THE Mid Hants Railway Watercress Line is planning a weekend of special events for this year’s heritage open days.
The open days are England’s annual celebration of local history, architecture and culture, when visitors have free access to places where they can discover hidden treasures and rarely told stories.
To take place over the weekend of September 15-16 at the Watercress Line, there will be an opportunity to explore behind the scenes of the engineering hub at Ropley station and discover what’s involved in renovating and maintaining a steam locomotive.
Tours will take visitors through the workshops to explore how Mid Hants Railway restores the engines and carriages which run on the line, allowing them to get up close to these magnificent steam machines.
Tours will run at 11.30am, 12.30pm, 1.30pm, 2.30pm and 3.20pm.
At the same time, on show in the viewing gallery, will be a new ‘Women on the Railway’ exhibition.
A railway spokesman said: “Did you know, for example, 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?”
The exhibition will highlight 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.
Visitors can ride in the Queen Mary brake van at the rear of the train for a donation, offering 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.
Alresford’s famous watercress was one of the items of freight transported on the Watercress Line.
Visitors will also have the chance to meet the volunteer groups who restore the locomotives, ask them questions and see their latest work.
In the run-up to the nostalgic heritage weekend, on Friday, September 14, Dr Becky Peacock will be giving a talk exploring the roles undertaken by women on local and national railways from 1850 to the end of 1945.
The talk includes a short film, shot by the Southern Railway film department during the Second World War, and will be followed by the chance to ask questions.
The event takes place at Winchester Discovery Centre from 2.30pm-3.30pm.
For more information about the work of the Mid Hants Railway Watercress Line and the Heritage Lottery-funded restoration project of the Canadian Pacific, visit watercressline.co.uk.
For more details about heritage open days, visit heritageopendays.org.uk.