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Tuesday Treasures

BLOG - Discover fascinating hidden gems from our Museum and Archive

We are very fortunate indeed here at Didcot Railway Centre with our vast collection of historic locomotives, artefacts and memorabilia that forms our world-famous museum telling the story of the Great Western Railway and its employees. For our volunteers and staff there are objects of great interest everywhere around the centre, each item unique to keeping the greatest railway company on the rails.

Our Tuesday Treasures blog is designed to share this vast and historically important collection so enjoy our deep dive into the rich history in our Museum and Archives.


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Inauguration Ceremony . . . for the new computer!

Each week, Tuesday Treasures features artefacts in the care of the Great Western Trust – sometimes showcasing items that you can see on display in the Museum at Didcot, but often widening access by highlighting objects in the Collection but which space constraints or conservation considerations mean we cannot have on show.

The Trust’s collection of Great Western Railway Staff Magazines is firmly in the latter category, we are fortunate to hold bound editions of the GWR’s first dabblings with an in-house magazine that was produced from 1862 – 1864  (perhaps they could feature as a future “Treasure”?), as well as a complete set of the much-loved staff journal that was published every month from 1888 until December 1947.

After Nationlisation in 1948, British Railways Western Region continued to produce the magazine until May 1963 when it was replaced by a staff newspaper. Again the Trust is fortunate to hold a complete set from this era when technological innovations and modernisation saw great changes across the network with many improvements trumpeted in the magazine’s columns and it is one such example that is this week’s Tuesday Treasure. . .

From the BR(WR) Staff Magazine for November 1957 came the announcement of the first electronic computer on BR, the first of its type in the world. The computer revolutionised paybill compilation at Swindon Works and enabled a clerical staff reduction from 100 to 60, saving £10,000 per year (approx £240,000 at current values).

Today, it seems incredible that the installation of a computer would warrant a four-page feature in a publication for all employees; more extraordinary is that the article covers an “inauguration ceremony” that was filmed by Pathé News – the equivalent of “going viral” nowadays! It’s also not clear whether the Regional Accounts Staff pictured applauding at the switch on were aware that the computer could threaten the jobs of 45% of their number.

As can be seen, the machine was about the size of a garage and certainly had significant power consumption, but that was cutting edge technology of the 1950s.

Costing £20,000, the machine was leased from the manufacturers, Powers-Samas. Working on a punched-card system it had the ability to carry out thousands of calculations per hour. Each of the 10,000 wages grade employees received various hourly and overtime rates together with piecework payments which had to be divided among members of the gang in direct proportion to the hours worked. The whole computation, from ‘hours worked’ to ‘net pay’ took only two seconds per employee.

Powers-Samas was a British company that specialised in punched-card accounting machines. After a series of mergers, they became part of International Computers Ltd (ICL) in 1968. (Thanks to Grace’s Guide for this information).



All aboard for the "Radio Cruise"

This week, we feature a number of handbills promoting ‘The Cambrian Radio Cruise’ which was a British Railways initiative of the late 1950s and which continued to run around around North Wales into the 1960s.

Billed as ‘The Finest and Most Unique Rail Tour in Britain’ the tour ran Mondays to Fridays from June to September. It was a dedicated train with “an individual armchair for each passenger, facilities for light meals and refreshments a descriptive commentary over a loudspeaker system of the passing scne” – hence the unusual “radio” tag in the train’s title.

Leaving Llandudno at 9.45am it travelled east to Rhyl and then south to Corwen (now the western terminus of the Llangollen Railway). From there the route was via Dolgelley and Barmouth Junction to Aberdovey where time was allowed to explore the town.

The return journey was made through Portmadoc and Caernarvon arriving back at Llandudno at 7.05pm. The fare was 20/- (£1) around £24 at current values, good value for more than 150 miles of scenic travel. Four counties were traversed, Caernarvon, Flint, Denbigh and Merioneth, all of which disappeared under the local government reorganisation in 1974.

Sadly much of the route was closed in the 1960s although the North Wales coastal route and the line from Barmouth Junction to Pwllheli remain open and are well worth travelling over.



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