Grand finale brings railway’s celebrations to a close

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The unique line-up of Fletcher, Jennings locomotives on display at Tywyn Wharf during ‘The Grand Finale’ gala (from left) Townsend Hook, Captain Baxter, Dolgoch, William Finlay and Talyllyn. (Photo: D. Turner)

There was a unique gathering of locomotives at Tywyn Wharf Station over the weekend as the Talyllyn Railway concluded its series of special galas to celebrate its 150th anniversary.

Called ‘The Grand Finale’, the gala lived up to its name by bringing together all five of the surviving locomotives based in the UK built by the firm of Fletcher, Jennings & Co. of Whitehaven, Cumbria.

These included not only the railway’s own original locomotives No.1 Talyllyn and No.2 Dolgoch, but also three locomotives originally built for a quarry in at Betchworth in Surrey. One of these, Captain Baxter, now based at the Bluebell Railway in Sussex, was in steam at Tywyn Wharf Station, becoming the first standard gauge locomotive to operate on Talyllyn Railway property.

Its smaller companions were Townsend Hook from the Amberley Museum and Heritage Centre, West Sussex and William Finlay, which has been acquired by the Narrow Gauge Railway Museum in Tywyn and will be put on permanent display this winter.

Both Townsend Hook and William Finlay were built to run on the 3ft 2¼in line at the quarry and are believed to be the only two locomotives in the world built to this gauge. Sadly neither is operational but they were on static display in Tywyn Wharf Station yard.

The story of these locomotives and the other four surviving elsewhere in the world are told in a booklet The Lowca Legacy, written by National Railway Museum senior curator, Anthony Coulls, which was also launched during the weekend.

The focus of the weekend was the 150th anniversary of Dolgoch and the locomotive took centre stage at the head of several special trains, including a re-enactment of the first public train to operate on the Talyllyn Railway in December, 1866. This included not only Dolgoch but also the original carriages believed to be on the railway at the time.

As well as the events on the railway itself, the Llechfan Garden Railway was holding its Garden Railway Gala, with visiting locomotives and other attractions. During the weekend, there was the official opening of the model village as part of the Garden Railway scene by Tim Dunn, who is shortly to be seen on BBC TV’s Trainspotting Live.

A Talyllyn Railway spokesperson said: “Holding seven successful galas over the course of 14 months has been a major achievement for the railway, but we wanted to round things off in style and ‘The Grand Finale’ has certainly done that.

“The event attracted many visitors from all over the United Kingdom and beyond, who had come to witness a genuine once in a lifetime event. Many expressed their appreciation of the weekend and what was achieved.

“We would like to thank our friends at the Bluebell Railway and the Amberley Museum and Heritage Centre for the loan of Captain Baxter and Townsend Hook respectively, as well as all those who worked so hard to make these galas a reality. They have certainly made the railway’s 150th anniversary a truly memorable event.”