The engine was originally built as number 65 for the South Eastern Railway (SER) at Ashford railway works in 1896, and is the only surviving former SER locomotive. It was rebuilt in 1908, also at Ashford, into a form reminiscent of the more modern SECR C class.
BR motive power depot allocations since 1948.
|January 1948||Dover Marine|
|June 1954||Dover Marine|
The engine was withdrawn by British Railways in June 1961, its major claim to fame being the working of the last railtour to run over the Hawkhurst branch in Kent, along with C class 31592. It was also a regular operator over the Kent & East Sussex Railway during the last decade of that line’s operational lifespan. The engine went on to haul demolition trains.
Within a month of operating the special over the Hawkhurst branch, the engine was withdrawn from general traffic by British Railways, after running for 66 years and 1,388,000 miles, and was moved to Bricklayers Arms steam shed for storage, along with a number of other former SECR engines. Work began on cutting the engine up for scrap, with the cutting of the locomotive’s coupling rods, but work ceased and was later to be repaired prior to preservation.
Following withdrawal, the engine was purchased by Mr Lewis-Evans in 1963 for the scrap value of £850. The engine was moved from storage at Bricklayers Arms to the Ashford Steam Centre, based on part of the former Ashford railway works in Kent.
As well as the steam engines, the centre played host to a number other vehicles, including Pullmans which were to go on to form part of the fleet for the VSOE Pullman train. When the site closed, most of these vehicles were dispersed, the majority going to both the K&ESR and the Bluebell, but this was not so for 31065. The engine needed a heavy overhaul, and was removed to a private site elsewhere in Kent for the work to take place. Once there, the engine was largely dismantled, but after some initial work on the boiler, including removal of several boiler tubes, the work faltered and the parts were separated. (The boiler and cab ended up at Sellinge in Kent whilst the chassis and tender were parked beside a house in Gamlingay in Cambridgeshire.) The engine remained in this state for around 20 years, often stored outside and subject to the ravages of the weather.
During the late summer of 1996, the owner of the engine visited the Bluebell to inspect the facilities available at Sheffield Park with a view to restoring the engine properly. The rolling chassis arrived soon afterwards, and was followed by several of the other constituent parts of the engine, including the boiler, during the following months. With the impending centenary of the SECR due in 1999, work started swiftly on restoring the engine to traffic. A major overhaul ensued, as the engine had not received major work since before its withdrawal in 1961, and had been the victim of being stored outside.
The engine was returned to traffic for the centenary of the amalgamation of the SER and LCDR into the SECR in 1999, and was finished in the ornate SECR goods. By 2000 the now-numbered 65 briefly became the sole operational ex-SECR engine in the world, until the restoration of another P class tank at the Kent & East Sussex Railway in 2001. It remained the only operational ex-SECR engine at the Bluebell Railway until the restoration to traffic of 592 in the summer of 2007.
The engine has performed regularly at the Bluebell Railway since its overhaul, often to be found operating the line’s vintage trains, which is often formed of ex-SECR carriages. In May 2009 the engine made a historic return to the K&ESR, having been a regular on the line during the 1950s, including working some of the demolition trains. This was the first time since its arrival that the engine had left the Bluebell, although a previous visit to the Mid Hants Railway for a gala appearance in 2007 had been planned, but was cancelled owing to a failure. Despite this, it has been a reliable and regular performer, popular with both crews and passengers alike.
The engine’s boiler certificate expired in July 2009, but owing to the amount of work done during the last overhaul, it is not thought to require much work to restore it.
A spare SECR R1 boiler was sent away in 2013 for overhaul, and once completed, will be put onto no. 65.
65 is currently being overhauled on the Bluebell Railway. By May 2017 progress on the overhaul had advanced to the stage where the boiler could be returned to the frames of the engine.
In June 2017 the locomotive underwent steaming trials.
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