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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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We travel to the Cambrian Mountains this week and the town of Barmouth. Situated on the shore of Cardigan Bay, it has long been a popular holiday destination ever since the opening of the railway in 1867. Its beautiful location on the mouth of the Afon Mawddach, Merionethshire (now part of Gwynedd) has made it a magnet for holidaymakers and before the advent of mass car ownership, the station saw regular through trains from London, the Midlands and the North West. Between Dovey Junction and Pwllheli passengers were and still are treated to some spectacular views of the Cambrian coast, crossing the Mawddach on the most significant civil engineering structure on the line, Barmouth Bridge.

The first poster dates from 1924 and is a stunning view with the artist, A J Hewins, using some licence in looking across to the town with the brooding mountains above and a down train crossing the bridge. Although published in the mid 1920s, the liberated society of the time had obviously not reached North Wales as bathing machines are still in evidence on the beach, there to protect the local citizens from the low morals of the big city visitors.

Our second poster was issued in 1962 and is in a very different style. Gone are the big skies and distant figures. Instead, the main attraction is a very shapely lady in traditional Welsh costume whose presence draws the viewer into to the town beyond. Exactly what the artist, Henry Stringer (1903-1993), would have wanted, although one cannot help wondering if he was also a fan of Sophia Loren and other Hollywood stars of the time.

Both of these posters form part of the Great Western Trust collection and others are on display in the Trust Museum at Didcot Railway Centre, home of the Great Western Society.


A Special Consideration

Those familiar with the name Cecil J Allen will know of his very extensive locomotive running logs and observations on all the Big Four railway lines that were published over many years in The Railway Magazine. He could only obtain direct, footplate access on many trains, through a generous provision or rather special consideration, by the senior managers on those lines including the GWR. From our Great Western Trust collection we illustrate a modest commercial postcard image that most helpfully had a detailed longhand annotation on its reverse that proves this point.

The Cornish Riviera Limited on 17 October 1927 with Cecil J Allen on the footplate. Photograph by F E Mackay

It may often be said that there is no such thing as bad publicity, but of course in the case of a working railway, a contemporary and much published observer of footplate and locomotive performance under daily operations like C J Allen, brought the risk of him experiencing a bad day at the workplace! Hence, to keep an eye upon C J Allen, his interaction with the footplate crew, and represent the GWR Company officially, a senior loco inspector always accompanied him on such journeys.

The train in question is the down Cornish Riviera Limited express on 17 October 1927, just passing Kensal Green. Loco No 6005 King George II, is being driven by Driver W Rowse and Fireman J Osborne, with Chief Inspector Robinson overseeing activities. Cecil J Allen is leaning out from the cab, with distinctive hat, having pre-arranged with the photographer F E Mackay the location for this photo opportunity! With the introduction of the King class locomotives, the non-stop schedule from Paddington to Plymouth was reduced from 248 minutes to an even four hours.

Cecil J Allen was born in 1886 and died on 5 February 1973. He joined the Great Eastern Railway in 1903 and went on to become an inspector of materials for the LNER. He also had a prolific career as a writer, publishing many books on railway subjects. He authored the long-running monthly series British Locomotive Practice and Performance from 1909 to 1958 in The Railway Magazine.

He was a supporter of the Crusaders’ Union and organised three special trains in January 1929 to take members of the Union from Paddington to Swindon Works, as well as tours in subsequent years.

Cecil J Allen described his journey on the Cornish Riviera Limited Express in October 1927 in British Locomotive Practice and Performance published in The Railway Magazine’s December 1927 edition. A set of bound volumes of The Railway Magazine is also in the Great Western Trust collection. We reproduce the article below as it captures the atmosphere of a long non-stop journey on a powerful steam locomotive with a heavy train.

For those unfamiliar with steam engine terminology, the regulator is the valve which lets steam from the boiler to the cylinders, and the cut-off controls the valves which admit steam to the cylinders, and remove it afterwards to be exhausted out of the chimney. The lower the number, the more efficiently the engine is working, so a 15 per cent cut-off means steam is admitted to the cylinders for 15 per cent of the piston stroke and the steam expands to drive the piston for the remainder of the stroke. When the engine is slogging up a gradient more power is required from the cylinders, so a 35 per cent cut-off admits steam for more than a third of the piston stroke.

Slip coaches might also be a mystery to some. This is a practice of detaching a coach or coaches from the rear of a train while it is on the move. The main train carries on without stopping, while the detached vehicles coast to a halt in the station under control of a slip guard. The advantage for the Cornish Riviera Limited on its non-stop journey from Paddington to Plymouth was that the original 14 coaches at the start of the journey had reduced to seven after slips at Westbury, Taunton and Exeter, giving the engine an easier task in tackling the steep gradients between Newton Abbot and Plymouth.
Now let us sit back and enjoy Cecil J Allen’s description of the journey:

British Locomotive Practice and Performance, December 1927

It is not unnatural that the most urgent desire of many readers who make a close study of locomotive performance should be – judging by their letters – to know something of the achievements of the latest locomotive masterpiece from Swindon. On paper there has been little question as to the new King George V class being the most powerful express passenger locomotive in the country. The tractive force formula gives the engine an advantage even over the 4-6-2 Pacific Enterprise of the LNER with its enhanced working pressure of 220 lb sq in.

But the question of real interest was to see whether the King George V boiler could supply steam with sufficient rapidity to make the tractive force calculation effective, and in particular to ascertain if it would be possible to maintain the high working pressure of 250 lb continuously in maximum conditions of working.

By the courtesy of Mr C B Collett CBE, Chief Mechanical Engineer of the Great Western Railway, to whom this wonderful design owes its inception and its execution, I have been able to obtain, as an eye-witness, the answer to both questions. And let me say here, without delay, that it is a triumphant affirmative.

Six years ago I made my first down journey on the Cornish Riviera Limited express. Stars were the 4-6-0 engines then in the ascendant on the GWR, and it was with Lode Star that Driver Springthorpe gave me that remarkable journey described in the December issue of 1921, whereon we gained no less than 16 minutes on schedule between Westbury and Lipson Junction. Loads were much lighter in those days. Our 430 tons from Paddington dropped to 360 at Westbury, 295 at Taunton and 260 at Exeter.

No 4079 Pendennis Castle departing from Paddington station with the Cornish Riviera Limited, photograph by H W Peckham. Cecil J Allen rode from Paddington to Plymouth on the same train with this locomotive in October 1924 and compares performance of the Castle class with the new King class throughout this article

Then, in 1924 – exactly three years later – it was my privilege to ride down with Driver Young on Pendennis Castle, in a second trip specially memorable in that we succeeded with a train 100 tons heavier than that hauled by Lode Star, in passing Westbury 95 min 35 sec after leaving Paddington. This was detailed in December 1924.

And now, in December 1927, I have to describe my first journey on one of the new Kings, of the more comparative value in that the load behind King George II was almost identical with that carried behind Pendennis Castle three years before. But the King has the harder task, partly on account of that particular handicap which is impossible to reduce to figures – a strong head wind, which at times became a side wind – and partly because of the fuel, to which I will have occasion to refer later.

The three journeys were all made at about the middle of October, when the Limited is generally at its heaviest, after the post-summer restoration of the Taunton and Exeter slip portions. The last two journeys were made on Mondays, also, when extra load is usually carried, particularly on the Exeter slip.

It was encouraging, as I crossed the bridge from Bishop’s Road, to notice that the Falmouth coach was underneath it, which meant that both the St Ives and Penzance portions must be further still up No 1 platform; but a final examination of the train showed that my previous maximum of 14 vehicles had not been exceeded. However, this aggregate tare of 491 tons, with the train well filled in every part, gave promise of a gross load of fully 525 tons behind the engine tender.

From the rear end the formation of the train consisted of two 70 ft coaches for Weymouth, to be slipped at Westbury; a 70 ft for Minehead and a 60 ft for Ilfracombe, to be slipped at Taunton; a 70 ft and a 60 ft for Exeter and a 70 ft for Kingsbridge, to be slipped at Exeter; and then, in the main part of the train, 70 ft coaches for Newquay, Falmouth and St Ives, and a four-coach set, including restaurant car, for Penzance. I know of no other express in the country carrying in its formation as many as nine independent portions.

On reaching the engine, I found that I was travelling with Driver Rowse, Fireman Osborne and Chief Locomotive Inspector Robinson. In the commodious cabs with which these engines are fitted there was comfortable room for all of us. As regards weather, the day which had opened dull and cloudy, was beginning to improve, with the sun just breaking through, but rather a nasty wind getting up from the west.

The fuel – the other important point bearing on the journey – looked satisfactory to outward appearances; but it was to be discovered later that under the large lumps of coal which had been brought forward to the tender was a considerable quantity of slack that was little better than dust.

It was a shade after time when the signal was given to start, and at about 10.30½ Rowse opened the regulator, moderately at first, in order to avoid the possibility of slipping. Full forward gear was employed until we were well under way, but the cut-off was brought back until, no further from the start than West London Junction, King George II was cutting-off at 23 per cent of the stroke. By Hanwell this was down to 20 per cent, and by West Drayton we had actually got down to 17 per cent. Meanwhile, the regulator had been opened to nearly its full opening, which was the general position for all of the harder running, except for the fact that it showed a slight tendency to work backwards of itself from time to time, to a position which appeared, from the angle of the regulator handle on the quadrant plate, to be about three-quarters open.

From Hanwell to West Drayton we accelerated on the level from 55 to 60½ mph, on 20 per cent cut-off, and from there to Slough, with but 17 per cent cut-off, the engine worked this vast train up to a speed of 62½ mph. It was astonishing, on my previous trip with Pendennis Castle, to record a maximum of 69 miles an hour at the same point, with the engine cutting-off at 26 per cent of the stroke, but a speed of 62½ an hour with the same load of 525 tons, at no more than 17 per cent cut-off, seemed a perfectly amazing experience. I doubt, indeed, if it could be paralleled with a simple locomotive in any part of the world, apart from the use of valve motions of the Caprotti, Lentz or other special types. Of all the achievements of our engine throughout this four hours’ journey, no feat was to me more striking than this.

Immediately after Slough there came a permanent way check, which brought us down to 40 miles an hour, but for recovery from this it was not necessary to open out the engine to more than 22 per cent cut-off, and by Maidenhead we were down again to 20 per cent. But the acceleration here, once we had got above 50 miles an hour, was somewhat slow, although we had just contrived to attain the mile-a-minute rate at Sonning when steam was shut off for the Reading slack.

The silent working of the great engine, no less than the steadiness of her running, was most impressive; it seemed impossible on the footplate to realise the colossal output of energy, sufficient to move this gross weight of over 650 tons at an average rate of 60 miles an hour. Indeed the exhaust of the engine was completely inaudible, even on the footplate, at any cut-off below 20 per cent – that is to say for the major part of the journey – and not until 30 per cent, which was only reached at three different points, did it become really vigorous. But a backward view of the one-fifth-of-a-mile length of our train, winding round the curves from Reading to Southcote Junction, was enough to dispel any illusions as to the problem of haulage which lay both behind and before us.

To Reading we had dropped 3¼ min on schedule, of which the permanent way slack accounted for slightly over 1½ min, the remainder of the loss going against the engine. But we were to see later that there was method behind this apparently easy working.

After the Reading slack, Driver Rowse still left his cut-off at 20 per cent, and this all but brought us to the mile-a-minute rate before Aldermaston, where for the second time we were badly slacked for permanent way repairs. For recovery from the second check a cut-off of 21 per cent was employed for a short time, but this was brought back at Thatcham to 19 per cent, which sufficed to raise the speed to 57½ mph on the slight descent beyond Enborne Junction. It should be emphasised, however, that in general grading up the Kennet Valley is against the engine, with an average of 1 in 400 from Theale to Kintbury; and yet a cut-off position below 20 per cent was found enough for maintained speeds of over 55 mph. At Kintbury the grades steepen slightly, but it was not till Hungerford that the cut-off was advanced to 20 per cent, and then by 1 per cent at a time – on what other line than the Great Western could such artistic precision of driving method as this be seen? – we moved steadily up to a maximum of 24 per cent, just before topping Savernake Summit. Nothing more than 24 per cent to take a 525 ton express up 3 miles steepening from 1 in 175 to 1 in 106 – the culmination of a 30 mile rise – at a minimum rate of 49 miles an hour! It was a miracle. We had dropped 5 minutes to Bedwyn, but the majority of this loss could be debited to the two slacks; steady recovery of time was now the order of the day.

Once over Savernake Summit, Driver Rowse reduced the cut-off to 15 per cent, and substituted the small auxiliary port of the regulator for the main opening, and in this way we drifted smoothly down the Westbury, only missing the attainment of 80 miles an hour, below Lavington, by the narrow margin of a single mile. Relieved of the Westbury slip portion, and thus with a gross load of 450 tons, King George II now performed some remarkable work up the Brewham Summit, better known, perhaps, by its familiar title of “mile post 122¾”.

In recovering from both Westbury and Frome slacks, the 25 per cent cut-off position was employed, with the regulator a little short of fully open, but whereas Young (who was before time on my Pendennis Castle trip), had been content with between 22 and 23 per cent from beyond Frome up to Brewham, Rowse maintained his 25 per cent cut-off to the top. The difference in the two speeds was amazing; up the last mile at 1 in 107-112, Pendennis Castle fell to 39½ mph, whereas King George II with a cut-off but 2 per cent longer, carried the same load over the top at no less than 51 miles an hour!

We then travelled with the utmost gaiety over the easy length from Brewham to Cogload, cutting-off at 15 per cent, and with the auxiliary regulator port, as nearly as I could judge, fully open; speed slightly exceeded 80 mph below Bruton, was eased slightly past Castle Cary, and then reached 74 at three different points to Cogload. In this way we regained 3½ minutes between Westbury and Cogload Junction, and were now only 1½ minutes “down” in our total time from Paddington.

It was at this point that the fire began to give some concern to the crew. Pressure had been consistently maintained at round about 240 lb per square inch for most of the journey until now, but as we approached Taunton the needle was inclined to droop, so that we had not here more than 220 lb of steam. Throughout the journey it had been necessary for Fireman Osborne to make frequent recourse to the pricker, and his labours in firing had gradually assumed a more arduous form owing to the poor quality of the coal.

The ”attack” on Wellington bank had, therefore, to be made rather less strenuously than is normally the case, and on the new schedule of the train we lost 1½ minutes between Cogload and Exeter. Owing to the lower steam pressure, which fell to exactly 200 lb at the top of the bank, the cut-off positions had to be almost exactly the same as those of Pendennis Castle on my previous trip – 20 per cent at mile post 167¾, where the incline proper begins, gradually increased to 30 per cent past Wellington and 35 up the final mile. But the speed on the upper part of the bank was considerably higher, being 40½ mph at mile post 173 (at the mouth of Whiteball Tunnel; the summit of 2½ miles rising at 1 in 80-90) as against Pendennis Castle’s 31 mph. Even in adverse conditions, therefore, the superior power of King George II was abundantly apparent.

From Whiteball down to Exeter, we reverted to 15 per cent cut-off and the auxiliary regulator port, and the latter was not fully opened, in order that the steam supply might be husbanded to the greatest degree possible while the favourable grades permitted. The crew were thus rewarded by seeing the pressure gauge needle creep up to the “240” mark as we breasted Exeter.

We were thus 3 min down on the schedule allowance of 174½ min for the 173.7 miles from Paddington to this point, but by the release of the three vehicles forming the Exeter slip, our load had now shrunk to exactly one-half the fourteen coaches pulled out of Paddington, and such was the relief that Driver Rowse proceeded to regain the whole of the arrears on the next 20 miles to Newton Abbot.

Although in no more that 15 per cent cut-off, and with the regulator not more than one-half open, the engine regained speed with extraordinary rapidity along the level shores of the Exe, so that we dashed across Exminster troughs at fully 73 mph; after this followed the necessary easing round the curves past Starcross, Dawlish and Teignmouth, and a severe slack though the new station at Newton Abbot.

Now the formidable ascent of Dainton lay ahead, and directly we were past Newton the regulator handle was pushed hard over, and the cut-off advanced to 20 per cent. Up the final two miles, steepening from 1 in 57 to 1 in 41, and including a short strip at 1 in 36, cut-off changes were rapid, until finally we threaded the short tunnel, and passed Dainton Box – an operation which, from the footplate, looks like running over the gable end of a house – in 35 per cent cut-off. Pendennis Castle had gone over at 24½ mph in 42 per cent cut-off; we went over at 27½ mph in 35 per cent cut-off. Loads were identical, and in both cases the regulators were full open; such comparisons speak for themselves.

Down the incessantly winding descent to Totnes we went with great caution, and passed that station ½ min inside time. There now lay ahead Rattery bank; the first 2½ miles to Tigley Box steepening from just under 1 in 70 to 1½ miles continuously at 1 in 46-57; then 1¾ miles, mostly at 1 in 90 to Rattery Box; and a rather easier mile to the 228½ mile post, whence there are moderately rising grades to Wrangaton.

With regulator full open, Rowse advanced his cut-off gradually to 35 per cent, on the steepest part of the bank, and maintained it there up the 1 in 90 from Tigley to Rattery, whereby we accelerated from 28½ to 43½ mph up 1¾ miles of this grade. Pendennis Castle, at 33 per cent, merely gained the difference between 27 and 33 mph. Then our cut-off was dropped to 25 per cent at Rattery, further to 20 just beyond Rattery Tunnel – although this did not prevent us from attaining 60 mph up the rising grades past Brent – and 15 per cent at Wrangaton, where the auxiliary port once again replaced the main regulator opening.

All our troubles were now over. We had lost a minute between Totnes and Brent – the working times optimistically require an average rate of 45 mph up this ascent! – but we were on the right side of time at Hemerdon. Down the famous descent of Hemerdon with closed regulator and frequent brake applications; cautiously round the curves from Tavistock Junction to Lipson Junction; 23 per cent and an open regulator up the last stretch to Mutley; and we rolled proudly under the roof at North Road and came to a dead stand at 2.28·20 pm, 237 min 50 sec after leaving Paddington, and nearly 1¾ min early.

Little remains to be said about the run. When we got down to Laira Shed, the engine proved to be perfectly cool in every bearing, and apparently quite fit for an immediate return to London. Not so the crew and “passengers”, however. I should not like to say how long I spent in scraping off my superabundant coating of grime; the four of us certainly bore no uncertain evidences of the character of the coal which had been burned. But for all that, I would not have missed the experience; it was an education.

Had I been a passenger in the train, I should have wondered at the comparative moderation of the descent from Whiteball to Exeter, when the train was behind time; on the footplate the reason, of course, was obvious. But the coal, the wind, the slacks and the accelerated schedule combined, between them, further to enhance the merit of a wonderful journey; and it is on occasion such as these, when difficulties have to be surmounted, that one realises the wealth of experience and scientific skill that is bound up with successful driving and firing. My warmest appreciation, ere we parted, was expressed to Driver Rowse and Fireman Osborne; I hope that I may have some more


British Industries Fair 1934

The Great Exhibition of 1851 began a trend for such nationally focused events that lasted at least until the Festival of Britain in 1951. Perhaps less well known are the more specialised exhibitions that had one subject at their focus. One such that we illustrate today from the Great Western Trust collection was the British Industries Fair of 19 February to 2 March 1934, held 90 years ago in London and Birmingham.

The two locations reflected their then established role as major centres of commerce and railway communication. London for its industries, now largely office or “Technology Park” focused but once having quite heavy industry in the suburbs, and Birmingham, well established as the manufacturing centre for countless industries.

The items illustrated are unused and complete, special vouchers for reduced fares to this exhibition, printed and issued jointly by the Great Western Railway Co and the London Midland & Scottish Railway Co, as a shared venture, acknowledging that both companies had direct train routes from London to Birmingham. So we have the cover of the enclosing folder for the multiple parts, its inclusive timetables of trains on both systems and the Voucher No 1 images.

From the very small print on the timetable illustration, it shows a remarkable run of 200,000 in preparation dated December 1933! Yes, these events drew massive attendance, but quite how many vouchers such as these were actually used on either railway route, is sadly unknown.

The photographs of station decorations at Paddington in 1950 and Birmingham Snow Hill in 1951 show the efforts made by the railways to add a sense of occasion for travellers to the Fair.

A short history of the Fair

This history of the Fair is published on the National Archives website:

“The first British Industries Fair (BIF) was held in 1915 at the Royal Agricultural Hall, London, in an attempt to encourage British firms to produce goods which had traditionally been imported from Germany and other countries. Only the exhibition of British goods was permitted and a total of nearly 34,000 attended. The success of the first Fair led to further Fairs being held in 1916 and 1917 at the Victoria & Albert Museum, and in 1918 and 1919 at the London Docks.

“A section of the British Industries Fair was organised in Glasgow in 1917, 1918, 1920 and 1921.

Station decorations at Paddington during the 1950 Fair, held from 8 – 19 May that year

“Another section representing the heavy industries was inaugurated at Castle Bromwich in Birmingham in 1920 with the aid of a grant for publicity from the Board of Trade. These two sections accompanied the London section which was held at Crystal Palace from 1920. In 1921, a Board of Trade Committee of Inquiry under the chairmanship of Sir Frank Warner recommended that the Glasgow section be discontinued and the Fair be maintained on an annual basis with one section in London and another in Birmingham. The Fair was held each year until 1957 except in 1925, the second year of the British Empire Exhibition at Wembley, and 1941 to 1946.

“The London section was held at White City from 1921, and in 1930 a second section was added and this was held at Olympia. From 1938 the two London sections were held at Olympia and the newly opened Earls Court building. The Birmingham section remained at Castle Bromwich.

Station decorations at Birmingham Snow Hill during the 1951 Fair held from 30 April – 11 May that year

“By 1948 the purpose of the BIF was described by M Logan in The Histories of the Fair as being: ‘to show the world the strength of British industry, the craftmanship, the design and the quality that is implied in the words “British Made”.’

“Originally the responsibility for organising the London section of the Fair lay with the Board of Trade but it was transferred to the Department of Overseas Trade on 1 April 1919 who, together with the Birmingham Chamber of Commerce, were also responsible for the Birmingham Fair. It returned to the Export Promotion Department of the board in 1946, and was exercised by the new Commercial Relations and Exports Department of the board after 1 January 1949. After the 1954 Fair responsibility for organisation and management was transferred to a private company, British Industries Fair Ltd. The Company was voluntarily wound up on 20 February 1958 and the Fair has not been held since 1957.”


Flights of Fancy

Two rather unusual posters from the Great Western Trust collection call for our attention this week. Neither of them features a railway scene even though they would have been posted at major railway stations. They are also both relatively modern although fifty years ago is ancient history in the world of advertising.

First we have Sweden’s most famous export – ABBA. Quite how their agent at the time persuaded them to pose with mops and buckets is a mystery but the old saying ‘no publicity is bad publicity’ certainly works in this instance. The band was formed in 1972 and found global fame two years later after winning the Eurovision Song Contest and the poster shown here was part of the image building process that followed. Despite not having worked together for more than forty years, they are as well known now as they were when on ‘cleaning duties’. Doubtless the poster would have been used at Waterloo, among many other stations.

Next, from 1973, a poster promoting the Railair coach service from Reading Station to London Heathrow Airport which began on 6 March 1967. It is a powerful image showing a Boeing 747 just after take-off and uses a vivid low sun to light the sky above the aircraft. What makes the poster more remarkable is that 747s only flew in British Overseas Airways Corporation livery from April 1971 until March 1974 when British Airways was formed through the merger of the latter and British European Airways. BA flew these leviathans until the summer of 2020 when the COVID pandemic and the virtual collapse in international air traffic forced their early withdrawal.


Railway Dogs

Among the huge archive of Great Western Railway material donated to the Great Western Trust by the late Ron King Bird is this cutting from the Picture Post of 15 July 1939, describing the railway’s use of dogs to keep the Welsh valley lines clear of sheep.

The dogs first came to peoples’ attention when the Great Western Railway Magazine published an article about them in the February 1937 edition. The Times newspaper took up the story in its edition on 3 February that year. Picture Post, which was published from 1938 to 1957 gained an enviable reputation for its photojournalism. We hope you enjoy this revival of the pictures and words below, from the article:

A few weeks ago, a train going to Flint was held up for three-quarters of an hour by a sheep. The animal·had wandered on to the line, and, regardless of rights of way, by-laws and time tables, remained grazing right in front of the engine. The fireman got down and shoo-ed it. The driver got down, too. Then the guard joined in. The sheep took refuge between the carriages, played hide-and-seek with its pursuers, and refused to return to its field.

At last, help was got from a neighbouring station and the train proceeded on its journey.

At one time, this was a regular procedure on Welsh valley lines. Today, it happens only occasionally.


A Railway Dog Patrols the Line with His Master - ‘Toss’ is one of twenty-five railway dogs employed by the Great Western Railway to clear the South Wales valley lines of sheep. With his master, Ganger William Evans, he patrols several miles of line every day. He has been trained to know a train’s warning whistle, to obey his master’s word – in English or Welsh – and to answer hand signals

The Great Western Railway employ 25 dogs to keep their lines clear of ‘sheep menace’. The valley lines of Cardiff, Neath, Newport and Oswestry are patrolled regularly. As it is a ganger’s job to patrol his stretch of line at least once a day, so it is the sheep dog’s job, too. The GWR pay their licences, but the dogs usually belong to the gangers, are trained by them, and go with them on duty.

They have a method all their own. Long before the sheep are visible on the track, the dogs know they are there. Racing·ahead of their masters, they approach cautiously until they are close to their quarry, then they charge with loud and vicious barking. Down the track they go, chasing the sheep ahead of them. The track at that point may lie in a cutting, or it may be bound by close hedges. It makes no difference.

The dog chases the sheep until an opening appears, through which it can be manoeuvred to safety.

What the Railway Dog is Looking For: Sheep on the Line Causing Delay and Danger - In the South Wales valleys, the old tale of a cow on the line has a grain of truth in it. Only they’re sheep in this case. For years, sheep on the line, especially at night, have been a danger to trains. Even when they weren’t a danger they caused troublesome delays. So the Great Western Railway instituted a system of railway dogs, trained to keep the trackside clear of sheep. That was 25 years ago. Today the dogs are still a novelty. They are only canine railway employees in the country

The public hear a good deal of the intelligence of sheepdogs. They have sheepdog trials all over the country and even in Hyde Park. But nobody would ever think of holding railway dog trials, although a railway dog’s life is just as onerous, and requires just as much intelligence. Nor do railway dogs enter shows. For one thing, they do not usually sport a pedigree – collie predominates, but other breeds are evident as well. And a railway dog has no time for titivating itself. Life for him is just one round of business.

It’s not just the sheep he feels himself responsible for. It’s the human beings, too. You can understand sheep wandering on to the track and getting engrossed in a tuft of grass they find there. But for human beings to stay on the line tapping away at a bolt when the express from Cardiff is only half a mile away is beyond canine comprehension. If a railway dog has ‘track sense’ why hasn’t a human being? The fact remains that a railway dog will warn a ganger of an approaching train, will bark at him and worry him until he moves, and will not leave him until he is well away to safety.

A Railway Dog in Action: Clearing the Line for the Cardiff Express - ‘Toss’ has got the trespassers on the run. He manoeuvres them into the broad road between the tracks and keeps them there. It’s safer when he has a good way to go. Just here the wall is long and there are railings – but there’s a hedge beyond, and a gap into the field. If the train overtakes ‘Toss’ he will simply lie quiet until it has passed

Often in sticking to his post until the last minute a dog finds himself in danger – sometimes when two trains are approaching in opposite directions. In which case, he lies down between the sets of lines until the two trains have passed.

Training begins when a dog is about six months old and goes on until he is about two. If he isn’t trained by then, he ought to be. His master keeps him continually by his side during the period of training. No one else feeds the dog. Even a casual pat is not much encouraged.

The dog is taught to know the warning whistle of an approaching train, to answer verbal commands, sometimes given in Welsh, and whistles and hand signals of his master from a considerable distance. As the dog gets used to the work he comes to be less dependent on his master. He hears a train coming long before the man. If he sees sheep on the line he goes after them of his own accord. He barks to give warning to men working. Often he routs trespassers long before the ganger's arrival Many dogs have put in ten years of good and faithful service.

The Lamb That Got Left Behind - The chase was too much for this young lamb. So the ganger saved it. Carried it off the track to safety

The dog’s busiest time is between mid-May and July, when a large part of the four and a half million sheep in Wales are driven for washing and shearing. Then, in September comes the drive for the compulsory dipping. In some districts, too, in October, the sheep are brought down from the mountains to winter in the warmer climate of the lowlands.

The system of railway dogs has been going on for over twenty-five years. It was the first of its kind, and it remains the only one. Nowhere else do dogs figure on the payroll of a big railway company as guardians of the public safety.


A simple blueprint opens up Great War Ambulance Train history

During the Great War, ambulance trains for use in Northern France and Belgium were built by a number of the major railway companies. The Great Western Railway re-equipped 238 vehicles and as a matter of necessity each of the companies exchanged drawings in order to ensure compatibility.

Blueprint of the galvanised iron container designed at Wolverton for Ambulance Trains. The drawing is now in the Great Western Trust collection

This fascinating drawing, although originating from Wolverton Works of the London & North Western Railway is stamped ‘GWR Loco & Carr Dept. Swindon’ and is dated May 1915. It is one of a number of Ambulance Train drawings which demonstrate the extent of practical provision which had to be made to care for dreadfully injured soldiers.

This ‘Receptacle for excreta etc’ is a substantial item, made of galvanised iron, and must have been extremely difficult, not to say unpleasant to move, containing some eighty litres when full. Pity the poor souls whose job it was to empty and clean it.

The first Ambulance Train supplied by the GWR, in August 1914. Passenger brake vans, like No 933 preserved at Didcot, were converted into ward cars. Photograph published in the Great Western Railway Magazine, October 1914

One school of thought is that, having detached the handles, it could have been fired at the enemy trenches thus lowering enemy morale more effectively than conventional artillery!
While on the subject of Ambulance Trains we must never forget the role of the nurses who staffed them. Not only did they also risk life and limb but also fought against the resistance of a male establishment. They were as heroic as those who fought in the trenches.

A composite of photographs of the GWR’s first Ambulance Train supplied in August 1914. Photographs published in the Great Western Railway Magazine, October 1914

Three nursing sisters, Kate Mahony, Ethel Thompson and Mabel Evans were each awarded the Military Medal after a bombing rain on No 27 Ambulance Train, provided by the GWR, during the night of 10-11 November 1916. An amendment to the Royal Warrant on 21 June 1916 had allowed, for the first time, the award of the Military Medal to women.

Ambulance Train No 18 supplied by the GWR in August 1915, with Star class No 4037 Queen Philippa at the head. A GWR publicity photograph in the Great Western Trust collection

Of the events that night of 10-11 the Officer Commanding No 27 Ambulance Train wrote:

I desire to draw attention to the courage and coolness shown by Sister M L Evans TFNS, Sister K Mahoney QAIMNSR, Sister E K Thompson QAIMNSR. We were carrying down a full load of sick and wounded (450) and our arrival at Amiens coincided with the beginning of an aeroplane attack. All ‘stood to’ – electric lights were switched off and hand lamps lit etc. We ran on until halted outside the main station. All around the anti-aircraft guns and maxims were in hot action.

Interior of Ambulance Train No 18, illustrated in a GWR official postcard in the Great Western Trust collection

Among the helpless patients and among the shell shock patients there was considerable alarm, which was increased as loud explosions began to be heard.

The firing continued and the explosions crept nearer, until, for us, the climax was reached when at short intervals 5 bombs fell in our immediate neighbourhood, near enough to send debris over the train. Twice the lamps were blown out; windows were broken on both sides of the train. The nearest bomb tore up the off rail of the line next to us, smashed the windows and rocked the coach so much that the patients on one side were thrown out of their cots. The attack lasted an hour.

Interior of Ambulance Train No 18, illustrated in a GWR official postcard in the Great Western Trust collection

The sisters rose to the occasion from the very beginning. Carrying hand lamps they went about their jobs coolly, collectedly and cheerfully. Their influence in stopping panic and allaying alarm, was I believe, greater than that of the officers – just because they were sisters – patients and personnel felt they had to play up to the standard they set. They had their chance and rose to it magnificently.

Interior of Ambulance Train No 18, illustrated in a GWR official postcard in the Great Western Trust collection. It shows F W Marillier’s three-tier bunk system, with two of the lower bunks arranged for sitting cases

The GWR supplied its first two Ambulance Trains very soon after the start of the Great War, leaving Swindon Works on 24 and 25 August 1914 for Southampton. They were used in the UK to transport wounded from ports of entry to hospitals. The ward cars were adapted from passenger brake vans.

In early 1915 the GWR supplied its first two nine-vehicle Ambulance Trains for use on the Continent, and a third later that year of seven vehicles (Toplight brake thirds) for home use, funded by the United Kingdom Flour Millers. These first trains were painted in the full lined-out GWR livery with crests.

Interior of Ambulance Train No 18, illustrated in a GWR official postcard in the Great Western Trust collection. It shows F W Marillier’s three-tier bunk system

Also in 1915, the Railway Executive Committee (REC) set up a sub-committee to draw up plans to convert and design new ambulance trains. Ambulance Train No 18, of sixteen coaches, was constructed at Swindon to this design and exhibited at Paddington from 25 to 27 August 1915. The later trains did not have GWR livery, and didn’t show their origins.

The GWR’s Carriage Manager at Swindon, F W Marillier, was on the committee. He designed the folding three-tier bunk system on both sides of the coach which helped to maximise the capacity of the ambulance trains for both lying-down and sitting casualties: the top bunk was used for lying-down patients and the other two for lying-down or sitting cases. He was awarded the OBE in 1918 and the CBE in 1920 for his efforts.

A photograph from the Imperial War Museum archive, taken behind the lines at the Battle of the Somme showing nurses arriving at an ambulance train at Dernancourt in September 1916, see: The train is one of those supplied by the GWR

In 1918 the GWR provided to Ambulance Trains for use of the US army. The trains were painted khaki green outside, and lettered at the ends US 54 and US 55 respectively. Two red crosses were marked on each of the vehicles towards the ends, and in the centre were the letters US in white and red.

The government reimbursed the railway companies for the actual cost of coaches supplied for the Ambulance Trains, plus costs of conversion and transport to their destination.

One of the coaches in the Ambulance Trains supplied by the GWR to the US army in 1918. Photograph published in the Great Western Railway Magazine, April 1918


On 15 January 1898, the Countess of Morley opened the Great Western Railway’s new 6½ mile line from Plymstock to Yealmpton in Devon. There were four intermediate stations on the line: Billacombe, Elburton Cross, Brixton Road, and Steer Point. A special first-class saloon train hauled by a locomotive named Lady Morley for the occasion took the GWR deputy Chairman and guests from Plymouth Millbay to Yealmpton. There was a public holiday on the day in Yealmpton and the goods shed there was decorated with flags, bunting and flowers to serve as a dining room for a celebration champagne lunch.

A steam railmotor and trailer at Steer Point station in 1928. Photograph in the Jeffery collection, Great Western Trust

The branch was notable in being cut off from the rest of the GWR, access being gained with running powers over the London & South Western Railway between Cattewater and Plymstock, a distance of around half a mile.

An early bus converted into a caravan at Yealmpton, photographed on 17 March 1952 by Hugh Davies

The initial modest service of four weekday trains each way was much criticised by locals. It increased in time with railmotors running seven trains a day and increased again to nine a day with auto-trains. A Modbury, Yealmpton and Plymouth bus service started in 1904 and had reached a height by 1926 with up to ten buses a day. By 1928 the line was loss-making and the passenger service ceased in July 1930 due to competition and was replaced by a bus service. Goods services continued with a daily freight service through the 1930s. One of the local buses later found use as a caravan.

Yealmpton station in 1913. Photograph in the Jeffery collection, Great Western Trust

During the Second World War, after a week’s closure from bomb damage in March 1941 the passenger service was re-instated firstly with unadvertised workmen’s trains in July 1941 and then from Plymouth Friary station the following November. This was to help cope with the numbers of people in the area evacuated from Plymouth due to heavy bombing. However, passenger services ceased again on 4 October 1947. Freight only services and a few enthusiasts’ specials continued, with the last being a Plymouth Railway Circle special on 27 February 1960, after which complete closure occurred, and the track was lifted in late 1962.

The silver casket presented to Lady Morley by the GWR after she performed the opening ceremony for the Yealmpton Railway, and an invitation card to the ceremony. Both items in the Great Western Trust collection

This week’s Tuesday Treasure harks back to 1898 and the opening ceremony. The Great Western Trust is fortunate to possess the silver casket presented by the GWR to the Countess of Morley on the day together with an invitation card to the opening event. The casket originally contained views of that part of the county from pictures by local artists, according to a newspaper report.

The opening ceremony on 15 January 1898, photograph in the Great Western Trust collection


Football Crazy

Happy New Year to our followers!

In our previous Tuesday Treasures Blogs in late 2020, we described the BRWR ‘Radio Train’ which in January 1960 was advertised to carry Aston Villa Football Club supporters to an away match at Swansea and then in June 2021 we covered the England v Brazil match in 1956.

Well with it being a strong tradition around Christmas and New Year to hold Football matches, we start 2024 looking back at this handbill from our Great Western Trust collection, published in January 1909 for Bristol City v Southampton in the ‘English Cup 1st Round (Competition Proper)..’

The handbill in the Great Western Trust collection advertising travel via the Didcot, Newbury and Southampton line to the 16 January 1909 match

Clearly interest was expected from folk on the Didcot, Newbury & Southampton line stations, although quite how many children aged 3 to 12 years attended is doubtful even if they travelled half price, or even free if younger!

Sutton Scotney railway station in an old postcard

The standard publicity of the GWR in that era meant that the rear of the handbill advertised the ‘New Fishguard Route to Ireland’ which had cost the Great Western Railway a fortune to create, so every opportunity to mention it was keenly taken. That said however, would football supporters who were dominated by working class men, have been able to seriously invest in such a holiday to Ireland? The Trust Collection has GWR pictorial posters for such Irish attractions, clearly aimed at the gentrified classes!

A football match at Ashton Gate during the Edwardian era. Credit Bristol City

The match on 16 January 1909 ended in a 1-1 draw. Bristol City won the replay at Southampton, and in subsequent rounds beat Bury, Norwich City, Glossop North End and Derby County.

That took them to the Cup Final against Manchester United at Crystal Palace on 24 April 1909. The Great Western Trust collection also includes a handbill advertising excursion tickets to London for this match. As an alternative the same day, Queen’s Park Rangers were playing Croydon Common at Park Royal!

The handbill in the Great Western Trust collection advertising travel from London Division stations to the 1909 Cup Final

At the Cup Final, Manchester United won 1-0, the first time the club had won the FA Cup, and it was also the last time Bristol City made it to the Final.

It must not be forgotten that Manchester United had railway origins, being founded in 1878 at the Newton Heath carriage and wagon works of the Lancashire and Yorkshire Railway. It was known as Newton Heath LYR Football Club, adopting its current name in 1902.

The 1909 Cup Final in progress. Manchester United played in white shirts with a red V. Image: Creative Commons


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