31618 was originally ordered as a K class 2-6-4T but as a result of the accident at Sevenoaks was completed at Brighton in 1928 as a U class 2-6-0 locomotive. It was initially allocated to Salisbury before moving to Nine Elms three years later in 1951.
For the next 17 years it worked on the North Downs line (Reading to Redhill) and between Eastleigh (near Southampton) and Woking. A few alterations were made such as smoke deflectors fitted in 1935, and for 5 years it had a larger tender allocated. From December 1945 it was moved to a Salisbury sub-shed at Andover to work the Southerns Railways line to Swindon. At nationalisation in 1948 1618 became 31618 and in April 1951 was moved again to Nine Elms (now the site of New Covent Garden fruit and veg wholesale market). There then followed a succession of changes until settling a while at Eastleigh (1954) to work the Hampshire routes.
In 1961 it was given a repaint, overhaul and a British Railways standard pattern chimney, and 2 years later stayed in Hampshire, but down the line at Basingstoke. At this time electrification was spreading and steam was being phased out on the Southern Region. Its final move came later in 1963, back to its original shed at Guildford. In January 1964 31618 steamed for the last time. 35 years had taken it 1,143,942 miles. It was sold for scrap to Woodham Brothers of Barry, South Wales and arrived at the scrapyard in June 1964.
1618 was only the second engine to leave Barry scrapyard when it left there in January 1969. It was purchased from Barry by what became the Southern Mogul Preservation Society for £2,000 and at first it was taken to a siding in at New Hythe near Maidstone, Kent.
The locomotive was moved by rail along the former Great Western main line from South Wales to London where the night was spent stored at Hither Green Depot. The following day, 1618 was towed to New Hythe where it was pushed into a siding, and so began a new era in preservation. Compared to what happened later, only a deposit of £700 was paid before being allowed to move 1618 to Kent. Later groups had to find the full purchase before being allowed to move their locomotives. Completion of payment for 1618 was by instalments.
Two and a half years were spent at New Hythe trying to restore the engine in spartan conditions. The chance came to move to the Kent and East Sussex Railway at Tenterden, which had just received its light railway order so 31618 moved there in 1969.
From this base the Southern Mogul Preservation Society as it was then known, were able to complete the job. The only snag was that the track at the Kent and East Sussex was not built to take the weight of such a locomotive; it always had been a light railway in the truest sense of the word. When 1618 was steamed, all that could be done was demonstration shunting in Tenterden station. This frustrating situation was resolved in May 1977, 3 years after the first steaming, when the society decided to move to the Bluebell Railway, also in Sussex, but with much more substantial track, sufficient in fact to cater for full running of 1618 without any problems.
The move to the Bluebell was a huge success. The engine is just the right size for the needs of the Bluebell, in terms of power and economy, in use, and historical appropriateness. The engine saw out its 10 year boiler certificate and was given a quick turn around general overhaul almost immediately. With such a rich reserve of engines awaiting overhaul at the Bluebell, this is indeed a rare occurrence. This 10 year certificate has itself now run out. Although a return to steam would be most welcome, the plan is to let others have their turn first, especially as restoration of fellow U class 1638 is well underway.
|Home Base||Current Status||Owner|
|Bluebell Railway||On static display awaiting overhaul||Maunsell Locomotive Society|
- 31625 (SR A625, SR 1625 & BR 31625)
- 31638 (SR A638, SR 1638 & BR 31638)
- 31806 (SR A806, SR 1806 & BR 31806)