomotive was completed.  We have had a long and happy relationship with the GWSR and a number of locomotives from Didcot have visited the Cotswold line over the years.  

“Original ‘Saints’ used to work expresses over this route between the Midlands and the West Country.  Seeing a Saint on one of its old stamping grounds will be a real thrill.”

Lady of Legend joins another newly-built locomotive, Grange class 4-6-0 no. 6880 Betton Grange, at the event.  This locomotive also fills a gap in Great Western Railway designs that have otherwise disappeared.  Betton Grange has only just been completed: it represents a class that once, like the Saint, could frequently be seen hauling trains travelling over the line that has now become the GWSR.  All of the original Grange class, which were introduced in 1936, were withdrawn by end of 1965.

In a first for preservation, four different types of two-cylinder 4-6-0s will be together at the event.  The two visitors will join the GWSR’s own working fleet which include two other Great Western Railway-designed two-cylinder 4-6-0s: ‘Manor’ class no. 7820 Dinmore Manor and ‘Modified Hall’ class no. 7903 Foremarke Hall.  

Two Great Western 2-8-0 freight locomotives from the railway’s home fleet will also be working: no. 2807, which having been built in 1905 is the oldest Swindon-built locomotive in working order; and later sister no. 3850 which is close to the end of an extensive overhaul at the Toddington workshops of the GWSR.  Toddington-based SR Merchant Navy class Pacific no. 35006 Peninsular & Oriental S.N. Co will also be running.

A further visitor has yet to be announced.

Added Tom Willson: “This is shaping up once again to be an outstanding event and we’re thrilled to be presenting four classes of Great Western 4-6-0s together: a first for preservation.  Last year we were honoured to have won a Cotswold Concierge award as the ‘Best Event in the Cotswolds’ and we are working hard to make the 2024 Festival even better!”

Discounted ‘Early Bird’ tickets are now available up to 22 April and full information about the Festival, which will feature up to eight locomotives in steam and a wide range of attractions, can be found on the GWSR’s website.