323 was built at Ashford Works in 1910. It was withdrawn from service in July 1960. It had spent its life under BR ownership based at Folkestone Junction until being transferred to Dover Marine in April 1950 where it remained until withdrawn from service.
It arrived at the Bluebell in 1960 as the second locomotive on the line and as the flagship of the Bluebell’s fleet, painted blue and named “Bluebell” between 1961 and 1966 when it was withdrawn from service for overhaul. As an exception to the general rule on the Bluebell Railway it was then repainted in a house style of lined blue livery, brass number plates and the company crest displayed.
During this time it also visited the East Somerset Railway for four years between 1980 and 1984.
An appeal to raise the funds for the overhaul was started towards the end of 2003. In 2005 the overhaul was suspended whilst the workshops concentrated on larger locomotives and 323, partially dismantled, was moved back to storage at Sheffield Park in a partially dismantled state. In 2009 the decision was made to restore 323 to working order and it was moved into the workshops with the hope of having it operational in time for the Bluebell’s fiftieth anniversary celebrations in 2010.
However, it was discovered the firebox backhead had cracked, requiring repairs that prevented the locomotive from attending the celebrations. 323 returned to service in spring 2011, when it attended the ‘Branch Line Weekend’ celebrations.
In 2009 it was decided as a priority to get the engine (as one of the two original locos which were used to re-open the line in 1960) running for the railway’s 50th anniversary celebrations the following year. The Bluebell Railway Trust agreed to fund the work.
In September 2009 the locomotive entered the works and was lifted from its wheels, signifying the re-starting of its overhaul, with the aim of completing to overhaul for the 50th anniversary celebrations in August 2010. This was thwarted by the discovery of the need for additional boiler repairs, and after this additional work, the locomotive returned to service just in time to put in an appearance at the Branch Line weekend in March 2011.
In March 2019 the locomotive was taken out of service for a full overhaul. The Bluebell Railway reported that it had been withdrawn before its boiler certificate expired owing to a firebox problem which could not be repaired without substantial disassembly of the locomotive.
|Home Base||Current Status||Owner|
|Bluebell Railway||Awaiting overhaul||Bluebell Railway|
- 31027 (ROD 5027, SR A27, SR 1027 & BR 31027)
- 31178 (SECR 178, SR A178, SR 1178, Bowaters Pioneer II & BR 31178)
- 31556 (SECR 753, ROD 5753, SR A556, SR 556 & BR 31556)