No.7 and No.8 were built together by the Great Western Railway’s Swindon Works in 1923 to replace the aging No.1 “Edward VII” and No.2 “Prince of Wales”. Upon delivery Nos.1 & 2, by now renumbered No.1212 and No.1213 respectively were withdrawn, ostensibly for heavy overhauls. No.1212 was overhauled and returned to Aberystwyth, where it was used as a spare engine until being withdrawn for scrap in 1932. Meanwhile, No.1213 was quietly scrapped and an all new engine, almost identical to Nos.7 & 8 returned to Aberystwyth, masquerading as a heavily overhauled No.1213 to fool the GWR Board and accountants. Upon nationalisation in 1948, British Railways renumbered No.1213 as No.9, bringing her into the same numbering sequence as her sisters, Nos.7 & 8.
Initially built with steam heating, the locomotives were designed with standardised Swindon fittings where possible, including the iconic brass safety valve bonnets. Despite being built for a 1’11 ¾” gauge railway, they weigh over 25 tons each and are more than eight feet wide. With 10,510lbs tractive effort, they are the most powerful locomotives of their gauge built for a British railway. Having carried unlined BR Black from the late 1940s, all three were both repainted in unlined green in 1955/6 and named “Owain Glyndwr”, “Llywelyn” and “Prince of Wales” respectively. The names were aptly chosen. Owain Glyndwr took Edward I’s new castle in Aberystwyth in 1404 and appeared in Shakespeare’s “King Henry IV Part I” whilst Llywelyn the Great would have stayed at the old castle of Llanbadarn, near Aberystwyth and featured in Shakespeare’s “King Henry V”. Many Princes of Wales have visited Aberystwyth, including Prince Charles who studied at Aberystwyth University. The Shakespearian theme continues, a youthful playboy Prince of Wales featuring in “King Henry IV”. In 1957 they were again repainted in British Railway’s “Passenger Express Green” with orange and black lining and the new “Roaring Lion” crest. After steam traction had been retired across the rest of British Rail, all three were repainted in BR’s corporate “Rail Blue” with double arrow insignia. The livery, fondly remembered by some from the 1970s and 80s has remained controversial with rail enthusiasts ever since. No.7 became the test bed for a successful oil firing system in 1978, which was subsequently rolled out across the rest of the steam fleet. Meanwhile, No.8 was the first to be repainted by BR in a historic livery, Great Western green with the iconic shirt-button logo in 1981. This was followed by an eclectic mix of heritage liveries, including BR “Passenger Express Green” on No.7, Cambrian “Invisible Green” on No.8 and the Vale of Rheidol’s original livery, similar to the LBSCR’s “Stroudley’s Improved Engine Green” on No.9.
Since privatisation, the railway’s rolling stock has been converted from vacuum to air braking. The air pumps have been a prominent feature on the front of the locomotives’ tanks. However, No.8 has had its pump placed in a hidden compartment in the front of one of the tanks. The other two engines will follow suit in due course.
In 1998 No.7 was withdrawn from service pending a heavy overhaul which will be completed in November 2018, No.8 was returned to coal firing in 2012, a response to increasing oil prices, followed by the other two engines.
All the engines currently carry the historic Great Western livery they were delivered in, making a fine sight with the restored heritage rake of GWR carriages. No.9 has been restored to its GWR number of 1213. In keeping with the GWR appearance, none of the engines carry their names at present.
No.10, a diesel locomotive was bought for the Vale of Rheidol by British Rail shortly before privatisation. It has an 0-6-0 wheel arrangement, with a Caterpillar 165hp engine and hydraulic transmission. It was assembled in the Brecon Mountain Railway’s workshop at Pant in 1987 from parts obtained from Baguley-Drewry Ltd. when that company went out of business. No.10 can often be seen around the line, if not at Aberystwyth Depot then out hauling maintenance trains. Occasionally No.10 is called upon to haul passenger services,
although steam locomotives are almost exclusively rostered for these. No.10 is painted in Great Western Railway Brunswick Green to complement No.8 and the coaching stock, and is adorned with GWR style number plates.