Michael L. Roach
Sixty years ago steam traction was disappearing from the railways of Devon and Cornwall under the onslaught of dieselisation and line closures. Some lines closed without ever seeing a diesel but others were dieselised but still closed within a short time. One such line was the Kingsbridge Branch which witnessed its last steam trains in September 1961 and closed completely just two years later. In the summer of 1961 on Saturdays two trains were needed to maintain the service an anomaly which would be corrected with the start of the Winter timetable on 11 September 1961 when a single railcar in the W55000 series would cover all services. One of the Summer Saturday trains in 1961 was the railcar while the other was steam in the shape of a small prairie in the 4500 or 4575 series.
For a number of years both before WW2 and in the 1950s/1960s Kingsbridge had enjoyed through coaches to/from London on Saturdays only. In the summer of 1961 the coaches left Kingsbridge at 10.55am and ran non-stop to Brent where they were shunted onto the rear of the 11.15am Plymouth to Paddington express by the prairie tank; arriving at Paddington at 4.18pm. In the other direction the through coaches left Paddington on the front of the 11.00am to Penzance. The train stopped clear of Brent station and the Kingsbridge coaches were detached by the prairie tank forming the 3.40pm off Brent reaching Kingsbridge at 4.15, stopping at all stations on the branch, unlike the up train.
The gradients on the branch were quite severe in places but would hardly have affected a 4500 with the two coaches normally used; but the 6 coaches of the train shown in the attached photos was a different matter. The limit for a small prairie was 200 tons in both directions but 6 coaches would probably have weighed just over 200 tons. The up train faced an 8 mile climb from milepost 8½ (just north of Loddiswell) to the junction at Brent but the small prairies were very capable little engines.
4924 Small prairie 5525 is seen blasting its way out of Kingsbridge on a gradient of 1 in 60 with the 6-coach 10.55am to Paddington on Saturday 12 August 1961
4927 The same train is seen half an hour later approaching the bridge carrying Portford Lane over the railway on the outskirts of South Brent also on a gradient of 1 in 60.
4928 and going away past milepost ¾ heading for Brent Station
MLR/ 9 August 2021
East Somerset Railway
I too was at the ESR yesterday! I wonder if Martin and I unknowingly passed each other?
Not surprisingly, I paid a visit to the signal-box which is being fitted-out for future use, but at the moment is open to the public simply as an ‘exhibit’. The lever-frame came from Coombe Junction and is in the process of being extended by another 5 levers.
Bradford on Avon
Regards, Guy Vincent
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Many thanks Andrew.