The Villa’s Gang has its origins in 1973 when John (“Jock”) McKay formed a volunteer team to repair No 3 Baxter, which had lain out of use since 1961. Many volunteers helped on this job, especially in its earlier days, but the workforce settled down to a core team of John McKay, Nick (“The Wrench”) Payne, Phil Heelis, and Lewis Nodes. Phil left the team in 1978 after contributing vital machining work, and Baxter eventually was steamed in March 1982.
Overlapping the Baxter job was another volunteer team working on No 58850 (the “North London”), comprising Brian Spurle, Paul Russell, Geoff Stringer, and John Dunsford, and another team working on No 55 “Stepney”, comprising Martin Payne, Trevor West, Andrew Wilkens, and Clifford Wood.
Towards the end of the Baxter job the teams started to merge somewhat, and after the North London was completed in June 1984 a new team was formed comprising members of all the teams, with the intention of carrying on a programme of repairing some of our more interesting locomotives, starting with No 488 (“Adams”). At the same time a team was formed to support the railway’s steam crane, with a degree of overlap of membership.
The Villa Team’s name has its origin in our home. When the old “Fort Knox” was demolished in the late 1970s, the railway purchased two SECR 6-wheel coach bodies to be used for parts storage, which were placed side-by-side in the yard. They quickly acquired the name “Wainwright Villas”, and became the bases of operations of the teams working on Baxter, North London, and Stepney.
In the spring of 1985 Wainwright Villas was replaced by a proper hut obtained from the yard at New Cross Gate. Following on from the name of its predecessor this became known as “Maunsell Villas” or the “New Villas”, but is now usually known simply as “The Villa”.
Since these early days the Villa’s team went on to restore Fenchurch in Matthew Woods memory finished in 2001, Led by Lewis Nodes and funded by the Fenchurch Fund, as well as Baxter for a second time sponsored by the Bluebell Railway trust and completed in 2010.
To date the Villa’s gang, over the Bluebell’s history, have been responsible for returning to steam the following engines;
- Captain Baxter (Twice) No.3
- North London 58850
- Stepney 55
- Adams Radial 488
- C class 592
- Fenchurch 72
- Cosmetic restoration of Sharpthorne
- Steam Crane
- Currently SECR No.27 Primrose