Steam’s graveyard: Barry island memories

A Southern engine reveals its origins, March 1982

I was too young to remember seeing steam engines on the mainline, but I had a childhood consolation. Just 10 miles from my Cardiff home, I could clamber over hundreds of steam locomotives without anyone telling me to stop. That playground was Barry scrapyard, steam’s graveyard.

At the end of steam in the 1960s, Dai Woodham bought hundreds of withdrawn steam engines from British railways for his scrap business at Barry Island. He intended to scrap them but delayed doing so while he focused on scrapping redundant railway wagons. As a result, railway preservation societies flocked to Barry to select locomotives to restore to operate their lines. Out of almost 300 engines sent to Barry, almost three quarters were rescued from the graveyard, and over half lived to steam again.

On my visits to Barry scrapyard, I was drawn to the ex GWR engines, especially the last monarch, King Edward II, which I saw miraculously reborn in 2011, and the engines that sustained the Welsh coal trade. But 40 years ago today I was enjoyed a spectacular sight. Twenty years of Welsh sea air had revealed the pre-nationalisation (1948) livery of a Southern Railway S15, with the SOUTHERN legend clearly visible. As you can see on the photo I took that day (above) there are actually three logos: the two British Railways lion symbols as well as the Southern lettering.

According to my 1982 diary, I had finished my A level mock exams the week before, so must have taken advantage of a lesson-free afternoon to get the train to Barry Island, before spending time in the sadly-missed Lears bookshop in Cardiff’s Royal Arcade. I bought a book about the Cambrian Railways, the Welsh line graced by some of the GWR Manor class engines I’d just seen at Dai Woodham’s scrapyard.

GWR royalty: King Edward II, Barry, 1979
Me, on GWR heavy freight engine 7229, Barry, 1983
Me, aged 20, on BR’s penultimate steam loco, 23 year old 92219, Barry 1983

Tale of a tank engine (and it’s not Thomas)

Borrowed time: BR 80072 in Barry, 1986

Owen and I went on a steam train today. We took the short ride on the Chinnor & Princes Risborough Railway.

The train was pulled by an impressive tank engine, BR 2-6-4T 80072, built the month my sister was born, November 1953. Like most engines on preserved lines, it was rescued from Barry scrapyard in South Wales – steam’s graveyard. I’ve blogged before about this remarkable place, and today wondered if by chance I’d taken a photo of 80072 on my visits to Barry in the 1970s and 1980s. It seemed unlikely – I always made a beeline for express engines such as GWR King Edward II, rather than the less glamorous British Railways standard tank engines. But going through my old photos I found out that I had snapped 80072 on my last visit to Barry, in October 1986. By then, the remaining engines were in a very bad way.

It’s little short of a miracle that this wreck is today pulling trains again. All credit to everyone who made it possible.

80072 had an interesting history even before the great escape from Barry. It hauled commuter trains from Southend and Tilbury to London’s Fenchurch Street. It then had a complete change of scene, moving to Swansea to work the beautiful central Wales line. The month before I was born it moved back to England, to Leamington, working parcels and car transporter trains.

PS: curiously, I didn’t take a photo today. That’s almost as remarkable as the fact I photographed our engine 26 years ago…