4079 Pendennis Castle

4079 Pendennis Castle at Taplow Open Day - September 1966.jpg

4079 Pendennis Castle (named after fortifications at Falmouth) was completed at Swindon in February 1924 and began working life at Old Oak Common where it was employed on routes to South Wales and the West Country. In 1950 4079 was allocated to Gloucester shed before moving on to Bath Road Bristol in 1959 and then Bristol Saint Philip’s Marsh from where she was withdrawn in 1964. The mileage on withdrawal from service is not known but it had completed 1,758,398 miles by the end of December 1963.

Pendennis Castle’s claim to fame dates from 1925 when the GWR lent the locomotive to the London & North Eastern Railway for trials against Sir Nigel Gresley’s mighty new pacifics. Working 16-coach trains on the East Coast main line from Kings Cross, the stalwart Castle covered itself in soot and glory, thoroughly out-performing its larger competitors. Its exploits were the talk of every schoolboy in Britain and the GWR rather cheekily sent Pendennis Castle to stand alongside Flying Scotsman at the 1925 British Empire Exhibition at Wembley with a notice proclaiming it to be the most powerful passenger express locomotive in Britain.

BR motive power depot allocations since 1948.

Date ArrivedDepot
January 1948Hereford
November 1948Gloucester
October 1952Stafford Road
June 1957Bristol Bath Road
September 1960Taunton
January 1961St Phillips Marsh
July 1962Swindon
November 1963St Phillips Marsh

Whilst at Swindon 4079 was put into store for almost a year.

On the 9th May 1964 a special train was arranged by the Western Region to run from Paddington to Plymouth. It was to commemorate the run of City of Truro on the 9th May 1904 when it was said to be the first steam locomotive to achieve a speed of 100mph. 

The plan was that the train in 1964 would be hauled at different stages by four Castle class locomotives which were all considered to be in good condition and capable of achieving high speeds. It was deemed that this would be the last occasion on which a steam locomotive would be allowed to run at high speeds. The Western Region plans for the run included indicating where higher than normal speeds would be permitted and where they were not. Another indication of the significance placed on the commemorative run was the careful selection of the coal to be used by the locomotives involved. After some discussion it was agree that Ogilvie washed coal which was true Great Western Welsh coal.

Permission was given to attempt to achieve a speed of 100mph on the return leg from Bristol to Paddington via Badmington between Hullavington and Little Somerford.

On the journey from Paddington to Plymouth very hot material was noticed appearing beside the train which was initially thought to be tender axle box brass. As a result the unplanned and unexpected application of the brakes on the train destroyed any hope of reaching Plymouth in 3½ hours. When examined the problem with Pendennis Castle was not with the tender axle box but the firebars which had melted. The problem was believed to be caused by the coal which was of high quality but when used in a locomotive attaining high speeds got too hot. The locomotive was said to have achieved a speed of 96mph but had to be removed from the train at Westbury.

After withdrawal in 1964, Pendennis Castle was purchased for preservation by Mike Higson and appeared at one of the Great Western Society’s first open days in 1965. It was soon sold to the Hon. John Gretton and Sir William McAlpine and was based at Didcot just before the GWS established Didcot Railway Centre. In 1977 the locomotive was sold again, this time to Hamersley Iron Company – one of the largest iron ore producers in Australia – for use on excursion trains on the company’s 240-mile ore-carrying railway in the Pilbara region of Western Australia.

4079 left England in the summer of 1977. In Australia, it was looked after by the Pilbara Railways Historical Society, formed by Hamersley employees, and worked many excursion trains through the Chichester Ranges. A highlight of the Australian sojourn was a visit to Perth in 1989 to operate alongside its old rival Flying Scotsman as the climax of a tour during the country’s bicentennial celebrations. However, vastly increasing traffic on the Hamersley railway combined with operational difficulties resulted in 4079 being stored out of use for several years, 4079 final steaming in Australia took place in October 1994. Whilst in Australia it was given the name River Fe (River of Iron) by its new owner in 1978.

With prospects for an operational future in Australia looking uncertain, Hamersley Iron began to consider the options. The main concern was to find a new home that could offer a secure future, which would recognise the significance of its English heritage and provide a high degree of public accessibility. It was also important that the engine should not become a stand-alone exhibit, but should play its part in illustrating the wider picture of GWR locomotive development.

The decision to offer Pendennis Castle to the Great Western Society was made in the first days of 2000. In return, the society agreed to arrange and pay for the repatriation, and to restore it to full main-line running condition.

The locomotive was formally presented to the Society by Hamersley Iron on 19 April. Following a 10-week voyage Pendennis Castle finally regained British soil on 8 July 2000, just over 23 years after it left. The cost of bringing the locomotive back to Britain had been met by generous donations from British enthusiasts and a grant from the Heritage Lottery Fund. Pendennis Castle’s route was via the Pacific Rim, the Panama Canal, the Eastern Seaboard of the USA and across the Atlantic – the opposite way to her outward journey – making 4079 the first 4-6-0 steam locomotive to circumnavigate the world, and only the second steam locomotive to do so after Flying Scotsman.

4079 is now being restored at Didcot where in October 2015 the boiler was temporarily returned to the frames twelve years after being removed. It was only temporary to whilst pipes and other fittings were attached to the locomotive. The tender for 4079 was completed in September 2015 but remains behind 5051 Drysllwyn Castle until 4079 is ready to be reunited with it.

During 2016 work continued on restoring 4079 with much of the effort being associated with the boiler cladding. The boiler itself was previously carried by 5086 Viscount Horne which this locomotive acquired when it was altered from a Star class engine in 1937.

It is anticipated that the locomotive will not steam again until at least 2018. By early 2017 work on the boiler at Didcot was nearing a stage where it could be hydraulically and steam tested but there is still much work to be done on other areas of the locomotive. Funds are also still required to fit 4079 with the Train Protection & Warning System and On-Train Monitoring Recorder required to allow it to operate on the main line.

In September 2020 it was anticipated that the boiler would be steamed out of the frames in the following month (which it was) and the locomotive would be back in steam in 2021. The boiler was lifted back onto the frames in November 2020.

When completed the locomotive will be outshopped in 1920 GWR livery but it will not run on the main line .

The locomotive is planned to be back in steam and run at the Didcot Railway Centre at the end of August 2021. This will be the first time it has been in steam since October 1994 at Rio Tinto in Australia. It last steamed in Britain in May 1977 when it hauled the Saltley Junction-Didcot-Dorridge portion of the Great Western Envoy railtour. This was its last outing before being shipped to Australia after being purchased by Hamersley Iron.

The work on restoring the locomotive to steam took so long because it was described as a very tired when it returned from Australia back in July 2000. It had not had a heavy overhaul in service since 1959 and a heavy intermediate service in 1961. It had restoration work done on it at Swindon in 1964/65 and on the boiler in the mid 1970s before going to Australia and a major overhaul lasting 2½years in Australia which was completed in 1987.

The aim was to have the locomotive back operating in the spring of 2022. It moved again under its own steam in February of that year and no major issues were identified.

Home BaseCurrent StatusOwner
Didcot Railway CentreOperational 

Great Western Society


4079 Prndennis Castle on trials with the LNER on Doncaster shed – 1925
4079 Pendennis Castle leaving Bristol Temple Meads with empty stock – early 1960s
4079 Pendennis Castle on Swindon shed – October 1963
4079 Pendennis Castle taking on water at Shrewsbury shed – Early 1960s
4079 Pendennis Castle at Birmingham Snow Hill hauling a SLS special to Swindon – April 1964
4079 Pendennis Castle at Westbury following its failure there in May 1964 – August 1964
4079 Pendennis Castle at Taplow Open Day - September 1966.jpg
4079 Pendennis Castle at Taplow Open Day – September 1966
4079 Pendennis Castle passes Oxley shed with an enthusiats special to mark the end of through services from Paddington to Birkenhead – March 1967
4079 Pendennis Castle at Didcot – September 1969
4079 Pendennis Castle at St Devereux - April 1974.jpg
4079 Pendennis Castle at St Devereux – April 1974
4079 Pendennis Castle – Thought to be loaded onto a ship for transporting to Australia in 1977
4079 Pendennis Castle at Didcot – February 2018
5051 Drysllwyn Castle and 4079 Pendennis Castle at Didcot railway Centre – August 2021
4079 Pendennis Castle at Didcot – October 2021
4079 Pendennis Castle at Didcot – February 2022

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