Restoration of a 104-year-old locomotive has taken a step forward thanks to a donation from global real estate adviser CBRE.

The Urie Locomotive Society (ULS), based at Ropley, is currently working to bring S15 No. 499, one of the last surviving Robert Urie designed engines, back to its original condition at the Watercress Line.

CBRE has donated more than £850 over two years, which will help pay for the hundreds of new boiler stays needed in the distinctive project. Boiler stays are an internal structural element of a boiler that prevent the internal pressure from distorting the steel and copper platework.

The donations have been made through CBRE’s Benevity scheme, which rewards employees’ volunteering efforts.

Sam Wyatt, surveying executive at CBRE Southampton, has been the ULS volunteer co-ordinator since 2022 after being regularly involved with the Watercress Line since 2016. He first started volunteering in the heritage rail sector when he was a high school student in Australia, through his father’s involvement.

Sam has clocked up more than 550 volunteering hours, which has been matched financially by CBRE, and in recognition of his efforts Sam was named as one of CBRE’s top volunteers worldwide in 2023.

He said: “The railway is one big family. I love learning traditional skills - and the physical work involved, which contrasts with my desk job - as well as the fact it is an escape from our modern, digital world.

“All the hard work is worth it when we see the enjoyment the railway brings to so many people. We are keeping alive this important heritage that would otherwise be lost, and there is a lot that younger generations can learn from experiencing it.

“Volunteering has many personal benefits but also has a huge impact on small charities. At the Urie Locomotive Society alone, volunteer labour is worth over £100,000 each year and CBRE’s donation has tangible impact. With the rising costs of materials and the highly skilled labour needed, we would not be able to restore and maintain these historic locomotives without this support.”

Mark Pedley, chairman of the Urie Locomotive Society, said: “As a small charity, volunteering and generous donations like this from CBRE make a huge difference in our activities. Our ambition is to preserve these historic engines so future generations can enjoy them and have a window into our past. This donation will undoubtedly help us do this.”

Number 499 was designed as a fast freight engine by Robert Urie for the London and South Western Railway and was constructed in 1920. It was sold for scrap by British Railways in 1964.

In the 1970s and 1980s the ULS saved 499 along with 506, the last two surviving Robert Urie designed engines, from a scrap yard at Barry Island in south Wales. The ULS has previously returned 506 to service in the condition it was in near the end of its working life with the Southern Railway and British Railways. However, 499 is being restored to how it would have appeared when first constructed, using original techniques such as hot riveting as far as possible. It will therefore be one of a kind. 

The restoration project has been going on intermittently for 40 years, since it arrived at the Watercress Line in 1983. After a massive rebuild, the front 14 feet of the main frames have been replaced and boiler repairs are now under way. The ULS hopes to complete 499 within the next few years.