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Oldest narrow gauge locomotive in existence to go on display

22 Jan 2024 4 minute read
The Fire Queen in its heyday. Image: National Trust

Fire Queen, the oldest narrow gauge locomotive in existence, built in 1848, is to go on public display in Wales this spring.

The locomotive will arrive at the Vale of Rheidol in Aberystwyth in late January, and will be on public display in the new museum, display & events building when the railway opens for the new season in late March 2024. The Directors Coach is also going on display, prior to a move to the Bala Lake Railway. 

‘Fire Queen’, her tender and the Directors’ Coach were on loan to National Trust Cymru, and were accepted in lieu of tax by HM Treasury in 2021. They temporarily resided at Penrhyn Castle pending permanent allocation.

Llŷr ap Iolo, Managing Director of the Vale of Rheidol Railway, said: “We are grateful to Julian Birley for offering us the Director’s Coach for short term display until the Bala Lake Railway can exhibit it themselves, and also for recommending us to Cyngor Gwynedd as a possible temporary home for ‘Fire Queen’.

“It is good that the public can continue to enjoy it, rather than it going into temporary storage behind closed doors. We are excited to have such a historic exhibit to display in our museum, to showcase alongside other rare and unseen rolling stock from our collection.”

We are really happy to have ‘Fire Queen’ on public display, until it returns home to where it belongs at Gilfach Ddu.”

Temporary visit

This will be a temporary visit, as ‘Fire Queen’ will eventually return to Parc Padarn to be displayed in it’s original shed. This building is set to be restored by Cyngor Gwynedd, using Levelling Up funding granted by the UK government. Whilst this restoration work is being carried out, “Fire Queen” will be temporarily allocated for display at the Vale of Rheidol Railway in Aberystwyth. 

The Fire Queen. Image: Smabs Sputzer, Flickr

Councillor Nia Jeffreys, Deputy Leader of Cyngor Gwynedd and Cabinet member for the Economy and Community Department, said: “Our industrial history and heritage continues to fascinate and inspire people of all ages, and we very much look forward to welcoming the Fire Queen home to Gwynedd – and more specifically to Parc Padarn – soon.

“In the meantime, we are pleased to work with the Vale of Rheidol Railway to ensure the locomotive and tender has a fitting residency while restoration work is carried out on its original shed in Llanberis”. 

In addition, the Directors Coach has been allocated to move from Penrhyn Castle to the Bala Lake Railway. It will be temporarily displayed at the Vale of Rheidol Railway alongside ‘Fire Queen’ during the coming season, before moving on to Bala. 

‘Fire Queen’, her tender and the Directors Coach become the first exhibits to enter the new museum at the Vale of Rheidol Railway, on the evening of 19th January 2024. Further exhibits will follow in the next few weeks. The museum is due to open to the public in late March, when the railway opens again for the new season. Image: Phil Budd

Wales to the World

Julian Birley, Bala Lake Railway said: “Taking on the safeguarding of the directors coach is a great responsibility. We are very grateful to the Vale of Rheidol Railway is offering it a home for the time being, as all of our efforts and resources are being directed towards extending our own railway into the town of Bala.

“It is wonderful that all the artefacts from the unique Padarn Railway are going to be kept together, most importantly here in Wales.”

Both ‘Fire Queen’ and the Director’s Coach will spend the season on display in the restored 1938 engine shed at Aberystwyth station. This building has recently been transformed into a museum, display and events space as part of a larger project called “Wales to the World”, which is developing the terminus at Park Avenue into a Great Western-style station suitable for the modern tourist. 

The public will be able to view both ‘Fire Queen’ and the Directors Coach at the Vale of Rheidol Railway from late March onwards, when the railway opens for the season. The railway then runs daily until the start of November.

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Mab Meirion
Mab Meirion
4 months ago

Tom Rolt and Assheton-Smith would be chuffed to bits to know this…

Another Richard
Another Richard
4 months ago

Welcome news, but this article might have been more informative. It would have been interesting to read something about the history of this locomotive. We’re told when she was built, but not where or who for, or how long she was in service or how she came to be preserved or who owned her latterly. Also the photo is not of the engine in her heyday, as she was clearly already a museum piece when it was taken, without a proper track to run on.

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