After the Vale of Rheidol was absorbed into the Great Western Railway in 1923, Swindon Works sought to replace the ageing locomotive fleet with a more capable, enlarged fleet of three locomotives. For inspiration Swindon turned to the original Davies & Metcalf 2-6-2 tanks built for the line, intending to build three slightly larger, more powerful versions. However, the GWR Board disagreed with the need for three new locomotives, and only authorised the building of two.
No.7 and No.8 were built together by the Great Western Railway’s Swindon Works in 1923 to replace the ageing 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 Upon delivery Nos.1 & 2, by now renumbered No.1212 and No.1213 respectively were withdrawn, ostensibly for heavy overhauls. No.1212 was overhauled and returned to Aberystwyth, where it was used as a spare engine until being withdrawn for scrap in 1932.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.
In more recent years, 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.
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.