There were three main ”Railway Centenaries” celebrated between the two World Wars. In 1925, the London & North Eastern Railway held the “The Railway Centenary” celebrating the opening of the Stockton & Darligton in 1825, which it claimed as its ancestor (albeit by “marriage” in 1863) and implying that it was the “First Railway In The World” which it was not. There were some 1500 miles of primitive railway, some even using iron rail, in Britain by1800, but not of course worked by locomotives. These were basically private lines limited to one user – coal mine, quarry, etc. The first railway for public use, the Surrey Iron Railway for goods traffic, obtained its Act of Parliament in 1801, while the first successful long term use of steam locomotives began on the Middleton Colliery Railway near Leeds, in 1812.
The first passenger trains were not steam hauled on the S&D until the 1830s, this innovation began on the Liverpool and Manchester Railway in when it opened in1830, As a descendant, also by amalgamation, this centenary was marked by the London Midland & Scottish Railway in 1930 as “The Centenary of Railways” just as misleading a title
The Great Western was sometimes rather ambivalent about its heritage. In 1921, with nationalisation, or takeover by another company possible threats, it commissioned and published a monumental two-volume history from an accomplished writer, E. T. MacDermot. Yet in 1906, it had calmly scrapped two priceless broad gauge locomotive relics,”North Star” of 1837and “Lord of the Isles” of 1851. because the vast Swindon Works was “short of space”. It was also reticent about where the sudden excess of surplus cash arose in Bristol, which went a long way towards fundig the first stages of the railway. It came in fact from the cash compensation paid by the government to Bristol owners of slave worked estates in the Carribean,when slavery was finally abolished in the colonies.
The LMS had carefully retained a rather random selection of old locomotives and was able to put up an adequate show in 1925 and1930. The LNER had already established a small museum at York, largely consisting of items collected by the North Eastern, inherited from the S&D or in the case of very early Stephenson locomotives, given by colliery owners. The Great Northern had kept the first Stirling single “No 1” as a cherished pet at Kings Cross Top Shed. Compared to these riches, the GWR had nothing. In order not to be left out of the party, a full size non-working replica of “North Star” was built in time for the 1925 celebrations. Of course, it could not run in the procession, but had to be towed loaded on a waggon, minus its funnel, which was out of gauge.
Throughout the 1920s and 1930s the GWR produced some excellent reasonably priced books eaing wit aspects of the company’s history and operations, In its centenary year, 1935, it went one better and, commissioned a film “Romance of a Railway”, starring a young classical actor, Donald Wolfit as Daniel Gooch, and the replica “North Star” in a re-enactment of the opening ceremony. However, all was not quite as it appeared. The locomotive tender and five replica broad gauge coaches were in fact standard gauge vehicles, filmed from an angle which hid the fact.
And just to show that eminent though it was, it could laugh at its self the GWR commissioned W. Heath Robinson, the cartoonist famed for his drawings of impossible machines, to illustrate “Railway RibaRldy” See below
The “Railway Gazette Centenary Souvenir“ of the event is a fitting tribute to a what its admirers claimed GWR stood for -”GOD’S WONDERFUL RAILWAY.”
PREVIEW BELOW – MAY TAKE A WHILE TO LOAD.