At our meeting on 14th March we were taken on a Broad Gauge Railway Journey by Canon Brian Arman. Brian was born and bred on Swindon and several members of his family worked in the GWR works though they originated from Wootton Bassett. Evidently a great railway enthusiast with special knowledge of the Great Western Railway, one of his activities was the assembly of a collection of photographs showing broad gauge trains in the second half of the 19th century until the abolition of broad gauge in 1892.
All the photographs we saw showed "mixed gauge" tracks where a third rail had been added so that either 7'-0¼" or 4'-8½" gauge could be run. On other railways 4'-8½" was referred to as standard gauge but on Great Western it was narrow gauge.
Some photographs showed how the third (or common rail) had to be transferred from one side to the other so that either gauge could be alongside a station platform.
As built by Brunel the broad gauge was claimed to be first rate for speed and stability. The coaches were very wide internally so that some 3rd class coaches could seat nine passengers a side.
At Swindon conversion to mixed gauge took place in 1867. In the mixed gauge era from 1867 to 1892 the GWR suffered no fatal accident. Major elimination of broad gauge first occurred after 1867 in South Wales.
Much has been written about conversion of the broad gauge over a weekend in 1892 involving the sawing of sleepers etc, but there had been much preparation and prior to that weekend broad gauge trains ran on mixed tracks virtually everywhere except in Cornwall. One historic photo Brian showed us was at the last up broad gauge train to Paddington on 21st May 18923, taken at 3.45 am by which time dawn was sufficiently advanced to take the photograph.
Many pics showed Swindon station and environs but in the latter days occupation of sidings and size of the engine sheds showed that narrow gauge trains and locomotives far outnumbered those of broad gauge.
The earliest photo we saw was dated 1849 and showed a locomotive being turned on a turntable after having its tender detached because it was too long for the turntable with it on.
Another early photo dated 1857 showed a disaster at Horton Road ,Gloucester where a locomotive's iron boiler had burst. there was then no means of examining the internal conditions of such locomotive's boilers.
Fixed signalling from a signal box became usual from 1878 and one shot of mixed gauge track at Swindon showed signal wires from a box crossing the tracks above the trains rather than underneath or alongside the track as in later years.
As to the Broad Gauge Journey we saw a series of pics of stations from Swindon to Bristol including Wootton Bassett in 1878 with a shunting horse, Chippenham, Box in the early 1880's, Bathampton, Bath in 1860's, Keynesham, Bristol East where a tunnel opened out in 1888 and Temple Meads.
We concluded with an illustrated potted history of Temple Meads from when the GWR first met the Bristol and Exeter Railway there. It seems the trains may well occupy Brunel's train shed again when the signal box currently blocking access is replaced elsewhere in about 2 years time.
The attendance at this well presented talk was 48.
The images used in this report are not from Brian Arman's presentation but have been obtained on the web.
The first one is J.C. Bourne's well known lithograph of the west end of Box tunnel
The second is of a plaque prepared to show the companies gratitude to its employees on the rapid changeover
The third shows the collection of broad gauge locomotives at Swindon following the final changeover.