Church bells ring to mark unique Victorian steam locomotive hauling first passenger train since 1945
Church bells rang out in Swanage to mark a unique Victorian steam locomotive hauling its first passenger train since 1945 - following a challenging six-year £650,000 restoration – after the engine escaped being scrapped so it could mark the centenary of London’s Waterloo station in 1948.
One of the guests attending the launch ceremony at Swanage station on Saturday, 7 October, 2023, for the T3 class locomotive No. 563 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 locomotive.
The bells at St Mary’s Church – overlooking Swanage station – rang out in celebration thanks to several Swanage Railway volunteers who are keen bell ringers at the Victorian church.
Built in 1893 to a design by renowned engineer William Adams – and one of the finest express passenger train locomotives of the Victorian era – the non-working London and South Western Railway T3 class No. 563 was donated to the Swanage Railway Trust by the National Railway Museum in 2017.
No. 563 hauled its first two passenger trains – carrying only invited guests and supporters of the Swanage Railway Trust’s ambitious and historic T3 restoration project – on Saturday, 7 October, 2023, with the special trains departing Swanage for Harman’s Cross, Corfe Castle and Norden at 12.35pm and 2.05pm.
Resplendent in its 1890s Drummond passenger livery, the 81-tonne T3 hauled its first public-carrying passenger trains on Sunday, 8 October, 2023.
The public has the opportunity to visit the footplate of No. 563 when the locomotive is on static display, and in light steam, at Swanage station on Saturday and Sunday, 14 and 15 October, 2023. Tickets are available on-line at swanagerailway.co.uk and from Swanage station on the day, subject to availability.
The T3 will be hauling trains on the Swanage Railway during the half-term week, between Saturday 21 and Sunday 29 October, 2023, inclusive, with tickets available at swanagerailway.co.uk, and from Swanage station on the day, subject to availability.
Special guests attending the T3 launch ceremony at Swanage station on Saturday, 7 October, 2023, included the King’s representative in Dorset, Lord-Lieutenant Angus Campbell; senior National Railway Museum curator Anthony Coulls; Swanage
Railway Trust Patron Sir Philip Williams as well as Robert Adams, a descendant of the T3’s Victorian designer William Adams.
Swanage Railway Trust chairman 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,” added Gavin who is also a volunteer signalman on the Swanage Railway.
One of 563 Locomotive Group’s small team of volunteers who masterminded the ambitious and challenging restoration of the T3, Will Sheret, had the honour of firing the T3’s first passenger train since 1945.
Will explained: “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 restarted the project after the end of the Covid-19 lockdowns.
“It was brilliant to enjoy the honour of firing the T3 on its first passenger train since 1945. It was somewhat 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,” added Will who travels from London to volunteer on the Swanage Railway.
Living in West Dorset, Swanage Railway Patron Sir Philip Williams has a special link to the T3 - as well as to the London and South Western Railway - because his great-grandfather joined the Board of the London and South Western Railway 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 Railway 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.
No. 563’s first passenger trains since 1945 – when the locomotive was the last member of the T3 class and withdrawn from service by the Southern Railway after running more than 1.5 million miles – will 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,” he added.
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,” he added.
Swanage Railway Trust Patron, Sir Philip Williams, 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,” he added.
Restoration was started on the T3 in late 2017 with work on the locomotive being carried out by specialist contractors at the Flour Mill workshops in the Forest of Dean, Gloucestershire, as well as at the Swanage Railway’s Herston engineering works on the outskirts of Swanage.
Anyone interested in finding out about volunteering should contact the Swanage Railway volunteer recruitment and retention officer Lisa Gravett on 01929 475212 or email email@example.com. Details about volunteering opportunities can also be found at swanagerailwaytrust.org/volunteering.
Story and photograph by Andrew P.M. Wright,
Swanage Railway official photographer and press officer.