THE GREAT WAY WEST
by Ed Chaplin
Peto's Register of GWR Locomotives, Vol. 1, King 4-6-0s, (1995) and Vol. 2, Manors 4-6-0s (1996) edited by Martin Smith, Irwell Press
Plymouth Steam, 1954 - 1963, by Ian H Lane, 1984, Ian Allan
A Royal Branch Line, by CR Potts, uk, Oakwood Press
Summer Saturdays in the West, by David St. John Thomas & Simon Rocksborough Smith, 1973, David & Charles
The Story of the Westbury to Weymouth line by Derek Phillips, 1994, OPC
Taunton Steam by Colin G Maggs, 1991, Millstream Books
Titled trains of the Western, by Cecil J Allen, 1974, Ian Allan
Through the window, the GWR from Paddington to Penzance, 1924; Oldhouse Books
West from Paddington, by Stuart Cole, 2007, Etica Press
West of England Resignalling, by Adrian Vaughan, 1987, Railway World Special, Ian Allan
Many ABC locoshed and other small size books, invaluable to the enthusiast, Ian Allan
Many 'What Happened to Steam' books, produced by Peter Hands
Many in the BR Past and Present series, covering the West Country, P&P Publishing
Many Middleton Press books, which cover the route on a section basis.
Terms and Conventions.
I use the phrase 'original route' to mean the line first built, to join London with Bristol that went via Reading, Swindon, Thingley Junction, and Bath Spa to Bristol Temple Meads. I also include it when referring to the line beyond Bristol to Taunton, Exeter, Plymouth, across the Tamar to Penzance. The first trains to operate from the initial station at Temple Meads did so on 31 August 1840. I use the phrase 'direct route' to mean the line that left the original route at Reading, and then travelled via Newbury, Westbury and Castle Cary, ultimately meeting the original route just before Taunton. It is that route that is the subject of this 'Great Way West'. The direct route has also been referred in official railway documents as 'via Lavington and Somerton', with the 'Westbury and Frome cut-offs or avoiding lines'. I have standardised on the term 'avoiding lines' - except at Bristol.
In addition to the well-known lines that go into and out of Temple Meads station, there is also the Bristol Relief Line, opened on 10 April 1892, sometimes called the Bristol Avoiding Line. Here, I prefer to follow Cooke's Atlas and use the word 'Relief' rather than 'Avoiding'. A major purpose of this through line was to reduce traffic into and out of Temple Meads. That station had been progressively enlarged in its 52 years of existence since 1840, which together with Bath Road shed at the western end, had become very busy. This Relief line was to the south of TM, went past St. Philip's Marsh shed, and carried goods traffic and through passenger trains that otherwise had no cause to travel via Temple Meads. In addition, importantly on holiday Saturdays, several Up and Down West Country passenger trains in the holiday season, to assist in traffic flow each way, used this line, with crews and-or engines changed close to St Philip's Marsh shed. This leads me to emphasise that traffic using the Great Way West comes not only from London, but also the same, if not more in total, that originated in South Wales, the Midlands, and the North, even Scotland; and vice versa.
The two lines heading for Devon and Cornwall come together at Cogload Junction just before Taunton, and this caused many operational and time-keeping problems that had to be overcome. Many trains to 'the North' are shown in WR documents as only 'to Crewe'. In reality, this is wrong: these trains travelled a further 31 miles to Manchester, or 36 miles to Liverpool, mostly with a portion for each. But, coming south, the place of origin rather than Crewe is given, with the train often made of two portions, one from these cities, combined at Crewe. This northern section is in LM territory, and their engines cover not just the lines north of Shrewsbury, but in fact share the through trains between there and Pontypool Pool Road in Monmouthshire, 85 miles to its south, and crews and engines for through trains may be changed there.
(Right) Cogload Junction is where the line from Bristol meets the line from Castle Cary, forming a 4-track section for 6¾ miles to Norton Fitzwarren. At Cogload the original 2-track section was rearranged, so that the Down Bristol line uses a flyover above the line from Castle Cary and then runs alongside towards Creech St Michael and Taunton. The distance to Cogload Signal Box from London Paddington on the original GWR route via Bristol is 158 miles, and 138 miles and 11 chains via the route using the Berks & Hants line. Here 'Castle' class No 5044 Earl of Dunraven of Old Oak Common shed heads the 12.05pm SO Paddington-Plymouth beneath the flyover on Saturday 10 September 1955. Photo is by Jack Craig, now in the RW Hinton archive.
Since much has been written about GWR services to and from the West of England, I have tried to avoid this being a re-hash of what has been written before, preferring instead to make it 'my take' on this marvellous route. Inevitably it contains facts from previous writings, but I have tried to add in much detail on timings and other items that may not be given in the well-known sources, but include informaton from enthusiasts who have shared much with me, and from official papers.
Many GWR notices and their documentation refers to miles and chains: there are 80 chains to one mile. Mileposts were shown in miles and 20 chains units, with 1 unit being 20 chains; 1 chain is 22 yards. So mileposts from 20 to 21 miles show as: 20 with I below the 20; the next one would show 20 with II below the 20, the next 20 with III below the 20, and finally milepost 21. My convention is to show these mileposts as MP20, 20¼, 20½, 20¾, and 21. Today, you will find railway bridges and much else, contain a notice that shows the distance in miles and chains between that bridge and an important point on the line: here in Surrey, the important point is Waterloo.
However with regard to the route from Paddington to Penzance, we learn from Cecil J Allen's informative 'British Express Trains Western Region' the following - 'A point of significance on the route is when the summit by MP122¾ is reached. This milepost was regarded by the GWR as sufficiently important to have passing times of express trains shown against it in their Working Timetable. The MP of 122¾ miles from Paddington is 108 miles and 42 chains via the later, direct route via Newbury. This shorter figure is not reflected in the numbers on the mileposts in this section of line as they adhere to the original route to Westbury via Trowbridge...'
Historical Background and Development of the Great Western main line in brief.
The reason for the variation in mileages is because the original route was not built as a direct route from London to Penzance. It came about in stages using original lines, improvements, and new sections added over the years. This culminated in the (shorter) 305 mile route, but the original mileposts applying to former sections were kept. The extra distance in the Plymouth area and beyond was due to Millbay being the original terminus of the South Devon Railway and later, the Cornwall Railway. The South Devon Railway began services from the east to Millbay on 2 April 1849.
Ten years later, 4 May 1859, the completion of the Royal Albert Bridge enabled the Cornwall Railway to bring trains to Millbay from the west. In anticipation of this, the South Devon Railway built a line from Millbay to the eastern side of the Bridge, so as to link up with the Cornwall Railway.
Geographically this meant Millbay was at the bottom of a V. What was missing was the link between the top of both sides of that V. But it was not until 7 May 1876, that this short link (of 34 chains, or 748 yards) was made by what was called Cornwall Loop Viaduct. This enabled trains between Devon and Cornwall to run without using Millbay. What became the main station for Plymouth, North Road, was also opened in May 1876. Therefore it was as long as 17 years before trains could run across the Royal Albert Bridge from when it was built, to Plymouth North Road, and vice versa.
(Below) Meanwhile In Wiltshire and Somerset, the direct route was created in several phases: (a) Extend from Hungerford to Devizes (1862); (b) Make a junction off the line to Devizes at Patney & Chirton, and build a new line via Lavington to Westbury (1900); (c) Build a line from Castle Cary to the west of Langport to make a junction at Curry Rivel with the existing line heading east from Taunton to Yeovil (1906); (d) Build a line from just after Athelney towards Taunton to omit Durston and join the Bristol line further west, at what was to be called Cogload Junction (1906); (e) Build a flyover at Cogload instead of the flat crossover for Down Bristol trains (1932); (f) Build avoiding lines near Westbury and Frome, suitable for fast running and avoiding the curves into and out of these towns (1933).
The debut run of the Cornish Riviera Express was on 1 July 1904 and ran via Bath and the Bristol Relief Line to before Pylle Hill. The reason was: at that time Temple Meads was small and congested. At the start of the Summer Timetable 1905 the word 'Limited' replaced 'Express'. Then on 21 July 1906, the train used the newly opened direct route via Castle Cary to Langport East, thus clipping 20 miles and 20 minutes off the time between Paddington and Plymouth.
(Inset Left) Over the years changes to trackwork were carried out at numerous places to improve running. This was particularly the case in the West Country and Cornwall where the lines were relaid to reduce the curvature. Also the old timber viaducts from the Brunel era were replaced by brick and metal-built ones alongside, as the safety and longevity of the timber ones was questioned. At several country stations along the route, rebuilding took place with new through lines to allow an express to pass while a slower passenger or goods train was held at the platform. As traffic increased, Refuge and other sidings, and Loops were added, to allow slow-moving goods trains to be held and allow an express to pass. New avoiding lines (I have standardised on that term, instead of 'cut-off' or 'bypass') were built to allow express trains to maintain speeds near to towns at which they were not due to call, in particular Westbury in Wiltshire, and Frome in Somerset. This is Fairwood Junction, 97 miles by the direct route from Paddington. Major track realignment was carried out when the direct route via Newbury was built, and further work took place in 1933 when the avoiding line was built to allow express trains to and from the west avoid the curves and junctions involved in travelling through Westbury. Here 'Castle' class No 5004 Llanstephan Castle of Old Oak Common shed is on a Down express for the West Country on the Westbury avoiding line on Saturday 2 July 1955. The train is the 11.00am SO Paddington - Penzance, due past here at 12.44pm. Despite the apparent confusing position of the signalling, the semaphore on the ex-Westbury line is off, and is applying to this line and train, not to the ex-Westbury line. Photo is by RE Toop Ref X39.
ON A FINAL NOTE.
I cannot stress too highly what a delight it has been to collect, read and refer many times to all the above books, over my years as an enthusiast of matters Great Western and BR Western Region in steam days. I have been lucky to receive letters and emails from several people, in particular Ben Brooksbank, Roger Clemo, Derek Dean, Derek Frost, Chris Hawkins, Colin Stacey, John Copsey, Paul Tomlinson, Richard Woodley and CT Wray. All have answered my questions and generously given much relevant information from their own research over many years. Plus the proprietor of this fine website, David Hey, deserves a medal for how hard he has worked to produce a fascinating and growing website, covering so many aspects of the railways; and he hasn't finished yet. So while it may be my name as collator, chooser of photographs and writer of text, my sincere thanks are to all the persons and the printed words in the items noted above.
About the photographs. A great job has been done in Photoshop to improve many of the postcards used as a basis for this work. Numerous books contain magnificent photographs taken by all the well known and less well kown cameramen over the later steam years.
I have tried to select ones that have not been published. Most selected are of moving trains, and I think it is important whenever possible to define the train, rather than a lame 'westbound express'. A few pictures have been published before, as I am unable to offer a look at the Great Way West without them; the most obvious examples are those by Maurice Earley and RC Riley. All are credited where I can. Many are uncredited as the card I have has no such information on the reverse.
I try to give a reference as often as possible in case viewers wish to get a card for themselves. The picture credits given are taken from the back of the card in my collection. Since the time I acquired many of them, the ownership may have passed to AN Other. But I show what is on my card. Like many collectors, I have acquired too many cards without any information at all on the back, including the loco identity, locality, date etc., or with quite wrong information. Much investigation, 'checking with others' work has been done, and I hope that all captions here are correct.
Discrepancies: Not all sources agree on distances, loco shed and transfer and withdrawal dates etc. Except where noted, I use those given in Atlas of the GWR, as at 1947, by RA Cooke, revised edition 1997, Wild Swan Publications, RCTS loco allocation booklets, and on the Internet BR database, but be warned the latter is incomplete and wrong in some details regarding shed allocations.
GREAT WAY WEST - 1
London Paddington to Iver 0-15 miles
THE RAILWAY PHOTOGRAPHS ON THIS PAGE
STEPHENSON LOCOMOTIVE SOCIETY
LOCOMOTIVE CLUB OF GREAT BRITAIN
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