Great Western Railway

Great Western Railway

The Great Western Railway (GWR) was a British railway company and a notable example of civil engineering, linking London with the West Country, South West England and South Wales. It was founded in 1833, kept its identity through the 1923 grouping, and became the Western Region of British Railways at nationalisation in 1948.

Known admiringly to some as "God's Wonderful Railway", jocularly to others as the "Great Way Round" (some of its earliest routes were not the most direct). It gained great fame as the "Holiday Line", taking huge numbers of people to resorts in the southwest.

The company's best-known livery was quite distinctive: locomotives were middle chrome green (similar to Brunswick green), above Indian red (later, plain black) frames; the carriages were two-tone "chocolate and cream".

In 1999, in recognition of the railway's historical importance, the Department for Culture, Media and Sport added parts of the GWR to UNESCO's tentative World Heritage Sites list. The nomination is being supported by English Heritage. [cite web | last = Morris | first = S | title = Wonderful Railway on track to be world heritage site | publisher = Guardian Unlimited | year = 2006 | url =,,1814623,00.html | accessdate = 2007-05-19]


Early history

The Great Western Railway originated from the desire of Bristol merchants to maintain the position of their city as the second port in the country and the chief one for American trade. The increase in the size of ships and the gradual silting of the River Avon made Liverpool an increasingly attractive port, and with its rail connection with London developing in the 1830s it threatened Bristol's status. The answer for Bristol was, with the co-operation of London interests, to build a line of their own, a railway built to unprecedented standards of excellence to out-perform the other lines being constructed to the north-west.cite book| last = MacDermot| first = E T| title = History of the Great Western Railway, volume I 1833-1863| publisher = Great Western Railway| year = 1927| location = London]

The company was founded at a public meeting in Bristol in 1833, and was incorporated by Act of Parliament in 1835. Isambard Kingdom Brunel was appointed as engineer. This was by far his largest contract to date, and he made two controversial decisions: to use a broad gauge of seven feet (actually RailGauge|84 for the track, potentially to allow large wheels outside the bodies of the rolling stock thus providing smoother running at high speeds; and to take a route which passed north of the Marlborough Downs, an area with no significant towns, though it did offer potential connections to Oxford and Gloucester and then to follow the Thames Valley into London. He surveyed the entire length of the route between London and Bristol himself.

G. T. Clark played an important role as an engineer on the project, reputedly taking the management of two divisions of the route including bridges over the River Thames at Upper Basildon and Moulsford, and Paddington Station. [cite web| last =James| first =B, Ll| title =Clark, George Thomas (1809–1898)| work =Oxford Dictionary of National Biography| publisher =Oxford University Press| url = | accessdate = 2007-08-21] Involvement in major earth-moving works seems to have fed Clark's interest in geology and archaeology and he, anonymously, authored two guidebooks on the railway, one was illustrated with lithographs by John Cooke Bourne, the other was a critique of Brunel's methods and the broad gauge. [cite journal| last = Clark| first = GT| authorlink = G. T. Clark | journal = Gentleman's Magazine| issue = 279| pages = 489–506| year = 1895| accessdate = ]

The initial group of locomotives ordered by Brunel to his own specifications proved unsatisfactory. 20-year-old Daniel Gooch was appointed as Locomotive Superintendent and set to establishing a reliable fleet. He bought two locomotives from Robert Stephenson and Company which proved more successful, and then designed a series of standardised locomotives which, from 1846, could be built at the newly established railway workshops. Brunel and Gooch had chosen to locate these close to the village of Swindon, at the point where the gradual ascent eastwards from London turned into the steeper route towards the Avon. The GWR also championed other technological advances, for instance commissioning the world's first commercial telegraph line. This ran for convert|13|mi|km from Paddington to West Drayton and came into operation on 9 April 1839.

The first stretch of line, convert|22.5|mi|km|0 from London Paddington to Maidenhead Bridge station, had opened on 4 June 1838. Once the Maidenhead Railway Bridge was ready, the line was extended to Twyford on 1 July 1839, and then through the deep Sonning Cutting into Reading on 30 March 1840. The next section, from Reading to Steventon crossed the Thames twice but was ready to open for traffic on 1 June 1840 although a further convert|7.25|mi|km|0 extension moved the end of the line to Faringdon Road from 20 July 1840.

Meanwhile work had also started at the Bristol end of the line, where the convert|11.5|mi|km|0 opened to Bath on 31 August 1840. On 17 December 1840 the London section of the line was extended to a temporary terminus at Hay Lane, west of Swindon and convert|80.25|mi|km|0 from Paddington. 31 May 1841 saw the main line extended from Hay Lane to Chippenham, but also the opening of Swindon Junction and the Cheltenham and Great Western Union Railway (C&GWUR) to Cirencester railway station. This was an independent line worked by the GWR, as was the Bristol and Exeter Railway (B&ER), the first section of which from Temple Meads to Bridgwater was opened on 14 June 1841. At this time the GWR main line was still incomplete due to the lengthy Box Tunnel, which was finally ready to receive trains on 30 June 1841, from which time through trains ran the convert|152|mi|km from Paddington to Bridgwater. In 1846 the GWR took over the running of the Kennet and Avon Canal, which offered a competitive route from London via Reading and Bath to Bristol.

The GWR was closely involved with both the C&GWUR and the B&ER, as it was with several other broad gauge railways. The South Devon Railway (which for a time was operated by the “atmospheric” system of propulsion rather than locomotives) was completed in 1849, extending the broad gauge to Plymouth, from where the Cornwall Railway took it over the Royal Albert Bridge and into Cornwall in 1859, reaching Penzance over the West Cornwall Railway by 1867, although this last stretch of line had been built originally using the RailGauge|ussg standard gauge, or 'narrow gauge' as it was known at the time.cite book| last = MacDermot| first = E T| title = History of the Great Western Railway, volume II 1863-1921| publisher = Great Western Railway| year = 1931| location = London Reprinted 1982, Ian Allan, ISBN 0-711004-12-9] The South Wales Railway had opened in 1850 and was connected to the GWR via Brunel's Chepstow Bridge in 1852, and was completed to Neyland railway station in 1856.

The "gauge war"

In 1844 the broad gauge Bristol and Gloucester Railway had opened, but Gloucester was already served by the narrow gauge Birmingham and Gloucester Railway. This resulted in a break of gauge, and the need for all passengers and goods to change trains if travelling from Bristol, Swindon or South Wales through Gloucester towards Birmingham. This was the beginning of the "gauge war", and resulted in the appointment by Parliament of a Gauge Commission, which duly reported in 1846 in favour of standard gauge. In the same year the Bristol and Gloucester had been bought by the Midland Railway and was converted to standard gauge in 1854, which brought mixed gauge track to Temple Meads station – this had three rails to allow trains to run on either broad or standard gauge.

Undaunted, the GWR was pressing ahead into the West Midlands in competition with the Midland and the London and North Western Railway. Birmingham was reached in 1852 and Wolverhampton in 1854, which was the furthest north that the broad-gauge reached. In the same year the Shrewsbury and Birmingham Railway and the Shrewsbury and Chester Railway both amalgamated with the GWR, but these lines were narrow gauge, and the GWR's own line north of Oxford had been built with mixed gauge. This mixed gauge was extended southwards from Oxford to Basingstoke at the end of 1856 which allowed through goods traffic from the North to the South Coast without transshipment.Tonnage for 1850 is approximate.

Ancillary operations

Powers were granted by Parliament for the GWR to operate ships in 1871. cite journal| title = Handmaids of the Railway Services| journal = Great Western Railway Magazine| volume = 47| issue = 9| pages = 515–516| publisher = Great Western Railway| year = 1935] The following year the company took over the ships of Ford & Jackson on the route between Neyland in Wales and Waterford in Ireland. The Welsh terminal was relocated to Fishguard Harbour when the line to Fishguard was opened in 1906. Services were also operated between Weymouth Quay and the Channel Islands from 1889, taking over the routes of the Weymouth & Channel Islands Steam Packet Company. Smaller vessels were also used as tenders at Plymouth Great Western Docks and, until the Severn Tunnel opened, on the River Severn crossing of the Bristol and South Wales Union Railway. [cite book| last = Duckworth| first = Christian Leslie Dyce| coauthors = Langmuir, Graham Easton| title = Railway and Other Steamers| publisher = T Stephenson & Sons| year = 1968| location = Prescot]

The railway owned the docks at Plymouth, which was used by Trans-Atlantic passenger ships, and also at Fowey in Cornwall where the main export was china clay. Following the Railways Act 1921 most of the large coal-exporting docks in South Wales came into the GWR's ownership, such as those at Cardiff, Barry, and Swansea. This made the company the largest docks operator in the world. A number of canals became the property of the railway when they were purchased to remove competition or objectors to proposed new lines. Most of these continued to be operated; in 1929 they took £16,278 of receipts (freight trains earned over £17 million).cite journal| title = A Brief Review of the Company's Hundred Years of Business|journal = Great Western Railway Magazine| volume = 47| issue = 9| pages = 495–500| publisher = Great Western Railway| year = 1935]

The GWR initially leased out the refreshment rooms and hotels that were built at many stations, however the Bristol and Exeter Railway was operating its own when it amalgamated in 1876 and the GWR extended this practice. It opened the Tregenna Castle, its first "country house" hotel at St Ives, Cornwall in 1877 and added to this the Fishguard Bay Hotel in 1910 and the Manor House at Moretonhampstead, Devon to which it added a golf course in 1930.

The first railway-operated bus services were started by the GWR between Helston railway station and The Lizard on 17 August 1903. Known by the company as road motors, these chocolate-and-cream buses operated throughout the company's territory on railway feeder services and excursions until they were transferred to local bus companies (in most of which the GWR held a share) in the 1930s. [cite book| last = Cummings| first = John| title = Railway Motor Buses and Bus Services in the British Isles 1902-1933, volume 2| publisher = Oxford Publishing Company| year = 1980| location = Headington| id = ISBN 0-860950-50-5]

In association with Imperial Airways the GWR inaugurated the first railway air service between Cardiff, Torquay and Plymouth. This grew to be part of the Railway Air Services.

Traction and rolling stock


For most of the period of its existence, the GWR painted its locomotives a middle chrome green colour (similar to Brunswick green), with Indian red (later, plain black) frames. Name and numberplates were generally of polished brass with a black background, and chimneys often had copper rims or "caps".

Broad gauge

The GWR's first locomotives were specified by Isambard Kingdom Brunel but did not prove too successful. In order to meet his demands some novel ideas were tried such as the Haigh Foundry's geared locomotives and TE Harrison's "Hurricane" and "Thunderer" which had the engine and boiler on separate chassis.

More conventional locomotives were soon ordered by Daniel Gooch when he was appointed as the railway's Locomotive Superintendent.cite book| title = The Locomotives of the Great Western Railway, Part 2: Broad Gauge| publisher = The Railway Correspondence and Travel Society| year=1953| id = ISBN 0-90686-790-8] Following on from the Star Class that he ordered from Robert Stephenson and Company, he designed a series of standardised and successful locomotive types starting with the Firefly and Sun classes of passenger locomotives, and the Leo and Hercules classes for goods trains. By 1846 Swindon Works had been established was able to build its own locomotives. The most familiar from this period are the Iron Duke Class 2-2-2s with their convert|8|ft|m|2 driving wheels, a type that operated express trains right up to the end of the broad gauge in 1892. cite book| last = Waters| first = Laurence| title = The Great Western Broad Gauge| publisher = Ian Allan Publishing| year = 1999| location = Hersham| id=ISBN 0-906867-90-8] Gooch further developed the broad gauge locomotives, producing the first bogie tank design for the steep and curving South Devon lines in 1849, and condensing locomotives for the Metropolitan Railway in 1862. He produced over 100 Ariadne class goods locomotives to a standardised design at a time when most classes ran to only ten or twenty locomotives, and components he designed were often interchanable between different classes.

In 1864 Gooch was succeeded by Joseph Armstrong who brought his standard gauge experience gained in the Northern Division to bear on the larger broad gauge locomotives. He designed the Hawthorn class of 2-4-0 and, in 1870, started the renewal of the Iron Dukes with more powerful boilers. The conversion of many broad gauge lines to standard gauge meant that this was a period of consolidation but in 1876 the amalgamation of the Bristol and Exeter and South Devon Railway locomotives saw 180 locomotives added to the GWR's fleet. To replace some of these earlier locomotives, Armstrong put broad gauge wheels on his standard gauge 1076 Class and from this time on GWR locomotives were given numbers rather than the names that had been carried by broad gauge locomotives up till then.

Joseph Armstrong's early death in 1877 meant that the final phase of broad gauge motive power was the responsibility of William Dean. He continued the Iron Duke renewal programme and added more convertibles, including some of Armstrong's 388 class goods locomotives. He also developed some elegant express locomotives such as the 3031 Class singles. Following the abandonment of the broad gauge on 20 May 1892 the majority of the remaining 195 broad gauge locomotives were taken to "the dump" at Swindon. Most of the convertible locomotives were altered to run on the standard gauge over the following 18 months while the remainder were cut up.

tandard gauge

With the acquisition of the northern standard gauge lines in 1854 came 56 locomotives, a second workshop at Wolverhampton, and Joseph Armstrong. Wolverhampton was responsible for maintaining standard gauge locomotives for many years, although Daniel Gooch did design some new locomotives that were built at Swindon and carried to Wolverhampton on special trucks. The first, the 57 class were 0-6-0 goods locomotives built in 1855. At the same time some 69 class passenger locomotives were built by Beyer, Peacock and Company in Manchester so were able to be transported on their own wheels. By the time that Armstrong replaced Gooch at Swindon in 1864 many more locomotives had been acquired with the Birkenhead and West Midlands Railways.

Armstrong developed the 2-2-2 as his preferred express locomotive, producing 30 of the Sir Daniel class from 1866 and 21 of the Queen class from 1873. Smaller 2-4-0s, such as the 439 class of 1868, worked slower passenger trains while 0-6-0s continued to operate, such as the 388 class freight trains. Tank locomotives were constructed to operate lighter trains and branch lines, the most familiar of which were the 1076 "Buffalo" class 0-6-0STs (later 0-6-0PT), and the lighter 517 class 0-4-2T and 455 "Metro" class 2-4-0Ts. The 517s were originally Northern Division locomotives while the Metros were used around London, but this distinction was blurred in later years. cite book| last = Russell| first = J.H.| title = A Pictorial Record of Great Western Engines, Volume 1| publisher = Oxford Publishing Company| year = 1975| location = Oxford| id = ISBN 0-860933-98-9]

William Dean had worked under Armstrong on and off for 22 years before becoming his successor and he perpetuated his locomotive policy for some time. He later produced standardised 0-6-0 and 2-6-0 goods locomotives (the 2301 and 2600 "Aberdare" classes), and 0-6-0STs of various sizes (the 850 or 1901, 2021 and 2721 classes). For express trains he initially developed the 2-2-2 type, culminating with the elegant 3031 class. He later moved on to the 4-4-0 type, producing the Badminton and Atbara classes with convert|80|in|m|2 wheels, and the Duke and Bulldog classes with convert|68|in|m|2 wheels. For branch line and suburban trains he built 31 3600 class 2-4-2T locomotives.

GJ Churchward

George Jackson Churchward started his railway career in the South Devon Railway locomotive workshops at Newton Abbot. After that company became a part of the GWR in 1876 he was sent to Swindon and worked under Armstrong and Dean. [cite book|first=HCB|last=Rogers|title=GJ Churchward - A Locomotive Biography|publisher=Allen & Unwin|location=London|year=1975|isbn=0-04-385069-3] After his appointment as Locomotive Superintendent in 1902 he developed a series of standard locomotive types with flat-topped Belpaire fireboxes, tapered boilers, long smokeboxes, boiler top-feeds, long-lap long-travel valve gear, and many standardised parts such as wheels, cylinders and connecting rods. cite journal| last = Hill| first = Keith| title = A colossus of steam| journal = The Railway Magazine| volume = 151| issue = 1256| pages = 16-20| publisher = IPC Media| year = 2005]

For express passenger trains he quickly turned out the City class of 4-4-0s, the first taking to the rails in 1903. The following year one of these, 3717 "City of Truro", was the first locomotive in the world to exceed 100 mph [cite journal| last = Andrews| first = David| title = Special Experimental Tests: more pieces of the City of Truro puzzle| journal = Backtrack| volume = 22| issue = 2| pages = 116-121| publisher = Pendragon Publishing | year = 2008] . However it should be noted that due to no official measuring of the locomotive's speed taking place on this run, the record is not officially recognised. A larger 4-4-0 was produced in 1904 in the form of the County class, but further increases in size demanded more wheels.

Experiments had already been made for a 4-6-0 design while Dean was still in charge, and these continued under Churchward. One locomotive was converted to a 4-4-2 for direct trials against French designs that he tried in 1903. These experiments moved the GWR towards using four cylinders, and there was even a 4-6-2 tried, 111 "The Great Bear" which was the first locomotive of this type in the United Kingdom. Production 4-6-0s appeared in 1902 as the two-cylinder Saint class, and were followed in 1906 by the four-cylinder Star class. A freight version of the Saint, the 2-8-0 2800 class was introduced in 1903. For lighter trains a series of 2-6-0s were turned out in 1911, the 4300 class, which were to become the most numerous GWR tender locomotives. In 1919 this design was enlarged to become the 4700 class 2-8-0s.

Churchward's standardisation aims meant that a number of tank locomotives were produced that were based on these tender locomotives. The 2221 class of 1905 were a 4-4-2T version of the County class, indeed they were known as the 'County Tanks'. These were then developed into a 2-6-2T design, being produced as the 3100 class in 1903 and the 3150 class three years later. Smaller 2-6-2Ts, the 4400 class were introduced in 1904 and were succeeded by the slightly larger 4500 class in 1906. Two very different freight tank locomotive types appeared in 1910. The 4200 class was a tank version of the 2800 class, but a demand for small locomotives for working on dock and branch lines was met by modernising the old Cornwall Minerals Railway 0-6-0ST design while using as many of Churchward's standard parts as possible, which resulted in the 1361 class. [cite journal| last = Coleford| first = IC| title = Swindon's saddle tanks: the GWR 1361 class 0-6-0STs| journal = Railway Bylines| volume = 12| issue = 6| pages = 252-263| publisher = Irwell Press| year = 2007]

Other innovations during Churchward's office included the introduction of self-propelled Steam Rail Motors for suburban and light branch line passenger trains. [cite book | last =Lewis | first =John | title =Great Western Steam Railmotors: and their services | publisher =Wild Swan Publications Ltd | year =2004 | isbn = 1 874103 96 8] From 1915 his post was renamed that of the 'Chief Mechanical Engineer'. He also remodelled Swindon Works, building the convert|1.4|acre|ha boiler-erecting shops and the first static locomotive-testing plant in the United Kingdom.

Collett and Hawksworth

Charles Collett became the Chief Mechanical Engineer in 1921. Almost straight away he had to take on all the locomotives of myriad types from the railways absorbed in 1922 and 1923. Many of these were 'Swindonised', that is they were rebuilt using standard GWR parts. He also set about designing many new types to replace the older examples. Many of the most familiar GWR tank locomotive classes were designed during this period: the 1400 class for small branch lines and auto trains; the 4575 class (a development of the 4500 class with larger tanks) and the large 6100 class 2-6-2Ts; the massive 7200 class of rebuilt 4200 class 2-8-2Ts; and the iconic pannier tanks of the 5700 class, the first of which appeared in 1929.

Collett further developed the 4-6-0 type as the ideal GWR express locomotive, extending the Stars into Castles in 1923, and then producing the largest of them all, the four-cylinder King class, in 1927. He also produced slightly smaller types for mixed traffic (either passenger and goods) duties, the Hall class in 1928, the Grange class in 1934, and the Manor class in 1934. All these continued to carry appropriate names. For lighter goods services he produced his own standard 0-6-0, the 2251 class.

It was under Collett's control that diesel power was first appeared on the GWR. He introduced the first streamlined rail cars in 1934 and by 1942 38 had been built, although the latter ones had more angular styling. Some were configured for long distance express services with buffet counters, others for branch line or parcels work, and some were designed as two-car sets.

Frederick Hawksworth only became the Chief Mechanical Engineer in 1941 and the Second World War meant that his new designs were few. He updated Collett's 'Hall' class to produce the GWR 6959 Class, known as 'Modified Halls', and produced the last GWR 2-cylinder 4-6-0s, the 'County' class 4-6-0, which ended a tradition that had begun with the 'Saints' 42 years before. Their boilers were based on those of the LMS Stanier Class 8F 2-8-0, a number of which had been built at Swindon during the War. Other designs included three designs of 0-6-0PT: the taper boilered 9400 class; the 1500 class with outside Walschaerts valve gear and no running plate designed for pilot work around large stations; and the very light 1600 Class.


Early GWR carriages, in common with other railways at the time, were based on stagecoach practice and built on rigid six-wheel (or sometimes four-wheel) underframes, although the broad gauge allowed wider bodies with more people seated in each compartment. Three classes were provided, although third class carriages were not conveyed in every train and, for the first few years, were little more than open trucks with rudimentary seats. Some rigid eight-wheeled carriages were produced but vacuum brakes and bogies made an appearance before the end of the broad gauge in 1892.

The first train in the United Kingdom with corridor connections between all carriages entered service on 7 March 1890 on the Paddington to Birkenhead route, and further corridor trains were introduced on all the main routes over the next few years. In 1900 a new Milford Boat Train set introduced electric lights and the communication cord was moved inside the train; until now a passenger needing to stop the train in an emergency had to lean out of the window and pull a cord above the door. At this time carriages generally had a clerestory roof but elliptical roofs were fitted to the GWR steam rail motors in 1903 and became standard for all carriages. The first were the "Dreadnought" stock built from 1904 in lengths of up to convert|70|ft|m. The "Concertina" stock appeared in 1906, so named as the doors were recessed into the body side rather than flush with the outer panels. The following year saw the introduction of shorter "Toplight" stock of around convert|57|ft|m, the toplights being small "lights" or windows above the main windows. Coaches panelled in steel rather than wood first appeared in 1912.cite book| last = Harris| first = Michael| title = Great Western Coaches From 1890| publisher = David and Charles| year = 1966| location = Newton Abbot| id = ISBN 0-715380-50-8 ]

The next significant change came in 1922 when bow-ended stock was introduced in both 57 ft and 70 ft lengths. Hitherto coaches had featured flat ends but bow ends were easier to fit with Buckeye couplings that were then finding favour with passenger trains in the United Kingdom. These coaches were generally more plain than earlier vehicles as they had flush sides without beaded panels. Some articulated sets were built in 1925. From 1929 coaches had windows flush with the body panels, the first such sets being for the Cornish Riviera Express but general coaches followed the following year, including the infamous "B Sets", two-coach trains mainly used on branch lines.

In 1931 some "Super Saloons" were built, also known as "Ocean Saloons" as they were used on the Plymouth to London Ocean Mail trains. These were fitted out to very high specification for the Trans-Atlantic passengers. In 1935 excursion stock with open saloons instead of compartments was introduced, and the "Centenary" stock for the Cornish Riviera Limited service. During World War II some "Special Saloons" were built for the use of VIPs and for the Royal Train. A distinctive new profile appeared in 1944, when Hawksworth introduced coaches with domed roof-ends, although non-corridor coaches and auto trailers retained a more conventional roof. Fluorescent lights were tried in new coaches built in 1946.

A few sleeping cars were operated on the broad gauge and these became familiar on overnight trains. Restaurant cars became practical following the introduction of corridor trains; the first cars in 1896 were for first class passengers but a second class buffet car appeared on the Milford Boat Train in 1900. Slip coaches were operated on many routes that could be uncoupled from the rear of a moving train and serve intermediate stations that the train did not call at.

The livery of early carriages was a dark chocolate brown but from 1864 the upper panels were painted white which became a pale cream after being varnished and exposed to the weather. This colour eventually became a richer cream. From 1908 carriages were painted chocolate brown all over but this changed to a red lake colour in 1912. A two-colour livery reappeared in 1922, now with a richer cream on the upper panels and chocolate brown below.cite book| last = Slinn| first = JN| title = Great Western Way| publisher = Historical Model Railway Society| year = 1978| location = Frome| id = ISBN 0-902835-03-3]


In the early years of the GWR, its wagons were painted brown, [cite journal| last = Jolly| first = Mike| title = Carriage and Waggon Livery c1855| journal = Broadsheet| issue = 6| pages = 5–7| publisher = Broad Gauge Society| year = 1981] but this changed to red before the end of the broad gauge. The familiar dark grey livery was only introduced about 1904. [cite journal| last = Lewis| first = John| title = The Colour of GWR Goods Wagons| journal = Broadsheet| issue = 45| pages = 4–5| publisher = Broad Gauge Society| year = 2001]

Most early wagons were four-wheeled, although a few six-wheeled vehicles were provided for special loads. The first bogie wagons appeared in 1873, again for heavy loads, but bogie coal wagons were built in 1904. The first large coal wagons had appeared in 1898. Rated at 20 tons they were twice the size of typical wagons of the period, but it was not until 1923 that the company invested heavily in coal wagons of this size and the infrastructure necessary for their unloading at their docks; these were known as "Felix Pole" wagons after the GWR's General Manager who promoted their use. Container wagons appeared in 1931 and special motor car vans in 1933. Indeed, special wagons were produced for many different commodities such as gunpowder, china clay, aeroplanes, milk, fruit and fish.cite book| last = Atkins| first = AG| coauthors = "et al"| title = A History of GWR Goods Wagons, Volume 1| publisher = David and Charles| year = 1975| location = Newton Abbot| id = ISBN 0-715365-32-0]

All wagons for public traffic had a code name that was used in telegraphic messages. As this was usually painted onto the wagon it is common to see them referred to by these names, such as "mink" (a van), "mica" (refrigerated van), "crocodile" (boiler truck), and "toad" (brake van).

Cultural impact

Known admiringly to some as "God's Wonderful Railway" [ [ God's Wonderful Railway on track to be world heritage site] , Steven Morris, The Guardian, 2006-07-07.] , jocularly to others as the "Great Way Round" (some of its earliest routes were not the most direct).cite book| last = Leigh| first = Chris| title = Railway World Special: Cornish Riviera| publisher = Ian Allan| year = 1988| location = Shepperton| id = ISBN 071101-797-2] It gained great fame as the "Holiday Line", taking huge numbers of people to resorts in the southwest.


The GWR had operated hotels at major stations and junctions since the early days, but in 1877 it opened its first "country house hotel", the Tregenna Castle in St Ives, Cornwall. It promoted itself at home and abroad as a holiday line through a series of posters, postcards, jigsaws, and books such as SPB Mais's "Cornish Riviera". GWR road motor services carried tourists to popular destinations, and its ships offered cruises from places such as Plymouth. Redundant carriages were converted to camp coaches then placed at country or seaside stations and hired to holiday makers who arrived by train.

Cultural references

The GWR attracted the attention of the media from an early date. John Cooke Bourne's "History and Description of the Great Western Railway" was published in 1846 and contained a series of detailed lithographs of the railway that give us a glimpse of what the line looked like in the days before photography.cite book| last = Bourne| first = John Cooke| authorlink = John Cooke Bourne| title = History and Description of the Great Western Railway| publisher = David Bogue| year = 1846| location = London] J. M. W. Turner painted his "Rain, Steam and Speed - The Great Western Railway" after looking out of the window of his train on Maidenhead Railway Bridge. [cite book| last = Hamilton Ellis| first = C| title = Railway Art| publisher = Ash and Grant Ltd| year = 1977| location = London| id = ISBN 0-904069-10-9] In 1862 William Powell Frith painted "The Railway Station", a large crowd scene on the platform at Paddington. The station itself was painted for Powell by W Scott Morton, an architect and a train was specially provided for the painting, in front of which a variety of travellers and railway staff form an animated focal point. [cite book| last = Cowling| first = Mary| title = Victorian Figurative Painting| publisher = Andreas Papadakis| year = 2000| location = London| id = ISBN 1-901092-29-1]

When writing the Railway Series of children's books, the Rev. W. Awdry was inspired by memories of listening to heavy freight trains on the GWR Main Line near his childhood home of Box, Wiltshire. "It was not hard to imagine train engine and banker talking to each other, and for me, steam engines developed personality." Two characters were directly inspired by GWR locomotives: Duck and Oliver. Duck's character, in particular, frequently revealed his pride in his GWR ancestry. In further acknowledgement of their GWR heritage, both Duck and Oliver were portrayed in full GWR livery, unlike the fictitious colours worn by other locomotive characters. The two engines were even given their own branch line to run, with pairs of autocoaches, which was nick-named "The Little Western".

The GWR has featured in many television programmes, such as the BBC children's drama series "God's Wonderful Railway" in 1980.

Manic Street Preachers lead vocalist James Dean Bradfield's first solo album was named The Great Western, most likely being a reference to the trips he took to London from his home in South Wales.Fact|date=May 2008

The GWR was immortalised in Bob Godfrey's animated film "Great", which won the Academy Award for Best Animated Short Film of 1975. It tells the story of Brunel's engineering accomplishments. The film features poignant shots of disused and neglected GWR engines to the background of a specially written song entitled 'GWR':

GWR, we've never been that far, Brunel has had his first success. When he drew up the plans, the company said yes,that's how they opened up the west, it's too spectacular, it's GWR!


The GWR's memory is kept alive by several museums such as STEAM – the museum of the GWR (in the old Swindon railway works), and the Didcot Railway Centre where there is a section of operating broad gauge track. Preserved GWR branch lines include the Totnes to Buckfastleigh, Paignton to Kingswear, Bishops Lydeard to Minehead, and Kidderminster to Bridgnorth lines. Many other heritage railways and museums also have GWR locomotives or rolling stock in use or on display.

Many stations still operated by Network Rail also continue to display much of their GWR heritage. This is not seen at only the large stations such as Paddington (built 1851, extended 1915) [cite book| last = Brindle| first = Steven| title = Paddington Station: its history and architecture| publisher = English Heritage| year = 2004| location = Swindon| id = ISBN 1-87359-270-1] and Temple Meads (1840, 1875 & 1935) [cite book| last = Oakley| first = Mike| title = Bristol Railway Stations 1840-2005| publisher = The Dovecote Press| year = 2002| location = Wimbourne| id = ISBN 1-904349-09-9] but other places such as Bath Spa (1840), [cite book| last = Oakley| first = Mike| title = Somerset Railway Stations| publisher = Redcliffe Press| year = 2006| location = Bristol| id = ISBN 1-904537-54-5] Torquay (1878), [cite book| last = Potts| first = C R| title = The Newton Abbot to Kingswear Railway (1844 - 1988)| publisher = Oakwood Press| year = 1998| location = Oxford| id = ISBN 0-853613-87-7] Penzance (1879), [cite book| last = Bennett| first = Alan| title = The Great Western Railway in West Cornwall| publisher = Runpast Publishing| year = 1988| location = Cheltenham| doi = 1990| id = ISBN 1-870754-12-3,] Truro (1897), [cite book| last = Bennett| first = Alan| title = The Great Western Railway in Mid Cornwall| publisher = Kingfisher Railway Publications| year = 1988| location = Southampton| id = ISBN 0-946184-53-4] and Newton Abbot (1927). [cite book| last = Oakley| first = Mike| title = Devon Railway Stations| publisher = The Dovecote Press| year = 2007| location = Wimbourne| id = ISBN 1-904349-55-6] Many small stations are little changed from when they were opened as there has been no need to rebuild them to cope with heavier traffic; good examples can be found at Yatton (1841), Mortimer (1848), Bradford-on-Avon (1857), [cite web| title =The BGS Millennium Project| publisher =Broad Gauge Society| year =2004| url =| accessdate = 2008-08-18] and St Germans (1859). [cite book| last = Bennett| first = Alan| title = The Great Western Railway in East Cornwall| publisher = Runpast Publishing| year = 1990| location = Cheltenham| id = ISBN 1-870754-11-5] Even where stations have been rebuilt, many fittings such as signs, manhole covers and seats can be found with 'GWR' cast into them.

UNESCO are considering a proposal to list the Great Western Main line as a World Heritage Site. The proposal comprises seven individual sites.cite web | title = The Great Western Railway: Paddington-Bristol (selected parts) | publisher = United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organisation | year = 1999 | url = | accessdate = 2008-05-22] These are Bristol Temple Meads railway station (including Brunel's Company Offices, Boardroom, train shed, and the Bristol and Exeter Railway Offices along with the route over the River Avon); Bath Spa railway station along with the line from Twerton Tunnel to the Sydney Gardens, Middlehill and Box Tunnels; the Swindon area including Swindon railway works and village; Maidenhead Railway Bridge; Wharncliffe Viaduct; and Paddington railway station.

Notable people

Joseph Armstrong – he was appointed Locomotive Superintendent to the Shrewsbury and Chester Railway and the Shrewsbury and Birmingham Railways at Wolverhampton in 1853.cite book| title = The Locomotives of the Great Western Railway, Part 3: Absorbed Engines 1854-1921| publisher = The Railway Correspondence and Travel Society| year=1956] When they amalgamated with the GWR the following year he was given the title of Northern Division Locomotive Superintendent (1854-1864), he then moved to Swindon as the chief Locomotive Superintendent (1864-1877).

Isambard Kingdom Brunel – Chief Engineer to the GWR (1835-1859) and many of the broad gauge lines that it amalgamated with, also the standard gauge Taff Vale Railway. He was responsible for chosing the route of the railway and designing many of today's iconic structures including Box Tunnel, Maidenhead Railway Bridge, and Paddington and Temple Meads stations. cite book| last = Brindle| first = Steven| title = Brunel: the man who built the world| publisher = Weidenfeld & Nicholson| year = 2006| location = London| id = ISBN 0-29784-408-3]

George Jackson Churchward – Locomotive Superintendent (1902-1915) and Chief Mechanical Engineer (1915-1921).

Charles Collett – Chief Mechanical Engineer (1922-1941).

William Dean – Locomotive Superintendent (1877-1902).

Daniel Gooch – the GWR's first Locomotive Superintendent (1837-1864) and its Chairman (1865-1889), he was responsible for the railway's early locomotive successes, such as the Iron Duke Class, and for establishing Swindon railway works.

James Grierson – Goods Manager (1857-1863), he then became the General Manager (1863-1887) from which position he saw the railway through a period of expansion and the early gauge conversions.cite journal| title = The Chairmen and Principal Officers of the Great Western Railway Company 1833-1935| journal = Great Western Railway Magazine| volume = 47| issue = 9| pages = 462| publisher = Great Western Railway| year = 1935]

Frederick Hawksworth – Chief Mechanical Engineer (1941-1947).cite book| last = Allen| first = Cecil J| title = British Railway Locomotives| publisher = Ian Allan| year = 1948]

Henry Lambert – the General Manager (1887-1887) responsible for managing the final gauge conversion in 1892.

James Milne – General Manager (1929-1947) who saw the GWR through World War II.

Felix Pole – as General Manager (1921-1929) he oversaw the Grouping of the South Wales railways into the GWR following the Railways Act 1921, and promoted the use of 20 ton wagons to bring efficiencies to the railway's coal trade.

CE Spagnoletti – the GWR's Telegraph Superintendent (1855-1892) patented the Disc Block Telegraph Instrument which was used to safely control the dispatch of trains. First used on the Metropolitan Railway in 1863 and the Bristol and South Wales Union Railway in 1864, it was later used on many other lines operated by the company.

ee also

* List of broad gauge (7 feet) railway locomotive names
* List of Chief Mechanical Engineers of the Great Western Railway
* List of constituents of the Great Western Railway


Further reading

* Bryan, T. (2004) "All in a Day's Work: Life on the GWR", Ian Allan, ISBN 0-7110-2964-4
* Great Western Railway (1904) "Rules and Regulations - For the Guidance of the Officers and Men", Reprinted 1993, Ian Allan, ISBN 0-7110-2259-3
* Nock, O.S. (1962) "The Great Western Railway in the nineteenth century", Ian Allan
* Nock, O.S. (1964) "The Great Western Railway in the twentieth century", Ian Allan
* Nock, O.S. (1967) "History of the Great Western Railway. Volume Three: 1923-1947", Reprinted 1982, Ian Allan, ISBN 0-7110-0304-1
* Tourret, R. (2003) "GWR Engineering Work, 1928-1938", [ Tourret Publishing] , ISBN 0-905878-08-6
* Vaughan, Adrian (1990), "Signalman's Reflections", Silver Link Publishing, ISBN 0-947971-54-8

External links

* [ Broad Gauge Society]
* [ English Heritage ViewFinder – Photo Essay: "GWR – The finest work in the kingdom"]
* [ Great Western Society]
* [ Great Western Study Group]
* [ GWR Modelling]
* [ Steam – Museum of the Great Western Railway]

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