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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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Hornby Railways

With Christmas fast approaching, join Period Re-enactor Thomas Macey for this Tuesday Treasure as he explains the wonderful world of ‘0’ Gauge Hornby Railways that have delighted children for generations!


Book your tickets now for our Steam into Christmas Event


The Bug House.

Nearly two years into a global pandemic seems an opportune time to record that in December 1930, work was well underway on the GWR's new carriage and vehicle disinfecting plant.

Infectious Carriage Plant

Built at Swindon Works next to 24 Shop, this was a brick building containing an 85 ft long, 16ft 6in diameter airtight cylinder into which the vehicle was pushed and the airtight door closed and sealed. The massive airtight door and sealing ring were machined in the millwrights' G Shop at Swindon. Once sealed, the plant could create a vacuum of 28 inches with steam pipes raising the temperature to 120 degrees Fahrenheit. This was thought to kill all vermin, weevils, cockroaches etc after six hours. If a coach was thought to have come into contact with an infectious disease, formaldehyde gas was pumped into the cylinder when the vacuum had been destroyed.

The circular heating pipes create a surreal visual effect inside the disinfecting plant.

The plant was known as the ‘bug house’ to Swindon's workers. The inspiration was believed to have been a German carriage disinfecting plant built before the Great War used to disinfect carriages which had been into Russian territory. Station instructions required that coaches to be disinfected had to be placed in an isolated part of a yard or sidings.

The disinfecting plant with the airtight door closed, allowing a vacuum to be created inside the building.

Windows had to be closed and paper had to be pasted over keyholes and other apertures. The coach would either be dealt with on the spot by a competent person or be sent to Swindon with a label stating whether it was ‘verminous’ or ‘contagious’ to go through the new plant. In extreme cases compartments were stripped and the trimmings were burned.

Coach 3801 being propelled into the disinfecting plant on 4 February 1933.

Information in this Tuesday Treasure is from the Great Western Railway Magazine of which the Great Western Trust has a complete set from 1888 to 1947.


Office Modernisation on the GWR!

Our illustrated image of a very striking advert is taken from the Great Western Railway's Staff Magazine for March 1913. We have chosen it to develop the video Blog given by Thomas Macey as the Tuesday Treasure last week where he engaged in a dialogue with our GWR manikin in our GWR Office Scene in the Great Western Trust's Museum & Archive Building.

Thomas was very particular in pointing out the very basic stationery utensils in that scene, and it is recorded that throughout the GWR system up to the First World War and perhaps even beyond, the vast majority of correspondence was conducted in longhand, using only ink or pencil, and that reference copies of important papers were achieved using mechanical presses on specially designed, damped tissue sheets!

Well, eventually, as this advert testifies, even the GWR had to mechanise, and this bold advert shows one way it did so through the mechanical typewriter! Fancy using one of these today?

It must be said however, that even this device was largely reserved for use by senior officers’ secretaries and later in the ‘typing pool’, where both locations were always staffed by females and a secretary would only be employed having demonstrated high performance in taking short-hand notes as officers were expected to create correspondence by verbal dictation. That alone demanded a quick and confident expression of the subject matter in question.

(Staff evacuated from the Paddington Offices to Newbury Racecourse Station on 18 Oct 1939)

Alas our wonderful archive has yet to acquire a genuine GWR typewriter, but our nearest companion item is a modest GWR branded Typist's Desk saved from obscurity by a keen eyed former Trustee when driving past an office furniture reclamation outlet!

In closing, we should add that the fact of the GWR purchasing such equipment was a reflection by all kinds of manufacturers of those days that it was proof in itself of the high quality and reliability of those products. This particular edition of the Staff Magazine includes many other adverts for a very diverse range of products from lamps to signal equipment, fencing, ticket printing machines and even paints and varnishes.


Our First Vlog (Video Blog)!

Our Tuesday Treasures blog this week is a little more than our standard fare, we have chosen to upload a Video Blog courtesy of the Great Western Trust and told beautifully by our resident Visitor Services Supervisor and archive enthusiast, Thomas Macey.

Here we shall see a GWR Office scene with Mr Macey explaining the various aspects of our display including the process of becoming a Senior Inspector with the GWR and what belongs on a official 1930s GWR desk.



Enticing the Americans

It all began with Brunel of course, who is recorded as asking at a meeting of the committee proposing what would become the Great Western Railway, why it should stop at Bristol? He had the vision and confidence to advocate that the next step would be a ship from Bristol to New York, and of course the return journey could draw visitors from America to England!

Turn the clock a long way forward and here illustrated from the Great Western Trust archive are the splendid front and rear cover designs of the ‘ENGLAND – and why’ brochure. Published in the USA by the Great Western & Southern Railways of England in 1932.


The Great Western had long before this, fully realised the massive potential market for American ‘Tourists’ even to the extent of advertising their Shakespeare's Route from Liverpool, via Birkenhead! They established their own Agent and Office in New York which came in very handy indeed when they gained massive publicity by Sir Felix Pole's clever scheme to be the only United Kingdom representative at the Baltimore & Ohio Centenary Celebrations in 1927 when sending there, the brand new, most powerful express locomotive in England, No 6000 King George V.

The Atlantic Coast Express was published in the August 1928 edition of RM, from a painting by F Moore. The locomotive is No 775 Sir Agravaine

Returning to the illustrated brochure, which had no less than 32 pages of sepia images of key locations with descriptive commentary, the most interesting detail is on the illustrated rear cover. Here we find that in 1932 our American Tourists could indulge in ‘Land Cruises’ of 5 varieties all designed by the GWR who included their very own courier. Extending over 6 or 13 days, the tiny print advises that the Pound to Dollar exchange rate was then, a startling 4.88 Dollars to the Pound!! Behind that extraordinary value of the Pound lies the abject financial and unemployment grief arising from Winston Churchill's decision as the post WW1 Chancellor that the UK should return to the ‘Gold Standard&rsdquo; as the monetary comparator, but at the pre WW1 rate. This made our exports far too expensive, industry crashed, and of course this was compounded by the Wall Street Crash of 1929 which caused massive UK unemployment and the ‘Depression’. So why did the GWR & SR still expect to gain USA tourists when even America was in a dire employment position? Well, as we know in our own times, even in dire financial times, there are many who remain wealthy, or maybe become even more so!

The Golden Arrow photograph was published in the August 1929 edition of RM. The locomotive is No 855 Robert Blake

As if this simple brochure cannot give us any more contemporary insights, the fact that it was jointly produced by the GWR & SR is very noteworthy. Until the dreadful crash of a Boat Train on the LSWR at Salisbury, which was an express train reflecting the extreme competition that had long existed between these two companies, a truce was agreed. Indeed much to the surprise of the GWR staff, a strong internal circular notice was issued to them all, extolling the new “warm and mutually supportive relationship” with the then LSWR that the GWR Directors had decided upon, and which all GWR staff must do their utmost to fulfil. Many years later, the GWR & SR worked very closely together and their most remarkable joint company venture was that of the GW&SR Air Services to which our Blog will return in future!

The Southern Belle photograph was published in the December 1929 edition of RM. The train had celebrated its 21st anniversary on 1 November 1929. The locomotive is No E799 Sir Ironside



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