31638 (SR A638, SR 1638 & BR 31638)

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1638 got around a bit during its Southern Railways/British Railways career. It cost £4,815 to build and was outshopped from Ashford in 1931. Initially allocated to Redhill but following the electrification of the Brighton line in 1933, it was reallocated to Guildford. It was one of 20 of the 50 U class engines based there, and like many of the others 1638 worked the North Downs line as well as workings to Eastleigh. It undertook local passenger duties as well as the occasional goods turn and also some semi-fasts to Waterloo.

At its first major overhaul in 1933 it had its number adjusted to 1638 from A638, and at its second general overhaul (1935) it gained smoke deflectors. There was a brief spell at Bournemouth in the autumn of 1936, but the next move followed the reshuffle that came with the electrification of the Portsmouth line in 1937. July of that year took it to Reading, though it still worked the North Downs line. This became a relatively long stay, not moving for 6 years.

1943 found 1638 based at Exmouth Junction, but in 1946 it was surplus to requirements and stored in a siding at Eastleigh, for conversion to oil firing. This never happened and in 1947 it was resteamed and sent back to Exmouth Junction. At this time it had a tender swap, losing its 4000 gallon tender in favour of a 3500 gallon type.

1638 became 31638 at a general overhaul in 1948, after nationalisation and in September 1949 its West Country life was over; it went to Stewarts Lane. There was then a very unsettled period between 1949 and 1953. 31638 went to Faversham, Kent then Hither Green, Redhill again, Brighton, Eastleigh, Redhill (yet again!) then finally Fratton (near Portsmouth). Chief workings here would have been the Portsmouth to Brighton services and the Portsmouth to Pokesdown and Salisbury (via Southampton) services. At Fratton it worked on the Portsmouth docks line, previously restricted to the Stroudley E1’s. At this time 31638 had its second tender change.

It stayed there until November 1959 when Fratton shed became a sub-shed of Eastleigh and lost its shed code although it retained a shed foreman, footplate crew and coaling facilities until it closed in July 1967. 31638 moved to Guildford where it worked until the end in January 1964, having been sold to Woodhams scrapyard in south Wales, along with the other 3 preserved U class engines. When withdrawn, 1638 had had 10 general overhauls and had covered about 915,000 miles in her 33 years (the confirmed figure to March 1962 being 868,853).

It was purchased by a member of the Bluebell Railway and donated to the Railway and arrived there in 1980 where it was kept in Turners sidings at Sheffield Park until 1993.

The Maunsell Society were offered 1638 on a free 50 lease on the basis that it was restored for future use on the Bluebell Railway. Following agreement to this the locomotive was restored and steamed again in 2006 which was 42 years since it was last in steam.

In 2015 was withdrawn from service on the Bluebell Railway after completing nine years of a ten year boiler certificate. It is now on static display awaiting an overhaul. It is understood that it requires significant boiler and firebox work.

In 2017 the locomotive was moved to Horsted Keynes where it remained in store at the end of 2021.

At its next overhaul it will require new tyres, new inner firebox, a new front tubeplate

Home BaseCurrent StatusOwner
Bluebell RailwayStored awaiting an overhaulOwned by the Bluebell Railway but on long term loan to the Maunsell Locomotive Society
31638 in Woodham’s scrapyard at Barry – June 1964
31638 sits between 31625 and 31806 in Woodham’s scrapyard at Barry – July 1968
31638 in Woodhams scrapyard at Barry – August 1973
31638 in Woodhams scrapyard at Barry – August 1975
31638 in Woodham’s scrapyard at Barry – c1979
31638 at Sheffield Park on the Bluebell Railway awaits restoration – July 1985
31638 at Sheffield Park on the Bluebell Railway – June 2012
31638 at Sheffield Park on the Bluebell Railway – June 2012
31638 at Kingscote on the Bluebell Railway – May 2013
31638 pilots 30847 at Horsted Keynes on the Bluebell Railway – March 2014
31638 leaving Horsted Keynes on the Bluebell Railway – May 2014
31638 on the Bluebell Railway – July 2014
31638 at Sheffield Park on the Bluebell Railway – June 2017. The locomotive next to it is
73082 Camelot.

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