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.
A recent Blog focussed upon the GWR publicity item for the 1937 Easter Holiday, with its design delightfully based upon chickens! With our current glorious April sunshine combining with stunning countryside and the welcome sound of new Spring lambs, what better subject for our latest Blog than this four page BR Western Region handbill of December 1954? Yes, the railways had to be well ahead of family debates about where to go next year, so maybe over Christmas and New Year, this message made its mark?
The handbill contained details of trains and ‘specially reduced’ 3rd Class only fares from London (Paddington of course!) to numerous destinations in the West of England, on Saturdays only, from April 2nd to May 21st 1955.
Just as we have previously explained, the cover design had to ‘capture the attention’ of a rail commuter or regular traveller, probably by being placed in close proximity to the station Booking Office, Ticket Hatches, so even when in a queue for your ticket, your eyes would catch sight of it. The graphic design artist chose to adorn the lamb, already a spring season icon, with a rather stylish, striped bow tie, when such fashion items were still popular, but nowadays rarely seen. Unfortunately, unlike the majority of such handbills in the Great Western Trust collection, this example lacks any indication of the number that were printed, but it was surely at least many thousands.
Oh, and on its final page, to prompt thoughts and plans beyond Spring but into Summer, there is a reminder to purchase at one shilling, the BR Holiday Guide No4, covering the Western Region locations! You may recall that our other recent Blog illustrated the 1957 Holiday Guide for Wales and the North West.
Quite what folk in 1954/55 would have made of ‘staycation’ is best left to our imaginations.
One of the oldest items in the Trust's collection is a Great Western Railway timetable dating from August 1839 (GWT/RKB/2377). This was some two years before the original main line from Paddington to Bristol was opened throughout and services at the eastern end had just been extended to Twyford. On weekdays, between 8am and 8.30pm, fourteen trains per day ran each way from Paddington and West Drayton, Maidenhead or the newly opened Twyford Station. On Sundays, only eight trains were run, doubtless to the consternation of the clergy who saw the potential for their congregations to be distracted from the straight and narrow (by the straight and broad!) The interval between trains was never less than thirty minutes; this being considered a safe way of working before the introduction of more sophisticated signalling systems.
The fares from 1839 are particularly interesting. A 7 shilling (35p), 1st class single from Paddington to Twyford is the equivalent of £37 at current values and yet the cheapest first class fare on today's GWR is £27. Similarly the 2nd class open carriage fare of 5 shilling (25p) equates to £26 compared to the 2021 fare of £16. So some fares are cheaper in real terms than they were 180 years ago and services are faster, cleaner and more frequent than they were in those early Victorian years.
Also of interest are the rates for the conveyance of horses and private carriages which were conveyed from and to Paddington, Maidenhead and Twyford stations at rates between 6 shillings and 12 shillings for a carriage and up to 16 shillings for a pair of horses. This may well be the reason that passengers and horses all smelt similar in 1839.
Continuing our theme of holidays, upon which the Great Western Railway maximised its publicity as boldly being ‘The Nation's Holiday Line’, the Great Western Trust Collection has a bounty of items created for that market.
Today's blog however is a cover image of the nationalised British Railways Holiday Guide for 1957, dedicated to the Wales & North West region including the Isle of Man. These guides were the BR published successors to the individual Big Four Railway Company's similar annual guides, and this series ran from 1949 to 1962 when BR ceased publication ‘to universal regret’ and Dickens Press took it on in 1963 followed in 1964 by Littlebury & Co after which it ceased permanently.
Of course following railway nationalisation the various realignment of the ‘Regions’ ever more away from the ‘Big Four’ inheritance, created new zones, hence this edition illustrated covers the Welsh ex GWR area and a large element of the ex LMR area in North Wales, Lancashire & even the Lake District. In all BR created five regionally dedicated booklets each year, this one being No2 in that series.
At one old shilling (5 new pence today) after inflation it's equal to about £1.20p today. For that cost, you had 324 pages of location, train travel and holiday accommodation information and many sepia pictures, and a pre-printed post card to the Regional Commercial Manager for specific travel enquiries!
The ‘cool dude’ on the cover is a rare example, given that many others were of ladies at the seaside. That said, studying the 5 regional versions each year, also illustrated the climatic differences and to an extent differing social expectations. Perhaps the greatest social interest however is in the dominant sections of holiday accommodation adverts, which in part reminds your blogger of that TV comedy classic series ‘Fawlty Towers’. We know that in preparation for each following year’s editions, Station Masters were directed to seek out local Hoteliers and Bed & Breakfast operators to pay for their adverts, and offered special rates for those showing train usage by their customers.
The Great Western Trust has a complete run of every GWR ‘Holiday Haunts’ guide, but is yet to complete a set of the BR successors (note BR began with ‘Holiday Guide’ and reverted to &squo;Holiday Haunts’ title in 1958) and would welcome offers of donations from our Blog readers!
Did any of our readers recall such holidays by train?
Continuing our efforts to raise our spirits, with our own Easter Holiday very near, we illustrate from the Great Western Trust Collection, this striking and amusing image from the GWR publicity department in the Coronation Year of 1937.
The design is so bright, simple and odd that it answers the purpose of any item designed to ‘capture the attention’ of a passing commuter. That design is repeated on the back cover, and quite why the unrecorded artist chose two birds, one male, one female, each with a hat, striding (not flying) with purpose, one holding a tennis racquet, we will probably never find out! But that's hardly the issue, the design delights whatever your age, and is as fresh today as all those years ago.
The item opens to reveal a map of the GWR system and lists the Coronation Year GWR tours & Land Cruises together with an advert for its very popular Holiday Haunts book edition of that year.
We will return in future to expand upon the GWR's ‘Land Cruise’ provision, much of which was specifically designed for USA Tourists at a premium charge that would have been beyond most pockets of that time.
With the clocks due to go forward for the start of British Summer Time at the weekend, this week's Tuesday Treasure is one of the most impressive pieces in the Museum: a double-faced, wall-mounted clock that came from the Goods Accounts Offices at Paddington Station. It is of a very rare design, having both two faces and an elaborate frame to secure it to the wall.
No photographic evidence survives as to its original location, but it seems reasonable to assume that it was positioned in a corridor or hall where it could be seen from both directions. The clock most likely dates to the 1920s or before and, unusually, features an exposed pendulum in the case meaning it is difficult not to be hypnotised by the gentle swing of the bob. It is powered by one heavy weight which must be carefully wound from winding handle inserted at the top of the case.
Despite its age, the timepiece continues to keep good time but the fragile nature of its design means the hands cannot be reset when re-starting the clock, so should it stop our museum team have to wait until time catches up with where the hands are positioned and start the pendulum. This can sometimes result in a wait of a few hours or even a day while ‘time stands still’ before the mechanism can be set in motion once more!
Corn Exchange clock at Bristol, the lighter coloured minute hand is GMT or BST. Bristol time is 11 minutes behind GMT
Time was a pre-occupation of the Great Western Railway from its very earliest days and it is easy to see why an accurate, unambiguous and clearly defined system of time keeping is essential to run a firm schedule of services. However, before the arrival of the railways many areas around the country kept their own local time. When the GWR opened its line from London to Bristol in 1841, Bristol was 11 minutes behind London and the station clock was equipped with two ‘minute hands’ – one for local time and one for ‘London time’. If you have ever stood on a station and been confused when your train is arriving think back to those early railway passengers and staff! It's certainly a far cry from today where every station displays the time on numerous screens that can be easily and quickly altered from a master computer.
A new standardised time was proposed by the GWR and it established London time throughout its network. The company was a keen advocate of Standard Time on their system because it ran pretty much East to West so the locational impact of the Sun's transit was maximum on their line. London time was gradually adopted by the other companies and endorsed by the Railway Clearing House in 1847 giving rise to the term ‘railway time’.
Bristol Council voted to adopt ‘Greenwich Time’ in September 1852 but even then, three members voted against it and it was not until 1880 that Parliament passed the ‘Statutes (Definition of Time)’ act that finally resolved that Greenwich Mean Time was to be observed throughout the Kingdom – another example of the GWR being ahead of its time!
Back to our Treasure, the horological masterpiece from Paddington Goods Office, and although much of its early history is unknown, ultimately it adorned the sumptuous bar at the Headquarters Club above platform 1 at Paddington. The clock almost succumbed when the Club was disbanded in the mid-1980s (not unreasonably, British Rail leadership at the time felt that a facility that encouraged staff to partake of a liquid lunch was not fully aligned with modern safety practices). Of course, the decision was far from universally popular and officers of the club were determined to save something of the club and offered the clock to the Great Western Society at Didcot.
As a result, the clock became one of the few timepieces to have been honoured in verse when F.H Healey, a member of the HQ Club Committee, penned this poem recounting how it was saved for posterity.
This magnificent clock
Was part of the stock
Of the Headquarters Club at Padd.
It hung in the bar
And the letters GWR
Showed that it was the best to be had.
Has no regard for tradition.
The Club had to go
And left in limbo
Was the clock, in a tricky position.
We asked the GWS
If they could house the clock at Didcot.
We knew that there
It would get loving care
To shame those who would see it rot.
By the way ‘we’
Means the committee
Of the Club offering food and drink.
It’s been occupied
Since the year Brunel died
And in essence is still a Great Western link.
Heeded our plea
And the clock is for all to see here.
The unveiling day,
Was the 28th of May
In their 25th Anniversary year.
So we must bless
For giving us the time of day.
The majestic tick-tock
Of the HQ Club Clock
Is still part of the Great Western Railway.
With that, we must call ‘time’ on this week's blog, but as Great Western Trust's collection at Didcot includes a number of other clocks and watches in good working order, there may not be too long to wait for another timepiece to be featured.
Yes, we do all need cheering up, and we hope the illustrated artistic cover of a superb GWR travel publicity brochure of 1933 will do so.
The brochure image was produced by the then very much in vogue poster artist E McKnight Kauffer, who was already established by his reputation for striking ‘modern pictorial poster designs’ commissioned by London Transport, for whom he worked over many years.
In commissioning him themselves, the GWR rather broke from its then, rather ‘conservative, traditionalist’ poster imagery and he produced at this time a series of west country based posters, which are so striking that they are to this day, most admired and sought after by collectors. Indeed, this brochure image, uses one of that series of posters in a document that contains a rich text commentary on the delights to be had by visiting, by the GWR of course, Cornwall, Devon, Somerset & Dorset, all neatly captured in the simple and memorably short ‘The Glorious West’ title!
This illustrated example is just one from the extensive Great Western Trust publicity brochure Collection. It is rubber stamped on its cover ‘Obtain your tickets from Dean & Dawson Ltd, 5-10, Parker Street, Liverpool’ which proves how the GWR spread its publicity as widely as possible across the UK. We hold a wonderful, but much earlier period GWR Pictorial Poster which was recovered from the loft of a Scottish Railway station! Perhaps its perfect condition however, meant that the station staff of that period chose not to paste it on its advertising boards given their preference for the travel opportunities to their equally wonderful Scottish scenery?
The “Radio Train”
With coronavirus restrictions slowly starting to ease and activities gradually resuming it will be interesting to see how today's Train Operating Companies face the challenge of increasing patronage on their services, many of which have necessarily run almost empty for the past year.
A recent discovery in the archives of the Great Western Trust reminds us that the Great Western's spirit of innovation lingered well into the nationalised era of British Railways with the Western Region often pioneering new opportunities to boost passenger numbers.
This week's example is of a niche product whose existence had escaped the substantial combined memory and experience of the volunteers and Trustees and dates from 1960 when the Western Region created and promoted a unique ‘Radio Train’.
As the illustrated handbill describes, the train had a seating capacity of 326 in seven open carriages, with tables giving passengers free movement throughout the train. The text is to our eyes and our age of individual 24/7 radio access, virtually anywhere, strikingly odd that such a facility to hear BBC (only of course), radio services was quite so remarkable and unique!
That alone would be sufficiently noteworthy had the reverse side of the handbill been blank. But no, we also show that this unique train was being used for the Aston Villa football supporters to have a special excursion train from Birmingham to Swansea for a League Division II football match on Saturday 2nd January 1960!
No doubt, the Villa supporters would have been in good spirits on the return journey having witnessed their side put 3 past the ‘Swans’ and while conceding just 1. For us enthusiasts of railway history however, this simple example of how we are still finding new discoveries that the railways, even after nationalisation, went to extraordinary lengths to seek out passenger custom, and in itself, shines further light on social history. We are sure that even in 1960, football supporters had thankfully not yet become the destructive nightmare mobs that plagued the railways and police in later years. Perhaps the BBC Radio programmes soothed their inner spirits?
It is ironic that six decades on, with wifi and mobile communications ubiquitous, many trains now include a quiet carriage – will that development survive lockdown or will they be replaced by a new innovation to lure passengers back aboard?
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.