It was a bright idea for the Great Western Society – an admirable institution which I hold in high regard – to get one lady of legend to cut the ribbon at the unveiling of another.

My first reference is to supercook – and so much else – Prue Leith, and my second to the new steam engine, No. 2999, Lady of Legend, just added to the collection at the society’s Didcot headquarters.

What qualified Prue for the unveiling ceremony arises from one part of that ‘so much else’.

Best known these days as successor to Mary Berry on The Great British Bake Off, Prue was once famous as the saviour of the British Rail sandwich. Brought on to the BR board in the late 1970s by her friend Sir Peter Parker, her mission – admirably accomplished – was to replace the ubiquitous sweaty cheese sarnie with a range more suited to modern tastes.

Sir Peter, incidentally, was a man of many parts, literally so in his days as an Oxford University student actor when Kenneth Tynan directed him as Hamlet and he played King Lear in the West End with Shirley Williams as Cordelia.

Unfailingly courteous, he and his doctor wife Jill enjoyed cordial relations with the press pack often to be found at their Minster Lovell home. His period as BR chairman (1976-83) coincided with difficult times for industrial relations.

At Didcot, meanwhile, the fledgling Great Western Society was embarking on a number of preservation projects that would make its name.

Among them was the plan to transform a decaying member of the Hall class of mixed traffic 4-6-0 locomotives into an example of a forebear – the so-called Saint class, of which none survived after their steady withdrawal into the 1950s.

The engine was No. 4942 Maindy Hall, which I and a generation of teenage trainspotters first saw mouldering away in the company of hundreds of other rusting locomotives at Woodham Brothers scrapyard at Barry Docks. We could not have guessed how many of them – lots – would return to the tracks.

There were a couple of hiccups over the transformation of the Hall, which was acquired in 1974, but now the work is finally completed at a cost of £825,000, giving a fine addition to the GWS fleet.

The Saints were the first class of GWR 4-6-0s and revolutionised services from their introduction in 1903. Their designer was George Jackson Churchward (1857-1933), considered the 20th century’s greatest locomotive engineer.

His success had a great deal to do with his willingness to make use of best practice on railways abroad, especially in France and the USA, in developing his own designs.

These included a four-cylinder class called the Stars, precursor to the well-known Castles, just as the Saints foreshadowed the Halls. They were considered equal in performance, though Stars were used on the principal expresses because they ran more smoothly.

Fate reserved for Churchward a fate cruelly appropriate. Living in comfortable retirement in Swindon, he was run over and killed by a Paddington to Fishguard express on a misty December morning in 1933 as he bent down to inspect a loose rail connection. The locomotive was No. 4085 Berkeley Castle, a name as unfortunate for Churchward as it had been for Edward II, murdered there in a notoriously nasty manner.

Saint engines were named after Saints, Courts, Ladies, directors of the GWR and characters from the novels of Sir Walter Scott. The Scottish writer figured extensively in railway nomenclature, an indication of the high regard in which he was once held, as indeed were the large number of operas fashioned from his works.

Some of the engines were built to the 4-4-2 (Atlantic) wheel arrangement, later changed to 4-6-0 to give better adhesion. Lady of Legend is designed to permit alteration the other way round.

Before snipping the ribbon on Didcot’s turntable, where a brass band supplied fitting music, Prue Leith told the assembled crowd: “This is one of the nicest things I have ever been asked to do.”

Following the ceremony, she enjoyed a ride on the footplate and later in one of the lovely Edwardian carriages in use on the demonstration line. I shared the compartment, and lively conversation, before heading for tea and cakes with, among others, the GWS’s new boss Emma Jhita, who takes up her duties next month.

May will also see the end of the line – of local lines, that is – for the iconic HST trains which since 1976 have been in use on the tracks out of Paddington. Some are off for further employment in Scotland.

It seemed fitting that possibly the last one I shall see (on Didcot station, as I waited the train home from the ceremony) was named Great Western. Presumably it will be stripped of its plate before going north, as was 43127 Sir Peter Parker 1922-2002 – Cotswold Line 150.

Prue Leith is thus far not a train name. But living on GWR territory, near Moreton-in-the-Marsh, she surely qualifies as a notable local to go on the side of one of the new 800 class. And unlike Paddington Bear (No. 80010) at least she’s real.