This year, we are celebrating the 50th Anniversary of the formation of the Dean Forest Railway Preservation Society, as we were originally called. Specifically, today marks 50 years since the first meeting of a group of like-minded individuals on 21st February 1970 in the Swan Hotel in Cinderford. Early in 1970, with the last remaining section of the Severn & Wye Railway rumoured for closure, a local railway enthusiast John Hancock placed a notice in the personal column of the Gloucester Citizen, asking if anyone was interested in preserving a 78xx locomotive for use in the Forest of Dean. This resulted in the meeting, 50 years ago today, in the Swan Hotel where a group was formed to purchase a section of line in the Forest, specifically the Lydney to Parkend branch which forms today's Dean Forest Railway.
Above: Members working in 1970 on the Goods Shed at Parkend, home of the embryonic Dean Forest Railway Preservation Society (courtesy of Dean Forest Railway Museum Trust).
Names including 'The Severn and Wye Valley Railway' were considered, but the 28 people present at the meeting (some still members) settled on the 'Dean Forest Railway Preservation Society'. The subsequent meeting was attended by 65 people thanks to local publicity, but they heard that the closure date of the line had not yet been set, due to continued use by trains taking stone ballast from Forest quarries to upgrade BR lines for the then new High Speed Trains. This situation would continue for much of the 1970s.
Undeterred, the newly formed society rented the Goods Shed and part of the old station area at Parkend, and relaid a siding at the back of the platform. Wagons soon appeared and were joined by 'Uskmouth 1', a small industrial locomotive purchased by a group of members from Uskmouth Power Station. This enabled the first steam day to be held on October 23rd 1971.
Above: The first steam day, with Uskmouth 1 and a huge crowd in attendance (courtesy of Dean Forest Railway Museum Trust).
Fast-forward 50 years, and today's railway offers 4.25 miles of steam haulage through the Forest from Lydney to Parkend. The intervening 50 years have seen many developments along the line, and occasional setbacks, but at the heart of it all have been the railway's members, supporting through membership fees and donations and in many cases active volunteering, without which none of the last 50 years of progress would have been possible.
This year will be filled with many celebrations (watch this space), and there has never been a better time to get involved as we look forward to the next 50 years preserving living railway heritage in the Forest of Dean.