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.
Railway enthusiasts, historians and in fact the general public, have largely taken for granted the beneficial impact of the invention and affordability of photography. Certainly the Great Western Trust Collection would be much the poorer without our extensive image library, and on so many occasions, the captured subject matter can be much more informative than when taken at first glance.
The railway companies themselves, very quickly appreciated the direct benefit of having their very own photographic establishments, which for the GWR and well into the BRWR era, was the preserve of their Chief Civil Engineer's Department at Paddington and the Chief Mechanical Engineer at Swindon.
In the early era, one has to admire the official photographer, sent hither and thither over the entire GWR system, to record specific matters, no matter what the weather or prevailing on site conditions. Add to that the immense weight and financial value of the tripod, plate image camera (12 x 10 inches!) and its necessary supporting materials, not least the heavy box for glass plates, used and ready for use. All up weight around 80 pounds. Then, his image was viewed upside down, and only when developed back in the proper facility was there any proof of success or failure!
That official person, would have travelled ‘free OCS’ ie ‘On Company Service’ and the Trustees have yet to discover whether any such official pass has been preserved. Yes, private individuals when approved by the authorities, are known to have been given such passes, but who were those Official Photographers we are in great debt to?
The image we illustrate ticks all of the boxes. Whilst unrecorded as an officially taken one, its postcard size, hints at it being an unofficial one, taken by a member of the GWR Civil Engineering Department to record a significant moment of achievement, of teamwork and one important instant in time.
It shows three GWR 2-6-2 tank engines, duly requested from the Chief Mechanical & Electrical Engineer’s Dept by the GWR Civil Engineer, to provide a static load deflection test on a major bridge reconstruction, almost certainly replacing an original brick arch with steel girders. This expensive investment would have only been sanctioned by the relevant finance committees if the expected traffic usage of the structure justified it. Perhaps those relatively new and more powerful tank engines were the very reason? Not to be outdone, those engines are in sparkling condition, after early morning treatment by their crew and shed cleaners no doubt!
The image is full of detail, not least the long vertical wooden gauge rising from the track to the steel over-girder, to prove the designed degree of deflection. All the men involved stand proudly for that moment of course, rather in the way their Victorian Era forebears always gathered when a photograph was to be taken, sadly on many occasions at a railway crash!
We are confidently informed that whilst the date is only estimated as circa 1910ish, the location is Felin Fran near Swansea. For those wishing more detail, the GWR London Lecture & Debating Society held a lecture on November 5th 1908 entitled ‘The Experiences of a Railway Photographer’ given by Harold Cooper.
In 1926 the very forward looking and publicity focused GWR General Manager, Sir Felix Pole, placed his name on the illustrated small pamphlet entitled ‘The Joy of the Journey’ which is one example of many such publicity items we hold in the Great Western Trust Collection.
Naturally, it has ‘social strata’ connotations, when studying the artist's image on the title page. Here we have a well to do, but very contemporary couple, the lady with her cloche hat, about to board the GWR's premier train ‘The Cornish Riviera Express’ no doubt at Paddington, with the Train Guard happily assisting them whilst holding in readiness his green flag, to give the ‘Right Away’ signal to the Engine Driver, its green helpfully matching the lady's dress colour!
This fold out pamphlet, then explains how each aspect of arranging and then travelling by GWR, can be effectively made a ‘joy’ by the GWR removing all those so tiring and vexing details! We illustrate a few sections of its contents and the phrasing used is not only of an age gone by, but underlines the particular social strata it is designed for.
A delightful item even if to our age and expectations it hints at a snobbishness that the general workaday public of that time, may also have found equally grating.
Of note is that having extolled its train arrangements in the bulk of its text, the final page just happens to list all the GWR's own publications, all on sale at most reasonable prices! The Great Western Trust archive holds all those publications, many of which were so genuinely popular, that they were reproduced in many issues up to the GWR's demise in 1947.
Future Blogs will return to these wonderful pamphlets and brochures and the artists who the GWR commissioned to creatively evoke the very special attributes of its self-styled banner ‘The Holiday Line’.
Today's Blog allows us to illustrate the official photographs taken when GWR Railcars were being constructed in 1937 and 1939. At Didcot Railway Centre, the Great Western Society proudly operates No.22 of the later batch of railcars having conserved and comprehensively restored it to running condition over many dedicated years. Riding within it is a memorable experience for its soft burbling twin engines and its gently sprung riding characteristics! No.22 was running over the weekend of 25 and 26 September and enjoyed by many of our visitors.
The Great Western Trust Collection contains many official photographs and working handbooks for these vehicles, and these offer us an insight into both their construction, their operational importance and surprisingly on wartime sensitivities.
The chassis of No 18 on test on the Brentford branch line close to the AEC works at Southall. Note the locomotive-style numerals '18' on the buffer beam, but the number was carried on the bodywork when the vehicle was completed in April 1937
The first two photographs are from a series, taken officially by AEC Ltd, their designers and chassis constructors and both strikingly expose the long, double ended chassis from overhead frontal, and alongside side elevations. It is believed that though undated. they were of a series taken before trials were made of their running on standard track. Sadly we have yet to find photos of the temporary seating and any safety protection offered to the test drivers! And we hope they always had fine weather!
This photograph of the chassis of No 18 was taken on the Brentford branch line close to the AEC works. In the top right corner of the photo is the footbridge which carried a footpath over the private siding entrance to the AEC works.
The third photo is a posed one of course, of GWR Carriage & Wagon staff at Swindon where the superstructure of this batch, Nos 19 to 38, was constructed upon the chassis built at Swindon. This image was taken by a photographic agency, none other than Fox Photos of Tudor Street London, and dated 27th October 1939 possibly for use in newspapers with GWR sanction? The intended caption included the fact that these streamlined railcars were being built to supplement present war time train services, in some cases as express twin units. The posed individuals have rather tell-tale shining polished shoes maybe, but that apart, what makes this image so interesting, is that it has stamped on the back ‘Passed by Censor’. So here is an example that very early in the War, any industrial or transport related material, was fully checked under a stringent censorship regime; even such a seemingly modest streamlined railcar might be useful to Hitler?
The bodywork of one of the later design of railcar, Nos 19-38, under construction at Swindon Works.
Do come to Didcot and even if it's not running that day, No.22 normally lives in the non-public part of the carriage shed however the front end is visible so you are still able to admire W22, our wonderfully restored GWR railcar that thankfully, did its service duty, survived the war and has been saved for posterity by the Great Western Society.
Railcar No.22 running on the branch line at Didcot Railway Centre and arriving at Burlescombe platform in the Transfer Shed, watched by visitors to Didcot Railway Centre. Both taken on 26 September 2021
This Blog illustrates three images of West Country locations, all GWR in focus but two at least were captioned with other aspects in mind! All three are from the Great Western Trust Collection, but at present, are a mystery as they were all neatly and deliberately extracted from an unrecorded publication, by an unrecorded individual who had pasted them into a ‘Scrap Book’ from which we now only have them as further ‘cut out extracts’.
Scrap Books were a very popular creation from Victorian times right up to the 1970s at east, though today the Smart Phone and IT has rather taken their place, with one click ease, vast amounts of “interesting” material can now be captured, both in still and video imagery that rather makes the original scrap books very tame and limited by comparison.
However, we must still be grateful for the personal efforts, however modest, of long lost and rather sadly unrecorded individuals, for their efforts that we now hold in our Collection.
Lest we Railway Enthusiasts wrongly presume that contemporary Broad Gauge era photographers, who were either employed by magazine publishers or were freelancers who sold images to them, were themselves keen on our special interest subject, the captions to our first two images prove otherwise!
The first are strikingly captioned ‘Teignmouth – The Lawn Tennis Ground’. Well those with keen eyes can certainly identify a tennis ground with players in period dress, but only by looking beyond the beautifully manicured, double Broad Gauge track in the foreground! This very location was many years later used by the GWR’s own official photographer for the posed King & CRE Carriage Stock heading further into Devon!
The second image is captioned ‘Marine Parade Dawlish’, a location all too familiar to our generation after the severe inundation of the sea more recently. Again the manicured track, here single of course at that time, is perhaps all the more surprising for the very simplicity of the trackside fencing!
Our final image, has no caption, and in its day, hardly needed one given the stunning prospect of Brunel’s masterpiece, the Royal Albert Bridge at Saltash. Here the bonus is the detail revealed at the Saltash Station, with its original station name-board (more correctly termed ‘Running In Board’), notices, very modest bench seating and those broad gauge waggons (as spelt then) in the foreground sidings and the Broad Gauge ‘loading gauge’ peeking above them. That one waggon clearly carries coal is hardly surprising as that mineral traffic alone, became a critically societal changing service offered at far reduced costs by the new railway. Keen eyed students may also have noticed that the Station Starter signal is a semaphore, but on the bridge itself is Brunel's disc and crossbar version.
We will periodically return to Brunel's era in future Blogs. After all, without his personal stamp upon the route, infrastructure and the products of his design genius that we gratefully admire and inherit today, the GWR and even the Great Western Trust would not be what they are today.
2021 has yet another anniversary to remark upon, as some 70 years ago in 1951, a post war series of exhibitions were created under this striking title, and held in London, Glasgow & Belfast. In London, the nationalised railways provided their newest locomotive and rolling stock, including a Britannia Class loco and the Southern Region's express diesel locomotive.
To their credit, BR then introduced across all its Regions, special ‘named trains’ and on the Western Region these were ‘The Merchant Venturer’ and ‘The William Shakespeare’ respectively.
We illustrate from the Great Western Trust Collection, the front and rear cover designs of the simple fold out brochures published for both trains. Their covers used the Wolstenholme artistic sketches of 70000 Britannia no less, even though despite the well known Cuneo Poster of a blue King and Britannia leaving Paddington Station, 70000 was never actually allocated to the WR though a batch carrying GWR Broad Gauge era named locomotives were later allocations. To maintain a corporate image of this publicity, even the WR named Festival year trains had to reflect the new era of BR locomotive design!
The brochures fold open to reveal simple but effective route diagrams and key facts about each major station passed or served by the trains and the distances of each. The Merchant Venturer ran between London (Paddington) and Bristol, whilst the William Shakespeare to and from Stratford on Avon.
Whilst the Merchant Venturer was a success and ran for many years thereafter, sadly the William Shakespeare proved less so and was quickly withdrawn.
When going away, it's the adults in the family who have more than just seaside moments to consider, as they have to plan all the practicalities of the entire event, even beyond the train tickets, seat reservations and the holiday accommodation. Yes, that rather boring subject of ‘Luggage’ which modern day travellers share especially those who are flying, with its stringent number, weight and content restrictions these days.
Naturally, the GWR had to address these issues too, if they were to provide the complete travel service their expectant passengers demanded. All the more so for those enticed by the GWR Holiday Line publicity!
The Great Western Trust Collection has examples of the GWR’s initiatives in this regard, and what better than to illustrate this very cleverly designed booklet?
Here in colour we have a trilby hatted father, almost hidden by the pile of large suitcases and other bags before him, but most important are his golf clubs and the simple title ‘Holidays’. The clever design reveals itself when the front image is pulled back, to illustrate both the ‘family itself’ and those teasing comments ‘Why be Worried with Luggage? Send it in advance by GWR at 2’- per package – without Worry’.
The back section gives full details of that offer and how to obtain it.
But oh, let's look again in the detail social history revealed before us.
The almost established iconic poster image in the 1930s of any adult, family man, was of a smiling, trilby hatted, pipe smoking individual. This one goes even further, with spats leggings and just look at his assumed lady wife and child behind…always behind of course as the male was the ‘Head of the Family’ literally and metaphorically in those days. He was the one to pay for the holiday, so the GWR had to convince him to spend it with them! His lady wife is hardly cheaply attired, nor their child, indeed mother is very alluringly dressed for a train journey of some duration! These were clearly First Class passengers for whom a 2’- ie two shillings (20 shillings in a pound) per package was of no great significance. Oh, of course that price was for collection, conveyance and delivery! Any subset of these, such as collection from the destination station, was only charged at 1’- per package.
So, the rather mundane but crucial subject of luggage, gives us not only a very cleverly designed piece of GWR salesmanship, but a further example of the social hierarchy of that inter war period of the 1930s.