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The expanding Furness Railway Company took delivery of its 20th locomotive on 21st August 1863. The new arrival was one of a class of 0-4-0 tender engines built by Sharp Stewart of Manchester for hauling trains of iron ore and coal to the rapidly growing industrial town of Barrow.

Thanks to a remarkable and blessed existence, Furness Railway Number 20 is still with us today, and since her restoration to full working order by the Furness Railway Trust back in 1999 has been the oldest working standard gauge steam locomotive in Britain.

And on 21st August 2013, 150 years to the day since her delivery, the Trust celebrated the birthday of its flagship engine.

In party gear - a floral wreath on the smokebox and a "150" headboard adorn the birthday girl!

Since 2009, FR 20 has been based at Locomotion, the National Railway Museum at Shildon in County Durham, as Operational Locomotive in Residence, apart from brief periods when the engine was on tour elsewhere.

Shildon is the "cradle of the railways" and Locomotion hosted the birthday party for their star attraction.

It was agreed that the shuttle train service operated by the 1863 veteran would be free to ride all day, so as many people as possible could join in the party. So FR20 was in action throughout the day, hauling two brake vans between the Collection building and the Hackworth museum at the other end of the short running line.

(Locomotion is free to enter all year round, but there is normally a small charge for riding on the shuttle service).

There was cake for museum visitors and FRT volunteers

As befits a birthday party, there had to be cake! 

The FRT provided an iced sponge cake, which was cut up after the ceremony and handed out to museum visitors who'd gathered to listen to the speeches, as well as to the sizeable group of FRT volunteers who had come from across the north of England to be present at the event.

Of course, steam engines prefer a diet of coal to keep their energy levels up, so a suitably decorated coal "cake" was prepared for the birthday girl!

Of course, there had to be "cake" for the birthday girl...

FRT Chairman Tim Owen made a short speech which outlined FR20's history (follow this link for a more detailed account), abuilt to an already outdated design but purchased by the Furness Railway Co. which was desperate for motive power.

He explained how the engine worked for the FR for only 7 years before the outmoded 0-4-0 design was replaced with larger, more powerful locomotives. But instead of being scrapped, FR20 found a new, 90 year life at the Barrow steelworks.

Retirement again avoided the scrap queue, with a new role in a Barrow school playground (with Tim's own wife Deirdre amongst those who used to play there in her youth!). An initial attempt at preservation foundered with the death of one of the owners, before the FRT acquired the dismantled remains. Tim spoke of his pride that the Lottery funded restoration had returned FR20 to her original condition, to be enjoyed by so many.

Celebrating 150 years of FR20! Tim Owen (FRT Chairman), Brian Greenwood (Locomotion Chairman) and Alan Middleton (FRT Trustee and keeper of FR20) celebrate the landmark anniversary

Brian Greenwood, who Chairs the Locomotion Board, and has been a member of the NRM Advisory Board for many years, made the second speech, on behalf of the museum. 

He pointed out it is very unusual to wish anyone, or anything, a happy 150th birthday!

During his speech Brian outlined FR20's achievements since restoration, not least her enduring status as Britain's oldest working standard gauge locomotive, but also appearing in two films, making other television appearances, and winning new admirers around the country. 

Brian also spoke very kindly of the thriving partnership that had built up between Locomotion and the FRT since FR20 moved there in 2009.

At the end of Brian's speech, FRT Trustee Alan Middleton, who is custodian for FR20, produced his banjo, to lead two rounds of "Happy Birthday" to the old girl, complete with a whistle salvo from the engine! Well, the FRT has always had a strong music-making tradition!

The honour fell to Brian to pour champagne over the front buffers, in a traditional railway ceremony, as newspaper camera shutters clicked and television cameras rolled.

Champagne over the buffers in the traditional way

After the champagne ceremony, and posing for photos, it also fell to Brian to climb onto the FR20's open footplate, to swing the engine's "cake" into the waiting firebox to conclude the ceremony. 

The birthday girl about to scoff her "cake"..!

Throughout the day, FR20 ran with a beautiful floral wreath kindly provided by Locomotion attached to her smokebox to celebrate her birthday. 

A number of people commented on how well the wreath complemented the gentle curve of her Sharp Stewart firebox door.

The FRT made the "150" headboard, which was also proudly carried throughout the day.

The decorated front end with wreath and headboard

No doubt bolstered by the free tickets, FR20's shuttle services were full all day, with passengers eager to join in the celebrations! 

It was lovely to hear museum visitors, many of whom probably  knew nothing of FR20 before the day, telling each other how this was the oldest working main line engine in the country, and that she was 150 today.

During a TV interview, Tim Owen was asked what makes the old engine so special. He replied saying it is difficult to put a finger on exactly what it is. 

But there is a definite something, born of her age, her appearance, and the special place she holds not only in Britain's railway history, but also in so many people's hearts.

Rides behind FR20 were free for the day


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İFurness Railway Trust

FR Number 20's 150th birthday