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First the Duke - and now ‘Queen Victoria’ makes Royal visit to Severn Valley Railway! (15th May 2012)

HARD on the heels of yesterday’s Royal Visit by HRH The Duke of Gloucester KG KCVO, the Severn Valley Railway moves to its main event in celebration of the line’s 150th anniversary this weekend (May 19th & 20th) – and the visit of HM Queen Victoria!

Visitors to the railway’s ‘1862: A Victorian Experience’ special event this Saturday and Sunday will have the opportunity to see - and perhaps even speak with - Britain’s longest reigning monarch (63 years, from 1837 to 1901), as she tours the entire 16-mile railway in the Royal Train, hauled by Britain’s oldest working steam locomotive, the 1863-built ex-Furness Railway engine No.20.

Her Majesty – convincingly played by lookalike and specialist re-enactor Sylvia Strange from Onibury, Shropshire - will arrive by horse-drawn carriage on the cobbled forecourt of Kidderminster Town station at 10am each day, before setting off on the Royal tour of the SVR line to Bridgnorth.

She will stop at all of the SVR’s six main stations to mingle with her ‘subjects’, visit a specially-built Victorian beach (with Punch & Judy booth) at Arley, talk to children during ‘lessons’ in a re-created Victorian schoolroom at the Engine House Visitor Centre at Highley, hear Highley Colliery Band strike up rousing tunes evocative of the British empire - and take the air at the ‘spa resort’ of Hampton Loade!

With a host of ‘Victorian era’ attractions and themes running, and visitors encouraged to enter into the spirit of the celebrations by coming dressed in period costume,  ‘1862: A Victorian Experience’ will offer visitors the rare chance to ride on the footplate (at Kidderminster) of FR No.20.

The classic tall-chimneyed locomotive in the style of ‘The Titfield Thunderbolt’ -  will take part in the moving cavalcades of specially imported ancient engines from the 1860s (from Kidderminster at 11am, 1.30pm and 3.30pm), and visitors will have an opportunity to see the restoration work at Hampton Loade of a magnificent 1895 railway carriage which once ran on the Barry Railway in South Glamorgan, and trace the major milestones in the development of the railway, in a special photographic exhibition at Bridgnorth.

The SVR line will run a full service of eight steam trains in each direction on each day, starting from Kidderminster at 10.25am, and from Bridgnorth at 10.55am.

In yesterday’s first ‘royal’ event of the week at the SVR, HRH The Duke of Gloucester KG, KCVO made the short trip from Kidderminster to Bewdley – hauled by the 149-year-old ‘FR 20’ – to unveil a special commemorative plaque marking the line 150th milestone, and to speak to teenage volunteers who help keep the wheels turning on the ‘heritage’ railway which attracts up to 250,000 passengers a year.

Earlier, at Kidderminster, where he was greeted by SVR Chairman Nick Paul,  he spoke to railway directors, staff and civic dignitaries, made a tour of Kidderminster Railway Museum where an ‘SVR 150’ display of photographs and ephemera has been compiled by Curator David Postle, and inspected the craftsman-restored 1936 teak-bodied LNER ‘Kitchen Composite’ coach No.7960, restored for use once more following a 21-year overhaul by volunteers, and now running for the first time since 1961.

The Duke, who holds a special affection for railways and is the SVR’s Patron, was paying his fourth visit to the Kidderminster - Bridgnorth line in six years.

Two high-resolution photographs, depicting the 1863-built ‘FR No.20’ arriving at Bewdley with the Royal Train yesterday, and HRH The Duke of Gloucester meeting young SVR volunteers on the platform there, are attached for your use.