With all the uncertainty at the moment and lock downs as a result of COVID-19 I thought – as have a number of others – it might be nice to shine a spotlight on places that you miss going to because you are currently not allowed.
Part of the reason for sharing the places I will be listing is that in the current climate they will be struggling to survive as they all rely on income generated by visitors and wanting to share ways that they can be helped, or even just raising awareness of these places so that when restrictions are lifted people may go to visit them again. Please see the end of this post for further details.
This time is our nearest heritage railway: Nene Valley Railway – https://nvr.org.uk/
Whilst I am by no means knowledgeable about trains, steam trains are fantastic to see, hear and smell. I’m happy to find an excuse to go and have a wander around the Wansford station home of the NVR even if I don’t necessarily go on them – platform tickets are always available even if it’s a day when the trains aren’t running.
So a bit of a history then first off.
In 1968 steam power was withdrawn from British Rail service. Local clergyman Richard Patten bought Class 5 steam locomotive 73050 for its scrap value, intending to have it put on display outside the Peterborough Technical College as a tribute to Peterborough’s railway history.
As it turned out 73050 was still in good working order so instead of being moth-balled for display the train was restored to full working order, leading to the Peterborough Locomotive Society being formed by enthusiasts to do it. Work began at Baker Perkins Ltd before the locomotive was moved to the British Sugar site on Oundle Road which had an internal railway system. It was also adjacent to what would become part of the Nene Valley Railway.
One of the locomotives resident at the British Sugar site was a small, hard working, and blue Hudswell Clarke numbered 1800. Reverend W Awdry was relatively local to the area and being a keen train enthusiast for a long time was aware of this little train, and in 1971 he named it Thomas. Locomotive 1800 was built in 1947, 2 years after the first Thomas books were published, so whilst it was not the train Thomas was based on, it is often considered the ‘real’ Thomas.
After being named Thomas, 1800 was looked after by the PLS which had been replaced with a diesel engine by the British Sugar Corporation.
Soon after this PLS was renamed as the Peterborough Railway Society and purchased another locomotive (a Hunslet called Jack’s Green) and what was to become the Nene Valley Railway began its life.
As you would expect there was a lot of work to be done including rebuilding missing sections of track, restoration or building of new station buildings as well as purchase of the relevant land. But gradually the line extended, more stock was obtained, and eventually reached the stage it is at now, with stations at Yarwell, Wansford, Ferry Meadows, Orton Mere, and Peterborough. The line is currently 7.5 miles (12.1km) long.
There is also a connection to the mainline which makes it easier for those mainline certified steam engines to come to NVR rather than having to be brought in on a lorry.
There are a number of societies based at Wansford now which all work with or are a part of NVR, continuing to restore stock and other parts of the railway.
There are a number of projects either on the go or in the pipeline, one of which is to restore the old listed station building at Wansford. Part of this plan is to recreate a Victorian ticket office and also to have a museum in the building.
For information on this and other projects and also some of the groups at Wansford please see the NVR website.
The NVR line has been used in a number TV shows, films, and music videos over the years.
In film, two notable uses were on the James Bond films Octopussy (starring Roger Moore as Bond) and Goldeneye (starring Pierce Brosnan as Bond).
The train that crashed into the car is still at the Wansford station (below) though this has not run for some years – not because of the film though. The train appears at 2:09. In fact, just after this where the car is seen landing in the water this is the bridge over the River Nene just outside Wansford station.
There are numerous TV appearances made by NVR, in documentaries, news, drama and even in reality TV. Such examples including London’s Burning, Casualty, Murder on the Orient Express (starring David Suchet as Poirot), Silent Witness, Cash in the Attic, and many more.
Probably the most notable appearance in a video was for Breakthru by Queen (though the train had was from the collection at Didcot and not part of the NVR):
A list of all filming done at NVR can be found here: https://nvr.org.uk/article.php/17/filming-at-nvr/
All of these appearances together with the money raised by visitors goes towards the ongoing preservation of all of the locomotives, carriages, and wagons as well as the buildings and trainline itself.
Locomotive City of Peterborough itself is currently undergoing a major overhaul and restoration. The boiler is in need of some major work and the cost the last I heard is expected to be about £500,000 for the boiler alone.
The picture below is of City of Peterborough soon after it went in for the overhaul and was only just being taken apart. The locomotive is currently in a very large number of pieces.
Whilst Thomas is in good working order (having returned to service in 2016 following a 2.5 year restoration) it only pulls trains from Wansford to Yarwell and back.
The rest of the services to Peterborough and back are pulled by either visiting locomotives or by locomotive 34081 ’92 Squadron’. This is a Bulleid ‘Battle of Britain’ class pacific locomotive 34081 ’92 Squadron’ owned by Battle of Britain Locomotive Society which is based out of Wansford.
Throughout the year (normally, obviously not at the moment) there are a number of special event weekends and experiences available. Details for all of the upcoming events and experiences can be found on the website.
As mentioned above there are often visiting engines, especially for these event weekends.
Below are a few pictures of locomotives that have visited in recent years.
Below is A4 pacific class 60009 Union of South Africa. This is the same class as the Mallard, the worlds fastest steam powered train. I believe the class holds a selection of other records as well. Only 6 are left in the world out of the 35 built.
Tornado is a regular visitor to the NVR. This is a replica A1 class – the last A1 was scrapped in 1966 – with the project being started in 1990. The construction started in 1994 and was completed in 2008.
In 2018 Tornado had an extended stay at the NVR after it broke down near Peterborough. With the mainline connection and a very knowledgeable maintenance crew it was a good place to go for repairs to be made. Below you can see Tornado after the repairs had been made and it was waiting for some running in to check repairs before return to service.
This also happened to the Flying Scotsman in October 2017.
Flying Scotsman has visited the NVR on occasion as well. The last time – October 2019 – saw sell out trains all day. In addition to this during the time it was in Wansford you could also visit the foot plate for a chat with one the team that came with Flying Scotsman from the NRM. After this you could then walk down the passage alongside the tender that the crew used to use to leave the foot plate to get some rest on the longest journeys it would do.
The last event before lockdown began was for the 70th anniversary of the last Pannier engine leaving the Swindon Works.
My son is often by my side for these trips as he loves seeing the trains.
In addition to the Pannier at this event, there was a Class 14 diesel – this was the locomotive that replaced the Pannier in service.
These aren’t just limited to steam locomotives either. Heritage diesel locomotives are also at NVR and particularly at the height of summer when steam use is restricted are joined by visiting diesel locomotives. The use of the steam locos is sometimes restricted in the summer some years (when the weather has been particularly hot and dry) to reduce fire hazards.
Part of the reason for sharing the places I will be listing is that in the current climate they will be struggling to survive as they all rely on income generated by visitors and wanting to share ways that they can be helped, or even just raising awareness of these places so that when restrictions are lifted people may go to visit them again.
Donations can be made through the NVR website – a link is available on the home page to where you can make donations:
If you like any of these photos and would be interested in purchasing any prints please let me know via the comments below, Twitter, or Facebook. I also have a substantial number of photos that have not been posted anywhere so if let me know if you would like to know what else is available. A portion of the profits will be sent to NVR on your behalf.
Thank you for reading, the next part in this series will follow in the next few of days.
You can find the other parts of this series here:
Places I Miss Because of COVID-19 #1 – The Raptor Foundation
Places I Miss Because of COVID-19 #2 – Peterborough Cathedral
Places I Miss Because of COVID-19 #3 – Hamerton Zoo Park
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