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Black Prince rides again
The Black Prince in Toddington, Glos
Black Prince in Toddington, Gloucestershire
Last updated: 19 October 2004 1750 BST
lineWhen it comes to heritage one thing which can be guaranteed to give most people a thrill is seeing an old steam train chugging its way through the Gloucestershire countryside.
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Wildlife artist and conservationist David Shepherd, famous for his paintings of tigers and elephants, has another passion. He is mad keen on steam locomotives and in 1967 he bought a 120 ton steam engine and named it Black Prince. His purchase of the locomotive saved it from being scrapped and he thought that would have been a travesty. He says:

"We threw these things [steam engines] away in the mid-1960s in a disgusting, premature race to dieselise under the name progress. They were going to throw my engine away when I paid £3,000 for it. She was eight years old, she'd just had an overhaul and they were going to just chuck her away and cut her up. I managed to save and thank God I did."

Black Prince

Black Prince, a 9F class heavy freight locomotive, was one of the last steam engines to be built in the UK for main line use. It was turned out of Swindon works in 1959 and David bought it eight years later.

After nearly 40 years of costly work, he got to see his beloved engine rumble along the old Gloucestershire Warwickshire railway in October 2004. Buoyed by the nostalgia of his childhood, he has spent a small fortune to restore the locomotive back to full working order and it has very much been a labour of love for him. David says:

Alan Titchmarsh pops the champagne cork at the rededication ceremony

"You can have all sorts of emotional feelings on an engine when it's in steam! I just love this engine for the pleasure it gives. That's what she is, a bit of our heritage."

And to see it back on the track in operation again is something that's thrilled David. He revealed:

"It's highly emotional. This is a wonderful, wonderful day. The moment I've been waiting for since I bought Black Prince back in 1967. It's an utter joy and delight."

More work needed

But the future of Black Prince is not entirely certain and seeing the locomotive on the track is tinged with a hint of sadness for David. He explained:

"It's also a moment of despair because the amount of money this engine's costing me is quite incredible. It is quite possible that in couple of years I'll have to sell it because I cannot go on meeting these costs. She should be in service for ten years but we've found that all the steel tyre will have to be [replaced] and that'll cost £28,000 so that means she's going straight out of service again after the [rededication] ceremony. But it's one of these hazards when you buy large toys as I have done."

As strange as it may seem David views the Black Prince as a member of his family, such is his fondness for the engine.

Celebrity fan

David Shepherd and Alan Titchmarsh

However, he's not the only fan of Black Prince. TV presenter and writer Alan Titchmarsh is also a fan and he was there on the footplate alongside David as the train steamed into Toddington on its latest journey. Alan talks of his experience on the train with typical enthusiasm:

"It was just amazing. It's almost impossible to describe - it's like a living beast and, actually, I did have charge for a moment or two when we were coming along a straight.

It's just the most wonderful steam loco and a real living, breathing thing. That's the wonderful thing about locomotives like Black Prince, they're not just pieces of metal."

And Alan thinks that David's contribution to saving this little bit of Britain's heritage cannot be understated. He said:

"We desperately need people like David who can give so much pleasure to the rest of us. Pleasure's underrated; joy, thrills - the face aches from being alongside and inside that locomotive."

Seeing Black Prince making its way through the beautiful Gloucestershire countryside is a tremendous sight and David deserves much praise for pouring his love and money into the restoration of this elegant symbol of our heritage.

Listen to Black Prince arriving at Toddington, including interviews with David Shepherd and Alan Titchmarsh

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