The Steam Museum in Swindon (1)

After much vacillating and excuses I finally got my butt in gear and headed off to Swindon to visit Steam. Museum of the Great Western Railroad.
I was looking at doing a trip to the museum since last year, but doing it from Salisbury would have been a mission, whereas from Basingstoke it entailed a train to Reading, and then another to Swindon. This is Great Western territory as opposed to my usual South West Trains that I have been using regularly on my travels. This is also the furtherest North that I have traveled since coming to the UK in 2013.
The train trip was a bit of a disaster though; I had left a bit later in the morning than I should have and it put me in Reading just after 10am. I had two visits lined up for the trip and theoretically had enough time to do both. Unfortunately the train before us had problems with its central door locking at Didcot Parkway, and was stuck in the station while we ended up stuck not too far from the station as a result, and I sat watching the time march from the comfort of the inside of a train. We sat for almost an hour and by the time I hit Swindon I had seen my plans take somewhat of a dive. The museum is not too far from the station, in the former engine works of Great Western. Looking at images from there you cannot believe that all that engineering is gone, and in one case it has even been replaced by a yuppie fashion house. These works and Great Western are also closely associated with the famous engineer Isambard Kingdom Brunel, The Museum is housed in a former machine shop, and the last steam locomotive that came from these works in 1960 was the Eastern Star, which is the last steam locomotive built by British Railways. (Tornado was not built by British Railways). Hopefully there would be some steamers still inside the building, and that was what I was after. 
The traverser and 4 wheeler were a good sign,  and I eventually found my way into the museum. Schools were open so theoretically it should not be too crowded. 
The first surprise was a set of driving wheels for Brunels broad gauge loco, Lord of the Isles.
These wheels are 8 foot in diameter, which makes Brunel look short. It is worth remembering that Brunel was using the “broad gauge” which is 7 ft (2,134 mm), later eased to 7 ft 14 in (2,140 mm) which meant his rolling stock was very big. The gauge they use in the UK now is 4 ft 8 in (1,422 mm), now eased to 4 ft 8 12 in (1,435 mm). (South Africa uses what is known as “Cape Gauge” 3ft 6 inches). There is quite a good explanation on track gauges on Wikipedia
The first major artefact which caught my eye was a boiler with all the complications that it entails (including a woman sitting in the smokebox). This is a representation of the boiler works
The one thing I have learnt is that steam engine boilers are very complex devices with a lot of engineering that often does not make sense. However, when you consider the energy that steam is able to generate then you can see why the boiler has to be so strong and designed with so much inherent strength and flexibility. The locos that were coming out of these works would be in service for many years and works like this produced some fine machines that would still be running had it not for the demise of steam traction. 
Just around the corner I discovered one of the many intact steam engines in the museum,  GWR 4073 Class 4073 Caerphilly Castle.  The nice thing about her is that you can actually walk underneath her and see those hidden bits that are all taken for granted.

She was built in 1923, and withdrawn from service in 1960. I was going to wait for the person in the wheelchair to move before I took the last pic, but then I realised that he did give a sense of scale to the machine.

Around the corner I came to a replica of  the 1837  “North Star”, and it is really a comparatively simple loco when compared to the machines that rule the rails 100 years later.

The original was purchased by GWR and ran one of the first trains between Paddington and Maidenhead in 1837. There is no consideration for crew comfort in this machine, although I am sure these locos did not break too many speed records.

2516 is a Dean locomotive, built in 1897 and used on freight services. It has some resemblance to a cab, but has been split away from her tender.  She is the only survivor of her class of 260 built at Swindon.

9400 is a relatively new machine, having been part of  a class that was built between 1947 and 1956. She is an 0-6-0 Pannier Tank loco, and her class really had very short lives as the diesel made more inroads into their traditional roles. She is one of two survivors of her class

At this point we come to a replica station and the trains pulled up at the platforms. There are two locos here, namely 4003 “Lode Star”:


She was built in 1907 and is the only remaining GWR 4000 Class locomotive.  And  7821 “Didcheat Manor”  She is a reasonably new loco too, having been built in 1950. 

And that really concluded the collection of steam engines at the museum, The other interesting piece of motive power at the museum is a GWR diesel railcar.

The art deco styling of this railcar must have really been a sight to see as it trundled along the route between Birmingham and Cardiff, and they were really the precursor to the DMUs that I travelled on so often in Salisbury.  Unfortunately the railcar was not open so I could not see the interior except through the windows, and it did look really nice inside.

The museum also has a Buffet coach on display, and its green interior must have been very comforting to somebody having a cuppa and a sticky bun inside.

There is also a Great Western Royal Saloon on display, and it formed  part of Queen Victoria’s Royal Train. Unfortunately part of the vehicle is closed off and I was not able to get much of an impression about the coach, which is a pity really because this is quite an important exhibit.

The rest of the museum has a lot of very interesting exhibits, in fact it is overall a very nice museum, although I would have liked to have seen more rolling stock and coaches, but then beggars can’t be choosers either.

The station is particularly interesting because it really shows most aspects of what stations may have been like so many years ago, and in the  follow up to this post I shall add in some pictures of the other exhibits.Please turn the page to go to Part 2

DRW ©  2014-2021. Images recreated 22/04/2016
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