SIXTY years ago you could gather by the level crossing in Henwick Road, Worcester, near where a modern medical centre now stands, and feel the earth move as a Castle class steam locomotive thundered through, pulling the Cathedrals Express from Hereford to Paddington, London via Worcester Shrub Hill, Evesham, Moreton in Marsh, Charlbury, Oxford etc etc.

There was a time, not that long passed, when every young boy was supposed to want to be a train driver when he grew up. Not me personally, but I could see the attraction. Those mighty steam locos seemed to live and breathe. They were huge mechanical beasts, snorting and huffing, hissing and belching, as they traversed the country leaving smoke trails rising in their wake.

A lot of the romance went out of the railways when diesel took over, but the continued success of the railway preservation societies has shown there is plenty of life in the old dog yet.

In fact one of the oldest, Worcester Locomotive Society, celebrates its 60th anniversary in 2020, so let’s give a blast of the guard’s whistle to all those who have contributed over the years.

It was founded in 1960 by a clutch of teenage enthusiasts and rapidly grew to become an important restoration society with a substantial membership, at one time more than a thousand. Its early progress was undoubtedly helped by the booming personality of Sir Gerald Nabarro, who served terms as Kidderminster and later South Worcestershire MP. Sir Gerald seemed to be able to get his smile and moustache on every photograph, thus ensuring publicity for both him and the cause.

The development of WLS was also aided by the backing of Herefordshire cider giants Bulmers, in particular one managing director Peter Prior, who had a thing about trains. In 1970. the company allowed the Worcester society and some others to start storing their possessions on its premises in Hereford.

The year before WLS had begun living the dream when it purchased its very own steam locomotive. An energetic two year funding raising campaign had produced a £2,000 kitty, but a stroke of good fortune led to the Society acquiring a rare inside cylindered 0-6-0 saddle tank Kitson Carnarvon 5474 from Stewarts and Lloyds of Corby for only £330.

Apparently the management of the massive steel works, where the Kitson worked in the quarries, were keen to see some of their departing steam locos preserved and WLS was in the right place at the right time.

With part of the money remaining the Society bought an ex-Great Western pannier tank no 5786 for £1,100 and so by the end of 1969 it was the proud owner of not one but two steam locos. Initially they were housed with the Severn Valley Railway at Bridgnorth, but in 1970 they moved down to Bulmers, where an attractive new railway centre was being created.

The Society’s preservation team did a lot of work on the Kitson, including external restoration and painting, and when the Daily Telegraph produced a story on the rescue of 5474 it was read by members of the Kitson family, who had emigrated to Canada 50 years before and were unaware any of their locos were still steaming.

They wrote to David Wood, then chairman of WLS, and when an open day was held at Bulmers in 1971 to celebrate the full restoration of 5474, three of the Kitson family were among 2,500 others to see Sir Gerald Nabarro and Peter Prior unveil the Carnarvon’s nameplate.

However in 1993 the WLS was on the move again when Bulmers announced the railway centre land was needed for factory expansion.

The WLS is still there today and parties of WLS members regularly make the 340-mile round trip for working weekends. Current chairman Mike King said: “There has been a resurgence in interest in the Society in recent years and now we have 230 members spread all over the UK. There is even one in South Africa, but understandably we don’t see him too often.”

For anyone interested in steam locos and all that goes with them, WLS holds meetings on the first Tuesday of every month at 7.30pm in Barbourne Ex-Servicemen’s Club, Worcester. There always a good speaker and a bar to keep the guard’s whistle wet.