Aberystwyth’s Vale of Rheidol Railway is organising the biggest event ever held at the line with a Steam Festival Weekend on September 26 and 27.
Two locomotives will make their preservation steam debuts at the event. The Vale of Rheidol’s ex-Penrhyn slate quarry locomotive Margaret and privately owned Kerr Stuart ‘Sirdar’ class Diana. Both are in the final stages of restoration in the new railway workshop facility at Aberystwyth.
The workhop is being developed, aided by a £288,000 Coastal Communities Fund grant, as the centre of a heritage skills and development project entitled ‘Our Past is their future.’
Diana spent its early working days on the Kerry Tramway, which served a sawmill supplying timber for the war effort. Diana operated there until the line’s closure in 1922 before moving to the Oakley Slate Quarry in Blaenau Ffestiniog and then the Pen-yr-Orsedd Quarry, being withdrawn from service with boiler troubles.
It is one of 58 ‘Sirdar’ class locomotives to be built, yet only two still survive, the other, named Hope, is a national monument in Namibia.
Following quarry service, Diana underwent several changes of ownership, before being purchased by Denis Davies in 1978. Restoration progressed during the 1990s and substantial work was carried out to return the locomotive to steam. It was moved to South Wales for completion, but Mr Davies died before she reached the stage of being steamed.
Diana was purchased in 2014 by Talyllyn Railway volunteer Phil Mason. Assessment of her condition revealed that seven years of outdoor storage had taken its toll. Phil moved the locomotive to the Vale of Rheidol Railway where restoration stared from scratch. The locomotive has been restored to its original appearance re-using as many original components as possible.
Restoration work on Diana has been overseen by Vale of Rheidol’s general manager and chief engineer Llŷr ap Iolo, whose great grandfather E. R. Owen worked on Diana when it received attention at the Britannia Foundry, Porthmadog in 1945.
Margaret also last steamed in 1950, when a boiler leak spelt the end of its working career. By the mid-60s, Penrhyn Quarry considered the loco was fit only for scrap and sold to an enthusiast on that basis. The purchaser had a similar opinion, viewing Margaret as a potential source of parts for other projects when he collected it from Coed-y-Parc in 1966.
Following several changes in ownership, Margaret was moved to the Isle of Man and work progressed until 1999 when owner, Alastair Lamberton, died. Margaret was then purchased by the Vale of Rheidol Railway and moved to Aberystwyth where restoration work accelerated following the completion of the new workshop building.
The public debut of both locomotives will be at the Vale of Rheidol Railway’s Steam Festival, titled “The Forgotten Engines” and seeks to bring together a collection of locomotives which have been out of the limelight for many years.
Joining Diana and Margaret at the event will be two additional quarry locomotives from the Penrhyn Quarry Railway – Winifred, built in 1885 and normally resident at the Bala Lake Railway andSybil Mary, built in 1906, from Statfold Barn Railway.
Both these locomotives have returned to steam in the last two years following extensive restoration. The steam festival will be the first time these locomotives have been re-united for generations. All the locomotives will be hauling passenger trains between Aberystwyth and Capel Bangor and there will be opportunities for footplate rides at Aberystwyth.
Vale of Rheidol’s resident locomotives, No 8 Llywelyn and No 9 Prince of Wale, will be hauling trains the full length of the line to Devil’s Bridge, where Kerr Stuart Wren No 3114 will be offering visitors the opportunity to try their hand at driving. This will mean no fewer than seven steam locomotives will be in operation on the line during the event.
The large restoration workshop at Aberystwyth will be open to the public for the first time. Guided tours will allow visitors the chance to look behind the scenes and see this magnificent new facility and view the progress on the overhaul of Vale of Rheidol’s locomotive No 7 Owain Glyndŵr.