If you mention the name Woodham Bros in the railway world, then more than likely it would be associated with the locomotive graveyard in Barry. But the company actually started in 1892 as Woodham & Sons buying rope, wood and scrap metal from boats and ships now using the new Barry docks. When it’s founder Albert Woodham retired in 1947 his son Dai took over the business and renamed it in 1953.
By the mid 1950s Woodham Bros were mainly dealing with scrap metal and as a result of British Railways’ 1955 Modernisation Plan to scrap 16,000 steam locomotives and 650,000 wagons, negotiated a contract to scrap metal, mainly from the Western Region and then later from the Southern Region. Initially British Railways were going to scrap all their steam locomotives in their own works, but due to the decision to accelerate the disposal of their steam locomotive fleet in 1958, British Railways decided to out-source via tender to various scrap merchants.
In 1959 the first locomotives arrived at Barry from Swindon, but it was decided to concentrate on scrapping the easier rails and rolling stock first leaving the locomotives until later. With further locomotives arriving in the 1960s, Woodham Bros expanded their leases on their Barry Docks yard and the surrounding marshalling yard. By the mid 1960s the mass scrapping of steam locomotives ceased because of the sheer volume of the rail and rolling stock present, but this didn’t stop Dai Woodham from continuing to purchase locomotives and by the end of the decade, he had purchased a total of 297 locomotives, including 4 mainline diesel locomotives (D600 ‘Active’, 601 ‘Ark Royal’, 6122 and 8206), two of which (D601 & 6122) were to be the last remaining examples of mainline North British diesel locomotives cut up in the UK.
Throughout the 1970s there were rows upon rows of rusting steam locomotives littered the Barry Dock yard, the two diesels D600 and D8206 were quickly (in Woodham’s terms) reduced to scrap by 1970, but most of the steam locomotives out lasted the very locomotives that had been built to replace them, in fact D600 was even wearing the fairly new BR livery of blue. As more and more preservation societies grew the number of steam locomotives remaining at the Barry site dwindled. By 1981 a total of 135 locomotives had left the yard leaving just 78 to battle the salt air and an uncertain future.
In June 1980 with other work drying up Woodham Bros started to scrap locomotives again, starting this time on the two remaining and unwanted diesel locomotives D601 and D6122. It’s hard to imagine this happening today, but in 1980 the diesel preservation scene hadn’t really started to take off, everybody just wanted to save the giant ‘kettles’. Next in line, literally, were 92085 and 4156 before a new contract of wagons arrived and the remaining locomotives sighed with relief. Oh if it had only happened 6 months earlier!
Ex GWR locomotive 5553 was the last locomotive to leave the yard in January 1990, today the whole area has been landscaped and part of it is occupied by a large supermarket complex.
My earliest recollection of the scrapyard was when my father took my late brother and I down to climb all over the locomotives in the early 1970s, I don’t even recall seeing the diesels it was just a sea of rusting steam engines as far as the eye could see. I went back a number of times throughout the 70s, but my last visit was in August 1981, with just two diesel engines remaining from D601 ‘Ark Royal’ discarded on a pile of scrap…
I no longer had any reason to return.