Historic loco takes up residence in Doncaster as first ever heritage engine in town's museums
It was the town which built some of the most iconic names in British railway history.
But despite its railway heritage, for years there was nothing to be seen in Doncaster to tell of the history that produced steam engines like Mallard and Flying Scotsman.
But today, that has all changed.
On a freezing Sunday morning yesterday, two low loaders travelled down from Shildon in the North East. Their cargo was the first steam engine to go on permanent heritage display in Doncaster. The journey had taken it from its previous base, a museum called Locomotion, having set off at 6am.
Slowly unloaded onto tracks through the giant back door of the borough’s new museum, the engine was put in place in a five hour operation, carried out while College Road was temporarily closed to traffic.
The Great Northern Railway ‘Atlantic’ locomotive number 251, built at Doncaster’s railway works, known as the plantworks, in 1902, is the first exhibit to be announced for the town’s Danum Gallery, Library and Museum.
It was delivered by its owners, the National Railway Museum, who have placed it on loan at the new museum.
A team in orange hi vis worked in an almost empty town centre, delivering the engine and its coal tender, to leave it safely inside the new venue. A second engine will also be brought to the building later in the year.
Ros Jones, Mayor of Doncaster, said: “This locomotive is the first of many gems we will be revealing through a virtual tour in March, with the building opening its doors for people to explore later in the year, subject to the Covid-19 pandemic of course.”
Coun Nigel Ball, Doncaster Council’s cabinet member for culture, said: “We are delighted the National Railway Museum has supported us and I can’t wait to see these two classic locomotives on display.
“As a past worker at The Plant in the early 80s I am really excited about this and what this means for Doncaster.”
After 45 years in service, initially with the Great Northern Railway, and with the LNER after 1923, number 251 was retired in 1947. The locomotive returned to steam once in 1953 to celebrate the centenary of the Doncaster Plant Works.
It will take centre stage in a new rail heritage centre in the museum. It will also showcase rail memorabilia from the Doncaster Grammar School Railway Collection and other items which celebrate the importance of rail for Doncaster.
Displayed on purpose-built rail tracks, people will be able to view through a virtual tour of the building which will go live in March prior to the building being opened for the public to get up close with exhibits later in the year. All opening plans are subject to the ongoing Covid-19 pandemic.
The locomotives will remain part of the national collection and will be loaned to the Doncaster museum as static exhibits for an initial three-year period.
Among those bringing the engine to Doncaster yesterday was lead preventative conservator at the NRM, Wendy Somerville-Woodiwis. Ms Somerville-Woodiwis said the project had kept her going during lockdown.
She said: “We’re really pleased that it’s coming to a museum, and ecstatic that it's coming back to its home town. It’s had a huge conservation programme.
"Doncaster has so many place names associated with the railways – Mallard Way, Gresley Square. Even Kingfisher ward at the hospital is named after the railways. It has such strong links with the railways.”
Also involved in installing the loco yesterday were Kim Drabyk, the council’s heritage manager, and Bill McHugh, the service project manager.
Mr McHugh said: “I was not that interested in the railways as a youth, but now I’ve become an afficionado. It gets to you, and now I’m fascinated. In terms of the railways, I think this will be the biggest attraction Doncaster’s ever had.”
Ms Drabyk said they had been working with the railway museum for three years. “It looks amazing,” she said.
Some residents were stunned to see the loco arrive as they walked through the town centre.
Pauline Murphy, from Hyde Park, stopped as she saw the engine being unloaded. Her brother used to work as a train guard.
She said: “It’s lovely to see – I can’t wait for it to open. We go to York to see the trains there. We built the Mallard and Flying Scotsman here – it was our industry."
Paul Bird, of Town Moor spotted the loco arriving as he walked into the town centre. His dad worked on the railways, and was involved in the National Union of Railwaymen.
He said: “I think it’s fabulous to see it arrive. It’s part of our heritage, and we should be proud of it. I didn’t know they were going to have a steam engine in there.
"My dad worked in the plant works. I feel so proud to see it going in.”
Former miner Mark Keenan also stopped on Chequer Road as he saw the engine arrive.
He said: “It’s great for the town. It means a lot, and I’ve always been interested in the railways. It’s taken something like this new museum for us to get an engine like this – somewhere safe and under cover. Ros Jones, the mayor, should be commended for this.”
The engine installed yesterday was the first in a series of 94 locomotives of its type.
The new design was an immediate success, and further improvements to the model over the next few years meant that this class of locomotive was able to pull very heavy passenger trains, at considerable speed, well into the 1920s and 1930s.