The Watercress Line is planning a weekend of special events for this year’s Heritage Open Days, England’s annual celebration of local history, architecture and culture. Visitors will have free access to places where they can discover hidden treasures and rarely told stories.
On 15th and 16th September it’s possible to explore behind the scenes of the Watercress Line’s Engineering Hub at Ropley Station and discover what’s involved in renovating and maintaining a steam locomotive. Tours through the workshops to explore how the railway restores the engines and carriages which run on the line, will allowing visitors to get up close to these magnificent machines. Tours run at 11.30am, 12.30pm, 1.30pm, 2.30pm and 3.20pm.
A brand new ‘Women on the Railway’ exhibition will also be open in the Viewing Gallery at Ropley. Fascinating facts are revealed such as that the Watercress Line’s flagship steam locomotive, Canadian Pacific, which is currently being restored to its former glory, was built by a mainly female workforce. Visitors can also find out about all the jobs that women did on the railway during the two World Wars – from building carriages and wagons, making parts and putting locomotives together, to collecting tickets, laying tracks and operating the signals.
The weekend of 15th and 16th September is also the railway’s Open Weekend, when the fantastic 1960 demonstration freight train will be operating two round trips from Alresford (departing 11.15am and 13.35pm) and Alton (departing 12.40pm and 15.00pm) in addition to its standard steam service. Visitors can ride in the Queen Mary brake van at the rear of the train for a donation – an opportunity to really hear the engine hauling 220 tons up the 1:60 gradients and see the railway from a unique perspective.
Virtually every railway station in the country had its own goods yard with a daily goods train bringing in coal, agricultural equipment, fertiliser and produce to markets in London and beyond. As its name suggests, Alresford’s famous watercress was one of the items of freight transported on the Watercress Line. Visitors also have the chance to meet and question the volunteer groups who restore the fantastic locomotives.
In the run-up to the weekend, on Friday 14th September, the Watercress Line’s Dr Becky Peacock will be giving a fascinating talk exploring the roles undertaken by women on the local and national railways, from 1850 to the end of 1945. The talk includes a short film shot by the Southern Railway Film Department in the Second World War and will be followed by the chance to ask questions. The event takes place at Winchester Discovery Centre between 2.30 and 3.30pm.
For more information about the work of the Watercress Line and the Heritage Lottery-funded restoration project of the Canadian Pacific (CanPac) visit www.watercressline.co.uk/ For more about Heritage Open Days visit www.heritageopendays.org.uk.