CHURCH bells rang out in Swanage when a unique Victorian steam locomotive hauled its first passenger train since 1945 following a six-year, £650,000 restoration.
The launch of T3 class locomotive No. 563 on Saturday, October 7, was marked with the bells being rung at St Mary’s Church, which overlooks Swanage station, where several Swanage Railway volunteers are ringers.
The loco’s first two passenger trains carried invited guests and restoration project supporters from Swanage to Harman’s Cross, Corfe Castle and Norden at 12.35pm and 2.05pm.
The T3, resplendent in its 1890s Drummond passenger livery, hauled its first public-carrying passenger trains the next day.
One of the guests at the launch ceremony was Swanage Railway Trust patron Sir Philip Williams, whose great-grandfather was on the board of the London and South Western Railway Company that designed and built the steam loco.
Other guests included the King’s representative in Dorset, Lord-Lieutenant Angus Campbell; senior National Railway Museum curator Anthony Coulls; and Robert Adams, a descendant of the T3’s Victorian designer William Adams.
The T3’s restoration was a long process with specialist contractors at the Flour Mill workshops in the Forest of Dean, Gloucestershire, and at Swanage Railway’s Herston engineering works on the outskirts of Swanage starting work in late 2017 after the National Railway Museum donated the loco in non-working condition.
The engine had escaped being scrapped to mark the centenary of London’s Waterloo station in 1948.
Swanage Railway Trust chairman and volunteer signalman Gavin Johns said: “We were able to celebrate the T3’s return to passenger service after 78 years thanks to the National Railway Museum’s faith in the Swanage Railway Trust, the dedicated work of the 563 team, the strong support of our donors who shared the vision to return the engine to steam and the engineering skills of the team at the Flour Mill in Gloucestershire.
“What a brilliant and very original experience, which is a great example of enthusiasm for Britain’s railways at their very best.
“It was a pleasure to greet the Lord-Lieutenant and his wife who, along with Sir Philip and Lady Williams, were our guests of honour. It was good to see that they were able to meet as many supporters and guests as possible and had a great day on the Railway.
“The newly restored T3 looked magnificent in the October sunshine with the locomotive resplendent in its London and South Western Railway livery.”
Will Sheret, one of 563 Locomotive Group’s small team of volunteers who masterminded the loco’s restoration, fired the T3’s first passenger train since 1945.
He said: “It was great fun and wonderful to see so many T3 supporters and donors enjoying No. 563 and the Swanage Railway – a day that I could have scarcely imagined three years ago when we re-started the project after the end of the Covid-19 lockdowns.
“It was brilliant to enjoy the honour of firing the T3 [but] it was something of an adjustment compared to our bigger resident steam locomotives on the Swanage Railway like our 1940s Bulleid Pacifics.
“With a smaller boiler, you have to focus and be on top of the job at all times, but it’s a real privilege to fire a Victorian locomotive hauling passenger trains for the first time in 78 years.”
The 81-tonne London and South Western Railway T3 class No. 563 was built in 1893 to a design by renowned engineer William Adams and was one of the finest express passenger train locos of the Victorian era.
The locomotive was the last member of the T3 class and withdrawn from service in 1945 by the Southern Railway after running more than 1.5 million miles, and will this year mark the centenary of the Southern Railway and the 185th anniversary of the formation of the London and South Western Railway.
Anthony Coulls, senior curator of Rail Transport and Technology at the National Railway Museum, said: “The National Railway Museum transferred the T3 class locomotive No. 563 to the Swanage Railway Trust in 2017 because of the heritage railway’s outstanding record in recreating a classic Southern Region branch line and the locomotive’s strong historical connections to the area.
“We are thrilled to see the T3 returning to steam for the first time in 75 years and now being able to offer passengers the unique experience of riding behind the Victorian locomotive through the Purbeck countryside.”
The Lord-Lieutenant of Dorset, Angus Campbell, said: “Returning the T3 to the rails is a triumph for the Swanage Railway as well as its dedicated volunteers and supporters. An elegant example of living history, No. 563 will be seen in all her glory in the Isle of Purbeck to the delight of all.
“The restoration of No. 563 is a magnificent example of what can be done with true dedication, determination and very hard work. She brings the beauty of our Victorian past back to Dorset and is yet another triumph for the Swanage Railway.”
Swanage Railway patron Sir Philip Williams, who lives in West Dorset, has a special link to the T3 and the London and South Western Railway through his great-grandfather who joined the board of the London and South Western in 1892 when the first of its T3 locomotives was built.
Generations of Sir Philip’s ancestors also played an important part in enabling the London and South Western to reach Dorchester, from Southampton, in 1847 by helping to promote the required Act in Parliament and buying land over which the railway would need a right of way.
Sir Philip said: “The T3 is a magnificent and supremely elegant locomotive – a wonderful living exemplar of the great age of steam in the territory for which she was designed. It will be fantastic to see No. 563 in steam and raring to go again.
“It is also a very great pleasure and privilege for me to have been asked to participate in No. 563’s launch ceremony and ride in her first train. Because of my family link to the London and South Western Railway and the T3, I will have a real sense of history in re-launching the locomotive.”
No. 563 will haul trains on the Swanage Railway during half-term week – between Saturday and Sunday, October 21- 29 inclusive, with tickets available online at swanagerailway.co.uk and from Swanage station on the day, subject to availability.
Anyone interested in finding out more about volunteering should contact Swanage Railway volunteer recruitment and retention officer Lisa Gravett on 01929 475212 or email firstname.lastname@example.org. Details about volunteering can also be found at swanagerailwaytrust.org/volunteering.