We were devastated that we had failed to bring the engine back in 2006. We bundled up all the evidence we had of how much Barnstaple wanted it, including letters form schoolchildren and promises of support. We argued that it should not be in Sussex, and we begged the new owner, Mike Holland to let us have it. We even tried to find another engine that we could swap with it so that Barnstaple’s engine could come home, but to no avail. Jonathan Minns said it was out of his hands: Mike Holland had set up a new charitable trust set up that now owned the collection, and had big plans for a multimedia interactive tourist attraction at Hove themed around steam power and engineering. The engine was to sit at the entrance to a new “dark-ride” adventure.
But we didn’t give up. We watched out for stories about Mike Holland and the ups and downs of his businesses. We kept an eye on development at the Engineerium, where open days became fewer and farther between, and the reopening date became less and less certain. Keith Abraham, President of our Development Trust was particularly keen not to let the matter drop, and together with the late Councillor David Butt, the first Chair of our Trust, pressed us to keep trying. Finally, in March 2018 we learned that the Engineerium was up for sale again.
We weren’t going to let the second opportunity pass by. Keith Abraham, now over 90, provided the money so that we could make a straight offer to Mike Holland and the Engineerium Trust, and we were delighted that they agreed to sell it to us.
On 6th February 2019 help of Nick Sampson Engineering brought the engine back to Barnstaple. It is now stored at Lewis & Sons Removals, ready for display in our new extension.
Keith Abraham, the last surviving mayor of the old Borough of Barnstaple has given his adopted home town a gift that will help us remember his love of the town forever.