Tales from the Severn Valley

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A page for sundry stories from the history of the SVRSevern Valley Railway. Mostly taken from SVRSevern Valley Railway News, but feel free to add your own reminiscences.

Minor Derailments

In summer 1977 the SVRSevern Valley Railway experienced two minor derailments in quick succession. The first was unusual for the reason it happened; 45110’s rear coupled driving wheels were derailed by a piece of coal in Bridgnorth yard! The second was notable for the manner in which it was resolved; 47383 got ‘in the dirt’ at Highley while on standby duty. Once the crew had packed the wheels with some handy fishplates that were lying about, a Driver/Director passing on 80079 left his own locomotive, boarded the casualty, drove it back onto the rails, re-joined his own train and left without any delay to the passenger service.[1]

On 14 May 1989, 47383 was again 'off the rails' in the yard at Highley. The subsequent re-railing can be seen in this film on YouTube.

On 3 June 1990, as the "Heavy Freight Weekend" came to a close, a number of wagons were derailed on the trap points at the north end of Bridgnorth Station.

In May 2017, the rear wheel set on the tender of GWR 2857 Heavy Goods Loco derailed at a slow speed whilst travelling light engine and swapping sets at Kidderminster, with no passengers involved. 2857's tender had only recently returned from Tyseley after tyre turning. An investigation was instigated.

Llanfairpwllgwyngyllgogerychwyrndrobwllllantysiliogogogoch aka Highley

During 1982, passengers between Arley and Hampton Loade were surprised to find themselves passing Llanfairpwllgwyngyllgogerychwyrndrobwllllantysiliogogogoch. Highley had been renamed for the filming of a TV commercial.

Nesting Thrush floors 3205

In 1983, 3205 failed a Fitness To Run examination for an unlikely reason; a thrush had nested in the cab! The locomotive returned to service once the fledglings had flown the nest.

Lady A' steps-in for Clun Castle

Also in 1983, Hunslet 686 The Lady Armaghdale spent 7 weeks at the Birmingham Railway Museum (now Tyseley Locomotive Works) and took place in Tyseley’s celebrations of 75 years as a steam depot. Sunday 5 June was scheduled to be Industrial Steam Day, but Tyseley’s own Peckett was out of action. In an unusual role reversal, ‘Lady A’ hauled passenger services all day while 7029 Clun Castle acted as Depot shunter.

Severn Valley Railway News saves the day

Severn Valley Railway News (the Railway’s quarterly magazine) is not just a good read, it once rescued a railtour! While on an SVRSevern Valley Railway Railtours excursion in April 1984, Class 40 no 40024 failed at Hereford. The fault was diagnosed as a loose contactor causing poor electrical connection. The offending contactor was wedged in place with a copy of SVRSevern Valley Railway News, and the tour continued to Leeds after a 10 minute delay.

April Fool!

The ‘April Fool’ involving the repainting of City of Truro in BRBritish Rail or British Railways livery is well known. Two other ‘April Fools’ appeared in the spring 1996 edition of SVRSevern Valley Railway News Locomotive Notes. One reported that 2857, then under overhaul, was to be fitted with a Giesel ejector to reduce coal consumption. The other reported that to meet Health and Safety requirements on monitoring crew working hours, locomotives were to be fitted with tachographs.

A real Thomas enthusiast

In February 1996, the SVRSevern Valley Railway received a fax from a Mr Chee in Malaysia, saying he has found the SVRSevern Valley Railway on the Internet (which was primitive in those days!) and asking if the SVRSevern Valley Railway did Thomas the Tank Engine weekends. A reply in the affirmative was faxed, and Mr Chee duly arrived from Selangor in June with his wife and young son.

Children and animals

The late John Leach was for many years the SVRSevern Valley Railway’s Marketing Manager. Two examples of his maxim that ‘children and animals make a good story’. In 1995 the SVRSevern Valley Railway membership hit 16,000, including a Dalmatian dog which had been enrolled by his owner. When contacted, the owner agreed that this would make a good local news item. The story escalated, eventually reaching several of the national tabloids (the Daily Star in typical fashion referring to the Dalmatian as ‘A new breed of train-spotter’). The same year a 10 year old girl sent a donation of £20.63 to the Railway which she had saved over the previous 6 months. The Bewdley office staff rounded this up to £25 which bought her a £25 share in the Railway. A ‘news photocall’ of the presentation was organised, which BBC ‘Midlands Today’ attended, and later broadcast a 4 minute news item on prime-time evening television. As John Leach pointed out, a 4 minute advertisement on Central TV would have cost the Railway around £215,000. Such is the value of a good story.

5764's Rapid Entry to SVRSevern Valley Railway Service

5764 was acquired direct from London Transport, arriving in LT livery on 19 June 1971 and entering service shortly thereafter. An indication of just how quickly it entered service may be judged by the lighting of a fire in the engine whilst it was being unloaded from the low-loader.

The Steaming Granny

Anthea Hanscomb was no stranger to the footplate, having driven Flying Scotsman at Tyseley Railway Museum when aged 72. On 30th June 2001 she attended an SVRSevern Valley Railway “Steam Supreme” driving course as an 80th Birthday treat. Anthea duly completed the 64 mile driving course aboard 80079 with eight coaches in tow. One or two ‘slips’ on departure were considered acceptable, it being a wet day.

Two that got away

An article by David Williams in Steam Railway Magazine issue 437 listed a number of locomotives which might have joined the SVRSevern Valley Railway fleet, but didn’t.

The first locomotive offered to the SVRSevern Valley Railway was ‘Royal Scot’ 4-6-0 No 46115 Scots Guardsman, which had been bought by a Birmingham businessman shortly after being withdrawn by BRBritish Rail or British Railways in December 1965. The SVRSevern Valley Railway’s Operating Superintendent considered the locomotive too heavy, at 138 tons with a 20.5 ton axle loading, so the offer was declined. The Scot is now owned by West Coast Railways and can be seen working on the main line. 46115 on Wikipedia

Another request for a home on the SVRSevern Valley Railway was made by a group of Southern enthusiasts who were raising money to buy MaunsellRichard Maunsell, Chief Mechanical Engineer (CME) of the South Eastern and Chatham Railway from 1913-1923, and of the Southern Railway 1923-1937. U Class No 31618, which in January 1969 became the second locomotive to leave BarryWoodham Brothers Scrapyard, Barry, South Wales. The source of many locomotives now in preservation. scrapyard. This time the offer was refused as the locomotive was not considered appropriate for an ex-GWRGreat Western Railway heritage line. The ‘U-boat’ is now at a suitable southern home, the Bluebell Railway. 31618 on Bluebell web site

Both these offers were made and declined before 3205 became the first locomotive to find a home at the SVRSevern Valley Railway.

Coal for Stourport Power Station

From Alfred Powick via Facebook;[2]
"Stourport coal from Highley was usually loaded in CEGB 20 tonners... A large proportion of Highley coal was good quality household coal, and most of the coal for Stourport came from the Cannock area often brought down to Hartlebury by Midland Region locos or a Stourbridge 56xxA GWR 5600 Class 0-6-2T engine. A Kiddy pannier or 56xxA GWR 5600 Class 0-6-2T engine shuttled it between Hartlebury and Stourport while the Midland loco turned using the triangle via Bewdley."

"I started my career with the NCBNational Coal Board at Highley, spending some time on the screens, so seeing the loads going out. I also spent time in the survey office and later as an official there so knew the production which came from one seam only (the Brooch). It was good house coal.
I doubt that the total weekly output from Alveley (the coal winding shaft of Highley unit) would keep the power station going for 24 hours, and as only about 30% went to Stourport, the bulk of coal needed there would have to come from somewhere else. The Highley/Alveley unit was only a small mine.
Up until 1954, I lived overlooking Kidderminster station, and regularly saw the coal trains coming down from Stourbridge, often with a Super DAn LNWR 0-8-0 goods engine on the front. Inside the hour, the Super DAn LNWR 0-8-0 goods engine would appear light engine from Bewdley, now facing North, to then trundle off tender first to Hartlebury, appearing some time later with empties. The 56xxA GWR 5600 Class 0-6-2T engine at Kiddy, sometimes a 57xxA GWR 5700 Class 0-6-0PT engine, was stationed at Hartlebury to work the coal and empties to and from Stourport, I later worked at other pits in Shropshire, finishing on Cannock Chase, where I knew that coal went to Stourport and Ironbridge from Littleton colliery, a much bigger pit than Highley."

New recruits at RAF Bridgnorth

A visitor to the SVRSevern Valley Railway recalled that as a young boy growing up in Bridgnorth, he and his friends would go to the station whenever a new intake for RAF Bridgnorth arrived by train. The new recruits were lined up on the platform and ordered to turn their pockets out before being marched off to the camp. After they had had gone, the boys would go along the platform picking up all the chocolate and cigarettes, "It was like Xmas every six weeks".

George Thorpe, licensee of The Railwayman's Arms

Elias Thorpe, or George as he was more commonly known, served in France during the first world war, initially with the Suffolk Regiment and then with the Kings Liverpool regiment. He lied about his age and actually joined up when he was only 16. He was captured by the Germans at Haplincourt on 23rd March 1918 and spent the rest of that year at Parchim prisoner-of war camp in northern Germany. He was eventually re-patriated and demobbed in 1919.[3]

George was born on 26th August 1898 at Gedney, Lincolnshire. He was one of 12 children from a travelling Gypsy family. His father was called Ambrose and his mother went under the unusual name of Leviathan. The Gypsy genealogy site records the following interesting tale: "On 29th February 1880 a little girl, Mabel, was born in Bedford gaol. Her mother, Leviathan Thorpe, had been sentenced to six months hard labour in the September of 1879 for fortune-telling.

The Cambridge Independent Press reported the case in a somewhat patronising tone:

"On Thursday, the 18th instant, a Gypsy woman, rejoicing in the unfeminine name of Leviathan Thorp (sic), the wife of a travelling Gypsy, called at the residence of Mrs James, of Market Street, having buttons to sell. Two servant girls answered the door-bell and some small articles being purchased, Leviathan asked Hannah Chapman . . . whether she would like to have her fortune told. [She] was requested to produce a piece of gold, which she did, in the shape of a sovereign, with which she crossed the Leviathan’s delicate hand; then a pack of cards was produced, representing a small planetary system, on which the gold was placed. . . The sovereign was placed in a piece of paper . . . then . . . returned to the girl . . . [who was told] “put the parcel under your pillow, and you will dream of a handsome young man; he will be your husband; but if you examine the parcel before the end of the week the charm will be broken.” . . .When Hannah Chapman informed her fellow servant, Sarah Adams, of the result of the interview, she was incredulous, and strongly urged her to open the mysterious parcel, and Hannah did so, and lo and behold! Her golden sovereign had been metamorphosed into a paltry farthing.

Leviathan Thorpe was arrested within a couple of hours and remanded until the 25th September, where her counsel, Mr Naylor, advised her to plead guilty. However, he explained to the court that Leviathan already had four children and was now pregnant with a fifth; he requested compassion, especially in view of the fact that the sovereign had been returned. Nevertheless, the court sentenced her to six months hard labour and deprived her of her hawking certificate."

Leviathan’s prison record claimed that she was 29 years of age, had been born in Deal, Kent, was 5’3 ½” tall, a Gypsy pedlar, and the wife of Ambrose Thorpe. She had been remanded at Ely . . . for stealing a sovereign, by mean of a trick, as a fortune teller. She is described as having black, curly hair, dark eyes and a dark complexion, dressed in a black and white checked shawl, with a black felt hat.

Leviathan’s marriage to Ambrose was her second union, and his third; his second wife had, in fact, been Leviathan’s sister, Elizabeth Draper. Ambrose was the son of James Thorpe and Eliza Buttress, baptised in Suffolk in 1840. Leviathan Draper, who had been baptised in Stevenage, Hertfordshire in 1852, was the daughter of Joseph and Ann Draper. At the time of her arrest she had already given birth to Lementina, born in 1871; Mackenzie, born in 1872; Delilah/Laila, born in 1874; Lurina, born about 1876; Adolphus, born in 1878. Her daughter, Mabel, born in Bedford gaol, was baptised together with Mabel’s brother, Adolphus, at Haslingfield, Cambridgeshire in 1880.

In the 1871 census Ambrose and Leviathan are in a travelling caravan at Headingley cum Burley, in Leeds, Yorkshire, with their baby, Lementina, and Ambrose’s sister, Holland Thorpe. However, since, in 1879, her counsel said Leviathan had four children, and not five, and Lementina, although appearing in the 1871 census, is not with the family in 1881, it is probable that she had died.

Subsequently Leviathan and Ambrose added several more children to their family. Mark was born in the registration district of St Ives, Huntingdonshire, in1882; Bendigo, born in the Downham registration district, in 1884; Esau, born in Huntingdonshire in about 1886; Otey, in Wisbech, Cambridgeshire in 1889; Emperor, born in the registration district of Holbeach, Lincolnshire, in 1894; Elias, born in the same location, in 1898.

In the 1881 census the family are found in a caravan on Ashdon Road, Great Barlow, Linton, Cambridgeshire. Ambrose has used his mother’s maiden name of Buttress for this record, and his forename is, anyway, incorrectly recorded as Adolphus. By 1891, the group are parked in a caravan in Gracious Street, Whittlesey, Cambridgeshire, and Ambrose has returned to using the surname Thorpe; the family has grown, since Mabel’s birth, to include Mark, Bendigo, Esau and Otey.

The census records of 1901 and 1911 show the family in pretty much the same location. In 1901 they are at Charter’s Farm, Gedney, Holbeach, in Lincolnshire; Leviathan is listed as ‘Elizabeth,’ and eight of their children are present. Lurina/Laura is recorded as a widow, so presumably the little grandson, Ambrose, aged six, who is with the family, is her son. Mark is working as a groom, Bendigo and Esau as agricultural labourers, the remainder of the children are at school, and their father is listed as a licensed hawker.

1911 sees Leviathan recorded as ‘Mary,’ Ambrose Thorpe as a licensed hawker, and only three of the children are camped with their parents in the Gedney Road, Long Sutton, Lincolnshire: Esau, a general dealer; Emperor, a bird catcher and general labourer; Elias, still attending school. But there is another small family parked alongside, it is that of Otey Thorpe, a pedlar of hardware. He is with his wife, Cinderella, formerly Loveridge, and their baby daughter – carrying on the family name, the little girl is another Leviathan. A few months earlier they had lost their second daughter, Coralina, baptised at the church of St Mary, Long Sutton, Lincolnshire on 16th October 1910 and buried the same month, the daughter of a hawker.

The church of St Mary at Long Sutton was also to be the last resting place for the elder Leviathan, buried on 21st October 1916, aged 64, and Ambrose, too, was buried there on 19th February 1919, aged 81. It was probably considered a family church, since, in October 1893 Ambrose’s brother, Oliver, aged 47, had also been buried there".

Yellow Peril catches fire

Diminutive diesel shunter "Yellow Peril" lived up to its name when it caught fire one day at Bewdley. Mick Osbourne, signalman in the South Box, ran down the box steps and put the fire out using the box’s fire extinguisher. Mick Thorp arrived on the scene and, using his ingenuity in rewiring the loco, got it working again. In just over ten minutes, it was back shunting![4]

1859 thefts

There were a number of incidents of theft during 1859 while the railway was still under construction...
In January, a bargeman employed by Brassey & Field to carry materials for the new railway was imprisoned for stealing railway sleepers.[5]
In March the Christiana hit Atcham Bridge, near Shrewsbury, while carrying 55 tons of railway chairs. 15 tons of chairs were left on the bank, with some later being offered to the Coalbrookdale Company as scrap after being stolen by fishermen.[6]

In July, a ganger working at Upper Arley disappeared with two weeks wages for twelve to fifteen men.[7]

Class 50 Golden Jubilee

From October 4 - 6 2018 the SVRSevern Valley Railway hosted the joint largest operational gathering of one loco type ever staged in preservation (steam or diesel), with ten working locos. Class 50 Alliance locos 50007 Hercules, 50031 Hood, 50035 Ark Royal, 50044 Exeter and 50049 Defiance were joined by guests 50008 Thunderer, 50015 Valiant, 50017 Royal Oak, 50033 Glorious and 50050 Fearless. 50026 Indomitable would have made the record breaking 11, but was on static display following problems with an engine start up the week before. An intensive operation of Class 50 hauled services included local services between Kidderminster and Bewdley and Class 50 hauled ballast trains using the BR 'Seacow' 40t Bogie Ballast Hoppers. An exhibition of Class 50 memorabilia and models was on display in The Engine House, and on October 6 50049 was formally rededicated at Kidderminster by Commodore Robert Bellfield, Royal Navy, Commander Devonport Flotilla, Devonport Dockyard – the former home to training base HMS Defiance. 'Glorious' ran in mostly green undercoat, with the public invited to 'tag' the locomotive with graffiti in marker pen in exchange for a £5 contribution towards its repaint, raising £3,460 towards the £10,000 cost.[8] An antecendent to the class, hired-in 40106, was spare loco and operated on the Saturday.

It recorded excellent passenger numbers of 3,574.[9]

The Rag Express - official!

The railway uses a lot of rags across all operations, such as for lighting up locos, as grips in signal boxes and a multitude of other things. The SVRSevern Valley Railway has a volunteer at the Diesel Depot who works in a laundry and sources large amounts of rags. These are then distributed across the railway to various departments. The junior volunteers (some ex-SVR Apprentices) for a number of years have sorted and distributed the rags. It gives them the chance to ride in the brakevan then offload at points along the line. The term Rag Express was an informal name but in 2019 they made a traditional headboard, using skills from their time in school. Another named train joined the SVRSevern Valley Railway lexicon!

See also

The Severn Valley Railway in preservation


  1. SVRSevern Valley Railway News 44
  2. Unofficial SVR Facebook page
  3. Andy Williams, via Facebook 15 April 2017
  4. SVRSevern Valley Railway News 133 p. 62. “The Early SVRSevern Valley Railway Shunters” (Chris Magner)
  5. Trinder (2005) p 131.
  6. Trinder (2005) p 132.
  7. Marshall (1989) p 47.
  8. Express Points November 2018
  9. SVRSevern Valley Railway NBI