IT is almost 50 years to the day that mainline steam came to an end but, thanks to a Darlington man, the last ever British Railways steam locomotive was preserved for posterity.

The final scheduled steam journey on the mainline left Liverpool Lime Street Station at 9.10am on Sunday, August 11, 1968.

“Spectators turned out in their tens of thousands to wave goodbye to the last steam passenger train run by British Railways from Liverpool to Manchester then via the Old Midland line through Settle to Carlisle and return,” wrote the Echo’s man on board.

The tour was billed as the “Fifteen Guinea Special” as the expensive dining tickets cost £15 15s – about £260 in today’s values.

The Echo’s reporter noted that the first leg of the journey was due to be pulled by engine No 45305, but it had failed the night before, so it was a hurried replacement, No 45110 that “pulled up the gradient out of Lime Street Station to the steady whirr of a myriad cine cameras and with enthusiasts dangling microphones out of the windows to record the swansong of steam”.

The reporter obviously wasn’t a steam man at heart. “Within two minutes, steam’s outmodedness was pinpointed when we were past fast and effortlessly by a packed excursion train heading for Llandudno pulled by one of the new electric locos, No E3196,” he wrote.

But even he was amazed by the crowds lining the route, thronging every station, covering every remote Pennine hilltop and pressing the drivers for autographs as if they were popstars.

The round trip ended with No 45110 back at the helm for the last 40 miles from Manchester Victoria into Liverpool.

“Despite some fast running steam, we just failed to finish on time and we were eight minutes late at Lime Street,” concluded the Echo’s callous eye-witness. “No 45110 will not be saved posterity and will got to the torch along with others of her class.”

This turned out to be a wholly inaccurate sentence, for sitting at home that evening in Kent was pilot David Porter, watching No 45110 on the television news bulletin.

“The newsreader unbelievably referred to the loco leaving Lime Street for the last time and going straight to the breaker’s yard,” says David, who is the vice-chairman of the Friends of Darlington Railway Museum having lived in the town for the last 25 years.

He sprang into action that night.

Having as a boy watched the bravery of the Battle of Britain pilots – many of whom had been stationed at RAF Biggin Hill – over the skies of Kent in 1940, having then done his national service at the airfield where he was then based for 37 years as a civil pilot, he already try to buy from BR a redundant engine called RAF Biggin Hill. It combined his loves of steam railways and planes, and was a tribute to the pilots who had made the ultimate sacrifice in the darkest hour.

The paperwork had gone through, but when David went to collect the engine, BR had lost it among the hundreds of anonymous rusting wrecks that it was sending to scrap. He gave up.

But when he saw No 45110 steam into history, he decided to buy it and rename it RAF Biggin Hill.

That Sunday evening he was on the phone to his BR contacts. By Monday morning, he had persuaded them to give No 45110 a stay of execution, and he was at the Lostock Hall shed in Preston to inspect it.

“The sight which greeted me as I walked down the steep slope at the rear of the depot would have saddened the hardest heart: there were lines of locomotives rusting away after their enforced retirement,” he recalls.

No 45110 stood it. It truly was a plucky survivor. When No 45305 had failed, it had been pulled from scrapheap and a volunteer crew of locomen – many of whom had just been made redundant – came in overnight to polish its brasses and paintwork so that it was shipshape and gleaming for the TV cameras on the last run.

It was still gleaming amid the lines of derelict locos, and David was given until 3pm on Friday to hand over £3,500 (about £60,000 in today’s values) and No 45110 would be his.

But if he missed the deadline, No 45110 was straight off to the breaker’s yard...

He says: “I remember thinking ‘I must not fail her’. I knew I had to save her by some means or another.”

The banks initially gave him the brush off – they’d give him a loan for a washing machine or a motor car but not a redundant steam locomotive.

By Thursday morning, a friend of a friend who was high up in the City in London and who had flown from RAF Biggin Hill, was persuaded to intervene. Through remortgaging his house, David was granted the money – “my late wife, Betty, was very supportive”, he says.

But there was one last hurdle to overcome: he had to prove to a local official of the bank that No 45110 really did exist.

So he dashed back to Lostock Hall for 10.30am on Friday and found the Preston branch manager waiting. He agreed that the 127 ton loco was indeed real, and they drove back to the branch to complete the deal.

But, horror of horrors, with the 3pm deadline rapidly approaching and the scrap merchant itching to get going, the bank had lost its own cheque book. They spent 20 precious minutes scrabbling around before they could locate it.

“At 12.55pm, I left the bank in a taxi and 15 minutes later, I handed the draft over to BR,” says David, 86. “In return, I received an insignificant receipt that said in red ink: “Quantity: one steam locomotive, viz No 45110 (Dead on Wheels).”

“I was also passed a bundle of oil-stained sheets of paper, the result of years of handling in the repair workshops, but I now had the locomotive’s essential paperwork, the vital current boiler certificate and maintenance records, and I had achieved my first goal.

“I travelled with it on the footplate from Lostock Hall to Clapham Junction to Ashford in Kent, where she stayed for 18 months.”

There are very few people who have the means and the wherewithal to stable, and maintain, a steam locomotive in their back gardens, so David knew he had to find a sustainable future for No 45110.

In autumn 1970, No 45110 went to work on the Severn Valley in Worcestershire, which was one of the earliest heritage railways, and there, on September 12, 1971, the engine was formally renamed RAF Biggin Hill.

“A few years later, I had the great satisfaction, tinged with sadness, to pass her ownership to the railway and so secure her future,” says David.

During the 1970s, No 45110 travelled 21,185 miles before requiring an overhaul. In the late 1990s, it was back on the mainline, pulling steam tours, and now it is on static display awaiting another overhaul. Thanks to David, it – perhaps she – is the great survivor from the last day of steam exactly 50 years ago.

Without a locomotive weighing on his mind, David, who is vice-chairman of the Friends of the Darlington Railway Museum, has devoted his decades to compiling his Stafodex. It is an index showing where 78,000 photographs of 7,200 British railway locations – largely stations – are to be found, along with the vital statistics relating to each of those locations.

It is a vast and invaluable work which David hopes soon to be able to make available on disc to researchers.

THE last day of steam and the 15 Guinea Special are included in a book which is being prepared for publication later this month. It is called A Passion for Steam on the Settle & Carlisle Line by Maurice Burns, who photographed the 15 Guinea Special as it made its way along the dramatic line.

Maurice was the Chief Mechanical Engineer of the North-Eastern Locomotive Preservation Group (NELPG), and helped restore locos, including Blue Peter, to operate over the line. The book concludes with a review of the preservation era since that dark day in 1968, and it includes some of the finest steam photography of engines past and present.

A normal softback version of the book will be available, but until August 17, people can put their names forward for a limited edition, hardback subscriber edition. They will get an extra 32 pages, featuring 40 colour images, and their names will be printed on a subscribers’ list within the book.

The special edition costs £34 (including postage), with £2.50 going to NELPG if subscribers wish. If you are interested, either email the author,, or contact the publisher Silver Link on 01536-330588.

FINALLY, back to last week’s piece on the 175th anniversary of Bishop Auckland station. Many thanks to the entire population of the town for getting in touch and saying that it is Morrisons supermarket which stands on the demolished platforms whereas Asda is beside the line but it is on the site of Wilson’s foundry. More on Bishop in the near future. And last week in the piece on Flying Scotsman’s visit to Stockton in 1964, we mis-spelt the name of one of our valuable correspondents, David Mackintosh, of Norton. Sorry.