The locomotive was built at GWR’s Swindon Works, out-shopped in June 1930. For most of its working life it was allocated to Newton Abbott and Laira (Plymouth), working express passenger trains to and from Devon to London Paddington. Withdrawn from Cardiff in June 1962, it was sent to Swindon for breaking up. However, in light of the installation of a new bridge west of Bristol towards South Wales, it was coupled to its twin, 6024 King Edward I, and towed to the bridge for weight testing purposes. After the weight testing they were to be scrapped at Briton Ferry at Neath until it was realised that the King class locomotives were not allowed west of Cardiff. They were then sent to Woodham Brothers scrapyard at Barry as this involved less travelling than taking the engines back to Swindon.
Whilst 6024 King Edward I was saved in 1974, 6023 King Edward II remained at the scrapyard due to the rear driving wheels being flame-cut following a derailment at Woodham’s. It was bought from the scrapyard for £12,000 and left Barry in December 1984.
As part of the 150th anniversary of GWR’s formation in 1985, the hulk was acquired for £22,000 by Harvey’s of Bristol, and was moved to a bay platform at Bristol Temple Meads railway station called the Fish Dock.
The Brunel Engineering Centre Trust, under a Manpower Services Commission scheme, completely dismantled 6023 King Edward II and restoration began. Work continued until the autumn of 1988, when the MS scheme funding was withdrawn and the future of 6023 was cast into doubt.
6023 was then bought by the Great Western Society and moved to Didcot in March 1990 for its restoration to continue. The restoration has included the casting of new rear driving wheels in 1994, followed by re-wheeling the chassis in 1995. The casting is notable since it is thought to be the first wheels to be created for a standard gauge locomotive in preservation. The damaged wheels were also acquired by the Great Western Society at Didcot and can today be seen on display there.
On 12 April 2010, 6023 King Edward II’s boiler passed its steam test, and on 20 January 2011 it moved for the first time under its own power since 1962.
Initially, King Edward II has been painted in the early BR blue steam locomotive livery, rather than the later standard BR Brunswick Green livery currently carried by 6000 King George V and 6024 King Edward I.
The locomotive re-entered passenger service on the Mid-Norfolk Railway on 4 June 2011, as part of a running-in programme leading to the engine’s return to the main line. During the road journey to Dereham the locomotive lost its safety valve cover, with the Mid-Norfolk offering a cash reward for its safe return. The cover was restored to the locomotive by Sunday 5 June.
On return to Didcot, it was found that a number of copper firebox and boiler stays had broken, resulting in the need for a large amount of remedial work to the boiler. On 6 September 2012 the locomotive was moved to Loughborough on the Great Central Railway for firebox repairs, which were completed during early 2013. The locomotive then made a series of appearances on the Great Central Railway, for both testing and running-in purposes, but has since returned to Didcot where it is now being prepared to operate on the main line. In 2014, the GWS was given derogation by network rail to use a portable GSMR radio unit on 6023, saving money and enabling the unit to be used on the GWS’s locomotives yet to work on the mainline such as 2999 and 4079.
In May 2016 the redesigned plastpipe arrangement was tested at Didcot. The change to a cut down single chimney was required in order to comply with Network Rail height limits in order to allow the locomotive to operate on the main line. It has also been fitted with the Train Protection and warning System gear and an On Train Monitoring Recorder.
After adjusting the height of the locomotive problems with operating on the main line still remain. The problem centres on the width of 6023 which has the original cylinders which make it three inches wider than a Standard class Britannia locomotive. The length of the buffer beam also appears to be an issue due to sideways movement when the engine is running.
Consultations with the Network Rail are scheduled to take place before a decision is made on whether 6023 will ever run on the main line again.
Towards the end of 2017 consideration was being given to testing the single blastpipe under loaded conditions.
In early 2018 it was disclosed that the locomotive would not run on the main line during the remainder of its current boiler certificate.
During October the locomotive underwent loaded test runs on the Dartmouth Steam Railway to to test the blastpipe arrangements. Despite the tests being successful the decision to delay any main line running until after its next overhaul remains. The boiler certificate expires in 2020.
Towards the end of 2019 the Great Western society revealed that they had decided that they would not be running the locomotives owned by the society on the main line in future. As a result the work done on 6023 to reduce its height would be reversed over the winter of 2019/20.
The expectation is that the locomotive will be taken out of service late in the summer of 2020 when the boiler certificate expires.
Even before being overhaul the locomotive has been restored to full height chimney, safety valve bonnet and cab. The locomotive will remain on display at Didcot until after the GWR’ 60th anniversary celebrations in 2021. No timescale has been established for overhauling the locomotive although it is unlikely to start in the near future.
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