The Impossible Dream

The only Locomotive to be built by British Railways specifically for working heavy express passenger services, class “8P” 4-6-2 No. 71000 was completed in Crewe Works in April 1954. It was then named “Duke of Gloucester” to commemorate the Duke’s presidency of the sixteenth International Railway Congress.

71000 was designed at Derby, under the direction of Mr R. A. Riddles. It incorporates features not previously applied to British Railways locomotives; there are three cylinders and the steam distribution is by British Caprotti valve gear. It was intended to be the prototype for a class of locomotives that would provide the traction for express trains until the introduction of electric traction. However in 1955 the Government introduced their “Modernisation Plan” to use diesel traction to replace all steam locomotives until they too could be replaced by electrification. All interest by BR in the Duke then ceased and he was left as the unique example of the final development of BR steam locomotive design.

Discarded for scrap
During 1962 he was withdrawn from service and sent for scrap to Woodham’s at Barry in South Wales where many major parts were cut off for their scrap value. This was the time when the fledgling preservation groups were beginning to take an interest in restoring locomotives. Locomotives in the best condition, requiring the least money spent on them were the ones that attracted the most interest. However, a schoolboy who had taken an interest in the Duke thought that such a unique example of steam history could not be allowed to disappear. He wrote an open letter to various railway magazines explaining how he felt. He received a reply from a Colin Rhodes who thought this should be followed up.

The dream beckons
When Colin approached people for help they flatly refused saying that to restore such a wreck would be “AN IMPOSSIBLE DREAM”. This served to encourage Colin to prove them wrong and with a small group of volunteers set about the formidable task of restoration, the likes of which had never been attempted before. After 13 years of very many setbacks, the restoration at the Great Central Railway was completed and the Duke returned triumphantly to the mainline in November 1986. This herculean effort proved what was possible given the right level of commitment and determination, providing encouragement for many subsequent restorations and ‘new builds’ that have followed. The drawing below was printed in the Eagle comic during 1955 and perhaps it was this that encouraged the schoolboy to write his open letter.