Steaming in to Didcot

In the pursuit of another enquiry, I happened to stop off at the Didcot Railway Centre, which looks like an ideal way to spend the day. Whether or not the long, hot British summer continues, one should hope that the place becomes a goldmine for its dedicated supporters.

Didcot in the sunshine is a spectacular spot

Sitting just to the south of Oxford on the A34, Didcot became part of the Great Western Railway network in 1839. A major station was built and it became a vital staging post for troop and materiel movements during both World Wars. By the late 1960s car ownership had taken a heavy toll on the station’s usefulness and so a small and simple platform, Didcot Parkway, was retained while most of the rest of the site was given over to commuter car parking.

Fortunately for posterity the main engine shed, several sidings and buildings were saved by the Great Western Society, and now you can while away an afternoon drinking in the sights and sounds of the old GWR.

A decent sized area has been preserved by the Society – this is the entrance

The engine shed is undoubtedly the main attraction at Didcot

One rather striking addition to the displays is the wartime air raid shelter – which also provides a welcome respite from whatever the weather is throwing at you on any given day. It’s a very solid fortification – and rightly so, as railway lines were a valuable target to both sides.

Outside the railwaymen’s air raid shelter

Inside the wartime bunker

Unsurprisingly, Dicot has been used by a plethora of production companies. Everything from Inspector Morse to Sherlock Holmes and about forty thousand wartime dramas and kids TV shows. At the moment the Society is plugging the fact that the locomotive shed was used as Moscow’s main station in the recent remake of Anna Kerenina, with Jude Law and Keira Knightley.

If you’ve watched anything with old trains in it… Didcot was probably involved

Here are some of the many artefacts that caught my eye. At a fiver per adult entry won’t break the bank, but do bear in mind that the car park is extortionate, being intended for commuter use. That said, if you visit on the weekend and pack the car with children then it gets considerably more cost-effective.

Period luggage and accessories make a nice feature

Some of the First Class travellers’ essentials

GWR was your passport to the Welsh Riviera

The main event is the locomotive collection, many of which still steam and go through their paces on open days

During World War 2 the railways took on a dour look but performed vital service

After World War 2 the ‘Big Four’ railway lines – GWR, LMS, LNER and Southern were nationalised and became British Railways, launching 1000 jokes about poor catering

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