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Great Western Railway
(Note: Numbers in brackets refer to specific references)
The Great Western Railway was promoted by businesses in Bristol who required a direct line to London. I.K.Brunel was hired as the chief engineer and adopted a gauge of seven feet to allow faster running. For the next fifty years, thanks to the broad gauge, the GWR had the fastest train services in the world. The line, which opened in 1841, took eight years to build and its cost had doubled from the original estimates. It was not until 1845 that the broad gauge GWR met a standard gauge line, at Gloucester and here an extra rail was laid to allow standard gauge and broad gauge stock to operate together. This mixed gauge solution was never terribly satisfactory but in the 1850's the GWR built a mixed-gauge line all the way from Oxford to Birmingham. Tracks of assorted gauges reached out to Exeter, Plymouth & Penzance and North to Birmingham, Worcester, Chester & Birkenhead. One key acquisition, in 1863, was the West Midland Rly, which served Oxford, Worcester, Wolverhampton, Hereford, Newport and Abergavenny. In the mid 1870's the GWR absorbed the Bristol & Exeter Rly, the South Devon Rly and the Cornwall Rly. There was much heated debate about the merits or otherwise of broad gauge track but the Gauge Act of 1846 enforced a policy of using 4' 8½" for all completely new lines and referring to this as 'standard gauge'. In 1892 all the remaining mixed and broad gauge track on the GWR was converted to standard gauge. By this time, thanks to the absorption of a great many smaller lines and the building of several new lines, the GWR had more route miles than any other company in Britain.

Broad gauge track used an almost flat hollow-core rail ('bridge rail') bolted down to longitudinal timbers with sleepers at eight foot intervals. The standard spacing for conventional track is two foot six inches between sleepers. Broad gauge track converted to standard gauge can therefore be modelled using Peco flexitrack by removing pairs of sleepers and trimming all the ends as shown in Sketch A. Examples of this converted track were still seen in sidings and the like into the 1920's. A section of dual gauge track, including points, has been re-built at the Didcot Railway Centre, home of the GWR Society.

Some broad gauge wagons were re-built as standard gauge vehicles, a few were built as 'convertible wagons' which could be altered to run on either track. Early standard gauge goods stock was mostly one and two plank wagons with 'raised ends' however I have found no actual photographs of these early wagons. Three plank side-door wagons were built from the 1870's until the introduction of the standard four plank type in the 1890's. The old three plank wagons lasted into the 1930's and some one plank wagons, converted from broad to standard gauge, survived long enough to be come 'match wagons in the XXXX's.

Early GWR goods stock was painted all over 'red' (probably red lead paint, similar to the Graham Farish LNER wagon colour). There were at first no markings on the body however as described in article xx (xx xx RM) markings were being applied by the 1850's. By the 1870's the body colour had changed to the familiar grey and this was applied to the chassis as well.

On the early grey bodied vehicles the GWR had small lettering about six inches high painted on the lower sides of the vehicles as shown in Sketch B. The four plank open wagon in Sketch C was described in article xx (xx xx RM) and carries the 'cast metal' plate livery used between the 1890's and about 1900. In about 1900 the six inch high lettering returned but with a slightly different layout, as shown in Sketch D.. There is an illustration of an 1870's brake van included in Fig ___ which shows this lettering.

In 1904 the large G and W, twenty five inches high, were painted on the sides of wagons. The plan was to paint the large initials close to the ends but they were positioned so as not to overlap any strapping or framing on the vehicle side. The Peco GW ventilated van has the large lettering, painted inboard of the strapping. This van, in this livery, should have the older style outside framed doors as described in Article XX (xx xx RM). The vehicle number was painted to the lower left of the body and the load and tare to lower right in italic script. The GW and the vehicle number was repeated on the ends of several vehicles, notably vans and cattle wagons. Some vehicles had the 'telegraphic code' printed on the side.

During this period the gunpowder vans were in standard freight livery, grey body and solebars with black running gear and a white iron roof. The doors on these vans were painted with a red cross (X) from corner to corner, and the letters G P V, about 18 inches high were painted in red on each end of the body, one letter on each panel, and repeated under the white `G' on the sides, the GP being under the G itself with the V in the next bay. There was a cast metal warning plate on the right hand door of these wagons, about a foot square, painted red. My model is an old 2mm Scale Association iron van kit modified as in Sketch E. The lettering was applied using rub-down office transfers and is slightly inaccurate, the model will be re-lettered with pen and ink in due course.

Passenger rated goods stock such as fish and fruit vans were originally painted 'freight grey' but after the First World War they changed to all-over brown with yellow lettering as shown on the 6 wheeled fish truck in Sketch F.

In 1920 the size of the G & W was reduced to 16 inches and some brake vans with additional weight fitted were painted with a small white five pointed star below the station name on their sides. Banana vans fitted with steam heating to ripen the fruit in transit now had a white disc (about 2 foot in diameter) applied in the lower right of the body. This is the white spot
incorrectly shown on the Peco van. Stock with this livery, albeit rather faded, was seen as late as the mid 1960's.

Passenger livery was originally chocolate bodies with cream upper panels. This changed in 1913 to an all-over dark reddish brown commonly referred to as 'lake' in the literature. In 1923 the company reverted to its chocolate and cream livery for passenger coaches..

Fig ___ Pre-Grouping GWR

Pre-Grouping GWR


(1) GWR Wagons (Vol.1 & Vol.2 produced as a single volume)
A.G. Atkins, W. Beard, D. J. Hyde, R. Tourret
Guild Publishing - 1986 - ISBN 07153 8725 1
An excellent book packed with detail and although not as heavily illustrated as the multi-volume works available for other lines it remains an invaluable reference work for modellers of the GWR.

(2) Great Western Way
J. N. Slinn - HMRS - 1978/79/85 - ISBN 0 902835 09 2
This book details the livery practice of the GWR and also briefly covers the principal liveries of absorbed companies. A very detailed book, well worth having if you are a GWR buff.

(3) Freight Wagons and Loads in Service on the GWR and BR (WR)
J. H. Russell - OPC - 1981 - ISBN 86093 155 2
This is a well captioned photo book but my one reservation is that many of the photographs of loaded wagons show vehicles withdrawn from service due to poor loading practice. Photographs of loaded wagons in transit remain a rarity.

(4) G W Siphons (Milk churn vans)
J. N. Slinn &B. K. Clarke - HMRS - 1985
The definitive history of these distinctive vehicles, some of which lasted in service into the 1980's.

(5) All About GW Iron Minks

(6) GWR Company Servants
by Jannet K. L. Russell - Wild Swan - 1983 - ISBN 0 906867 185
A photo-album type book with a lot of very interesting goods yard shots.


Great Western Society
Didcot Railway Centre
Didcot Oxfordshire OX11 7NJ
(01235) 817200 (01235) 510621

The Broad Gauge Society

West Country Railway Archives
A site covering all the lines in the South West of the country with some interesting information on each of the companies covered.

GWR Modelling

No 2mm scale components or kits are available although 4mm and 7mm are well catered for.
Pendon Museum of Miniature Landscape and Transport, Long Wittenham. Fascinating model of Vale of White Horse in the 1930s. Tel: 01865 407365. Open Saturdays and Sundays and Wednesdays June-August 2-5pm. Bank Holiday Saturdays, Sundays and Mondays 11am-5pm. Closed December. Adults £3, children £2, OAPs £2.50.

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