34039 – Boscastle

Locomotive 21C139 was built in 1946 at the Southern Railways works in Brighton and entered traffic on 16th September in full Southern malachite green livery. It was based at Stewarts Lane shed working trains principally from London Victoria station to the Kent coast resorts of Margate and Ramsgate and the ports of Folkestone and Dover. 21C139 received the name “Boscastle” (after the attractive North Cornish village) some time between 1947 and 1948. After nationalisation in 1948 “Boscastle” received the number 34039 and between July and September became the regular engine on the prestigious Golden Arrow Pullman train.

In November, 1948 “Boscastle” moved to Brighton shed, and began working to such places as Salisbury, Bournemouth and Southampton. Other duties included late night trains, parcels trains from Brighton to London, returning on the early newspaper train from London Bridge. “Boscastle” became the first West Country class locomotive to carry the new standard British Railways passenger green livery in August, 1949.

In 1951 Brighton’s allocation of West Country’s were dispersed elsewhere and “Boscastle” was chosen, along with two others for trials on the Eastern Region in May. Based a tStratford shed (London) they worked services from Liverpool   Street to Cambridge, Norwich and Harwich. During this time “Boscastle” visited Bury St Edmunds (where it was too long for the 50' turntable) and Doncaster, presumably on a special working. The trial was not a great success due to the crews’ unfamiliarity with this type of locomotive and the problems of getting fitters and spare parts across London when they required attention.

“Boscastle” returned toBrighton in March 1952 and settled down to a relatively quiet life. The schedules of the cross-country trains were not particularly demanding and Brighton’s West Country’s were only really tested by summer Saturday trainloads. In November, 1958 “Boscastle” was due for a Heavy General overhaul and was sent toEastleigh works for rebuilding at the same time. She emerged from Eastleigh Works as a Rebuilt West Country in January, 1959.

Shortly after, No.34039 was allocated to Bournemouth shed and from there, worked on the main line between Waterloo, Southampton, Bournemouth and Weymouth. Regular duties included the tightly - timed two hour express trains to Waterloo, while also taking its turn on named trains such as the Bournemouth Belle and the Royal Wessex. Another Bournemouth duty in summer included the Pines Express, a through train to Manchester which started its journey over the steeply graded Somersetand Dorset line to Bath. “Boscastle” became the first Rebuilt West Country to run on the Somersetand Dorset on 19th June, 1959, hauling the up Pines Express and saw regular use on that line while at Bournemouth shed. September, 1962 saw “Boscastle” transferred to Eastleigh Shed.

Many of the duties at Eastleigh involved working semi-fast trains to Bournemouth and London, with occasional work such as Friday evening relief trains and summer Saturday holiday extras supplementing the usual service. Eastleigh shed also provided locomotives for the heavy Ocean Liner Special trains running between Southampton and Waterloo. The trains ran in groups of three to five to coincide with the arrival of the liners at Southampton Docks.

One of “Boscastle’s” more unusual trips took place on 27th April 1963, hauling a football special  to Birmingham, when Southampton FC were playing Manchester United at Villa Park in the FA Cup semi-final. Several trains ran from Hampshire stations that day, the locomotives being serviced and stabled at Tyseley for the return run.

Progressive modernisation of British Railways brought about the first withdrawals of the West Country class in 1963. “Boscastle” was withdrawn in May, 1965 after running some 745,000 miles in its 19 year working life and was subsequently stored at Eastleigh shed until sold for scrap to Woodham Bros of Barry in South Wales in September of that year.

A large influx of scrap wagons in 1965 probably prevented most of the locomotives from being cut up straight away, the wagons being far easier to deal with. Increased interest from preservationists also played a part in persuading the owner, Dai Woodham, to hang onto most of the rusting hulks provided his men had enough other work to keep them occupied.

“Boscastle” had been quietly deteriorating in the scrapyard until 1972, when quite by chance, its fortunes changed. In 1970 group of enthusiasts, whose aim was to preserve a section of the Great Central main line, established a base at Loughborough Central Station and in 1971 formed Main Line Steam Trust Ltd. A member of that group, James Tawse saw in an issue of Railway World, a list of 200 ex BR steam locomotives at Barry scrapyard and recognising several old favourites amongst them, conceived the idea of purchasing a West Country for use on the preserved Great Central. On a visit to Barry scrapyard with four friends, James was advised that "Boscastle" was in the best condition and so in November, 1972 he purchased the locomotive outright. “Boscastle” arrived at the Railway on 22nd January, 1973, being the first ex BR main line locomotive on the preserved line.

Restoration began almost immediately at Loughborough but took far longer than anyone had anticipated. Funding the restoration proved too much for James and in 1986 he formed the Boscastle Locomotive Syndicate to widen the ownership. A further six years of work ensued before the first fire was lit in the boiler, with the team's efforts finally bearing fruit on 7th November 1992 when “Boscastle” moved for the first time under its own power. After a formal launch in 1993 the locomotive settled down to work, proving a popular addition to the GCR fleet. On two occasions during its period in traffic, the locomotive acted as an ambassador for the GCR. Its first trip away was in 1994 when the locomotive put in a brief appearance at the Gloucester and Warwickshire Railway, a further visit in 1996 saw “Boscastle” spend a month at the West Somerset Railway.

Towards the end of 1996 the locomotive’s firebox started to give trouble, after a period out of traffic for repairs, the locomotive returned to service but further trouble was experienced both with boiler tubes and eventually the firebox. In June 2000 the decision was taken to withdraw “Boscastle” from traffic pending a full overhaul.

To fund the second restoration Boscastle Locomotive Ltd was formed in 2005 with the sole purpose of putting Rebuilt West Country class locomotive “Boscastle” back in working order and maintaining it in that state. The private limited company was formed as a more effective way of raising money for the locomotive. All funds received from any source will be put towards this cause.

The boiler requires specialist repairs which will include cutting out and replacement of large sections of the firebox plating.  A full time contractor has been engaged to work on the rest of the locomotive and subject to funding, he will be able to complete the complex task of the overhaul.  The locomotives tender has now also returned to the GCR and will also require extensive work to bring it back up to the required standard.

At the beginning of 2012 the locomotive has started to be re-assembled after being stripped down to its component parts.  The frames have now been re-wheeled and the brake gear has been re-fitted.  The work is now concentrating on the mass of copper pipework that makes up the lubrication system and the locomotives cylinders and valve gear.

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