During September 2008, Britain's oldest working standard gauge steam locomotive won hearts across the North East.
The whistle stop tour took in the Tanfield Railway, Locomotion - the National Railway Museum at Shildon and then the outdoor museum at Beamish in successive weekends. Throughout the tour, FR No. 20 was accompanied by "Bellerophon", a slightly younger but still venerable Victorian veteran owned by the Vintage Carriages Trust.
First stop, the Tanfield Railway. This former colliery railway features the oldest steam locomotive shed in continuous use at Marley Hill, so was a very appropriate temporary home for our 1863 veteran! But it was a close shave - FR No. 20's elegant and unusually tall chimney fitted in under the lintel with just half an inch to spare!
FR Number 20 was built to haul freight trains, particularly iron ore and coal trains, so the chance to pair it with some of the authentic wagons found at Tanfield was too good to resist! The engine also performed well on passenger trains at this railway, which combines gritty industrial reality with some very attractive woodland scenery.
Then it was down the road to Locomotion - the National Railway Museum's outpost at Shildon.
This wonderful new museum has allowed the NRM to put more of the National Collection on public display at a location that tracks back to the very birth of the railways; after all this is Stockton and Darlington country!
The Locomotion site has a short 2/3 mile long running line and FR Number 20 was used across the weekend there hauling brake van rides alongside "Bellerophon". Interestingly, the entrance on this far more modern shed was also only just high enough to allow our engine to make it inside!
This was a slightly nerve-wracking stage on the tour - OK we had been to the NRM at York for Railfest in 2004, but how would FR Number 20 fit in at this equally prestigious site? We are justly proud of our engine, but it was a huge relief when it got the seal of approval from the Curator and staff at what after all is the top flight in the railway museum world! So much so in fact, that Anthony Coulls invited our engine to return to Locomotion to be the operational locomotive in residence for the majority of 2009 and 2010!
Final stop on the tour, back north and just a stone's throw from the southern end of the Tanfield Railway is the open air museum at Beamish. FR No. 20 and "Bellerophon" are seen here at Beamish's recreated North Eastern Railway Rowley station.
Unlike Tanfield and Locomotion, Beamish did not at the time have the necessary paperwork in place to run passenger trains; instead the pair were used to haul demonstration trains featuring two NER carriages hired in from the Tanfield Railway and the extensive set of authentic wagons in the Beamish collection.
Such was the draw of this special weekend, blessed with lovely late September weather, that people were queuing for an hour to get into the site!
Since then, the necessary paperwork and other changes have been put into place, and FR20 is once more back at Beamish, reunited with the FRT's former Royal Saloon, hauling passenger trains there every weekend in June and July 2010.
İFurness Railway Trust