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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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The modern game of golf originated in Scotland in the 15th century. The earliest record is in 1457 when it was banned by King James II of Scotland because he regarded it as a distraction to learning archery. The ban lasted until 1502 when King James IV took up the game. Guinness World Records tells us that Musselburgh Links in East Lothian is the world’s oldest golf course dating from 1672 although St Andrews in Fife is still regarded as the home of the game. Indeed, in 1888 the St Andrews Golf Club in Yonkers, New York was established by Scotsman John Reid as the first Club in the USA.

The GWR were very conscious of the market that existed in conveying discerning golfers to the West of England where some of the best golf courses were located. Various brochures and booklets were published which gave details of Golf Clubs, contact information for the Club Secretaries and green fees. Golfing weekends at the Manor House Hotel near Moretonhampstead were heavily promoted, similarly at Lelant Golf Course near the Tregenna Castle Hotel at St. Ives. This was largely a First Class market so the GWR would have seen good business generated in both travel and hotels.

This all neatly brings us to the stunning poster shown here, recently acquired by the Trust. Dating from the mid 1930s this wonderful image is typical of its time. Designer Ralph Mott was not an artist but a pseudonym for Ralph & Mott, a London S.W.1 company who produced posters for many organisations during the interwar years. Their chief designer during the thirties was Reginald Lander, examples of whose work the Trust also holds.


Railway Card Games

The Great Western Railway produced children's books and a variety of toys and games including jigsaws and packs of cards. Our Great Western Trust Collection has a wonderful selection of these.

This Blog concentrates on the Card Game subject, but in the wider context of the GWR happily assisting independent games manufacturers with appropriate material. In doing so, this topic helps us demonstrate further the GWR in its contemporary context, alongside the ‘Big 4’ Railway Company's and the wider UK sphere of air, sea and land transport. We conclude with a card game produced in the 1960s by Ian Allan no less, to prove the continuing popularity of the subject.

The ‘Express’ Card Game was created under the ‘Pepys Series’ title used by the Castell Brothers Co of London and Glasgow, for their wide range of card based games which included ‘Progress’, ‘Belisha’, ‘Snow White’ and even ‘Jack of All Trades’.

Express Card Game, First Issue

The first ‘Express’ example illustrated was we believe, produced in 1947, right at the end of private railway company existence with Nationalisation pegged for 1948. Without delving into the full rules of the game itself, it's sufficient to say that the object to win, was to migrate ‘your chosen train’ through and past the relevant Company station. For the GWR and LMS, freight trains were adopted, whilst LNER & SR gloried in their passenger trains, the latter including a Pullman carriage! The other striking fact was that whilst relevant vehicles were indeed used, each train formation included a ‘Meccano’ tinplate vehicle too! The GWR freight train was headed by the magnificent Churchward 2-8-0 47XX loco hauling a diminutive freight train with the GWR ‘TOAD’ brake van at the rear. Given the 1947 issue date, it is strange that the LMS engine is a Royal Scot loco on a freight train most often the reserve of Stanier 2-8-0 locos, and the SR passenger train has a Lord Nelson loco and not a Bullied pacific. Perhaps this criticism is born of your ‘retired train spotter’ blogger! The game came in a red or a blue coloured pack, and the one shown, has a rather nice picture card on the back of a young girl excitedly waving away a train!

The modest book of ‘Rules’ includes printed gratitude to all the Big 4 Companies and Meccano for their assistance and use of images.

Express Card Game, Second Issue

The card game must have been sufficiently popular to justify a revised version in 1955 then reflecting Nationalisation of the railways. Hence our second illustration that for GWR enthusiasts anyway, repeats the ‘Freight’ centric image albeit with a nice 43XX 2-6-0. But now it has a BR designed brake van! Notice that the stations are both reduced in size to single cards, and none have any regional identity. Indeed, ‘Pepysville’ appears just to plug the manufacturers chosen logo! To be fair, the loco and carriage images are quite accurate and Meccano ones are absent, and modernisation comes in the form of LMR Diesel 10001.

Our next illustration is undated, but also by Castell in their ‘Pepys Series’ and is entitled ‘Speed’. It exists to demonstrate the contemporary era of Land, Air & Water speed interest, and the game compares Planes, Ships, Cars and bizarrely Race Horses alongside the major railway company trains. Hence we have the LNER Coronation, next to the SR Golden Arrow, the LMS Royal Scot and the GWR Cornish Riviera Expresses, with Campbell's Blue Bird etc! Although the image quality and colours used are hardly first rate, it is interesting to note that in the lengthy book of ‘Rules’ credit is given to none other than Maurice Earley for his image of the LNER ‘Coronation’ train! Don't panic that any cards are missing, as the set is complete, with Trains & Planes having more cards than the other subjects!

Speed Cards

Finally we come to the Ian Allan ‘Trains Card Game’ pack, again produced for him by the ‘Pepys Series’ even in about the 1960s! Here the game has evolved into a race to the North from Euston & Kings Cross, hence sadly excluding both the SR and WR contribution! The cards to avoid which introduce delays include ones of flood and fog. Maybe that regarding Fog, was the reason for excluding the WR, as our compatriot ‘Going Loco Bloggers’ last week championed the technical advances of the GWR long ago, to create their Automatic Train Control system which made them safely overcome any individual train delay caused by fog!!


So much more than a name(plate)

This week's Tuesday Treasure is the nameplate, bequeathed to the Great Western Trust in 2012 from Castle class No 4096 Highclere Castle. The donor was a long standing Great Western Society member who had died in his 90s. He lived on the Highclere estate and although he did not work there, both his father and grandfather were gamekeepers there. He had owned the plate since 1963 and had kept it in the condition in which it was received when the engine was withdrawn. The nameplate provides a link to those other treasures discovered in Tutankhamun's tomb, which was first opened by Howard Carter and Lord Carnarvon on 16 February 1923.

Highclere Castle, near Newbury, is the seat of the Earls of Carnarvon and it was the fifth earl, George Edward Stanhope Molyneux Herbert, who funded the excavation by Howard Carter in the Valley of the Kings, which was ultimately successful in discovering the tomb.

The fifth earl was a colourful character. He was born on 26 June 1866, succeeded to the earldom in 1890 on the death of his father, and married Almina Wombwell on 26 June 1895. She was rumoured to be the illegitimate daughter of the banker Alfred de Rothschild. On her marriage Rothschild provided a settlement of £500,000 (over £67 million at today's value) and paid off all the earl's existing debts. Thus the marriage satisfied both parties by making the earl a wealthy man, and giving Almina the title of countess, despite any rumours about her birth.

No 4096 "Highclere Castle" leaving Birmingham Snow Hill with an express for Paddington

The earl was also a motoring enthusiast and prone to speeding on the roads around Highclere. On 29 September 1900 The Times newspaper reported Lord Carnarvon's appearance before Kingsclere Petty Sessions, charged with: ‘having driven his motor car at a greater speed than 12 miles per hour, contrary to the provisions of the Locomotives on Highways Act 1896’.

The evidence has a comedy value of Toad of Toad Hall meets the Keystone Cops. Lord Carnarvon did not appear, but sent his solicitor, Mr Firth, to defend him. The Times reported:

‘Superintendent Harry Wakeford stated that on the afternoon of Sunday, September 16, he was on duty in plain clothes with his bicycle in the parish of East Woodhay, and saw Lord Carnarvon driving his motor-car from the direction of Highclere Castle towards Woolton-hill at a very fast rate of speed. He followed the car on his bicycle, and was himself riding at the rate of 12 miles an hour, but the further he travelled the further he got in the rear of the car. He and a constable named Dann, stationed at East Woodhay, had timed the progress of the car over a mile of roadway between a certain bridge and Woolton-hill rectory. They afterwards measured it, and found that the car was being driven at the rate of one mile in two-and-a half minutes, or 24 miles an hour. The progress of the car caused a very big cloud of dust, which rose as high as the neighbouring trees, and the wheels of the car repeatedly skidded.’

In Lord Carnarvon's defence The Times reported: ‘Mr Firth called a youth named Edward Trotman, who said he was a mechanician in Lord Carnarvon's employment. He described his lordship as a very careful driver of motor cars. He had never had any accident or injured any one. The witness had travelled with him in motor cars about 6,000 miles. He accompanied him on the afternoon in question, but did not see any vehicles in the district. In his opinion the speed at which the car was travelling was under 12 miles an hour, and it would be impossible to turn corners at a greater speed.’

The Bench was not convinced and imposed a fine of £10 (£1,257 at today's value) and costs.

No 4096 "Highclere Castle" dashing through Didcot double-headed with No 5002 Ludlow Castle on 11 April 1958. They are hauling the 1.18pm from Paddington to Weston-super-Mare, photo by Ben Brooksbank

Another of the earl's passions was horse racing, and he was able to become an owner of racehorses with the riches from his marriage settlement. In 1905 he was appointed one of the stewards of the Newbury Racecourse, just opened alongside the Great Western Railway with its own racecourse station.

In the early years of the 20th century, after a serious motor accident, the earl never fully recovered his health and was advised by his doctors to spend the winters away from England. While visiting Egypt during one of these seasons he became an enthusiastic amateur Egyptologist, and from 1907 he employed Howard Carter to undertake excavations.

In 1914 Lord Carnarvon received the concession to dig in the Valley of the Kings, again with Howard Carter leading the excavations. The work was interrupted by the first world war and resumed afterwards, but by 1922 little of significance had been found and the earl decided this would the last year he would fund the work.

Fortunately, Howard Carter discovered late that year ‘a magnificent tomb with seals intact’. Lord Carnarvon and his daughter, Lady Evelyn Herbert, went to Egypt, arriving at Luxor on 23 November to inspect the works. After returning to England in December, Lord Carnarvon was back in Egypt in January 1923 to be present at the official opening of the inner burial chamber on 16 February.

Lord Carnarvon had sold the exclusive newspaper rights to report the excavation to The Times. The treasures were described in great detail as they were brought out. Among the less salubrious finds was food, presumably buried with the king to provide sustenance on his final journey. The Great Western Railway Magazine reprinted in its March 1923 edition a paragraph from the Birmingham Mail:

‘Poultry 3,000 years old has been discovered in the tomb of Tutankhamun. We understand that tenders for the whole consignment have already been received from various railway refreshment room contractors.’

We can assume the GWR was still smarting from its experience with the proprietors of the Swindon station refreshment rooms, who had forced it to stop all passenger trains at the station for a ten-minute refreshment break to take food of doubtful sustenance over a period of more than 50 years, until it bought out the concession for £100,000 in 1896.

The surviving building of Highclere station is now a private house

At the time of his great triumph, tragedy struck for Lord Carnarvon. On 19 March 1923 he suffered a severe mosquito bite which became infected by a razor cut. This led to blood poisoning and he died in Cairo on 5 April. He started his final voyage on 14 April – the Great Western Railway Magazine, June 1923 edition, described his arrival in England:

The Late Earl of Carnarvon – After the ordinary passengers were landed from the P&O Steam Navigation Company’s SS Malwa at Plymouth on April 27th, a special tender was provided for the disembarkation of the body of the late Earl of Carnarvon, and a special train was run direct from Plymouth Docks through to Highclere. In accordance with instructions, the arrangements were carried out simply and without any ostentation, and it was satisfactory to learn that the present Earl of Carnarvon expressed his appreciation of the services rendered by the Company’s staff.’

Highclere station was on the southern section of the Didcot, Newbury and Southampton Railway. George Behrend in his book Gone With Regret, first published in 1964, explained why the station was so named:

‘The GWR or its associates named their stations without much regard for the names of the villages through which their lines passed. Highclere station was the nearest point on the estate to Highclere Castle, the seat of the Earls of Carnarvon, and the fact that it was in the middle of Burghclere village was neither here nor there.’

There was also a Burghclere railway station on the same line, further from the village than Highclere station but rather busier because it served the larger village of Kingsclere!

The Earl of Carnarvon was buried on 30 April 1923 on the top of Beacon Hill, which overlooks Highclere Castle. In his will, published in The Times on 18 May 1923, among the bequests was one of: ‘£100 to the Inspectors at Paddington Station, to be divided between them’. The bequest was worth about £6,194 at today’s value, no doubt a pleasant surprise for the Paddington inspectors.

In recent years Highclere Castle has achieved fame as the location for the hugely successful television series and film Downton Abbey.

Highclere Castle from Beacon Hill



Half a Century of Decimalised Money

A Nation like the UK with a long history has an inexhaustible source of anniversaries, some significant, others perhaps of narrow interest, and the one we cover today, of mixed emotions.

Our regular Blog viewers will have quickly detected from our tentative beginnings in March 2020, that the volunteers producing them, are shall we considerately say ‘of a particular age’? So it is that your author today is feeling very mixed emotions in pondering the reality of 50 years since his beloved £sd (that is Pounds, Shillings and Pence), were cast aside to bring in a modern decimal replacement.

Those who were not much more than probably 5 years old in 1971, have never known or legally used the currency as it had then existed for many centuries beforehand. So in that rather over used phrase ‘history was made’ in that transition and this anniversary commemoration is certainly deserved.

In practical terms, the migration was an enormous one for commercial organisations, Government and the UK population at large. With our railways being so vital for both goods and passenger traffics, the then nationalised British Railways, had a crucial part to play in making it run smoothly and in what frankly was a public re-education challenge.

Today we illustrate the British Rail (with snazzy double arrow motif still with us today), double royal size pictorial poster entitled ‘Main Line to Decimal Money’ which they issued to cover the transition or change-over period extending from August 1969 to 15th February 1971, and which has a number of features in its design we will consider. Along with others of the same theme, it appeared at every station, not least at their ticket Booking Office counters. Whatever prior notice had been issued however, we can only imagine the impact upon hard pressed ticket issuing staff resolving questions of confused passengers, when they were ever aware of the agitated queue behind their current enquirer! To date, we haven't found any first hand reminiscences of those poor souls, who must have often wondered when their trial would end, and a sense of normality return!

Our Poster is all the more interesting if we, as steam railway admirers, pass quickly over the painful imagery the graphic designer and those who commissioned the poster adopted! By this we reflect upon their use of a wholly simplistic (in fact unviable) ‘steam engine’ and its goods train to carry the ‘£sd’ currency onto to the dead end buffer stops, phrased ‘the End of the Line’ while a smart blue diesel engine with the replacement currency, travelled forward to embrace the new decimalised era commencing on 15th February 1971 under ‘All Signals Clear’! We must therefore acknowledge that they did at least use relevant ‘Railway terminology’ although quite whether the public appreciated the analogy or thought it rather naff, is another piece of contemporary information we haven't found yet.

Ok, wincing apart, the message was made human by the introduction of a character in the alliteratively named ‘Decimal Des’ standing in his smart BR Uniform. With this and other contemporary BR posters, he gave guidance on the dates of the changes, sequenced to ease the logistics of course, in part to avoid an abrupt change-over on one day of every coin of the realm, and to reduce the extent of stress on individuals, and to show the equivalence values between the old and new coinage.

The other noteworthy aspect of the whole project was that HMG made 15th February 1971, ‘D Day’ which for many of those who endured World War 2, might have triggered rather different emotions!

Those of us ‘of a particular age’ who remember, however mistily, the event itself, we cannot recall whether some poor individual BR staff had to adopt the Decimal Des persona for publicity purposes but without a doubt, station staff alone would have been trained and expected to be ready and very willing to engage with any passenger who clearly needed their assistance.

So, why you may ask, does the current author have mixed emotions? It can be argued that the subsequent 50 years of price inflationary reality, or its inverse, the effective devaluation of the pound, cannot be easily separated if the true benefit/dis-benefit is to be measured. However seductive at the time, the HMG sales pitch of decimalisation making coinage and its accounting simpler, the £sd structure had, rather like its Imperial units (ie pre metric) scale of physical measurements, long established mental markers of cost thresholds. The shilling formed of 12 ‘old pennies’, then 10 shillings, and finally 20 shillings (ie the old Pound) were subliminal levels, by which the price of a shop item could be sensed and decisions made. In addition, both the 10 shilling and one Pound level were then Bank Notes, which marked their respective high grade value compared to mere coins. Pretty quickly, seeing 50 new pence (and it being a mere coin) on an item, did not have anywhere near the same ‘warning alarm’ that this was a significant sum. Despite all the predictable promises by HMG and Shop Keepers that the change-over would not allow in ‘price inflation’ by the back door, evidence to the contrary is well established.

Such is ‘progress’ of course!


The Artwork of Railway Service Information

Today, our TVs, Smart Phones, and the Web flood us with what has been called an ‘information explosion’ whether we want it or not. Railway archives like those held by the Great Western Trust covering the 1830s – 1970s, allow us to study the era before our ‘now’. In that vast time span, we may think the then available media, mostly print until film and early TV arrived, rather dull and far from artistically creative. This Blog is the first of a future series in which we aim to put that notion to a test, and show that the railways were both innovators and key commissioners of publicity design evolution which they properly deserve credit for.

Perhaps it's surprising that our first example is one from the nationalised railway successor to the GWR, British Railways Western Region, where it was often remarked by the staff of the other BR Regional railways that nothing had actually changed, and Paddington staff could answer a phone call “Great Western Region speaking”. We have however chosen BRWR as our starter, because it has become entrenched opinion, that Nationalisation brought austerity of service and attitude resulting in a dearth of innovative products on all fronts, including publications. We believe that that thick tar brush assessment is unjustified!

We illustrate two items. First a simple booklet given free to the public, detailing, in no less than 16 tightly filled pages, an astonishing variety of Excursions on Sundays from Reading (General) ie the original GWR station at Reading. Yes, the colour is rather startling, but even that reflects a simple but effective ‘visual flag’ to both staff and the public, as every subsequent issue, had varied colours! As we are focussed here upon ‘design’, we won't explore the amazing excursions on offer, but with such variety and quantity, even in 1954 and subsequent years, there was clearly a public demand.

The second illustration, draws us to the core subject here. It is the graphic designer’s proposed template for such a publication, with scrawled longhand annotations probably used during their discussions on the design with the BRWR Publicity Department staff. Clearly it was pretty much adopted although eagle eyed readers will note that the iconic British Railways Totem at its base was preferred to it being bookended by ‘Western Region’!

Naturally, to keen steam enthusiasts, Artist's licence rather affected the otherwise classic lines of a King Class locomotive on an express train, and a locomotive that also seemed denuded of a nameplate or BR era smokebox number-plate!

Those keen eyes may also find the ‘RML’ initials discreetly above the hill in the background, our only indication of the graphic design artist or could that be company? The booklet itself was printed for BRWR by W A Smith Ltd of Leeds, who would have been one of many such printers then used, simply because this booklet was contemporary with thousands of single sheet handbills printed every year, themselves alongside many other publications such as timetables, posters etc,

This particular steam engine based design was we believe used over the early 1950s to early 1960s period, but our archive collection interestingly has contemporary BRWR ‘Sunday Excursion’ booklets with a different cover design based upon Tickets! Given the BRWR's emphatic drive to be the first to truly ‘modernise’ by ridding themselves of steam engines, predictably even the artwork design had to be changed. Previously, in our August 2020 Blog ‘Special Trips (Excursions)’ we illustrated a 1962 handbill with the header being an artist's impression of a D70XX Hymek Diesel Hydraulic on an Express Train. These diesels soon allowed iconic Castle Class locos to be withdrawn in droves and the handbill is shown again below.

In due course, evolving printing technology and vastly reduced costs, then moved us away from hand crafted artist's designs to printed photographs many of which we hold of these examples to ensure our collection can demonstrate the entire printed design evolution.



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