Mr. Adrian Lawton’s talk When Uncle Tom came to England to Buy a Train began with a number of disclaimers but they didn’t distract from an interesting piece of investigative journalism. This report deals with only a small fraction of the evidence Adrian produced to illustrate a remark made when he was much younger “that a family friend from Kidsgrove had travelled on a train pulled by a British locomotive when she had visited her Uncle Tom in Canada.”
Who was Uncle Tom? Thomas Worrall Kent (1922 - 2011) was born in Kidsgrove, the son of John and Isabella Kent. John Kent worked at Cowlishaw Walker and his grandfather was stationmaster at Kidsgrove. Tom won a scholarship to Oxford where he obtained a degree in philosophy, politics and economics. He was a code-breaker at Bletchley Park during the Second World War where he met his wife Phyllida Anne who was also a code breaker. He later became an editorial writer for The Guardian and The Economist. In 1954 he emigrated to Canada with his young family to become editor of the Winnipeg Free Press. In the 1960s his career led him to join the Canadian government and as deputy minister of regional expansion, he left Ottawa and moved with his family to Nova Scotia to head up the Cape Breton Development Corporation. One of the projects involved in the Corporation’s activities to revitalise the economy was the development of the Cape Breton Steam Railway.
From 1971 to 1977, Tom Kent was President of the Cape Breton Development Corporation (Devco). His task was to phase out the unprofitable coal mines and to foster a new economy through diversification and amongst the division’s far-ranging endeavours was its involvement in the tourist industry. Starting in the autumn of 1973, following a very successful first season running a steam train along existing colliery lines, Devco laid railway track from Glace Bay to Port Morien. It was to become one of the premier tourist attractions on Cape Breton Island with a train station, renovated coking ovens, a canteen in an old caboose and a chowder house restaurant. In that first year 14,000 visited the line.
First run in 1973 - Old No.42 at Victoria Junction
Locomotive 42 was a sentimental favourite of many people in Cape Breton. It had worked in the local coal mines until 1963 when it was acquired by a local railway enthusiast and it was later leased to the Cape Breton Steam Railway. The coaches, donated by the Canadian National Railway, were refurbished and maintained at the Devco Railway Roundhouse in Glace Bay.
The line also operated a British Steam Locomotive. But which locomotive? The source of many of the steam engines running on today’s heritage railways was in Wales and not England. Dai Woodham’s scrapyard at Barry acquired 297 steam locomotives for scrapping between 1959 and 1968. Because Dai Woodham decided to concentrate on scrapping railway waggons; most of the steam engines remained untouched; and, he sold most of them a total of 213 on favourable terms mainly to railway preservation societies. If it were not for Mr Woodham, there would be few operating steam locomotives and heritage railways in the UK. By checking the records of locomotives at Barry, Adrian wasn’t able to find a locomotive that had gone to Canada.
However. a second source of steam locomotives was Steamtown U.S.A. Mr F. Nelson Blount, the wealthy founder and owner of a seafood company in USA had a passionate interest in railways and acquired a narrow guage railway in 1955. He then started to assemble a collection of standard guage locomotives. This collection was moved to several different locations but by 1964 his museum, called Steamtown USA, was located at Bellows Falls, Vermont. His wide interest in steam locomotives saw “Repton,” a British engine, enter the museum in 1967. Once again but for one man’s intervention in this case, North America would not have many of the operating locomotives and museums that now exist. After many years of financial difficulties the Steamtown Foundation went bankrupt in 1986 and Congress created the Steamtown National Historic Site and the National Park Service acquired the collection.
“Repton”in its American / Canadian disguise.
So the engine was “Repton” a Schools class 4-4-0 type locomotive, one of 40 named after British public schools, which was built at the Eastleigh works of the Southern Railway in May 1934. It entered service on the Bournemouth route, and spent some time operating between Waterloo and Portsmouth before that line was electrified. It was one of the last of the class to be overhauled by British Railways in 1960, so was considered a good choice for preservation. In December 1962 the engine was withdrawn from service. “Repton,” was then stored at Fratton shed near Portsmouth before moving to Eastleigh Works towards the end of 1964 for storage and restoration.
In 1966 it was purchased and overhauled at Eastleigh and transferred to the USA. It was donated by the purchaser to a museum, Steamtown USA, in Vermont. Later, Steamtown loaned the engine to the Cape Breton Steam Railway in Canada, where it operated a regular passenger service. In 1989, when it was sold, it returned to the UK to the North Yorkshire Moors Railway, where it was again overhauled and found to be in good condition and was steamed again in 1990. Clifford Brown who owned “Repton,” donated it to the NYMR in his will. A subsequent overhaul progressed well and by early 2017 the locomotive was once again operational on the NYMR which runs from Pickering to Whitby. It was re-painted in the original Southern Railway olive green livery for the first time when it returned to this side of the Atlantic.
“Repton”: Waiting for you to visit at the North Yorkshire Moors Railway.
This is just a brief resume of Adrian’s talk and those who would like to hear more can request he repeats the talk at another venue.
The next meeting of the Society will be held on Monday the 18th of October 2021 when the speaker will be Mr. Bill Ridgway with a talk entitled “Down Memory Line.”