Isambard Kingdom Brunel designed his Great Western Railway to be the finest in the world. Its route through Didcot from Bristol to London was completed in 1841 and until 1892 its trains ran on Brunel's broad gauge tracks. The Great Western retained its independence until nationalisation in 1948 and is still regarded with affection by those who knew it.
The Great Western Railway was one of the most recognisable of the old private operators with its express trains to the holiday resorts in the West of England of chocolate and cream carriages being pulled by the famous Brunswick green locomotives. By contrast there were the lengthy coal trains from the South Wales valleys.
With nationalisation came the start of a ruthless re-structuring with branch line closures, signalling rationalisation and diesel locomotives replacing steam locomotives.
The history of the Great Western Society can really be said to have begun with the publication of this list in the April 1961 edition of Railway Modeller magazine. It lists 71 locomotives to be preserved, but only 10 from the GWR group - no 14xx, no Manor, no Hall.
The list was the catalyst that prompted four schoolboys to launch a fund to preserve a 14xx locomotive when Angus Davis said to his friends that if a 14xx was not to be preserved officially, they must try to buy one themselves.
The four friends; Angus Davis, Graham Perry, Jon Barlow and Mike Peart, decided to write a letter to the Railway Magazine to publicise their 14xx fund.
As Jon Barlow was the only one with a typewriter he wrote the letter. They posted it in April 1961, but it was several months before it was published, in the August 1961 edition of Railway Magazine.
The cost of launching the Society was a three penny stamp (1.25p in decimal coinage). The initial tiny investment has resulted in an organisation that 50 years later is responsible for assets in excess of £12 million.
After the initial letter was published the society began to get established and an inaugural meeting was held at Southall Community Centre in May 1962. By this time it had changed its name to Great Western Preservation Society (shortened a year later to Great Western Society).
As pressure mounted for more steam locomotives to be purchased before they disappeared, the Society was offered the use of the engine shed at Didcot that had become redundant.
The Society moved in with three locomotives and a number of carriages in 1967. Since then its members have transformed the area into Didcot Railway Centre. The range of activities and facilities is substantial and you can find out more about the Centre from exploring our web pages or by visiting the Centre!
Since the Society's arrival at Didcot we have learnt that the cost of restoration and maintenance grows as the trains get older. Our income generating activities are crucial to helping us continue this work, but the future development depends on the efforts of our members.
If you would like to help us in our work why not consider becoming a member, or make a donation to the Centre. Your contribution would be very welcome and put to good use.