"Bluebell" as she was when operating the shuttle service on the first section of the Bluebell Railway's extension, in the mid 1980's.
Photo © Mike Esau.
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No.323 was built in 1910 at the Ashford works of the South Eastern and Chatham Railway for use on light passenger services, she was turned out in the full and rather elaborate passenger livery of the SE&CR. These small locomotives soon became victims of their own success and as a result had to be replaced on these duties by larger locomotives. The 8 locomotives of the class lived out the rest of their lives in the docks and yards of the Southern Railway and latter BR(S).
The Bluebell Railway acquired their first locomotive, Terrier No.55 "Stepney", in May 1960 but required a second engine to start operating trains. BR was approached about the acquisition of a second Terrier, but none were available so they were offered No.31323. With some reluctance the P class was purchased, given her original number, 323, and the name "Bluebell". "Bluebell" entered service at the opening of the line in 1960 and proved that any concerns about the P class were unfounded; so much so that when a third locomotive was required in 1961 another P class was purchased, No.27. No.323 received her last overhaul in 1989 in time to operate the Northern Extension shuttles. Since then "Bluebell" gave good service on vintage trains, light shunting and footplate experience courses until being withdrawn for a 10-year overhaul in February 2000.
A postcard has also been produced featuring a photo of No.323 with the Metropolitan coaches by Peter Purdew and is selling well. Clive Groome of Footplate Days and Ways helped raise money last summer by running driver for a fiver sessions using "Baxter" before its withdrawal for overhaul. These courses helped raise a lot money for the fund and gave us a very good start.
So in September 2009 the loco entered the works and was lifted from its wheels, signifying the re-starting of its overhaul, with the aim of completing to overhaul for the 50th anniversary celebrations in August 2010. This was thwarted by the discovery of the need for additional boiler repairs, and after this additional work, the loco returned to service just in time to put in an appearance at the Branch Line weekend in March 2011.
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