Swanage Railway – Historic First Train

Swanage Railway

Picture by Andrew P.M. Wright


A mighty locomotive that pulled the last steam train on British Rail during the summer of 1968 has made history when it  hauled the first ever train from London’s Euston station down to Corfe Castle and Swanage.

And in an ironic twist, Britannia class steam locomotive No. 70013 ‘Oliver Cromwell’ passed the ruins of Corfe Castle – the fortress that Parliamentary forces, led by Oliver Cromwell, captured and destroyed during the English Civil War of the 17th century.

The long eleven-coach ‘Swanage Belle’ charter train carrying some 500 excited passengers arrived in Swanage just after 2pm on Saturday, 15 October, 2011, after its six-hour journey from London’s Euston station.

Organised by the Railway Touring Company of King’s Lynn in Norfolk, the special train departed the Purbeck seaside resort two hours later just after 4pm, at the start of the train’s six-hour journey to London’s Kensington Olympia station.

The driver of ‘Oliver Cromwell’ for its historic journey from Euston to Swanage was Mel Cox, the Swanage Railway’s operations manager and a part-time steam and diesel locomotive driver with West Coast Railways who lives in Swanage.

For Mel’s trip at the controls of the mighty Britannia class steam locomotive was very different to the mid-1960s when he was a young fireman based at Bournemouth motive power depot – working on Standard Tanks and Ivatt tanks on branch trains between Wareham, Corfe Castle and Swanage as well as through trains from Bournemouth to the Purbeck seaside resort.

And when steam traction ended on the ten-mile branch line in September, 1966, Mel found himself working as a second man on the ‘Hampshire’ class DEMUs that ran the train service between Wareham, Corfe Castle and Swanage until British Rail closed the line in January, 1972.

After his arrival at Swanage on ‘Oliver Cromwell’, Mel said: “It was a really enjoyable trip down from London – from the main line down to the winding single line that is the old Swanage branch; very different from firing a Standard Tank or an Ivatt Tank, or being a second man on a moaning and juddering ‘Hampshire’ DEMU.”

Back in 1968, ‘Oliver Cromwell’ was selected as one of four locomotives to haul British Rail’s last steam passenger train – the ‘Fifteen Guinea Special’ – prior to the abolition of steam traction in Britain and ‘Oliver Cromwell ‘ hauled the Manchester to Carlisle leg of this last trip on 11 August, 1968.

One of 55 similar engines built by British Railways, No. 70013 was outshopped from Crewe Works on 30 May, 1951, and allocated initially to Norwich’s Thorpe locomotive depot on British Railways’ Eastern Region – hauling express trains between London and Norwich.

Sometimes, these locomotives were allocated two return trips a day which totalled 460 miles.  ‘Oliver Cromwell’ remained at Norwich until September 1961 – when diesels took over these duties – and ran 698,000 miles in just over ten years.

Subsequently, No. 70013 was based for some two years at the former March Depot in Cambridgeshire. In December 1963, the ‘Oliver Cromwell’ was transferred to Carlisle Kingmoor Depot on British Railways’ London Midland Region where it was primarily rostered for freight, parcels and occasional passenger trains before being withdrawn in August, 1968.

‘Oliver Cromwell’ is currently owned by the National Railway Museum and is maintained and operated by the 5305 Locomotive Association.

Swanage Railway train service and special event details are available by going online and visiting www.swanagerailway.co.uk or by calling the Swanage Railway on 01929 425800.