Clun Castle

The November 1993 Branchline reported the sad fact that Patrick Whitehouse had died. Mr. Whitehouse is known to many as the man who saved Castle Class 4-6-0 "Clun Castle" for preservation in Britain. I have some very personal memories of Clun and would like to share them with you.

In 1964, the 4.15 pm London Paddington-Banbury semi-fast  became the last steam-hauled service from the termnus.  the train's final steam-hauled day was on June 11 1965, worked by double chimney 'Castle' 4-6-0 No. 7029 Clun castle.  It pauses at Princes Risborough with the last run of the 4.15 pm.  Colour Rail.  Steam World August 2007.

I was working as a Management Trainee in the British Railways Western Region Headquarters at Paddington in London when the last steam hauled trains were being run. On Tuesday, June 1, 1965,1 slipped out early from the Regional Accountants Office and entered the washroom to emerge, like Clarke Kent, in a disguise, only I was dressed in engineman's blue overalls. Many of the people I passed in those august halls turned up their nose at my humble self daring to walk where General Managers had trod, but I had a date with "Clun Castle" and the 16:15 Paddington.

The 16:15 Paddington to Banbury was the last regularly scheduled steam passenger train out of Paddington and it was due to be replaced with a diesel at the change of timetable ten days hence. I had obtained a footplate pass from my friends in the Divisional Office and elbowed past the many admirers to present it to Driver Cott and Fireman Heath of Banbury. Even the Assistant General Manager - Staff was watching. I reported directly to him and he knew that I should have been in the Accountants Office, so I kept well in the shadows by the front spectacle plate until we had left the station. The empty coaches were late arriving at the platform behind a diesel hydraulic and we left a couple of minutes late. With a short blast of the whistle, we departed smoothly without any slipping. Waving to the crews on other trains waiting to depart, it was a sobering thought that the soft exhaust beats of "Clun Castle" were the first and last steam engine sounds that would be heard in Isambard Kingdom Brunei's magnificent train shed that day. We went out on the main line waving to more railway men at Ranelagh Bridge and there were even more watching us at the Paddington Carriage Servicing Yard. It was as if the railway had come to a momentary halt to mark our passing.

With a good boiler of water and steam at 220 lbs. "Clun Castle" made a good sight. She was in great shape both externally and mechanically. At this time, there were only four Castles left in service and 7029, "Clun Castle", was the best. The fireman had built up a good haycock fire well burnt through but with a slight black crust at the back. The coal was dusty with some good sized lumps and we didn't have any trouble with the light 160 ton train.

The ATC (Automatic Train Control) siren sounded to show a red light at Subway Junction. With speed reduced, the signal cleared for us to go from Main to Relief line. Once clear of the crossing, Clun was opened out a little but we soon had to shut off for the Junction at Old Oak Common. A hoot from the siren, wave to the railway men at Old Oak Common, then the approach controlled signal turned to green and we had a clear run down the double track Joint Line. The regulator was opened out now and all of the familiar sounds returned. The curious way the Great Western whistle seemed to be muted from the footplate, the muffled churning from the chimney (muffled because most of the sound comes from deep within the bowels of the locomotive), the friendly ring of the ATC bell and, above all, the incessant din and clatter of the locomotive as she lurched over points. Clun rode well but, of course, she wasn't as steady as a diesel, this being particularly noticeable in the way she tended to roll a bit when passing over point work.

Firing was easy and the steam and water were comfortably maintained. The driver's side injector had been modified to give a slower rate of delivery and this was sufficient to maintain the water level. We were on time at Gerrard's Cross, our first stop.

Another familiar memory returned with the strong smell from the hot brake blocks - a smell that is not experienced with the dieseta. There were not very many people at Gerrard's Cross and we were quickly away to Beaconsfield. Although there were few on the train, there were many people of all ages watching us go past and we were recorded many times in still and movie that day. We soon reached Beaconsfield, again marked by the lack of passengers, and I began to earn my keep by taking over the shovel. I fired all the way to Bicester which was very easy, not only because of the light load but because of the easy timing and the lengthy station stops. The GWR shovel was big and would take an enormous amount of coal. This meant that a big swing was required to get coal right to the front of the firebed. A certain amount would shake down from the back but not enough to keep the front adequately fed. I bounced the shovel off the back part of the fire but I always found the most difficult part was to avoid a build up in the middle where the fire starts to drop steeply down to the front. A build up here would quickly stop coal from getting to the front and would quickly starve the front. If this happened the only thing to do was to get out the pricker and smooth out the bump.

We had a five minute station stop at High Wycombe and 171/2 at Princes Risborough where we waited for the Birmingham Pullman to pass in the through road. At Bicester we drew forward into the siding to allow the 17:10 Paddington to stop in the platform and then drew back to continue on the last leg to Banbury. A railway enthusiast came up to say that a friend was just outside the station with a movie camera and would the driver please give it the lot. We left Bicester in a hurry! Clun slipped a j bit, but soon found her feet and must have presented a good action subject for the photographer.    I
There was a climb of 1 in 200 up through Ardley and this ' was the only time we were in trouble for steam. Clun had become cold during the long stand at Bicester. The fire was alright and the pricker bar soon helped put things right. As it turned out, this helped to create an unusual trip through the tunnel before Aynho. The firehole doors were almost closed and there was only a narrow shaft of light thrown back on to the tender. The tunnel, although less than a mile long, was curved so that one could not see the end. It was pitch dark and I couldn't even see the smoke following the contours of the boiler and wallowing over the tender.

There was a brief pause at King's Sutton then a short 15 mph permanent way slowing, a brief signal check, and we ran into the relief platform at Banbury. The crew were in a hurry to sign off duty so we quickly uncoupled and ran forward to the starting signal. Two class 9 2-10-Os on their way to take up an iron ore working passed and we were given the road down the main to the shed where "Clun Castle" was berthed on the coal stage road. Without looking back the crew quickly walked to the shed office to go home.

I lingered on. The evening sun, that had come out to light our way into Banbury, was the sort of sunset that would bring a , lump to one's throat. That day there was a particularly large lump in my throat as I was saying goodbye to some particularly dear Castle friends. Tintern Abbey, Gladiator, Tretower Castle, Swindon, Sir Edward Elgar and finally Clun Castle. Clun Castle was looking good with her brasswork and copper cap chimney well polished. Banbury had added a nice touch. The number 7029 was painted on the front buffer beam as a reminder of standard GWR practice. I just stood and looked at her simmering in the evening sunshine. The trip had been an easy one but it was one of the last trips in regular service. To the men, there was nothing exceptional about this run - it was just another day's work and they looked forward to the replacement diesel. However, this cannot be repeated now that the steam locomotive is a rare spectacle. Today's steam specials, with their holiday atmosphere, cannot duplicate the every day type of trip that this was. Because it was commonplace this trip meant much more to me as my were not diverted by the spectacle itself.

I thought back to some earlier exploits of "Clun Castle". On 9, 1964, Clun had been picked for a special run from Paddington to Plymouth. Special care was taken to ensure that everything went right. The coal in the tender was replaced with hand picked coal and the crew was also specially picked. Driver If  Alf Perfect was a well known Old Oak Common speed merchant. He had his regular fireman, Brian Green as well as another fireman because they were going for a speed record.   The run started well and I saw her go though Reading.    On through Newbury, up past the summit at Savernake and into the Vale of . There now came the racing stretch of falling and level through Pewsey, Patney and Lavington.  With Traction Inspector Hancock keeping a close watch on things from the first car the train load of railfans timed Clun as speed rose - 70 mph, 80 mph, 90 mph. An expectant hush fell as the passing of each quarter mile post was punctuated by the clicking of stop watches. Up front Alf was enjoying himself while Brian Green and friend were packing away the coal.

95 mph, 96 mph, 97 mph. They were going to make the ton!

98 mph and the inevitable happened. The hand picked coal was simply too hot and burned through the firebars. Alf and Brian realised there was something wrong but didn't intend to let up until they had reached the 100 mph. Unfortunately a vigilant Inspector at the back of the train noticed sparks coming from between the driving wheels and pulled the emergency brake. Clun finally made it into Westbury where a standby Hall class 4-6-0 took over for the remainder of the run. Alf and Brian always maintained that getting 88 mph from the half prepared Hall was a better feat than 98 mph from Clun.
I rode with Alf Perfect and Brian Green a couple of months later on a diesel and asked Alf how he felt when the brake went in so close to the 100 mph.

He said:  "I nearly cried."

Alf Perfect described himself:

"Perfect the man, Perfect the Driver, Perfect the name."

I finally tore myself away from "Clun Castle" and, with moist eyes, made my way sadly back to Banbury station where I caught a diesel multiple unit home. That was the last time I rode a British steam locomotive.

But "Clun Castle" flourishes in preservation. Thank you Mr. Whitehouse, we owe you a debt of gratitude.

Bytown Railway Society, Branchline, October, 1994.

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