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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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Some Broad Gauge Snapshots

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.


Festival of Britain Western Region Trains

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.


Holidays by Train – Part 4

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.

Tickets for our Autumn Steam Days can be found at:


Party Outings by Rail

The Great Western Railway Company and its nationalised successor BRWR were constantly seeking more passengers using more train journeys, and beyond the massive annual number of excursion train offers published in thousands of printed handbills, more focused groups of customers were also pursued.

Our blog today takes examples from our Great Western Trust collection of those publication booklets, issued free, specifically explaining the breadth and variety of ‘Party Outings’ that upon application, could be uniquely arranged.

Our first example illustrated is the cover of the GWR's booklet of 1937. No less than 44 pages are devoted to quite amazing detail of the groups they could accommodate, the variety of trips on offer with specimen itineraries, outline fares and overall costs, and just in case of concern, even closing rather worryingly with the various insurance premiums on offer for fatal and partial or temporary disablement!

This edition of course coincided with the Coronation of King George VI (following the abdication of his elder brother Edward VIII) and the GWR were keen to even connect that occasion as a reason for celebration with ‘Party Outings’!! The variety of destinations and specific locations may surprise us today. The GWR naturally included widely diverse places on its system but even stretched out to include Liverpool (yes, through reaching Birkenhead and then via the LMS (though not mentioned!)). Blackpool and New Brighton were also, clearly of no difficulty. Industrial locations were offered such as Swindon Works (of course), Ford's at Dagenham, Fry's at Somerdale, Morris Motors at Oxford, Cadbury's at Bournville and Lever Brothers at Port Sunlight. Navy Week at Plymouth and Portsmouth and the Tattoo at Aldershot or Tidworth are also embraced.

Phew…what choice indeed.

The Trust Collection has GWR versions of these booklets for every year between 1936 and 1939.

To prove their continued popularity, our Collection has various BR versions between 1949 and 1963 although as yet we do not know whether 1963 was the last actual year they were offered. That said, we have chosen to illustrate the 1958 edition, given its striking, some may judge, zany cover design!! This edition is more localised in its target audience being only specific to outings from London & its suburbs. That said, the highlight event of that year was the British Empire and Commonwealth Games held at Cardiff, being opened by Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II, and much is made of going there!

Whilst the cover might be bolder than the GWR version, its contents, being the same size and 44 pages in content, shows that the established GWR product was pretty much still on offer. However being BR the railway works visit locations covered no less than 16! No mention this time of travel insurance, but instead, packed meals for 2 shillings and 6 pence or 3 shillings and 6 pence (difference being Ham instead of Cheese sandwiches and a packet of biscuits!) Alternatively you could indulge in Tray Meals and ‘Compakt’ (yes that's its spelling) Meals at 7 shilling and 6 pence. These latter creations were apparently ‘de luxe’ packed meals for small parties, in an anodised aluminium container to be carried like an attache case!! Space for half a bottle of wine or beer or mineral water really set the tone!

Sadly, or maybe not so sadly, our Great Western Trust collection does not have one of these creations. Perhaps readers of this blog might recall them? We would love to hear quite how ‘de luxe’ they were, given the well recorded damning reputation of the infamous ‘BR Sandwich’!


Avoiding the West Country Traffic

With our 2021 August Bank Holiday weekend marking the final rush to the West Country for that holiday before the return to schools and Autumn arrives, we look back to a now long lost railway service for car using tourists with another item from the Great Western Trust Collection.

The very informative leaflet illustrated, produced in 1961, which opens to a double sided 11 x 17 ½ inches from a neatly folded 3 ¾ x 8 ¾ inches format, enclosed an application form to be completed and sent to no lesser person than the BRWR Divisional Passenger Commercial Officer, Paddington Station, London W2. The applicant had to be over 21 years of age of course, and if the sought trains had the required vacancy, the full charge had to be paid no less than 28 days in advance of the outbound journey.

Naturally the applicant had to detail all the persons travelling, the facilities required including meals and insurance, and full specification including dimensions of their car. One interesting condition would not be welcome today, in which the car when offered for loading could not have more than two gallons of petrol in its tank, nor could extra petrol be carried separately on the train in a container!

The service itself covered that from London, Paddington to Newton Abbot or St Austell and the leaflet illustrated included very helpful diagrams of the three station loading/unloading locations, and that for Paddington, was actually adjacent to Westbourne Park Station.

It appears that whilst really designed for return travel, single journeys were catered for. Broad fares ranged from £14 10 shillings First Class, Driver and Car, London to St Austell, to a single journey at Second Class at £7 2 shillings. Journey times varied depending upon an overnight sleeper train or daytime, and ranged from Sundays when Paddington depart 11:50pm arrive St Austell 09:15am to a daytime service Sundays again, 8:25am depart, arrive 3:0pm (latter during 17th June to 26th August only).

Of course, in 1961 the regular press articles in the high summer period always included miles upon miles of traffic jams on the Exeter bypass, long before the M4 and M5 made their impact! And we can hardly avoid admitting that the west bound holiday train services were also rather full and delayed!

To add to the theme, we also illustrate 3 superb BRWR Posters, from 1957, 58 and 59 all advertising the benefits of this service. Keen eyed will see that even in 1959, the cheeky poster designer added the ‘GWR’ registration plate to the car!!!


In lamenting the demise of this railway service, in the form of the ‘Night Riviera’ in September 2005, it is noticeable that it was designed purely based on the London centric car owner, and it would be interesting to have the data on the dominant London and suburb addresses of its users.


Children's Education through Railway Publications – Part 2

In our November 2020 blog we illustrated contemporary examples of publications for children which included official Great Western Railway associated information and that the Great Western Trust Collection had much more to offer on this rather under studied subject. This blog is the second in a periodic series on that theme, based on our Archive examples.

Today we illustrate a hard bound book. with decorative paper dust cover, captivatingly entitled ‘The Fascination of Our Railways’ published around 1927 (surmised from the text only!) by John Bale, Sons & Danielsson Ltd, and written by the mysteriously covert ‘Mercury’ who is admitted in the text to be a railwayman.

The Front and Rear cover images illustrated are a passingly acceptable artist's impression of a GWR 4-6-0 loco on a GWR express train although experts might question the outside steam pipe being some way from its associated outside cylinder!

We hope however that our readers will take a moment to read the rear cover text which so strikingly captures the spirit of that era for so many youths (sorry ladies but we are recording the factual manner of those times).

Whilst we have added two other illustrations from dedicated chapters in the book, namely ‘How the Locomotive Works’ and ‘How Locomotives are Tested’ naturally we bias towards GWR official contributions in both of them! The first is a Castle Class loco cab boiler backhead with index and the second has a spotless Churchward era 2-6-0 on the Swindon Works ‘Home Trainer’ test bed.


We must however admit that all Big 4 Company's products are also addressed within and indeed Underground Railways too, but the pleasing fact is that beyond the GWR based Dust Cover image, the page preceding the Title Page has a sketch of the head-on view of a GWR Loco with the smokebox door surrounding these wonderful words:-

“To Smith minor & his honourable brotherhood of critical railway students ‘The Fascination of Our Railways’ is affectionately and respectfully dedicated”

We might simply reflect that the title and the detailed content of the book, now approaching 100 years old, perfectly captures the abiding interest triggered for ‘boys of all ages’ upon their first encounter with steam railway engines. Once captured, never released!


Holidays by Train – Part 2

We promised in our July Blog to use the host of Holiday themed material in our Great Western Trust Collection to continue our journey on Holiday Trains during our own current summer season.

The two items illustrated are some 20 years apart, the first is a very simple pamphlet produced by the GWR in 1939 to advertise that year's edition of their extremely popular ‘Holiday Haunts’ publication, available for 6 old pence. The sepia image of two adults having a splashing time in the seaside surf can hardly have been bettered. Yet again this one example demonstrates the very professional art of publicity, to quickly and effectively capture the attention of the target audience!

While early 1939 of course was hardly a time without very worrying threats of a looming World War, it is perhaps just as well that folk were able to have a rewarding seaside holiday, though UK railways and the GWR Holiday Line specifically, before much darker clouds arrived that autumn.

Our second illustration, 20 years later, is chosen to reflect that the railways didn't just cater for the holiday arrangements of individual families and here indeed maybe readers will be interested to find an established ‘Miners' Holiday’ arrangement. If any community needed such fresh air and change of environment, it is hard to imagine a more deserving case. Perhaps stimulated by the very long established weekend Sunday excursions down the Welsh Valley lines to South Wales' seaside locations, Barry Island, Penarth, Porthcawl etc, meant that an annual week long seaside holiday was just the ticket?

Anyway, this Handbill, has two sides, one for the South Coast resorts and the reverse side for the BRWR region resorts of Torquay and Paignton. What is noteworthy are the departure times, which could hardly mean for any family with children, a very quiet evening the day before!

We do not know when these special services began or ended, but we can imagine the impact on those resorts of the arrival of a train fully occupied by excited families with their distinctive welsh accents!

Of course, today the Welsh valley mines themselves, their vast communities and much of the railway infrastructure are no more, though at great expense, the mining valleys have been returned to nature in significant degree, the only tell tale of that vast industry being the rows of terraced housing on those hillsides.


Olympic Games 1948

We are unashamedly using the opportunity of the interest in the current Olympic Games in Tokyo, and of course our British competitors giving us all a welcome uplift and shared pride in their attending let alone their significant medal and individual performances, to cast us back to the immediate post war games in 1948.

A relatively recent TV programme on these Games and the political and practical background issues in holding them in a country devastated by post war economic and social issues, gave many surprising insights, not least how to even feed the competitors!

That apart, the handbill illustrated (from the Great Western Trust Collection) proves that the then very recently Nationalised Western Region, was nevertheless going to do its bit to get crowds to events staged on its patch. Henley, already famed world-wide for its annual rowing regatta, to which the GWR of old and BRWR subsequently devoted a massive train service commitment (a subject for another future blog) staged the Olympic Rowing & Canoeing Events in early August 1948.

The Handbill invites a very wide area of potential passengers, from within a 60 miles radius of Henley including Halts no less! It is worth observing however that the said ‘offer’ was for ‘Cheap Day Tickets’ at Third Class only. This very starkly contrasts with the halcyon days of the Henley Regatta events in which the Trust Collection has an Urgent Train message sent from the Station Master to the effect that that service required a dedicated set of FIRST Class coaches assembled without delay!

It is fair to conclude that post WW2, the times were a changing, and just possibly, holding the first post war Olympic Games in Britain was both a much needed boost to the population’s spirits, and significantly a shift in social class attitudes, so that ALL should share in sport events rather than give preference to the moneyed few?

Pannier Tank No 5766, still in GWR livery, leaving Henley-on-Thames for Twyford in 1951

For those seeking fine detail, please note that the then BRWR Chief Regional Officer (General Manager as a title was at that moment a no-no under nationalisation!) was one K W C Grand. He had a vast GWR experience having joined them in 1919, not only representing the company in the USA and Canada, but on his return he headed the Publicity Department before finally becoming the last GWR Assistant General Manager under Sir James Milne.


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