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British Industrial History

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Swindon Works in 1935

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Aerial view of the Swindon Works
Aerial view of the Locomotive Works at Swindon
GWR Locomotives
General View of 'A' Shop
Two 36-ton Steam Cranes Lifting a 'Castle' Class engine
Construction of 'King' Class Engines
'A' Erecting Shop
'A' Erecting Shop
'A' Wheel Shop
The Iron Foundry
'R' Machine Shop
The Brass Foundry
'A' Machine Shop
Locomotive Testing Plant
Wheel Balancing Machine
Bending Rolls, 'V' Shop
'V' Boiler Shop
The Cylinder Shop
Completing a Firebox
The Body Shop
The Finishing Shop
The Saw Mill (West End)
Carriage Disinfecting Plant
Express Passenger Engine No. 5005 'Manorbier Castle'
Express Passenger Engine No. 6014 'King Henry VII'
Mechanical Institute
Medical Fund Society's Dispensary
The Right Honerable Sir Robert Horne, G.B.E., K.C., M.P. Chairman of the Great Western railway
C. B. Collett, O.B.E., J.P., M.Inst.C.E., M.I.mech.E. Chief Mechanical Engineer
Daniel Gooch. Locomotive, Carriage and Wagon Superintendent from 1837 to 1864
Joseph Armstrong. Locomotive, Carriage and Wagon Superintendent from 1864 to 1877
William Dean, V.D., J.P., Locomotive, Carriage and Wagon Superintendent from 1877 to 1902
George J. Churchward, C.B.E., J.P., M.Inst.C.E., M.I.mech.E. Locomotive, Carriage and Wagon Superintendent from 1902 to 1916. Chief Mechanical Engineer from 1916 to 1921
Principle Officers of Swindon Works (See key below)
Aug 1935. GWR Centenary.Cornish Riviera at St. Austell Viaduct

Swindon Works and its place in Great Western Railway History


SWINDON — the town on the hill — dates back at least eight centuries and is mentioned in the Domesday Book. It was an ancient market town of some note when the Great Western Railway came into being.

Parliament had sanctioned the construction of the railway between Bristol and London in August, 1835, and, thanks largely to the energies of its indomitable engineer, Isambard Kingdom Brunel, construction was commenced three months later and the first completed section of his famous broad (7-ft.) gauge railway — Paddington to Maidenhead, Riverside Station (now Taplow) — was opened in June, 1838.

By December, 1840, the line had been extended through Swindon, and June of the following year saw the whole line between London and Bristol, including the Box Tunnel, in working.

Brunel, who had been appointed engineer to the undertaking when but 27 years of age, selected as his Locomotive Superintendent a young man then scarcely in his majority, one Daniel Gooch, who had been trained with Robert Stephenson and Co.

As early as 1836 Brunel had started making inquiries for suitable locomotives for his railway and we hear of him asking the few builders of railway engines of that time:-

"Whether they would undertake, in what period and upon what terms, to supply two locomotive engines The weight of the engine, exclusive of the tender, but in other respects supplied with water and fuel for work, not to exceed 10.5 tons, and if above 8 tons, to be carried upon 6 wheels. . . . The width in the clear between the rails will be 7 feet, the height of the chimney as usual. All the materials and workmanship to be of the very best description and, excepting when modifications may be necessary, to comply with the conditions above stated, or, for the purpose of improvement, to be similar to the same parts of the bat engines now used on the Liverpool and Manchester Railway."

The Company ordered twenty locomotives from various makers and these would appear to have been a mixed lot and the cause of considerable trouble and anxiety to the youthful Locomotive Superintendent, who wrote in his diary :—

"I was much engaged up to the end of May in getting all ready for opening the portion of the Great Western Railway from London to Maidenhead. On the 31st May, 1838, the directors made their first trip over the whole length of this portion, and it was opened to the public on the 4th June, and then my difficulties with the engines began. The 'North Star' and the six from the Vulcan Foundry were the only ones I could at all depend upon. For many weeks my nights were spent in a carriage in the engine-house at Paddington, as repairs had to be done to the engines at night to get them to do their work next day. The 'North Star,' being the most powerful one and in other respects the best was my chief reliance, but she was often getting into trouble from other causes."

It is interesting to remember that 'North Star' was one of the two engines supplied by Robert Stephenson and Co.

With the rapid growth of the railway arose the necessity for the provision of a central repair depot for the maintenance of the locomotive Stock and Mr. Gooch was asked to investigate and report on the most desirable location for such a depot.

In this connection a further extract from Mr. Gooch's diary is helpful:—

"1840. During this year further portions of the Great Western were opened and agreements were made for leasing the Bristol and Exeter and the Swindon and Cheltenham Railways, and it became necessary to furnish large works for the repair, etc., of our stock. I was called upon to report on the best situation to build these works, and on full consideration I reported in favour of Swindon, it being the junction with the Cheltenham branch and also a convenient division of the Great Western line for the engine working. Mr. Brunel and I went to look at the ground, then only green fields, and he agreed with me as to its being the best place."

This recommendation of the Locomotive Superintendent was endorsed by the Directors, who on February 25th, 1841, authorised the construction of such a depot at Swindon in the following words:-

"Decide to provide an engine establishment at Swindon commensurate with the wants of the Company, where a change of engines may be advantageously made and the trains stopped for the purpose of passengers taking refreshment The establishment there would also comprehend the large repairing shops for the Locomotive Department."

The erection of workshops for the repair of locomotives was commenced without delay. The machinery was started in November, 1842, but the Works were not in regular operation until January 2nd, 1843.

The early success of the Great Western Railway broad gauge locomotives had spurred the narrow gauge railways to great efforts in making their locomotives more powerful, and in order to maintain the superiority of the broad gauge the Directors of the Great Western Railway instructed Mr. Gooch early in the year 1846 to build a "colossal locomotive working with all speed." This order was fulfilled by the production of 'Great Western,' which was the first passenger locomotive constructed at Swindon Works. By working day and night for thirteen weeks, the engine was actually steamed on April 1st, 1846. So successful was 'Great Western' that an order for six more engines of similar design quickly followed.

In the same year (1846) the Gauge Commissioners reported in favour of the narrow (now Standard - 4 ft. 8.5 ins.) gauge, and that report sounded the death knell of the ambitious broad gauge of which Brunel and Gooch were the active pioneers. The report, however, contained the following clause:-

"We feel it a duty to observe that the public are mainly indebted for the present rate of speed and the increased accommodation of railway carriages to the genius of Mr. Brunel and the liberality of the Great Western Railway Company"

which was a tribute to the genius of the Locomotive Superintendent as well as the Chief Engineer of the Great Western Railway of that time.

In November, 1854, the narrow gauge railways of Shrewsbury and Chester were absorbed, and the Great Western Railway Company became possessed of its first narrow gauge stock. In the following year the first narrow gauge locomotive was constructed at Swindon Works.

Various other amalgamations were carried out by the Great Western Railway, which in 186i leased the West Midland Railway for a period of 999 years. The absorption of the West Midland Group (which itself consisted of an amalgamation of 217 miles of track constructed in connexion with the Oxford, Worcester, and Wolverhampton Railway) gave the Great Western Railway valuable rights, especially in regard to the route to the North. The lease provided for the laying down of narrow gauge line between Reading and London, which was effected by putting in a third rail. Owing to the large numbers of narrow gauge vehicles then owned by the Great Western Railway, the third rail, or "mixed" gauge as it was called, was laid to Swindon, Gloucester, and even reached Exeter.

Soon after the leasing of the West Midland Railway, the Directors of the Great Western Railway decided that central works for the construction of carriages and wagons were desirable and should be provided without delay. Consideration was given to a proposal to remove the Carriage Works from Paddington, but delay occurred in deciding upon the most desirable site. Oxford was considered to offer some advantages, but the townsfolk objected, and this objection, coupled with the fact that the site selected was low lying and liable to flooding, led to the project being abandoned. Ultimately, Swindon was chosen for the Carriage and Wagon Works, and these were authorised by the Directors in October, 1867. The Works were commenced in June, 1868, completed the following year, and the first coaching Stock construed at Swindon was put into traffic during the latter half of the year 1869.

By this time it had become apparent that the mixing of the gauge over the broad gauge sections had great drawbacks, especially on the score of expense, and in the year 1869 a policy of gradual conversion from Broad to Standard gauge was decided on.

The first important conversion consisted in the removal of one rail from the mixed gauge lines north of Oxford, and this was followed by others until the date of the final conversion — a wonderful feat of engineering — carried out on May 21st and 22nd, 1892. With the exception of a few hundred wagons which were taken into the Bridgwater Shops, the whole of the vehicles were brought to Swindon, where thirteen miles of additional sidings were laid down for their reception, either for the conversion or breaking up. The broad gauge stock concentrated on Swindon comprised:—

  • 195 locomotives,
  • 748 passenger train vehicles, and
  • 3,400 wagons and vans.

Of the locomotives, 130 had been conStru6fed so as to be readily convertible, and a large proportion of the carriage and wagon stock had also been built with this end in view.

When the work of conversion was at its height, the total number of hands employed in the Swindon Locomotive Works was 5,758, and in the Carriage, Wagon, and Stores Department 4,157; a total of 9,915.

The effect of the Company's selection of the town of Swindon is disclosed by reference to the census returns, which in 1841 gave a total population for the town of 2,459. To-day the population is over 65,000, whilst the number of employees in the Works has increased from 4,500 in 1876 to 12,000.

The Great Western Railway — Its Development

THE Great Western Railway was originally incorporated in 1835, with an authorised capital of £2,500,000, for the purpose of constructing and working a railway from London to Bristol. The public opening took place on January 4th, 1838, when four trains ran from Paddington to Maidenhead. The receipts for 1,479 passengers carried on that date amounted to £226.

To-day the capital of the Company exceeds 167 millions Sterling. There are over 9,000 miles of track, including sidings; about 1,500 Stations and halts, and the Staff numbers over 100,000. The Company also owns 11, and works in all, 14 Steamships. The railway carries approximately 130,000,000 passengers and 65,000,000 tons of merchandise and minerals per annum.

The year 1923 saw the completion of the gigantic task of merging 33 railways into the Great Western group under the provisions of the Railways Act, 1921. The Great Western Railway, besides being the only railway allowed to retain its original title, was the first to conclude its amalgamations and absorptions.

To the Great Western Railway belongs the distinction of having held the record for the longest daily "non-Stop" train in the world, viz., from London to Plymouth, for more than 22 years.

This train, known as the "Cornish Riviera Express," leaves Paddington at 10.30 every morning and by reason of its luxurious appointments and wonderful record for punctuality, is the most popular train in the time-table.

Another noteworthy record set up by the Great Western Railway is that of having the fastest steam train in Great Britain. Leaving Cheltenham at 2.40 p.m. daily it performs the journey from Swindon to Paddington (77.25 miles) in 65 minutes, an average speed of 71.28 miles per hour from Start to Stop.

With the amalgamation of railways the Great Western became the owners of the largest railway dock system in the world.

The South Wales docks, controlled by the Company, besides serving immense coalfields, are the natural gateways for imports to and exports from the great industrial centres situated in the Midlands of England; indeed, a large proportion of world trade, including much of Britain's food supply, finds its way through these ports.

Interesting Statistics

The total rolling stock owned by the Company comprises 3,608 locomotives, 8,948 coaching vehicles and 80,350 mineral and merchandise wagons — all of which, if placed end to end, would extend for a distance of over 300 miles.

The number of engine miles run approximates 90,000,000 per annum, which gives a daily mileage equal to over ten times round the world; the amount of coal consumed on running engines is about 1.75 million tons per year, while the lubricating oil used amounts to over 750,000 gallons a year.

The annual wages bill of the Chief Mechanical Engineer's Department is nearly £6,500,000, and of this sum over £1,600,000 is paid out in wages at Swindon.

Technical Education

The facilities for technical education at Swindon are considered to be amongst the foremost in the country. There is no doubt that this position is largely due to the pioneer efforts of the Mechanics' Institution Council and to G.W.R. officials at Swindon in establishing classes.

Early in the history of the Mechanics' Institution special attention was paid to evening classes for the Study of subjects allied with "Science and Art," precursor to the more modern designation of "Technical Inttru6tion." These classes, conducted by the Council of the Institution, were held in the local schools.

In 1891 the Council of the Mechanics' Institution had before it proposals for the extension of the Institution, including the provision of suitable class rooms. It was about this time that the County Education Committee came into being, and as the outcome of negotiations with this Committee, it was arranged that a new school, separate and distinct from the Mechanics' Institution, should be erected, to be under the management of the local Technical Education Committee and to include representatives from the Institution Council. Under this scheme the whole of the educational work of the Institute was transferred to the local authorities, subsequently being vested in a Statutory Committee of the Town Council appointed under the Education Act, 1902.

In 1896 the Swindon and North Wilts Secondary School and Technical Institution (now known as "The College") was built. Special arrangements were then made with the educational authorities for classes for Great Western Railway students engaged in engineering and other professions; members of the clerical Staff were also provided for.

The outstanding feature of the curriculum for engineering students is a day studentship scheme. This was inaugurated in 1903 by the Directors of the Great Western Railway, who, in order to encourage apprentices to acquire a sound knowledge of technical science, offered a number of free studentships. The number of these is limited to 48 at any one time, twelve in each year, the full course extending over four sessions.

Students who qualify attend day classes at the College on one day per week for twenty-six weeks from October to April, the Company paying their wages as though they were at work, in addition to their college fees.

This scheme has raised the general standard of technical knowledge among apprentices and encouraged Students to aspire to higher posts in the engineering profession.

Approximately one hundred and thirty students have successfully completed the course.

A prize of £10 is offered annually by the Chairman of the Great Western Railway to the Student attaining the best aggregate results during the two previous sessions at the engineering classes, and another prize of f5 is given, under practically similar conditions, to the best commercial Student.

Swindon Works

The Swindon Works of the Great Western Railway comprise one of the largest railway establishments for the construction and repair of locomotives, carriages, and wagons in the world.

The Works are under the control of the Great Western Railway Company's Chief Mechanical Engineer, Mr. C. B. Collett, 0.B.E., J.P., M.I.Mech.E., who is responsible for the supervision of all mechanical and electrical engineering work throughout the system. The total staff employed in this department is normally about 40,000. To Mr. Collett belongs the distinction of having designed the famous "Castle" and "King" classes of locomotives.

The Works are divided into three sections, Locomotive, Carriage, and Wagon, and together they cover an area of 323 acres, of which 73 are roofed.

In addition to the construction and repair of locomotives, carriages, and wagons, a great variety of miscellaneous work is done at Swindon, including large quantities of castings, forgings, etc., for other departments and repairs to pumping and hydraulic machinery.

The machinery as a whole is driven electrically, power being obtained from the Swindon Corporation Power Station, the Great Western Railway Company's maximum demand being approximately 45 per cent of the total demand on the Station.

During the Great War of 1914-1918 immense quantities of munitions were made in the Swindon Works, including the complete manufacture of guns, shells, fuses, bombs, etc., together with parts for submarines, paravanes, howitzers and mines. A large quantity of toluol was also produced for use in the manufacture of the T.N.T. explosive. Great Western Railway engines, ambulance trains, and wagons were a familiar sight in all fields of operation abroad.

In April, 1924, Their Majesties the King and Queen honoured Swindon Works with a visit, when they made a tour of some of the shops and saw many of the features of interest. At the conclusion of their inspection, the King, who was accompanied on the footplate by Queen Mary, drove the locomotive "Windsor Castle," which was attached to the royal saloons, over the three-quarters of a mile from the Works to Swindon Station (the first Stage of the journey back to Windsor), to the delight of thousands of work-people who assembled along the route.

The Locomotive Department

The Locomotive Works are situated on the north side of the main line to Bristol and the West of England. Out of the total of 12,000 persons normally employed in Swindon Works, about 7,000 are engaged in this department. The Locomotive Works include Fitting, Erecting, Boiler-making and Machine Shops; Iron and Brass Foundries; Smiths', Tinsmiths' and Coppersmiths' Shops, Rolling Mills, etc.

Over 1,000 locomotives are repaired here annually, whilst the capacity for constructing new engines is approximately two per week. The equipment is continually being improved and now comprises the most up-to-date tools and appliances that can be found in this country, on the Continent, or in America.

There is also a Points and Crossings Shop where fittings for the permanent way are manufactured for all parts of the system, complicated layouts being assembled in the shop before being dismantled for despatch to their sites.

Another depot of interest is the Concentration Yard where scrap from the Works is colle6ted and metal recovered.

Following is a list of the Shops in the Locomotive Works:-

  • A. Erectors, Boilermakers, Painters, Machine and Wheel Shop.
  • B. Erectors, Boilermakers, Painters and Tender Shop.
  • C. Concentration Yard.
  • D1. Carpenters.
  • D2. Masons' Yard.
  • E. Electrical Shop.
  • F and F2. Smiths, Springsmiths and Chainmakers
  • G. Millwrights.
  • H. Pattern Makers.
  • J. Iron Foundry.
  • J2. Chair Foundry.
  • K. Coppersmiths and Sheet Metal Workers.
  • L2. Tank Shop.
  • M. Electric Sub-Station.
  • N. Bolt Shop.
  • O. Tool Room.
  • P1. Steaming and Boiler Mounting.
  • P.L. Locomotive Works, Platelayers, Rails, Roads and Water Mains Maintenance.
  • Q. Angle Iron Smiths.
  • R. Fitters, Turners and Machinemen.
  • SP. Springsmiths.
  • T. Brass Finishers.
  • TH. Testing House.
  • U. Brass Foundry.
  • V. Boilermakers.
  • W. Turners and Machinemen.
  • X. Points and Crossings Fittings for Permanent Way.


The principal shop is the "A" Erecting and Machine Shop, the area of which is 502,975 square feet, and undoubtedly this is one of the finest locomotive shops in the world. The main idea underlying its planning was to provide for progressive operations connected with locomotive erecting, fitting, and wheeling.

It really comprises four sections, known respectively as "A" Erecting Shop, "A" Machine and Fitting Shop, "A" Boiler Shop, and "A" Wheel Shop.


To facilitate the building and repair of locomotives in this shop, such parts as frames, angle irons, cylinders, motion, etc., are prepared in the Fitting Shops and handed over practically ready for use to the erectors.

The mechanical equipment in the original part of the Erecting Shop includes two electric traversing tables and four overhead cranes of fifty tons capacity each, having electric travelling and hydraulic lifting power. One section consists of an assembly dump, boilers and ash-pans in preparation, and part Machine Shop work, the remainder, containing 36 pits, being entirely used for engine repairs. There is also an electric traversing table for taking engines, etc., in and out of the shop.

The new portion was completed in 1921 for dealing with the largest engines. In this there are sixty pits, each 100 ft. long, which are served by an electric traverser, and there are four overhead electric cranes, each capable of lifting 100 tons with a span of 75 ft. This new portion, in addition to dealing with the repair of heavier and longer engines and rail motor cars, accommodates the pits for the erection of new engines. The equipment for repairing is such that about 400 engines of large type can be dealt with yearly.

In the eastern end of the shop is installed an Engine Testing Plant, by means of which a number of valuable tests can be carried out at varying speeds, and useful data obtained as to drawbar pull, water and fuel consumption, etc. An engine for testing is brought to the plant on a traverser. It is then run on to the table of the machine, resting on the flanges of its wheels. The table is then lowered, allowing the tread of the engine wheels to rest on the wheels of the machine, which permits the wheels of the engine to revolve during testing.

By means of this plant an engine can be run at speeds up to an equivalent of eighty miles an hour, the wheels revolving but the locomotive as a whole remaining Stationary.

These tests are exceedingly instructive in demonstrating just how an engine behaves at varying speeds with all the external disturbing forces due to the road and weather eliminated.

The cleaning or "boshing" of locomotive parts is dealt with in systematic rotation in a building separated from the Erecting Shop by a traversing table. Trolleys are provided for conveying the parts Stripped from the engine to the cleaning or "boshing" plant. Each load is submerged in a boiling solution of sodium phosphate and is then raised and rinsed with cold water until clean. Approximately 180 tons of engine parts are boshed and inspected per week.


The work done in this shop is the repair of parts of the larger engines, such as motion, connecting and coupling rods, piston valves, etc., together with the preparation of new connecting and coupling rods and piston valves, solid and built-up cranks.

Here is located the plant for grinding piston rods, motion bars, quadrants and bush holes in connecting and coupling rods, etc., and rod-milling machines for dealing with coupling and connecting rods.


This is the boiler repair section in which is installed a powerful hydraulic riveter having a 23-ft. gap. It is designed for dealing with long boiler barrels and large cylindrical tanks.


This section is used solely for the turning, tyreing, quartering, balancing, etc., of engine and tender wheels. Something like 6,000 pairs of wheels are dealt with annually.

The operations involved in the preparation of a pair of locomotive driving wheels are many. The wheel centres are purchased as steel castings. The castings are first put into a large boring machine, which bores a hole in the boss for the axle. They are next marked off for the keyway, etc., then placed on a key-seating machine, which cuts the keyway. They are then taken to the hydraulic press, where the axle (supplied accurately machined by the machine shop) is placed in position for the wheels to be pressed on it. Suitable keys or wedges are then fitted and driven in. The wheels (now on the axle) are next placed in a turning lathe, which turns the rims for the tyres. After this the wheels are taken to a gas furnace, where the tyres (already bored out) are heated and shrunk on, afterwards being firmly secured by a fastening which is rolled in place by machinery. The wheels are then placed in the lathe and tyres turned on the tread to the correct dimensions, after which they are put in a quartering machine which bores holes to receive the crank pins, which are pressed in the wheels by hydraulic press.

An interesting feature of this shop is a wheel balancing machine, an ingenious device for ensuring the correct balance of wheels for locomotives. By its use adjustments can be made to the wheels until they are truly balanced, thus giving smooth running and lessening wear and tear when in service.

A gas furnace is employed for expanding tyres, for taking off or putting on. Gas, with air, passes through a mixer in the correct proportions and is conveyed to a tubular ring, and thence through flexible tubes to the burners which surround the tyre at equal distances, thus ensuring uniform heat.


On the charging floor of the cupolas or vertical brick-lined furnaces is the charging mouthpiece through which are passed, in specific proportions, pig iron, scrap iron, and coke.

The blowers producing the blast are electrically driven and capable of forcing 9,000 cubic feet of air per minute against a pressure of 16 inches water gauge.

The molten metal issues from each cupola at the rate of 5 to 12 tons per hour as required. The total output of finished castings is about 9,000 to 10,000 tons per annum.

One of the most interesting of the castings is that for the combined cylinder and saddle for a "King" class locomotive. For its production it is necessary to make the moulding boxes in four separate parts, with twenty separate cores.

The largest casting produced in this foundry was one of 65 tons for the anvil block of a 4-ton drop stamp.

There is also a Chair Foundry attached, with its own cupolas, producing 9,500 tons of rail chairs and 2,800 tons of other castings per annum.


This foundry is equipped with modern furnaces for brass, gunmetal, phosphor bronze and other non-ferrous material.

The total output is in the neighbourhood of 1,700 tons per annum.


Here is produced practically the whole of the brass-work for locomotive and general purposes. Boiler mountings which are manufactured and repaired have to work with steam pressure up to 250 lbs. per square inch, and are subject to stringent independent tests under live Steam.

The repair and testing of pressure gauges is of interest; the gauges are tested against accurately calibrated master gauges, which are periodically tested on a dead weight testing machine in which a series of very accurate weights are suspended on a column of water 0.375 in. in diameter. This machine is capable of testing up to pressures of 2,000 lbs. per square inch.


This shop is set apart for the machining of cylinder work, locomotive frames and certain operations to boiler foundation rings, smoke-box doors, etc. The approximate output of cylinders is 230 pairs per annum. For dealing with them a special battery of boring mills, planing machines, radial drilling and tapping machines is provided.

Frames are cut to shape by oxy-coal gas jet machines, then slotted in batches of 10 on a special machine and drilled on a machine with four radial drilling heads; cheek blocks are also fitted to frames.


In later years machinery has figured largely in boiler construction, and the Swindon Boiler shop is thoroughly and efficiently equipped in this direction.

Worthy of notice is the large hydraulic flanging press which works at a pressure of 750 pounds to the square inch.

The flanging of cold copper plates is carried out in this shop, which was the first to introduce that system.

Electric machines are gradually replacing compressed air machines in this shop. Boiler plates are cut out and edges shaped by the oxy-coal gas process


This yard has been laid out with a view to considerable economies resulting from the central handling of all general scrap, including cutting up of condemned locomotives, boilers, tenders, etc. A large building has been erected, fitted with an overhead crane of 25 tons capacity, plate bending rolls, three shearing machines and the necessary compressors, acetylene generator, oxygen mains and electric lifting magnets.

Engines and boilers to be cut up are dealt with here and the parts subsequently sorted out into their respective classes of scrap.

In the yard are three electric travelling Goliath cranes varying in capacity from three to ten tons for Slacking scrap and for loading it into wagons for disposal. Sidings are also laid out for coal and coke slacking in this area and there is a weighbridge installed for weighing all material for sale. There is a proteaed area for breaking up large castings with the drop ball handled by an electric Goliath crane.


The Spring Shop has been completely remodelled, the furnaces being gas-fired, and the temperature of each is automatically controlled.

Some of the principal features in connexion with the improvement of the Locomotive Works of recent years are as follows:

Electric motors for driving the machinery have replaced numerous steam engines and boilers, effecting economy in working and maintenance costs, and facilitating the layout of the machinery to the best advantage.

Complete systems of hydraulic and pneumatic power are provided. There is a central steam supply from a battery of eight water tube boilers.

The Gas Works are equipped with vertical retorts for the continuous carbonisation of coal for the production of gas, the use of which gives more regular heating for the various processes at lower cost, whilst valuable by-products are saved which were lost when coal was used for each individual furnace.

There is a Boiler Testing Plant by means of which all boilers are tested, first by hydraulic power and then under steam at high pressure, supplied from a master boiler, so that fires are unnecessary in the fireboxes of the boilers tested. This method permits of careful examination being made of boiler and firebox while under steam pressure.

There is a complete system of inspection and testing of purchased materials, and a particularly interesting feature of progress is the Research Department, established for investigating the values of different methods and processes, and for ascertaining the behaviour, lasting properties, and suitability of various materials.

A Heat Treatment shop equipped with gas-fired furnaces has been ereaed. These furnaces, which can be maintained at uniform temperatures, are supplied with delicate measuring and recording instruments for the treatment of high tensile, carbon and alloy steels.

The welding and cutting equipment includes numerous fixed and portable electric and acetylene plants. The oxygen used in the cutting and welding processes is extracted from the atmosphere by the liquid air process.

The general equipment now includes a wide assortment of automatic and other machines and tools capable of operating to thousandths of an inch.

Centralised control of the transport of material in the Works has been introduced, resulting in considerable economy. The mechanical transport equipment includes a large number of petrol-electric and petrol-driven trucks, all of which can be utilised with trailers.

Carriage and Wagon Department

The Carriage Works are situated on the South side of the main line to Bristol and the West of England, whilst the Wagon Works lie to the North-east. Normally, about 5,000 men are employed in this section.

The building capacity of the Carriage Works during a year is 275 passenger vehicles of various types, whilst that for repairs is 5,000 coaches, 3,000 being in the nature of heavy repairs. The Wagon Works are capable of constructing 4,750 new wagons, and of repairing about 8,000 per annum.

The Shops in the Carriage Works are shown below:-

  • 1 Sawmill (West End).
  • 2 Sawmill.
  • 3 Fitting and Machines.
  • 4 Carriage Body Building.
  • 5 Electric Train Lighting Equipment.
  • 6 Carriage Body Repairs.
  • 7 Carriage Finishing.
  • 8 Carriage Painting.
  • 9 Carriage Trimming.
  • 9a Lining Sewers (Female).
  • 10 Laundry (Female).
  • 10a Polishers (Female).
  • 11 General Labourers.
  • 12 Carpenters.
  • I2a Polishers.
  • 13 Wagon Frame Building.
  • 13a Carriage Frame Repairs.
  • 14 Smiths.
  • 15 Fitting and Machines.
  • 15a Plumbers, Gas and Steam Fitters, Tinmen and Coppersmiths.
  • 16 Wheel.
  • 16a Casehardening and Normalizing.
  • 17 Road Vehicle Building and Repairing.
  • 18 Stamping.
  • 19 Carriage Repairs (subdivided as under).
    • 19a Carriage Trimmers Repairs.
    • 19b Carriage Finishers Repairs.
    • 19c Carriage Lifters.
    • 19d Vacuum Brake and Carriage Bogie Repairs.
  • 20 Horse Box and Carriage and Truck Repairs.
  • 21 Wagon Building and Repairs, Wood Section.
  • 21a Wagon Repairs, Iron Section.
  • 21b Wagon Painting.
  • 22 Oil and Grease Works.
  • 23 Platelayers' Yard, Maintenance and Breaking-up Yard.
  • 24 Carriage Paint Repairs.
  • 24a Carriage Body Repairs.


One of the most interesting features of the Carriage and Wagon Works is the new Saw Mill and Timber Drying Kiln. The latter is on the Sturtevant compartment system. The three essentials in a successful artificial seasoning plant, viz., air circulation, heat and moisture, are all secured in the system employed at Swindon.


A complete change in the design of the carriage Stock has resulted from steel entering largely into congtruction. The sides and roofs are of steel sheets fixed to a skeleton framework of timber so that the whole of the exterior of the coaches is of steel, and fireproof. The interiors are panelled in wood and upholstered in the usual manner.


The electrical equipment for the rolling stock passes through this shop, which is divided into three sections, viz., fitting and machine shop, battery repair shop and battery charging room. All apparatus is given a complete tent representing traffic conditions at all speeds.


In this shop most of the interior woodwork is prepared, comprising corridor, lavatory and gangway doors, quarter- and door-windows, frames for seat backs, panelling, luggage racks and woodwork for ele6tric lighting. After treatment in the Painting and Polishing Shops, these parts are ready for erection in the coach body shop by the "finisher."


On leaving the Body Shop, coaches are passed into the Painting Shop, where they are painted, varnished, lettered and finished off with the Company's monogram.


The work performed by men in this shop consists principally of the trimming and upholstering of coaches. Female operatives are also employed here on varied work, such as linings for cushions, blinds, towels, bed and pillow cases, window Straps, canvas suitings, etc.

A section of this shop is devoted to leather work, such as vestibule gangways, despatch bags, tablet pouches for Staff working and Straps of every description. Here, also, horse hair for cushions, etc., is prepared, and carriage trimmings, rugs and carpets are cleaned by suIion machinery.


This may be termed the general utility shop of the department. Among the principal products are ticket-stocking and issuing cases, label racks, tables, chairs and lounges for waiting rooms, Station platform seats, trolleys and furniture of every description.


This is regarded as the show shop of the Carriage and Wagon Works. Its products include fittings for the vacuum brake (new and repaired), the either-side wagon brake, axle boxes, regulating gear for auto trains and trailer-cars, draw gear, axles and boxes for road vehicles, platform trolleys, rail and load gauges, post card, timetable and ticket-issuing machines for the Traffic Department, and the under-frames for carriages, complete with bogies, up to 70 feet in length, and for rail and timber wagons 45 feet to 70 feet in length.

A speciality is made of the jig and template system, enabling the work to be turned out rapidly and accurately.

Hydraulic riveters are attached to travelling gantries carrying the riveters to any part of the shop. Pneumatic appliances are also used extensively.

In this shop also are prepared metal fittings for coaches, such as brass and iron furniture, Steam heating apparatus, iron portions of corridor gangways, slip coach gear, gas lamps and governors, air brake communication apparatus, etc.


This shop has been equipped with the most modern machinery during the last year or two. Double ended machines for grinding the journals of carriage wheels, after the wheel centres have been pressed on to the axles, have been installed, also machines for boring, facing and turning the wheel centres in one setting. In this shop are wheel lathes with attachments for grinding the treads of worn and brake-hardened carriage tyres, resulting in great economy in the amount of tyre steel removed. There are also heavy duty wagon wheel lathes for turning the treads of the tyres, by which the whole operation on a pair of wheels is completed in twelve minutes.


In this shop all kinds of forgings formerly produced by the smith are now stamped out by means of dies. For making the latter an automatic machine has been installed in which the Steel dies are machine cut, thus superseding hand cutting.


This is a modern shop covering an area of seven and a half acres where carriage body repairs and painting are carried out. It has 28 roads and can accommodate 250 coaches.


This plant has been built and put into operation for disinfecting, killing vermin and destroying bacteria in coaches and other vehicles, particularly those used for the conveyance of flour and grain.

It consists of a steel cylinder 85 ft. long and 16 ft. 6 ins. diameter, in which is fitted a railway track upon which the vehicles to be treated are run, without having to be dismantled in any way.

Great Western Railway Locomotives 1837-1934

The development of the railway locomotive is a story of ever increasing tractive power. Whilst comparatively high speeds were attained on the Great Western Railway as far back as the 'forties, the weights of the trains hauled in those days were but a fraction of those with which modern locomotives have to deal. From a few small carriages the train load has grown to 15 or more 60-ft. coaches, including dining and kitchen cars, and having an aggregate weight of 500 tons behind the tender.

"North Star" (2-2-2), one of the first locomotives supplied to the Company — built by Robert Stephenson and Co in 1837, and originally intended for the New Orleans Railway of America — was the engine which gave the most satisfactory performance at the public opening of the line in June, 1838. She was considerably altered at Swindon Works in 1854 and remained in active service until 1870.

Another old broad-gauge engine of fame was "Lord of the Isles" (4-2-2), built, like most G.W.R. locomotives (after the very earliest days) at the Company's locomotive works at Swindon. Produced in 1851, she was probably the fastest and most powerful broad gauge locomotive that ever existed. She ran 789,300 miles with her original boiler intact. Wonderful stories are told of speeds obtained by these old eight-foot single-wheelers. Trains hauled by them were actually booked to leave Didcot (53 miles) fifty-seven minutes after departure from Paddington.

The present "North Star," built in 1906, was originally 4-4-2 and was converted in 1909 to 4-6-0, and in 1929 rebuilt as a "Castle." As a "Star" she was typical of a famous class of four-cylinder engines which may be said to have marked an epoch in railway locomotive construction. Large numbers of these engines are included in the G.W.R. "fleet," and they have rendered admirable service, although present day requirements demand engines of even greater power. The "Stars" and other types closely resembling them were responsible for creating and regularly maintaining such speedy "non-shop" runs as that from Paddington to Plymouth (225.75 miles), a world's record for over twenty-two years, and a run which is considerably faster than any other "non-shop" run of over 220 miles.

"Caerphilly Castle" made her debut in August, 1923, and was followed by sister locomotives, making sixty of the "Castle" class. These engines, which were a development of the "Star" class, embodied many new and distinct features, including a larger boiler, and had a weight (with tender) in working order of about 126 tons. When exhibited at the British Empire Exhibition at Wembley in 1924, "Caerphilly Castle," then the most powerful passenger locomotive in the Kingdom, attracted a continuous stream of admirers.

In addition, six other engines (one "Pacific" and five "Star" class) have been rebuilt as "Castles."

The latest departure in Great Western Railway locomotive construction is the production of the "King" class, named after the Kings of England, the first completed engine being appropriately named after the reigning monarch. These engines rank among the most powerful express passenger locomotives in the country, with a tractive effort of 40,300 lbs. at 85 per cent of the boiler pressure.

The weight on the driving wheels totals 67 tons 10 cwts., whilst the weight at the bogie is 21.5 tons, the total of the engine in working order, without tender, being 89 tons. The tender is of the standard Great Western Railway six-wheeled pattern, equipped with water pick-up apparatus. It weighs when full 46 tons 14 cwts., has a coal capacity of 6 tons, and water capacity of 4,000 gallons, the weight of engine and tender in working order being therefore 135 tons 14 cwts.

New features are presented by the bogie, which is spring controlled and of a unique design. It has outside bearings on the leading axle, and inside bearings on the trailing axle, this arrangement being necessary in order to obtain clearance between the bogie and the cylinders. The four cylinders are not set in a line across the engine, but the inside pair are set well forward in the frames and drive on to the leading coupled axle, and the outside pair drive on to the middle coupled wheels.

Steam is supplied to the inside cylinders by piston valves operated direct from the Walschaert gear placed between the frames, the valves for the outside cylinders being operated by rocking levers from the inside gear. The inside connecting rods have forked big ends fitted with gib and cotter, but the outside rods have solid bushed ends. The boiler is a standard No. 12 high-pressure super-heated boiler working at a pressure of 250 lbs. per square inch, built with conical barrel and Belpaire firebox, without a dome. The steam is taken from an open pipe at the highest point over the firebox, and the safety valve is mounted on the barrel.

In constructing the inside firebox, copper is used, stayed entirely by direct steel and copper stays to the outside casing, and the standard Swindon type super-heater is fitted. The boiler is also fitted with top feed, the water being fed through pipes in the safety valve casting. Equalised vacuum braking is operative on all the coupled wheels. The cab is spacious, well protected by an extended roof and side windows. The Company's automatic train control is fitted, the use of which has been extended to the principal main lines.

The engine is finished in the same style as that adopted for other Great Western Railway express passenger engines. Features which contribute to a handsome appearance are the chimney top of copper, safety-valve cover, cab and splasher beadings of brass, and polished Steel handrails.

Considerable interest is taken in British locomotive practice in America, and there was nothing but admiration for "King George V" by visitors who flocked to see her at the Baltimore and Ohio Centenary Exhibition in 1927 where, with the old "North Star" — representing G.W.R. locomotives ancient and modern — she was on view.

The question may be asked: "What are the advantages of these high-powered locomotives?" The answer is to be found in the G.W.R. summer time-table, in which the Cornish Riviera express, hitherto timed to cover the 225.75 miles from London to Plymouth in 4 hours 7 minutes, is scheduled to do the journey, London to Devonport, 227 miles in 4 hours 2 minutes, at an average rate of over 56 miles per hour, with a very much heavier train, whilst on the winter service the run is covered in 4 hours 4 minutes, including a stop at Exeter.

Some comparative data of the "King" class and other locomotives referred to is given below, illustrating the continuous growth in power of G.W.R. engines.

1837 North Star 1851 Lord of the Isles 1909* North Star 1923 Caerphilly Castle 1927 King George V
CYLINDERS: Diam. and Stroke (2) 16x16 (2) 18x24 (4) 14.25x26 (4) 16x26 (4) 16.25x28
DRIVING WHEEL: Diameter 7ft 0in 8ft 0in 6ft 8.5in 6ft 8.5in 6ft 6in
BOILER PRESSURE: Lbs. per sq. in. 50 140 225 225 250
HEATING SURFACE: Total — Sat. and Sup. sq. ft. 694.7 1,750 2,014.4 2,312 2,514
GRATE AREA: Sq. ft. 13.62 24.0 27.07 30.28 34.3
TRACTIVE EFFORT: m.e.p. = 85%, B.P. 2,070 9,640 25,085 31,625 40,300
WEIGHT OF ENGINE: Tons 18.5 41.9 75.6 79.84 89.0
RATIO: Lbs. Tractive Effort, per ton 111.9 230 321.7 396 452.8
  • Since converted to "Castle" class.

Welfare and Recreation

From their commencement the Great Western Railway Company's Works at Swindon have been closely identified with admirably conceived plans for the welfare and recreation of the employees, and brief particulars follow of the various Societies.

Trustees safeguard the properties of these Societies, and control is vested in committees of management consisting of duly elected representatives of the employees.

Funds are maintained largely by contributions from the employees, but some financial assistance is afforded by the Directors of the Great Western Railway.


The Mechanics' Institution originally commenced as a library in September, 1843, the necessary volumes being either presented by interested persons or purchased by the Company.

In the following year the Mechanics' Institution was established "for the purpose of disseminating useful knowledge and encouraging rational amusement amongst all classes of people employed by the Great Western Railway." Its initial membership was fifteen and there were about 130 books in the library. The first President was Mr. (afterwards Sir) Daniel Gooch, and Mr. Brunel was an honorary member.

At the present time the Mechanics' Institution has a fine library of 50,000 volumes, reading rooms, separate recreation rooms for billiards, chess and draughts, a theatre and a dance hall.


This is a wonderful example of welfare work and dates from the year 1847, when the Medical Fund Society was established for the purpose of providing medical and surgical attendance and medicine for the members of the Society and their families. In addition to a well-equipped dispensary, the Society owns washing, Turkish and swimming baths. It also includes up-to-date and efficient dental, ophthalmic and physiotherapy departments.

The Great Western Railway Accident Hospital, attached to the Medical Fund Society, is situated close to the Works.

The medical Staff of the Society consists of the medical director and consulting physician, a chief surgeon and eight assistant medical officers, while the hospital staff comprises a matron and nineteen nurses. The dental department is under the charge of a dental surgeon, who has two assistants and two nurses.

The membership of the Medical Fund Society is 13,000, but between 40,000 and 43,000 is the total number, including wives and dependants, to whom medical and surgical attendance is available.


In March, 1864, a meeting was held at Swindon and a Committee formed to consider means of providing sick and superannuation benefits for drivers and firemen.

The Locomotive Carriage and Wagon Superintendent at the time (Mr. Joseph Armstrong) was the first President, whilst other Officials of the Company accepted office.

The number enrolled during the first year was 990, whereas the present membership comprises about 11,000 drivers and firemen from all over the G.W. system, excluding pensioners.

Benefits now payable are for sickness, superannuation, assurance at death or on retirement, wife's funeral fee and widows' and orphans' allowances.

The offices, including the Trusteeships, are still held by Company's officials, the registered office being at the Swindon Works.


This is an independent society, which was commenced in the year 1844 by the employees for the purpose of providing allowances during illness, together with a superannuation allowance upon retirement. The number of members is 6,089 (1934).


The part played by the St. John Ambulance workers in the Swindon Shops is worthy of mention. The Swindon class was formed in 1882, and was therefore one of the earliest in the movement. The members are available at all times to render "first aid" in cases of accident and sudden illness in the Works.

Classes of instruction conducted by medical officers are held during the winter months, and examinations take place at the close of the session.


In the very early days of the railway at Swindon – 1844 — the Company purchased land which they eventually enclosed and made into the "G.W.R. Park," but as its use was not confined exclusively to Great Western employees, it became, in effect, a public park, and in 1925 it was officially transferred to the local authorities.

In 1927 the Company, recognising the advantages of healthy recreation for its employees, decided to acquire a sports ground of about 13 acres on the outskirts of the town, and this ground was opened in May, 1931. The purchase and equipment of the ground was undertaken by the Company, and in addition, a substantial yearly grant is made towards the cost of upkeep.

Management is in the hands of the G.W.R. (Swindon) Athletic Association in conjunction with appointed officers of the Company.

The Cricket Ground is one of the best in the district whilst bowlers are catered for on a green of Cumberland turf. There are ten courts (three hard) provided for tennis, and other sports include hockey, putting, and outdoor miniature rifle practice.

A new Pavilion has just been erected, which includes a Skittle Alley, Recreation Room, Baths, Bar, etc.


The Social and Educational Union, Swindon Branch, was inaugurated in 1922 in succession to the old G.W.R. Temperance Union which dated from April, 1883.

The obje6ts are recreational and educational and the fostering of goodwill and fellowship amongst the members of the Great Western Railway Staff.

Practically every branch of outdoor and indoor sport and recreation is catered for in "All Line" competitions. A yearly Musical Festival is one of the outstanding events; an Arts and Crafts Exhibition, Fur and Feather and Horticultural Shows are organised annually.

A fund—known as the Helping Hand Fund and supported by voluntary contributions — is run by the Union and this has proved of great assistance in relieving suffering and distress brought about by lengthy illness and bereavement.


An interesting feature is the annual holiday for the employees of the Swindon Works, which usually takes place in July. No fewer than 26,000 people, comprising employees and their dependants, are conveyed annually in about 30 special trains in connection with this event.

It is interesting to note that the first excursion of this kind was run in 1849 for the benefit of members of the Mechanics' Institution, and about 500 persons participated.

See Also

Source of Information

Swindon Works and its place in Great Western Railway History published by the GWR in 1935

Photo Caption (above)


Standing (left to right): Messrs. S. J. SMITH, Chief Draughtsman; R. G. HANNINGTON, Manager of Locomotive Works; J. KELYNACK, Chief Clerk; E. T. J. EVANS, Manager Carriage and Wagon Works.

Sitting: Messrs. J. R. W. GRAINGE, Electrical Assistant to C.M.E.; J. AULD, Principal Assistant to C.M.E.; C. B. COLLETT, C.M.E.; F. W. HAWKSWORTH, Assistant to C.M.E.; F. C. HALL, Locomotive Running Superintendent and Outside Assistant to C.M.E.