WE have a wonderful group of volunteers at Didcot Railway Centre and some have been involved with the Great Western Society since the 1960s.

I was talking to one of our Carriage & Wagon team the other day and he had come across a programme from the second annual open day in 1966 – the year before we moved to Didcot.

In 1966, the beginnings of our collection were at Taplow in Buckinghamshire, the headquarters of the Reading Group of the Great Western Society.

Another difference from today was the opening times of 11am to 6.30pm – a much longer day than our current 10.30am to 5pm hours.

The picture on the cover is our 'ocean saloon' Princess Elizabeth, which was used to give passengers steam train rides on the ½ mile of track.

It seems that there weren’t many trains stopping at Taplow that day and five trains from Paddington made additional stops at Taplow.

The programme also includes a hand-drawn map of the Taplow Station area showing the location of the various exhibits.

The day was opened by His Worship the Mayor of Reading and one of the features was the arrival of a special train from Birmingham hauled by GWR Manor Class engine Cookham Manor. She joined Pendennis Castle and two British Railways (Western Region) diesel hydraulic engines – a Warship and a Western class.

We’re very pleased to say that Princess Elizabeth, Cookham Manor and Pendennis Castle are safe in our collection at Didcot Railway Centre, although sadly Princess Elizabeth is awaiting her turn for restoration and is not currently on display.

It sounds quite an event as other guests included a British Railway Cinema Coach showing British Railways films, a BR Exhibition Train with one carriage devoted to civil engineering, one to mechanical and electrical engineering and the third to signal and telecommunication engineering.

The programme notes that the last coach included an example of a signal panel – I wonder if it was like the 1960s Swindon Panel that is now on display in our Signalling Centre.

A number of other societies were also represented and many are still in existence, notably the Festiniog Railway Society.

All this seems a long time ago and a long way from Oxfordshire but it is interesting to reflect on our own history. I wonder if someone will read this in 50 years’ time and be amazed at how our collection and Didcot Railway Centre has fulfilled its potential as a living history museum.