The 45xx and 4575 classes were favourites for branch line work over most of the Great Western Railway territory. Devon and Cornwall were no exceptions and virtually all the branch lines in the two counties saw engines of one or other of the two types right up until the end of steam on British Railways (Western Region), or in many cases, until the closure of the lines in question. The branch line from Totnes to Ashburton – today’s South Devon Railway – was no exception. Here the 45xx class were used for the freight traffic.
5542 was built in Swindon in 1928 for £3602. She was first allocated to Gloucester entering traffic on 2nd August 1928, then over the next 33 years was based at Bristol, Taunton and Newton Abbot before transfer to Westbury, where she spent her final years with BR before withdrawal on 8th December 1961 after having run 987,429 miles with sale to Woodham Bros scrapyard in February 1962.
After 14 years in the scrapyard, 5542 was sold to the West Somerset Railway Association in 1976. In 1979, it was sold to a group of WSRA members who formed the 5542 Fund to save and restore it for use on the West Somerset Railway.
The engine was returned to steam in 2002. Since then, she has successfully worked on the West Somerset Railway, the Gloucestershire & Warwickshire Railway and many other lines. She is now regular based both with us on the South Devon Railway and on the Gloucestershire & Warwickshire Railway.
5542 owners describe her as the ‘Planet’s Favourite Prairie’!