At Rapido Trains UK we often talk about projects being a passion, or right up our street, however, few projects are as close to home as the O1. With three of our team being handsome Men of Kent and another two from the part of the County that can’t decide they if are a Kentish Man or Man of Kent (there is a difference), it’s fair to say we are rather enthusiastic about our local locos.
Starting life before the SECR even existed, and designed by James Stirling, the O Class was conceived as an all-purpose freight locomotive to work across the entire South Eastern Railway.
Between 1878 and 1899 122 O Class locos were built. Following the first group of 20 that were built by Sharp, Stewart and Co., several more batches were completed, both by them and by the South Eastern Railways’ own Ashford Works. The final five locos were built in 1899 under the South Eastern and Chatham Railway name, as the SER and LCDR had put aside their differences and sensibly merged into a single entity.
Outperforming its predecessors, the O lived up to its expectations, but with the amalgamation of the two railways, new skills and resources became available. As such, 59 of these locos were rebuilt, given larger boilers, and reclassified as the Class O1.
Working alongside similar-sized locomotives, it became apparent that locos such as the new C class could outperform the Class O1 and O locos on freight duties. Though they remained spread across the county for many years, they were relegated to more modest branchline, shunting or light duties.
Many of the class survived both global conflicts, the ‘Big 4’ era and soldiered on until the last days of British mainline steam, working branch lines such as the Kent and East Sussex Railway and East Kent Railway. With the sun setting on the O1s future, BR Class member No. 31065 earned one final claim to fame by leading the ‘Farewell to Steam’ railtour on the Hawkhurst Branch. The last of the class was sadly withdrawn from service in 1962.
Thankfully No. 31065 would live on. Esmond Lewis-Evans spotted it on a visit to Ashford, where it was being used to train apprentices. He saved it from the scrap heap, and it spent several years at the Ashford Steam Centre. When the museum failed to pay its rent, No.65 was dismantled and secretly dispersed in its component pieces across the Southeast, this determined display of preservation cunningly prevented British Rail from claiming it for repossession. It wasn’t until 1996 that its parts were moved to the Bluebell Railway, where it can still be seen today, and it was rebuilt for the centenary year of the SECR.
With its gorgeous fully lined livery, open cab, exposed tender springs, and highly polished brass dome and fittings, No. 65 remains one of the most elegant freight locomotives to survive into preservation.
The Rapido Trains UK SECR O1 model has been designed using a combination of archival materials and drawings, and an onsite survey of No.65 to ensure its accuracy. We would like to thank The Bluebell Railway who accommodated our comprehensive survey, and the Spa Valley Railway who gave us access to record accurate sounds of No.65 during its short visit to them earlier this year.
Our model will be available in a variety of liveries covering the loco’s history. Modellers can look forward to a smooth-running mechanism, a factory-installed speaker, a sleek tender connection and a firebox glow perfect for lighting up all that brass detailing.
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