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The Great Western page 2

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But the three-rail system, with its complicated points and sundries, proved expensive and unsatisfactory, and in 1868 the defiance of the inevitable came to an end. The conversion of the road followed the conversion of the directorate. The first line to be converted from the broad gauge to the narrow was that from Prince's Risborough to Tring; next year the narrow gauge was substituted on the lines from Grange Court to Hereford, from Oxford to Wolverhampton, from Reading to Basing-stoke. Next year the narrow gauge was put down between Maidenhead and Oxford, and so the conversion extended until in 1892 the broad gauge was quite cleared away. And with its disappearance the company began to thrive as it had never done before.

Brunei's error lay in assuming that with the introduction of steam an entirely fresh start could be made instead of a development. The wider gauge - as he found when, three years after he had started on The Great Western, he made the narrow-gauge Taff Vale and took in the Penydaren line - would have rendered it impossible to utilise the old tram-roads without Acts of Parliament to widen them; and the error was all the more noteworthy from the fact that the first railway he was employed on was but an extension of the old Gloucester & Cheltenham tram-road with which he began his surveys. Nothing is more remarkable in railway story that in the battle of the gauges, which he provoked, the decisive encounter should have been between his first line and the one he brought to it, for Gloucester proved to be the key of the position.

Here not only did all change but everything changed. The broad wagons coming up from the south had to be unloaded into the narrow wagons for the north, and the goods from up Birmingham way had to be transferred into the larger broad wagons. Confusion reigned supreme. Every truck took on an average an hour to empty and an hour to pack, to say nothing of the damage caused by handling and the expense of delay. Anything that went wrong was always "lost at Gloucester." All sorts of devices were tried to improve matters, but in vain, owing to the trucks being of different sizes and the men taking sides as if the transhipment were a football match or an incident in a civil war. It soon became clear that either the narrow gauge must get to Bristol or the broad into Birmingham, and this resolved itself into whether the Bristol & Gloucester should be controlled by the Midland or The Great Western. The Great Western were in possession, they were managing the line and were large shareholders, and considered they had a prior claim; but on the critical day Mr. Ellis of the Midland offered a six per cent, guaranteed dividend on the stock, while Mr. Saunders of The Great Western only offered share capital, and he lost the bargain. Thus the northern advance of the broad gauge was stopped in the west and the narrow gauge went into Bristol.

Brunei in those experimental days made another expensive mistake - it cost nearly 100,000 - in endeavouring to do something new. The older tram-roads were of wood laid en cross sleepers; on the wood the iron was placed, until in time the iron was made strong enough to be laid on the sleepers without intermediate support. Brunei, following Trevithick at Torrington Square and Robert Stephenson in the mile of line through Glenfield tunnel, put his rails on longitudinal sleepers, bracing them together with cross-ties or transoms, but he made matters worse by resting the joints of the sleepers on piles driven from 7 to 10 ft. deep. The top of the sleepers he adzed or planed down to one uniform surface, on which he placed a plank of hard wood sloping inwards at an angle. This hard-wood plank he laid on with a thick bed of tar and nailed down with two long nails, the nails being driven in two rows on each sleeper so as not to interfere with the bolts, the heads of the nails being punched in so that the wood could be planed; and then he tarred the surfaces of all the joints and butts, and the whole of the bottom and sides of the sleepers and all the ironwork. The rails, which were of what is known as the bridge section with a slight bevel inwards, were fastened down by screw bolts, a piece of felt being placed between their base and the wood, the outside screws having square heads, the heads of the inside ones being countersunk on account of the flange of the wheel. The outside screw was driven until the rail fitted close down; the inner one was then screwed tight, and a very heavy roller was passed two or three times along the rails and the screws tightened up wherever possible. In fact a beautiful, well built, rigid road.

But it was too rigid. There was no spring between sleeper and sleeper to give the wheels a firmer grip and help the train to climb a gradient, though it would have done well on the level if it had not been for the piles, on which a little wet weather left the sleepers hanging. On the Manchester & Leeds in 1839 a part of the line through a rock cutting had the chairs spiked directly down to the native rock, and people expected they would last for ever, but they were all taken up in three weeks, as unless the train slowed to some four miles an hour rails and springs were broken wholesale. Jesse Hartley, in a search for rigidity, bolted his rails down on to parallel walls of granite, but rails, tyres, and springs broken daily soon convinced him of the error of his ways. This pile arrangement of Brunei's was almost as bad, and every pile along the twenty-three miles between Paddington and Maidenhead had to be pulled up or driven down out of harm's way.

Now, The Great Western uses no roller to level its track, and lays its rails on cross sleepers like other companies. You can see them being pickled at Hayes by the side of the canal, the yard looking as though boys had been playing there with a box of gigantic bricks, each 9 ft. long less an inch, 10 in. wide and 5 in. thick. Those logs are passed through a machine that bores in them at once all the holes for the bolts and trenails, so that there can be no trouble about the accuracy of the gauge, and then they are pickled wholesale in the tar works into which the sleeper yard tails out - a much more speedy process than the treatment of the longitudinals in the days of Brunei. But though his methods were in some particulars mistaken, what a fine, spacious road he made!

Starting from Paddington, the most comfortable of terminal stations, designed by Brunei and decorated by Digby Wyatt, we soon pass Kensal Green, where the nearness to the North Western tells of that short period when it was proposed to join that line a little beyond where is now Willesden Junction and run with it into Euston. Soon we are on the Hanwell embankment, which, not being made on a wide enough base, burst through the stratum of clay and took more material, most miscellaneous, to repair the damage than was used in the first instance to make it; and then we are running along Morton Peto's first contract, the Wharncliffe Viaduct over the Brent, with its eight elliptical arches of 70-ft. span.

Southall, with its water-softening tower, comes next, and then we reach West Dray ton, where Daniel Gooch, then a few days older than twenty-one, the youngest of locomotive superintendents, came to live in August 1837 and proceeded to build the engine-house. Into this the two first engines of the line were run after being hauled up from the canal barges, berthed about a mile away, by which they were delivered from their makers in the north. The first to arrive was the Vulcan, put first into steam on the 9th of January following; the third to come, the North Star, was delivered by barge at Maidenhead, and put into steam there on the 15th, that being the other end of the section of the line to be first finished. On the 4th of June the line from Bishop's Road was opened somewhat ingloriously, for the AEolus that drew the train burst a tube at West Dray ton and put her fire out, so that the following train had to come up and push the first all the way to Maidenhead, where it stopped on the Buckinghamshire side of the river, the bridge not being ready.

Half-way between West Drayton and Maidenhead is Slough, where matters were rather stormy in these early days. The Eton authorities, fearing that the railway would demoralise their boys, had obtained the insertion in the Act of a clause that no station should be built there, and that the company should provide policemen always on duty for some distance up and down the line to prevent the boys being run over or running up to London. The railway employed the police as required, but as the clause said nothing about stopping the trains, they stopped them all and used two rooms in a neighbouring tavern for the purposes of the forbidden station. An injunction was applied for, but not granted, and, the Eton boys being none the worse for the railway, the opposition died out, and in time the Windsor branch was built.

Slough is quite a landmark in the history of electric telegraphy. In 1839 Cooke and Wheatstone, who had been experimenting on the London & Birmingham, laid their so-called galvanic telegraph between Paddington and West Drayton, the wires being out of sight in a tube some six inches from the ground, where it worked well and unnoticed except by railway men. In 1843 it was extended to Slough and as little interest taken in it; but in 1845 there was a murder at Salt Hill by one Tawell, who, it was discovered, had fled to London by railway. The police arrived at the station too late and telegraphed to Paddington for him to be stopped, and he was arrested as he stepped on to the platform. The incident attracted public attention, and the commercial success of electric telegraphy was assured. Tawell did for the wire what the wreck of the Republic did for the wireless.

In 1841, according to Gooch, though the date is generally given as 1842, Queen Victoria gave up travelling by road between London and Windsor and went by railway, and the first man to drive her was, of course, Daniel Gooch, who never had a single delay with the royal train. For this purpose the first royal saloon was built in 1840, a really handsome carriage 21 ft. long and 9 ft. wide, which had wooden wheels with wooden tyres to lessen the noise. When the line was converted to narrow gauge this carriage had to be withdrawn. It is now at Swindon, where, roomy as it is, it looks curiously small compared with the splendid saloon of the present day.

Swindon was chosen by Gooch in 1840 as the site of the locomotive headquarters, it being at the junction with the Cheltenham branch, and the machinery was started there in November 1842. Brunei was a civil engineer, not an engine-builder like his competitors. He left the designs of the first engines to the makers, and a miserable lot they produced. When Gooch went into the Stephenson works in 1836, the first job given to him was to complete the drawings for six engines for Russia of 6-ft. gauge. Two of these were never sent because the Russians did not pay, and they were sold to The Great Western, to be shifted on to 7-ft. bases and become the Morning Star and the North Star, the latter the only trustworthy engine that Gooch had to open the line with.

He had to begin to rebuild half of them as soon as they arrived, and for many weeks his nights were spent in a carriage in the engine-house repairing the engines for their work next day. Being asked to report, he condemned almost all, and was ordered to prepare designs for the future stock; and lithographed copies of these, with printed specifications and thin iron templates for the interchangeable parts, were sent to the contractors, so that for the first time a class of engines should be built exactly alike. The first to be put into steam was the Firefly in March 1840, and with her arrival Gooch's anxiety was at an end.

In 1846 he built his first passenger engine at Swindon, The Great Western, a 6-wheeler to begin with, but there being too much weight on the two leading wheels, two pairs of small wheels were substituted, and then she became the typical broad-gauge engine, the first of the thirty whose names are household words. All her sisters were like her in having no flanges to their driving wheels, these being added thirty years afterwards to the survivors as they came in to be rebuilt. Before they were rebuilt the thirty ran between them close on 18,500,000 miles; and they were for a time the fastest engines in the world. They had 8-ft. wheels, and many of them reached a speed of 78 miles an hour.

In 1876 the Bristol & Exeter was amalgamated with the older broad-gauge line, and its engines were taken over, among them being James Pearson's powerful tank engines with 9-ft. wheels, which ran 80 miles an hour as a daily performance over the by no means easy road. Goqch's engines worked at 120-lb. pressure, Pearson's at 130. Since then engines have become much heavier and more powerful. The North Star, really a 6-ft. engine, had 724 sq. ft. of heating surface; The Great Western had 1751, and her younger sisters, which differed slightly in details, had more, though none exceeded 2000; the Great Bear has 3242 and works at 225 lb., her boiler is almost as long as The Great Western was over all, but being narrow gauge she is 2 ft. less in width. Her next of kin are now hauling trains of such weights as Gooch and Pearson never dreamt of, at speeds on the same stretches ranging up to 85 and more.

As with the passengers so with the goods. The first engine Swindon turned out was the Premier, a 6-coupled goods engine that would be useless in front of such loads as are drawn by the modern engines that accomplish the company's little task of dealing satisfactorily with 50,000,000 tons of merchandise and minerals in a year.

The engines of the line designed by Mr. Dean, and more recently by Mr. Churchward, are deservedly in high repute. Ranging from the 4-cylindered Great Bear downwards, they are the very embodiment of power and speed. There are goods engines that haul their hundred trucks of coal, as in our picture, with no more fuss than their predecessors did forty, among them the first real "Consolidation" that is an engine with a leading pony truck and 8 wheels coupled - ever seen in England. It was at Swindon that the Belpaire firebox was introduced, in which the boiler sheet is parallel with the crown sheet so that the stay-bolts are at right angles to both surfaces, an improvement soon afterwards adopted by the Midland and other companies. And the "Cities" and "Counties" with their taper boilers and these Belpaires are among the most famous of express passenger engines.

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Pictures for The Great Western page 2

The Great Western
The Great Western >>>>
Paddington Station.
Paddington Station. >>>>
A Great Western Guard.
A Great Western Guard. >>>>
One of the Vans of the Ocean Mail Special.
One of the Vans of the Ocean Mail Special. >>>>
The Great Bear
The Great Bear >>>>
Temple Meads Station, Bristol
Temple Meads Station, Bristol >>>>
A 100-wagon coal train
A 100-wagon coal train >>>>
First-class Dining Saloon
First-class Dining Saloon >>>>
Composite Brake Corridor Carriage, No. 7672
Composite Brake Corridor Carriage, No. 7672 >>>>
The Royal Saloon.
The Royal Saloon. >>>>
The first Royal Saloon built in 1840 for Queen Victoria
The first Royal Saloon built in 1840 for Queen Victoria >>>>
The first of the
The first of the "Consolidation" Engines built in England >>>>
One of Brunei's famous Trestle Bridges in Cornwall, now being replaced by . . .
One of Brunei's famous Trestle Bridges in Cornwall, now being replaced by . . . >>>>
. . . these substantial stone structures. Gover Viaduct.
. . . these substantial stone structures. Gover Viaduct. >>>>
Express Passenger Locomotive, No. 190
Express Passenger Locomotive, No. 190 >>>>
Saltash Bridge
Saltash Bridge >>>>
China Clay Trains at St. Austell
China Clay Trains at St. Austell >>>>
Badminton, an up-to-date Typical Station
Badminton, an up-to-date Typical Station >>>>
The Gloucestershire end of the Severn Tunnel
The Gloucestershire end of the Severn Tunnel >>>>
The "Cornishman" near box, running at full speed >>>>
Fishguard Harbour
Fishguard Harbour >>>>
Making the line to Fishguard
Making the line to Fishguard >>>>
Making the line to Fishguard
Making the line to Fishguard >>>>
The Cattle Gallery at Fishguard
The Cattle Gallery at Fishguard >>>>

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