FORMER railwaymen gathered around Swindon’s most famous steam locomotive to share memories of the part they played in its history.

The Evening Star was the last steam locomotive to be constructed by British Railways. It was built 50 years ago at the Swindon Railway Works.

Hundreds of people turned out at the Steam Museum of the Great Western Railway in Churchward on Saturday to celebrate the loco’s historic anniversary.

Dressed in his overalls and driver’s cap, 89-year-old Fred Simpson, of Wavell Road, Pinehurst, shared his experience as the first driver to trial the Evening Star.

He believes he also drove the Evening Star at a later date.

“It wasn’t famous, it only became important later on,” said Fred.

“I was proud to be the first driver – it was just a run of the mill job for me, but now it’s famous.”

The Evening Star was the 999th steam locomotive of the standard range and was finished in March 1960.

Since September 2008 the locomotive has been stationed in Swindon.

To celebrate the occasion, the museum had laid on a series of photographic displays and memorabilia relating to the Evening Star and visitors received a piece of birthday cake.

Born in Rodbourne, Fred began his 40 year career in the railways as an office boy and worked his way up.

He said of that class of engine, 158 were built in Crewe and the remaining 53 in Swindon.

Thousands of locomotives passed through the Swindon works and all these had to be trialled by drivers.

When he first drove the Evening Star it was painted regulation black like the rest of its class, but it was later painted green because of its significance.

He said he had noticed the change to diesel because on steam once you had qualified you could drive on any steam engine, whereas Fred found himself having to qualify again on 13 different types of diesel engines.

Alan Lambourn, 71, from Greenmeadow, worked on the Evening Star at the age of 21 as a fitter, turner and erector at the Swindon works.

The fourth generation of his family to work in the railways, he was responsible for the pistons and valves on the cylinders at the front of the train.

He said: “It was physically hard work, everything more or less had to be literally heaved about by hand.

“There was little mechanical aid.

“Like a lot of jobs you got used to it if you were doing it on a daily basis.”

He also installed the heavy cast iron brake blocks on either side of wheels, which were put in with a sledge hammer.

The inspector would come along to check them by kicking them with his foot.

If any were dislodged the whole process had to be done again from scratch.

Alan said he was proud to think he had played his part in such a special locomotive.

“We were told that it was going to be the last one to be built,” he said.

“At the time I don’t think it registered that much other than that fact that we were told to make a good job of it and take extra pains to make sure things fitted as well as they could.

“In later years I think the realisation of its significance historically hit home.”

Elaine Arthurs, collections officer at Steam, said: “The Evening Star has been a popular exhibition because it was built in Swindon and only built in 1960 so there are still people around that had some connection with it.

“It holds a lot of memories for people.

“This could be one of the last opportunities to have all the men here at the same time together.”