53808 is one of the second batch which was built at the Darlington Works of Robert Stephenson & Co in 1925 as S&D No 88. It was turned out in unlined black livery at a cost of £6,570. When built it had a larger diameter boiler but this was replaced in 1953 as part of a general repair. At this time the boiler was found to be unfit for further use but the rest of the locomotive was considered to still have a few years of useful life left. The boiler fitted to 53808 came from Midland compound 41092.
Unusually – certainly as far as all the other WSR-based locomotives are concerned – the 2-8-0 spent the whole of its life based at one shed, Bath (Green Park). It mainly worked the local goods trains between Bath and Evercreech Junction, which involved a stiff climb over the Mendip Hills in both directions, although in the post-war period it was also used to haul some of the many Summer Saturday holiday trains to and from the North, working between Bath and Bournemouth. The ability of the 7F’s to haul these heavy trains unassisted made them a popular choice for this work. Only rarely did 88 venture up the S&D branch from Evercreech Junction to Glastonbury and Highbridge. The daily routine of working over S&D metals was broken only by visits to Derby Works for repair, as well as occasional trips up the Midland main line from Bath to Westerleigh Yard, north of Mangotsfield. 53808 was also a popular choice to haul railtours in its latter years.
In 1926-27, 88 featured in dynamometer car tests on the Toton-Brent coal trains with two LNWR 0-8-0’s, and again in 1930 between Bath and Wellow. In 1930, when S&DJR locomotives were taken into LMS stock, 88 became 9678. The locomotive was renumbered again in 1932 as 13808 and, upon nationalisation of the railways in 1948, became British Railways 53808.
The locomotive was built with a larger diameter boiler but this was removed during an overhaul at Derby in 1953 and was replaced by a standard one from withdrawn Midland Compound 41097.
53808 was finally withdrawn from active service in March 1964, and was subsequently transported along with 53809 to the Barry scrapyard of Woodham Brothers where it arrived in June 1964.
Towards the end of 1965 – with the final day of regular passenger services over the Somerset & Dorset then set for 1st January 1966 – a number of people met to collect, collate and record as much as possible about the history of the line, and to encourage modelling. The name of the organisation was to be The Somerset & Dorset Circle.
At the Annual General Meeting in 1968, a proposal was put that the Circle should investigate the possibilities of preserving one of two remaining Somerset & Dorset 7F class 2-8-0 freight engines lying in Woodham’s scrapyard at Barry in South Wales; and of setting up a museum in a former S&D station building. In 1970 a price of £2,500 was agreed for the purchase of 53808; payment was in stages, the final amount being handed over in January 1973.
In October 53808 was towed from Barry to Bristol where two weeks later it appeared at the open day at Bath Road Diesel Depot. It was then moved by rail to Radstock North where the station buildings and up platform had been leased from British Rail for £100 per annum.
In 1973 the Somerset & Dorset Circle changed its name to Somerset & Dorset Railway Museum Trust.
Work progressed on the engine as funds permitted but, following the collapse of the Radstock project, the S&DRT successfully concluded arrangements for its stock to be moved to the West Somerset Railway, arriving on the line in January 1976.
The S&DRT established a new base at Washford station, 88 finally arriving there in December 1977. Restoration progressed steadily but, because of the Trust’s commitments to other projects, became very prolonged, and in April 1985 the decision was made to place the restoration of it out to contract. Negotiations were successfully concluded with the West Somerset Railway plc, who initially undertook the work on site at Washford, dealing mainly with the frames and motion. The frames were rewheeled at Washford in January 1986, and nine days later D2271 moved the rolling chassis to Minehead for the restoration to be completed. The boiler was returned to the frames in February 1987.
The locomotive – painted in unlined black livery, with the early BR crest and bearing the number 53808 – returned to steam in August 1987, in time to celebrate 125 years of the Somerset & Dorset Railway. Since its re-entry into service it has worked on the West Somerset Railway (WSR) every year, achieving (to the end of 1994) a total mileage of 42,065 – more than any other WSR-based engine in preservation. During the Spring of 1992, the locomotive was painted into a non-authentic livery as S&DJR No 88.
In May 1996 53808 was withdrawn from service for a ten year overhaul after completing almost 50,000 miles in service on the West Somerset Railway. The work was largely undertaken at Minehead although the boiler was sent away for contract repair. The boiler was almost new when it returned to Minehead in December 2004. The overhaul also covered the fitting of completely new cylinder blocks as the originals were beyond economic repair.
88 returned steam in October 2005 and to service on the WSR again in December 2005 following overhaul and is painted in S&DJR blue livery previously carried by passenger engines, which it never carried in service.
88 and 89 met for the first time in preservation at the West Somerset Railway during 2006, after 89 made a return to Bath Green Park Station, 40 years after the S&D closed.
The engine carried this livery for the duration of its second 10-year boiler ticket, during which it made three return visits to the SVR in March 2007, March 2008 and September 2014, as well as first time visits to the Mid-Hants Railway in September 2010, and the Great Central Railway in October 2011, before being withdrawn for overhaul in October 2014.
This second overhaul was completed in February 2016, with the engine being repainted back into BR black (with the Late Crest) with the number 53808.
In February 2017 the tender was sent to the First Great Western Bristol St Phillips Marsh depot to have its tyres turned.
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