THE view from Jonathan Jones-Pratt’s office window has to be one of the most unusual I’ve ever seen. The window sits a couple of storeys up within the Crosville bus depot in Weston-superMare, and from this elevated vantage point you get a grandstand view across the interior of what used to be the base of Westland helicopters.
Over in the distance you can see a selection of Jonathan’s vintage buses, and panning round are more modern members of the Crosville/ Southern National fleet that are the bread and butter of the business.
However, amid this sea of green bus roofs stands, quite incongruously, the unmistakable shape of a Great Western Railway copper capped chimney. Look closer and you see that the chimney is indeed attached to a smoke box, and that smoke box belongs to ‘Castle’ class No. 7027 Thornbury Castle.
Not an everyday sight in a bus garage, that’s for certain.
It was precisely 12 months ago The RM revealed the news that Pete Waterman had sold the former Barry Scrapyard wreck for an undisclosed sum to Jonathan, who at the time had still to turn 33 years of age.
The unrestored ‘Castle’ had spent all of its post-preservation life in store at Tyseley, Crewe and latterly Rowsley (Peak Rail), leaving enthusiasts wondering whether the 1949-built 4-6-0 would ever turn a wheel in anger again.
Suggestions were even put forward on various online mediums that No. 7027’s bottom end could form the basis of a new-build ‘Star’, but these were pure fantasy, and in the meantime the partially dismantled ‘Castle’ just sat and bided its time.
One thing that can be said for certain is Jonathan Jones-Pratt did not walk blindly into taking on Thornbury Castle. For one thing he is a meticulous businessman, operating a fleet of 110 modern and vintage buses under the revived Crosville and Southern National banners, both of which are subsidiaries to his company JJP Holdings (SW) Ltd.
He is also already a locomotive owner, having acquired ‘Hall’ No. 4936 Kinlet Hall outright in 2016 as the culmination of a four-year love affair with the Collett 4-6-0. During that period Jonathan gradually bought out the shareholders as a way of taking control of the asset and “taking the loco’s legacy forward” as he puts it.
“Both my dad and I have always had a very strong affection for the ‘Halls’ and ‘Castles’, and I’d long had an aspiration to own a ‘Castle’.
“Consequently, when I got involved with ‘Gertie’ (the long-standing pet name for Kinlet Hall) about four years ago it didn’t take long before I’d fallen in love with it as many others had done so before.”
He continued: “The loco just seemed to garner affection, but it was evident that the owning group was getting older and I was keen to safeguard its future. I wanted to make sure there would continue to be great moments to share with the support group, just as I had enjoyed my time with the ‘Hall’.
“However, owning a steam loco is a lifestyle choice,” Jonathan explains, “and we’ve approached ‘Gertie’ with a business view and will manage ‘Thornbury’ in the same way.”
True to this ethos a dedicated company – Kinlet Hall and Thornbury Castle Ltd – has been set up to manage and maintain the two locos, and Mike Solloway appointed as locomotive manager. Mike is no stranger to GWR locomotives, being vice chairman of Dinmore Manor Locomotive Ltd, with responsibility for engineering matters on both No. 7820 Dinmore Manor and ‘2884’ 2-8-0 No. 3850.
At the time of Jonathan’s acquisition No. 4936 was a semi-regular resident at the West Somerset Railway (WSR), where he himself is a volunteer fireman. However, a major element of Jonathan’s vision for No. 4936 involved making the most of its main line certification, but this was not to materialise as hoped.
In September 2015 the ‘Hall’ missed out on two ‘Cathedrals Express’ turns after Network Rail declared it out of gauge at Westbury, and a month later it was pulled from the Keighley & Worth Valley Railway gala again because of gauging issues in that part of Yorkshire.
It was a bitter disappointment, but Jonathan remains undaunted and still sees the main line as a big part of the ‘Hall’s’ future.
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