David Reed visited Blists Hill Victorian Town, one of the Ironbridge Gorge Museums, to sample its recent, steam-themed weekend.
The re-opening of Blists Hill Victorian Town, near Telford, in Shropshire, following the lifting of Covid-19 restrictions, was a welcome return to some sort of normality. This renowned attraction, recreates streets lined with shops and industrial buildings that recall life from over a century ago on, what’s already a site of historic interest. The recent, steam-themed weekend, was a brilliant way to get the events season moving again attracting, as it did, a good selection of traction engines – both full-sized and miniatures – to the delight of the visiting public.
It wasn’t just visiting engines that were in steam over the weekend; the replica of Richard Trevithick’s Coalbrookdale locomotive (the construction of which began back in 1969) attracted a lot of attention, too. It was built in Telford by a team of nine apprentices from GKN Sankey, and made its debut at Blists Hill in July, 1990, and is an impressive representation of the original, high-pressure (145psi) steam engine that Trevithick created at the Coalbrookdale Company’s works in Shropshire, during the very early 1800s.
Records of the original locomotive are scarce, although it’s presumed to have been similar in appearance to the drawing held in the Science Museum. Either way, the replica certainly showed how the railways developed from a very basic beginning.
Also part of the Blists Hill collection was Billy, an April 1903 Wallis & Steevens road roller (No.2660). Registered CJ 4816, this roller has long been part of the museum’s collection, and was restored over many years. The Wallis was new to J&G Miller of Mitcham, in Surrey.
Looking the part was one of the visiting engines, a 1901 Burrell SCC general purpose engine (No.2417), Old Duch, which was registered AF 4393. This engine was built as a convertible for H Lean of Wadebridge, and spent most of its working life threshing and working in Devon sawmills. It was bought by the Holt family in 2001, and restored over the years.
From 1915 came Marshall 4hp steam tractor, The Mascot (No.68754), registered CH 2462. A regular at many rallies over the years, it was new to a hauler in Ipswich, before being commandeered in 1916 for the war effort. By 1919, the Marshall was in Sleaford, and was then sold to a showman in Derby. By late 1920, following the showman’s death, the Marshall returned to its previous owner, who converted it into a roller in 1922. Five years later, it was recorded as being with Messrs. Bridson of Neston, and eventually passed to the Jones family in 1969. Hedd Jones was at the wheel over the weekend.
The newest of the larger engines in attendance, was the 2009 Foster Wellington 3hp tractor, St George (No.14741), that’s based on a 1904 design. Registered FX09 OCM, it was built by Dawson Bros of Bicker, in Lincolnshire and, after a couple of owners, passed to Bob Bailey. To give it that authentic touch, it carries the livery of North Shropshire Saw Mills.
However, the engine attracting the most attention was Ben Coles’ 1904 Fowler D2 5hp compound three-speed road locomotive, Candyfloss (No. 9971). Registered HO 5655, it was new to Thomas Amey of Borough Brewery in Petersfield, Hampshire. It later passed on to the smaller fairgrounds, where it was converted into a showman’s road locomotive, and used by James Connolly of Fordingbridge. It ended up with F White of Purbrook, and then with Jack Hampshire who, at one time, kept it at Luggs of Billingshurst, in West Sussex.
Later in its life, Candyfloss featured in the Lee family’s The World of Country Life Museum, at Exmouth in Devon. After being the under-bidder on Ruston Hornsby Trevithick (No.169167), at Cheffins’ sale, Ben Coles bought the engine at a Kivells auction, and it’s been restored back to its original, 1904 condition. And what a fine sight it is, too!
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