70 years ago on the 15th February 1952, the nation was in mourning following the death of King George VI. It was arranged that the King’s final journey was to be by funeral train from Paddington to Windsor on 15th February 1952. The details were well known across the country and my mother took me to the railway footbridge at Southall to see the funeral train pass by. I well remember the day and the sheer “spit and polish” condition of the locomotives and rolling stock. The polished brass, shining paintwork and the large Royal coat of arms on the locomotive made a deep impression, one which I suspect started me off on a lifetime interest in railways. British Railways (Western Region) had plans for such an eventuality. Their Great Western Railway predecessors had run the funeral train from Paddington to Windsor in January 1936 for King George V, and they knew the drill. On that occasion, the main funeral train had been hauled by “Castle” class 4082 “Windsor Castle”, a locomotive which when new in April 1924, the King on a Royal visit had driven himself from Swindon Works to Swindon station with Queen Mary on the footplate. For the funeral train of King George VI, the authorities felt that the 27 year-old “Windsor Castle” could be used again. It had had a heavy overhaul a year before, but when inspected a week before it was felt that it needed too much work to get it into a suitable condition for the occasion. Reliability and appearance for such a task was paramount. Thus, it was decided that a newer model should be used and Old Oak Common shed’s 7013 “Bristol Castle”, then 2½ years old and which had been overhauled three months previously should fulfil the role. At the same time, it was decided to swap the identities of the two locomotives so 7013 became 4082 and vice versa. This swap of nameplates, numberplates and a plaque marking the 1924 Royal visit was permanent until both locomotives ended their days in the mid-1960s scrapyards. Three days before the ceremonial and day of the funeral, the King’s body had been brought from Sandringham via Cambridge and Hitchin to Kings Cross in a nine-coach LNER train. This was hauled by the new BR Standard Pacific 70000 “Britannia” for the final part of the journey, before being taken to Westminster Hall for lying in state. Then on the day of the funeral, a gun carriage procession from Westminster to Paddington brought the body to the wide area between Paddington’s platforms 8 and 9. The GWR coat of arms over the entrance to Paddington station had been freshly repainted. A large wreath of red poppies at the entrance bore the inscription “The path of duty was the way to glory.” Station pillars were draped in purple and black, and stands for onlookers had been built at the buffer-stop ends of platforms 9 and 10. Special train reporting number rules covered the six special trains from Paddington to Windsor on this occasion. The funeral train, the LNER train with one coach taken off wasn’t numbered, but the six special trains for mourners and guests which preceded it carried single reporting number 5, A, B, C, D and 6. The funeral train itself left Paddington at 12.35 p.m. to reach Windsor at 1.10 p.m. with the new “Windsor Castle” being driven by Old Oak Common Driver Potter with Fireman H T Bliss.
Paddington to Windsor is 21¼ miles with the last 2¾ miles on the branch line from Slough. This makes the average speed of the train a respectful 36 mph.
“The Times” reported that the swap had taken place because of the original locomotive’s age, and other newspapers around the country copied the story. Some railway enthusiasts didn’t need telling as they had spotted detail differences between the two locomotives! After the event, railway officials noted the details of the run-up to the day, and the day itself so that any lessons could be learnt for “the next occasion” as they put it. It appears that they were offended that the press and enthusiasts had twigged that the identities of the locomotives had been swapped. It would have been a difficult secret to keep, though.
Mike Peart is a former railwayman on British Railways (Western Region). He is co-author of Volumes 3 (Freight Marshalling Yards), 4 (Level Crossings) and 5 (Train Detection and Control) of the “History & Development of Railway Signalling in the British Isles” series, and “Trains of Hope”, all published by The Friends of the National Railway Museum. He’s been an active Friend of the NRM since 1994 and was one of the four “schoolboy” founder members of the Great Western Society (Didcot Railway Centre) in 1961.