Any timetable offers a snapshot in time of a railways’ activities,and delving into the pages gives a glimpse of what was happening at that particular juncture.
After a decade of steady reduction, the broad gauge mileage of the GWR increased to 327, with the absorption of the Bristol & Exeter and South Devon Railway and conclusion of a working agreement with the Cornwall Railway in 1876.At the end of the year, mixed gauge mileage stood at 219 (making a total of 546 against the narrow gauge lines total of 1,421.
By the summer of 1877, of the 51 passenger trains leaving Paddington daily, only 12 were still
on broad gauge. Paradoxically, the very last GWR broad gauge line- the St. Ives branch – also opened in 1877.
With the appointment of William Dean as Locomotive Superintendent in 1877, the Locomotive Dept. with works at Swindon (broad and narrow gauge) and Wolverhampton (narrow gauge) for northern division lines, came under unified control. During this decade and the next, the 29 members of the “Iron Duke” class – the principal broad gauge GWR express locomotives
dating from he late 1840s – were successively withdrawn, supposedly to be “re-built”, but apart from the first two or three, they were completely renewed as the 24 members of the “Rover” Class. They incorporated various improvements over the “Iron Dukes” but were hardly “20 years” more advanced.
Following the crisis which had resulted in Sir Daniel Gooch being drafted in as chairman, once matters were on a more even keel the GWR settled into a kind of complacency, with a distinct lack of ambition to do other than consolidate its rather disparate empire, leading up to the final abolition of the broad gauge in 1892
Foxwell and Farrer (Express Trains English and Foreign, 1889) wrote “This is the largest English line as regards extent in miles, and the second largest in regard to traffic. But its proportion of express running is still very unsatisfactory The greater portion of its three main routes is blessed with extremely easy gradients, hence the speed of its best trains is extremely high; and as there are few of these quick trains, they are particularly crowded. From time to time as years pass on, the company with timorous hand adventures on a new express which is instantly filled yet they will not try the experiment on a larger scale, and face their rivals with a serious express programme. In many ways such a great line that its meanness in the matter of quick trains is the more incongruous; Thus twenty years ago (i.e. 1869) its Exeter expresses ran at the same speed as now. – only a shade slower than the quickest Great Northern run today… The Great Western is a very solid line, and makes its progress in a solid style; doing some great things and many small, but all alike with the immovability of Jove”. It is worth mentioning that throughout this period, the best trains conveyed only “First” and “Second” class passengers and there are special pages at the rear of the timetable indicating trains where “Third” class travel was allowed.
The appointment of William Dean was a harbinger of change. By the time of hIs retirement in 1902,the GWR was changing out of all recognition. The locomotive department was about to become the most advanced in Britain, engineering works carried out, in progress or planned included a new harbour at Fishguard and various cut-off lines shortening the distance to najor destinations. No longer could it be said that “GWR” stood for “Great Way Round!”
PREVIEW BELOW – MAY TAKE A WHILE TO LOAD.