Although the first withdrawal of a Class 50 took place in 1987, their rundown was in full swing by the end of the 1980s. It was towards the end of 1988 that Dave Keogh came up with an idea to provide like-minded enthusiasts with Class 50 related headaches for years to come. The Fifty Fund was formed by Dave and his friend, Jonathan "Gus" Dunster with the intention of securing a Class 50 for preservation. The fund quickly gained interest from Class 50 enthusisats and membership numbers increased, along with income. By 1991, the withdrawal program accelerated dramatically and it became clear that we had to act quickly. BR was not offering any withdrawn Class 50s and some members of the class were just being switched off without any major faults. It was at the start of 1991 that Jonathan Dunster wrote to the head of Network South East, Chris Green, to enquire about the possibility of locomotives being offered for sale. A few weeks later the first tender list was issued, listing three members of the class, 50008 "Thunderer", 50019 "Ramillies" and 50035 "Ark Royal" (the lisitng of 50008 was later withdrawn). At this time, 50035 was stored at Old Oak Common and was considered to be in reasonably good condition with a good chance of being returned to service. Offers were submitted, and shortly after the closing date for submissions, the Fifty Fund was informed that their bid for "Ark Royal" had been successful. In August 1991, 50035 was officially handed over to its new owners and a new chapter in the Class 50 story was opened.
The early years
50035 was moved to St Leonard's Deopt near Hastings where work on the restoration of "Ark Royal" began. Due to the temperamental nature of the Class 50, we realised that it would be important to amass a maximum of spare parts to secure the future of 50035. An excellent relationship had been established with Geoff Hudson, who was fleet manager at Laira Depot Plymouth, and this helped us to recover spare parts from various withdrawn members of the Class. However, it became apparent that more valuable spares would be needed and with this in mind, it was decided to examine the condition of some withdrawn Class 50s at Stratford, when another tender was issued. It was at Stratford that 50044 was inspected, and despite a large hole cut in its side where a souvenir hunter had removed the fleet number and data panel, it was found that "Exeter" was largely complete. Appropriately, a bid of £5044 was made and accepted, so "Exeter" joined 50035 at St Leonard's and became the second member of our fleet. Subsequently, when 50031 was withdrawn in serviceable condition, it was purchased privately by two members of the Fifty Fund and place into our care. Because "Hood" was operational, it became our roving ambassador for heritage railways, while worked continued on "Ark Royal" and "Exeter" in Kent. 50031 attended the Severn Valley Railway diesel gala in May 1992 and so began the start of an important relationship with the railway. 50031 was invited to return a year later in May 1993 and later that year the SVR board approved that "Hood" and "Exeter" could move there on a permanent basis. Both locomotives moved to their new home in May 1994 followed by 50035 in 1996. Our relationship with the SVR would be the springboard for retuning 50031 to the mainline in 1997. We weren't the only organisation securing the future of Class 50 for future generations. At the same time, 50049 was purchased by Project Defiance, returned to its unique Railfreight grey livery and began running on the West Somerset Railway. It was at the end of 1998 that 50149 moved from the WSR to the SVR and the Fifty Fund and the Project Defiance began working together on all four Class 50s based at Kidderminster.
After several years of working as a successful partnership, the Fifty Fund and Project Defiance merged in 2006 to give birth to the Class 50 Alliance. The we organisation effectively became the owners of 50035, 50044 and 50049 with 50031 the custodianship of 50031 being transferred to the new organisation. As part of this agreement, it was decided that the Fifty Fund would continue to exist as a membership organisation to promote the locomotives and to raise funds for their ongoing preservation. In Janurary 2017, the opportunity arose to purchase a mainline ready 50007 "Hercules". Before re-entering service, 50007 underwent a thorough technical inspection and both its main and train heat generators were overhauled. In 2018, an agreement was made with The Birmingham Railway Museum to take over the management and operation of 50033 Glorious, making it the 6th Class 50 in the Class 50 Alliance fleet.
Since 1989, the Fifty Fund and the Class 50 Alliance have built a strong reputation and have led the way in Class 50 preservation. We were the first group to operate a Class 50 on a fare paying passenger train in preservation. That honour fell to 50031 in May 1992. We were also the first group to return a Class 50 to the mainline, with that honour also falling to 50031 when Hood worked the Pathfinder Tours “Pilgrim Hoover” charter, which it hauled from Birmingham to Plymouth in November 1997. More recently a strong relationship has been forged with GBRf and the mainline duo of 50007 and 50049 have been painted into their striking blue and orange livery. In September 2021 another notable achievement was made when 50007, 50044 and 50049 worked in multiple on the mainline, the first time that a preservation group has provided triple-headed mainline passenger haulage. And recently our locomotives were paired the Belmond British Pullman, a very proud moment indeed and another first for our group. All this has been achieved thanks to our fantastic team of volunteers and the support provided by our shareholders, and we hope that with your help we will be able to continue to pioneer Class 50 preservation in the future.