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 GLOUCESTER RCW

AND MR J.C. TUNLEY'S DINNER

 
 

 
 

I am always touched by the generosity of Gloucestershire Transport History readers and was particularly intrigued when Ian Goodwin contacted me with the offer of the menu pictured here, dating from Friday 10 November 1922 and celebrating 60 years of Mr J.C. Tunley being the Secretary of the Gloucester Railway Carriage and Wagon Company Limited.

 


 
  I am always touched by the generosity of Gloucestershire Transport History readers and was particularly intrigued when Ian Goodwin contacted me with the offer of the menu pictured here, dating from Friday 10 November 1922 and celebrating 60 years of Mr J.C. Tunley being in the secretary's office of the Gloucester Railway Carriage and Wagon Company Limited

Catering was by L.H. Fearis of Gloucester and guest included the Chairman Mr John Brookes with songs - in the days when people made their own entertainment - by such eminent figures as Mr J. Hicks Beach.

Mr Goodwin believes that the menu card came into the possession of his family via his grandfather George Frederick Goodwin who was once the Secretary of the Road Haulage Association in Birmingham. 

Although Mr J.C. Tunley does not appear in the conventional histories of the Gloucester Railway Carriage and Wagon Company Limited he would have known Henry Wright and also witnessed many historic developments in the first six decades of Bristol Road's Wagon Works.

 
 

 

  

The Gloucester Railway Carriage and Wagon Company Limited was one of the earliest established and most important undertakings in the British Isles concerned with the manufacture of all types of railway rolling stock.  Within its history and the outlines of its activities is to be found the greater part of the story of the rolling stock industry from its early days.



 
Former Gloucester RCW Chief Draughtsman Frank A.M. Barber takes up the story:

The Gloucester Railway Carriage and Wagon Company Limited was one of the earliest established and most important undertakings in the British Isles concerned with the manufacture of all types of railway rolling stock.  Within its history and the outlines of its activities is to be found the greater part of the story of the rolling stock industry from its early days.

Between the two Reform Bills of1832 and 1867 there were many changes taking place in the country's transport system.  It was the age of coal and iron - "the railway age".  Experiments had been going on for some time in regard to the transport of coal and iron from the mines and mills in wooden railway wagons and there had been much controversy as to the rival merits of drawing coal along wooden or iron rails by horses, stationary engines or by George Stephenson's locomotive.

The triumph of the latter opened out unexpected vistas not only for the carriage of goods but as a new method for conveyance of passenger traffic, and not only the canals but the stage coach and waggons ( two 'g's ) were being nudged out by the railway's coaches and wagons ( one 'g' ).

Some wise men in Gloucester City, noting this change and the phenomenal growth of the railways saw their great potential - hence the formation of the Gloucester Railway carriage and Wagon Company in 1860.

It is a fact that the company has made and built everything from sack trucks and prison vans to 'palaces on wheels' for Kings and Princes.  These ranged from a beautiful saloon motor car on a Daimler chassis at the turn of the century for the King of the Belgians, to a very up to date air conditioned pink-mirrored divan-bedded luxury coach with internal telephone for the Highness Maharajah Holkar of Indore.  This was larger than any railway vehicle in Britain at that time (1936).  The coach weighed 50 tons, was 68 feet long and 10 feet wide - certainly one of the most palatial coaches in the world.



 

The company started to manufacture rolling stock in 1860 on a five acre site in Gloucester, well placed for transport by sea, river and canal.  When the first stone of the workshops was laid, a sealed bottle was placed underneath containing coins of the period and a parchment with the names of the directors and the general manager.



 
  The company started to manufacture rolling stock in 1860 on a five acre site in Gloucester, well placed for transport by sea, river and canal.  When the first stone of the workshops was laid, a sealed bottle was placed underneath containing coins of the period and a parchment with the names of the directors and the general manager.

Being close to the Forest of Dean, South Wales and Midland coal fields it was decided to concentrate on the manufacture of coal wagons and the Company immediately landed an order for 1 000 wagons from the West Midland Railway Company.  Just two years after its inception the Company pioneered the construction of the first all-iron wagons to be built in this country.

In February 1861, only ten months after factory building started, the directors presented their first Annual Report.  This showed the works was employing 360 hands and by the end of 1860 had turned out 313 wagons with a resultant profit of 434.  By July 1861, eighteen months from the start of the Company, they were turning out 50 wagons a week, the second year's profit being around 12 000 - an impressive success story.

Overseas trade followed in 1867 when the company broke into foreign markets with an order for 500 sets of wagon ironwork for the Great Indian Peninsular Railway.  This was closely followed by other overseas contracts including one in 1868 for 230 000 for the expanding Russian market to supply rolling stock to the new Orel and Vitebsk Railway [ Orel is south west of Moscow, Vitebsk is in modern Belarus]

 
 

 

  
 

From the collection of Stewart Blencowe comes GRCW Official Photograph 545 of a 4' 8 1/2" gauge covered goods bogie wagon built for Mexican Railways in August 1889 as part of Requisition 194 covering Orders 181 -184

 
 

 

  
  From the collection of Stewart Blencowe comes GRCW Official Photograph 545 of a 4' 8 1/2" gauge covered goods bogie wagon built for Mexican Railways in August 1889 as part of Requisition 194 covering Orders 181 -184 
 

 

  
 

To help with this and later orders, the Gloucester Railway Carriage and Wagon Company set up a special assembly plant in Riga.  One commodity that always appeared on the list of shortages was axle box grease; investigations revealed that Russian peasants used to eat it! No wonder the Russian authorities insisted that the specification for this grease should be non-poisonous.  the Riga project was short lived and was dropped due to the poor quality of labour available.

When it commenced its activities the Company started with capital of 100 000; its works were confined to five acres in the City of Gloucester and initially a personnel force of 120 men.  In the late 1930s, 40s and 50s the labour force at the 28 acre site Bristol Road site reached 2 400 and the issued capital was 1 000 000 plus strong capital and revenue reserves.  A lot of this wealth had come from the wagon hire business which had also helped the company to survive the slumps of the late 1920s and early 1930s.

Since the early 1900s the firm had also owned a 30 acre sports ground in Tuffley Avenue, where Gloucestershire County Cricket Club has enjoyed hospitality for many years.  Many  people do not realise that the wagon works sports ground is given over to county cricket free of charge.

 
 

 

  
 

From the collection of Stewart Blencowe comes Gloucester RCW Official Photograph 1901 of South Eastern Railway close coupled train Third Class Carriage 246 from March 1899.  Note the shallow concave buffers and unusual coupling hook.

 
 

 

  
  From the collection of Stewart Blencowe comes Gloucester RCW Official Photograph 1901 of South Eastern Railway close coupled train Third Class Carriage 246 from March 1899.  Note the shallow concave buffers and unusual coupling hook. 
 

 

  

Some notable personalities have served as Chairman and board members.  The first Chairman was Mr Richard Potter, who afterwards became Chairman of the Great Western Railway.  Leslie Boyce who joined the Company in 1931 and was later knighted and became Lord Mayor of London.  the Right Honourable Stanley Baldwin was on the Board at one time and another Chairman, Richard Vassar-Smith was also Chairman of Lloyds Bank.  The first manager was Mr Isaac Slater, a pupil of Brunel; he never used more men than required.

A system of piece work was operated with "piece bosses" who were the foremen contracting a price for a job and also working out what they thought ought to be paid to the men.  When wages were afterwards paid - this was done in individual tins - needless to say there was almost a riot when the men found out how much they had been diddled by the "piece bosses".

During its history the Gloucester Railway Carriage and Wagon Company has by no means restricted its operations to building rolling stock.  At one time it had a joinery department which built oak fireplaces, pulpits and sack trucks, but eventually activities centred on carriage building, horse drawn and motor as well as railway rolling stock.

Ambulances were built for the Boer War and a gantry car for Brighton that ran out along the sea front.

 

 

  
 

When in the year 1860 a group of Gloucester railway enthusiasts formed the Gloucester Wagon Company, and in that same year produced the first 'iron' wagon, they can hardly have contemplated that one day a Centenary History of their enterprise would be written.  One hundred years of independent existence is rare in our industrial history and is certainly a great achievement.  The keynote to the Company's survival and success has been adaptability to changing circumstances and this just as urgent and vital today as at any time in the last 100 years.

 
 

 

  
  The official history of the Gloucester Railway Carriage and Wagon Company was published in 1960 by Weidenfeld and Nicolson and contained the following Foreword by General Sir William Morgan GCB, DSO, MC: 
 

 

  
  When in the year 1860 a group of Gloucester railway enthusiasts formed the Gloucester Wagon Company, and in that same year produced the first 'iron' wagon, they can hardly have contemplated that one day a Centenary History of their enterprise would be written.  One hundred years of independent existence is rare in our industrial history and is certainly a great achievement.  The keynote to the Company's survival and success has been adaptability to changing circumstances and this just as urgent and vital today as at any time in the last 100 years. 

As Chairman I am proud to present a history of the Gloucester Railway carriage and Wagon Co Ltd to our employees, to our many friends and to others interested in the progress of railway rolling stock during the last 100 years.

 
 

 

  
 

Early in January, 1860, one hundred years ago this year, a group of Gloucester merchants came together to discuss the formation of a joint stock company for the manufacture of railway wagons.  They were all local men, of local firms - Richard Potter of Fife and Company, Edmund Walton of Walton and Sons, W.C. Lucy of W.C. Lucy and Company, William Nicks of Nicks and Baxter - although they brought in two outside men with special knowledge railways, J.N. Brown, General Manager of the South Staffordshire, and Richard Tew Smith, Goods Agent of the Great Western.  They were all substantial citizens, 'warm men', and it is unlikely that they had entered into this new venture without giving it long and careful thought.  probably they had begun to think of it at least as early as the end of the Crimean War in 1856, but since then there had occurred one of the great financial panics of the nineteenth century, and 1859 was still quite early for prudent men to think of starting a large new venture.

 
 

 

  
  Early in January, 1860, one hundred years ago this year, a group of Gloucester merchants came together to discuss the formation of a joint stock company for the manufacture of railway wagons.  They were all local men, of local firms - Richard Potter of Fife and Company, Edmund Walton of Walton and Sons, W.C. Lucy of W.C. Lucy and Company, William Nicks of Nicks and Baxter - although they brought in two outside men with special knowledge railways, J.N. Brown, General Manager of the South Staffordshire, and Richard Tew Smith, Goods Agent of the Great Western.  They were all substantial citizens, 'warm men', and it is unlikely that they had entered into this new venture without giving it long and careful thought.  probably they had begun to think of it at least as early as the end of the Crimean War in 1856, but since then there had occurred one of the great financial panics of the nineteenth century, and 1859 was still quite early for prudent men to think of starting a large new venture.

On the other hand it must not be delayed too long.  Through the fifties Mr Potter and his friends had seen the length of railway line in Britain almost doubled, and it was to be doubled again in the course of the next fifteen years.  In the same time they had seen Britain's production of coal rise from well under 60 to well over 80 million tons a year, with a big increase not only in the number of miners employed but in the tons of coal mined by each miner.  Yet the railway companies could not supply wagons to everyone who wanted to transport coal and iron ore; indeed it was not their policy to do so.  Firms who wanted to use the railways - for example, the colliery companies - had to supply their own wagons.  But if the Gloucester men knew very well that the growth of railways both at home and abroad had 'entirely gone beyond the supply of railway trucks and rolling stock', they were not the only people who knew it.  Several new wagon companies had been formed to manufacture trucks and let them on hire, and it was essential to enter the field quickly.

 
 

 

  
 

From the collection of Stewart Blencowe comes Gloucester RCW Official Photograph 2916 of six wheeled Rhymney Railway Passenger Brake Van 100 dated May 1904

 
 

 

  
  From the collection of Stewart Blencowe comes Gloucester RCW Official Photograph 2916 of six wheeled Rhymney Railway Passenger Brake Van 100 dated May 1904 
 

 

  
 

Gloucester, the founders were sure, was the place for such a business.  They had good labour and materials, they could build good workshops not too expensively, and they were particularly well placed for transport by sea, river and canal.  Even more important, they were in a very good position to supply trucks to South Wales, Staffordshire 'and other mineral districts'.  They had thought about all these factors, and they had carefully examined them, and the upshot was that they offered shareholders the prospect of dividends of 10 per cent and certainly not less than 8 per cent.

Prospective shareholders obviously agreed with the founding committee about the prospectof a railway wagon works in Gloucester.  the meeting at which it was resolved to form the Gloucester Wagon Company, with a capital of 100 00 in 10 000 shares of 10.00 each, was held on 30 January 1860, and by 28 February 69 450 worth of shares had been applied for.  Already a General manager had been appointed: Isaac Slater, who was to play an important part in the Company' history.

A great day came on 10 April 1860 when the first stone of the workshops was laid, with underneath it a sealed bottle containing a florin, a sixpenny piece, a fourpenny piece, a threepenny piece and a parchment inscribed with the names of the directors and of the General Manager.

Having been founded by local men whom their fellow citizens knew and trusted, men who knew exactly what they wanted to do and were not afraid to name 10 per cent as their target, the Company was a success from the first.  By the summer it had been decided to increase the capital by 50 000 in 5 000 shares of 10.00 each, and by the autumn shareholders were asking to be allowed to pay their calls in advance, with the Company paying interest at 4 per cent.  By now, indeed, things were really under way, and the Company was signing contracts with railways and colliery companies - for instance with the West Midlands Railway Company for 1 000 wagons on deferred payments.

In February 1861 the directors presented their first annual report.  it was everything that the shareholders could have hoped.  The Works were employing 360 hands and by the end of 1860 they had turned out 313 wagons.  they had even made a profit - not a large one, only 434 - but a remarkable achievement for a first operating year.  Best of all, the directors were able to give an assurance that ' a satisfactory dividend' would be earned.

 
 

 

  
 

The history of the Gloucester Wagon Company during these early years is in fact a pure, and almost unalloyed, success story.  By July 1861, only eighteen months after the founding of the Company, the directors were able to pay a dividend equal to 4 shillings per share for the half year on paid-up capital.  They were making 50 wagons a week, and they needed more money - another  50 000 in 5 000 shares of 10.00 each, were offered to the shareholders who, of course, jumped at the chance.

 
 

 

  
  The history of the Gloucester Wagon Company during these early years is in fact a pure, and almost unalloyed, success story.  By July 1861, only eighteen months after the founding of the Company, the directors were able to pay a dividend equal to 4 shillings per share for the half year on paid-up capital.  They were making 50 wagons a week, and they needed more money - another 50 000 in 5 000 shares of 10.00 each, were offered to the shareholders who, of course, jumped at the chance.

And rightly.  In its second year the Company had completed 1 948 wagons and now had large contracts with railway companies and others to supply carriage and wagon stock on deferred payment over a period of from 4 to 10 years.  Business was better than even they had hoped for.  It tied up a great deal of the Company's capital, and very soon even more money was wanted; this time another 75 000 was offered to existing shareholders, who were again delighted.  For the Gloucester Wagon Company, with its records and prospects and its strong local roots, there was any amount of local money available; the 75 000 could have been raised several times over.  The Company made a profit on the year of almost 12 000.  After only two years it had hit the target.

The results were all the more heartening because the outbreak of the American Civil War in April 1961, had led to what the Chairman called a 'violent and deep disturbance of trade'.  The directors did not allow success to go to their heads; on the contrary, they adopted from the beginning a cautious financial policy, and in this second year they set aside the sum of 3 500 for a Guarantee Fund.  The Chairman also recommended the Company's debentures to those ' who were too timid to enter upon the risk of a joint stock enterprise.', pointing out that a debenture on the Gloucester Wagon Company was practically better security than the debenture of a railway company, inasmuch as in the event of any stoppage of the payment the shareholder could seize the rolling stock of the company at any place.

 
 

 

  
 

From the collection of Stewart Blencowe comes Gloucester RCW Official Photograph 3244 of South Eastern & Chatham Railway Third Class lavatory carriage - without steam heating - dated August 1906.

 
 

 

  
  From the collection of Stewart Blencowe comes Gloucester RCW Official Photograph 3244 of South Eastern & Chatham Railway Third Class lavatory carriage - without steam heating - dated August 1906. 
 

 

  
 

In later years some of the shareholders were to accuse the board of being over-cautious, but no one thought them so in the sixties, and caution was particularly necessary during the American Civil War period.  In fact in 1862 the number of wagons built fell to 1 411, and the manufacturing profit to only 8 400.  Times were very difficult.  Other groups of men in other towns had seen the possibility of manufacturing rolling stock, and wagon construction had boomed.  The manufacturing capacity of the country, in this uneasy spring of 1863, was probably twice as great as the actual demand; it was so with the Company itself.

The Chairman, Richard Potter, like many other British industrialists, was afraid that the recession in trade would go on until the American Civil War ended; in fact, for the Company at least, trade began to improve some eighteen months before Lee's surrender at Appomattox.  But the first half of 1863 had been a grim time, and the Company was doing well to make a profit of 5 268.  And good as this was, it was only possible because of the cautious policy of the past.  The Chairman had heard from ' two gentlemen travelling on the Northern Line' of from two to three thousand wagons lying idle in Yorkshire and Lancashire.

But things were looking decidedly better, and the capital of the Company was now raised again by a sum of no less than 112 500, with power to raise a further sum of 37 500 by debentures.  As soon as the worst was over the cautious policy of the Board began to come in for criticism - there being in Gloucester in the sixties, as there are everywhere and always, people who believe that in their particular case it was possible both to have their cake and eat it.  The essence of the matter was this - that the Board tried, and tried successfully, to get a large proportion of business as possible on deferred payment.  By letting wagons on hire they could have got a much larger return on their money, but with a smaller degree of certainty for the future.  This is what many rival companies were doing but the Board at the time, now under the Chairmanship of Richard Tew Smith, were determined to adhere to their own policy.

 
 

 

  
 

From the collection of Stewart Blencowe comes Gloucester RCW Official Photograph 3602 of a pressed steel wagon bogie for the Madras & Southern Mahratta Railway in accordance with Indent 608 of Contract 1467 dated July 1909.

 
 

 

  
  From the collection of Stewart Blencowe comes Gloucester RCW Official Photograph 3602 of a pressed steel wagon bogie for the Madras & Southern Mahratta Railway in accordance with Indent 608 of Contract 1467 dated July 1909. 
 

 

  
 

The debate about the financial policy of the Company, once joined in 1864, was destined to go on for a number of years, and was to involve before it was finished not one but a number of disputes so hot that they became personal quarrels.  It was to involve, indeed, a complete transformation of the Board.  No doubt all this was at the time unpleasant, but it would be a mistake to imagine that it was bad for the Company.  On the contrary, it meant that divergent and opposing views were given the fullest possible airing, and the decisions that were made, were made with the full knowledge of the factors involved.  Thus when, in 1865, the question was discussed of further increasing the capital of the Company, Isaac Slater, the General Manager, who was becoming an increasing power in the land, was a strong advocate of such an increase.  The system of deferred payments, he pointed out, not for the first time,  required an exceedingly large sum of capital, and when the existing contracts were worked out the Company's present capital would be nearly exhausted.  What was it to do if it did not again increase its capital?  In Slater's view the only alternative was to shut down and let the competitors take over.  The competitors, Slater pointed out ( being neither the first nor the last business man to do so ) were disreputable and unscrupulous people who had got into the business for a short time to make large profits on the hire as opposed to the deferred payments system.  Of course, there was always the risk that the capital laid out by the Company might come back in such annual instalments that the directors would  not be able to find new and profitable employment for it.  But anyone who considered 'the enormous mineral wealth of South Wales' would surely feel that this was ' a very remote contingency'.

When the directors agreed to Slater's proposals this had two important consequences.  In the first place the new issue of 162 500 brought the capital up to the round figure of half a million pounds.  In five years it had grown five fold, and this was spectacular.  But perhaps even more important was the position that this decision gave to Isaac Slater personally.

Fundamentally it was Slater's decision, and it had been confirmed by the Board in the teeth of a good deal of doubt from some of the members.  Slater was still not a member of the Board, but from now on he may said to have dominated it.  When one seeks the reasons for the success of the Gloucester Wagon Company in the first twenty years of its existence it is possible to distinguish at least three.  First, there was the initial correct appraisement of what industry needed from a wagon company in Gloucester.  Secondly, there was the caution that was employed in working out the financial policy, and the dividends; and thirdly the energy and devotion of Isaac Slater.

 
 

 

  
 

The years 1865 and 1866 were both good years; carriage and wagon stocks were climbing steadily and the profits were good, especially in 1865.  The business of the Company was no longer confined to Britain; during 1865 for instance the Great Indian Peninsular Railway Company had ordered 500 sets of wagon ironwork.

 
 

 

  
  The years 1865 and 1866 were both good years; carriage and wagon stocks were climbing steadily and the profits were good, especially in 1865.  The business of the Company was no longer confined to Britain; during 1865 for instance the Great Indian Peninsular Railway Company had ordered 500 sets of wagon ironwork.

These results were satisfactory, but the results for 1867 were more satisfactory still.  During the preceding year the failure of the great banking firm of Overend and Gurney set off, on what was called 'Black Friday', the most spectacular of all nineteenth century financial panics, 'a crisis', as the Company's Chairman Richard Tew Smith put it,' which for duration and severity, had probably never been equalled'.  The Gloucester Company had been touched by this cold wind, but so large were the orders that they had received before the panic began that 1867, disastrous for so many British firms, had in fact been the best year in the Company's history.  After paying a dividend of 10 per cent there still remained a balance of 11 200, of which 3 000 was, with usual caution, transferred to the Guarantee Fund, and 8 200 carried forward.

And a very important new departure was taking place.  In the autumn of 1867 the Company tendered for supplying a large amount of rolling stock to the Orel and Vitebsk Railway in Russia, and in November received a counter offer, involving 230 000 in cash, which they decided to accept.  This was something far more important than merely casual orders from India; it meant a real entry into international business and the setting up in Riga of a works for the re-erection of stock, under a superintendent sent out from England.  Over the next ten years or so this Russian business was to be very important.  In 1868 we find the Company joining Charles Cammell and Company and the Yorkshire Engine Company to enter into agrement with Russian interests for the construction of a railway from Griasi to Borisogelbsk; in 1869 Slater was to visit Denmark and Russia and have personal discussion with the Minister of Ways and Communications about supplying Russian Railways with rolling stock on deferred payments.

The Russian business was not free from difficulties.  Special grease had to be put in the axleboxes, since when they got the chance the peasants ate it, and the Russian companies complained that the original grease was poisonous.  The Russian companies were difficult, and their capitalist ways quite as inscrutable as the communist ways were later on; on one occasion, two years after the final deliveries had been made, the Russians began pressing for the penalties due for late delivery, penalties which they had remitted in the case of other British companies, and which, the Gloucester Company argued, were not payable when the delays were caused by reasons beyond their control.  But the Company's angry and anxious appeal to the Minister of Ways and Communications were to go to the Tsar himself before things could be straitened out.  Payments from the Russian companies, on the other hand, although contracted to be 'in cash', were often years in arrears and were paid in the end only after constant harrying.  It would hardly have been possible to conduct such a business successfully if the Company's finances had not been geared to a very slow return of capital.

Yet despite of its drawbacks the Russian business was a great asset to the Company.  Business conditions were not good, and although the Company was able to pay a dividend of 10 per cent and still carry forward over 12 000 to 1869, by the end of the year no new orders for wagons had been coming in for many months.  But the Russian company's representative in England was pressing the Company to accelerate its delivery of wagons to Russia.  And this was not the only time that manufacture for the Russian market was was to compensate for poor conditions at home.

 
 

 

  
  In August 1870, the directors presented their tenth annual report.  From the beginning they had planned that the cost of premises, machinery and plant should be met out of profits i the first ten years, and although the total sum,  58 000 was 'much larger than had been contemplated' ( hardly surprising - the founders in 1860 presumably had not contemplated a capital of half a million pounds in ten years time ), it had in fact been cleared off as planned.  And all through the decade the reserves had been accumulating; they now stood at  85 500.  So we find the Company, after ten years of operation, a great concern with half a million pounds of capital, one of the leading firms in Britain, and indeed in Europe, in its line of business.  But it was still thoroughly local in nature, and the directors, although there had been changes, were still local men.  And - or so the lists of debenture transfers and so forth suggest - the Company was still very largely locally owned.  Half a million pounds as the Company might be worth, it was still very modest in some ways.  The remuneration of the Board was  1 000 - not  1 000 for each director, but  1 000 for the Board as a whole.  The Chairman had  200, the Deputy Chairman had  100, another  100 went towards the cost of  the monthly dinners of the Board, and the remaining  600 was split up amongst all the directors in accordance with their attendance records.  It was not very lordly - although dinners at a pound a head in the sixties must have been satisfying meals. 
 

 

  
  In August 1870, the directors presented their tenth annual report.  From the beginning they had planned that the cost of premises, machinery and plant should be met out of profits i the first ten years, and although the total sum, 58 000 was 'much larger than had been contemplated' ( hardly surprising - the founders in 1860 presumably had not contemplated a capital of half a million pounds in ten years time ), it had in fact been cleared off as planned.  And all through the decade the reserves had been accumulating; they now stood at 85 500.  So we find the Company, after ten years of operation, a great concern with half a million pounds of capital, one of the leading firms in Britain, and indeed in Europe, in its line of business.  But it was still thoroughly local in nature, and the directors, although there had been changes, were still local men.  And - or so the lists of debenture transfers and so forth suggest - the Company was still very largely locally owned.  Half a million pounds as the Company might be worth, it was still very modest in some ways.  The remuneration of the Board was 1 000 - not 1 000 for each director, but 1 000 for the Board as a whole.  The Chairman had 200, the Deputy Chairman had 100, another 100 went towards the cost of  the monthly dinners of the Board, and the remaining 600 was split up amongst all the directors in accordance with their attendance records.  It was not very lordly - although dinners at a pound a head in the sixties must have been satisfying meals.

By the 1870s the railways were changing, and in September 1870 the Chairman had several interviews with a Mr Pullman, the inventor of the drawing room, sleeping and hotel car used on the American railways, who had come over to England with the idea of introducing similar vehicles on the British railways.  Mr Pullman explained that he built the cars at his own cost, and they were allowed by the railway companies to run for a term of years, with the owner charging a fee to each passenger for using them.  The Chairman was much taken with all this, but the Board as a whole thought that the business of providing the staffs and so forth would take the Company too far outside its familiar and proper business.  Yet, although the Gloucester Company did not enter this new field of endeavour, the Chairman's foresight in getting in touch with Mr Pullman was not wasted, for Mr Pullman promised that he would employ the Company to build any vehicles for which he might obtain orders in England.

In 1870 there were miner's strikes and general depression in the coal trade in South Wales and this, together with ' the reckless competition of all other companies, some of which pay no dividends at all' ( in the Company's records competitors are always presented as not only being unscrupulous but incompetent ), seriously reduced the Company's profit.  The next year, however, was one of recovery, and by 1873 the Company was paying 10 per cent again, as it did also in 1874 by which time the reserves had gone up to nearly 140 000.

As the Company had its ups and downs, so there were some comings and goings on the Board, where the formidable Isaac Slater had consolidated his power in a dispute with no less a person than Mr Nicks, who had taken the chair at the first meeting that had been held to discuss the formation of the Company.  There is no record of what the dispute was about, but clearly Slater won, since Nicks had to offer his resignation from the Board and was only reinstated when he apologised. If Slater had any feelings of injury left after this episode, they must have been soothed by the bonus of 700 per annum which was now given to him ' for his personal sacrifices and expenses, and for the liberal entertainment, freely provided out of his own pocket, of customers and connections of the Company.'  A little later Edmund Boughton, another founder member of the Board, was also involved in a quarrel in which Slater found himself on the opposite side, and Boughton, too had to go.  A more serious crisis was coming.  The year 1874- 1875 was one of great difficulty in the Company, mainly owing to the long-drawn-out strikes in South Wales and Monmouthshire.  But the difficulties must be seen against a wider background of depressed trade for the country as a whole, especially in the coal and iron industries, and the Company did abnormally well to carry forward 3 468 after paying a dividend of 10 per cent.  The next year was no better; the letting value of wagons was down; it had been going down ever since the first wave of renewed commercial depression had passed over the country two years earlier, and in the Chairman's opinion it would continue to go down, since the Company must be prepared for a long period of depression.  In fact the Company was well prepared, with reserves standing at  170 000.  But the very solidity of the Company's position was made a ground of criticism.  The whispers that had been heard from time to time in the past that the Board's financial policy was unduly cautious now became audible grumbles.  The reserves of 170 000, a shareholder pointed out, meant that the Company had been putting aside something like 10 000 a year throughout its life.  And he implored the Board to ' think of those of the shareholders who are old maids and bachelors and who do not look forward to the future of the Company with that amount of interest which it is viewed by those who were the heads of families.'

But the Board was determined to go on being cautious; it was in their view a very dangerous thing to think that a joint stock company should be carried on on any principles less cautious than a man would employ in his own private business.  And with the cautious policy there continued the bad times which the cautious policy had been designed from the beginning to meet; in 1876-1877 the dividend was 8 per cent, but it was achieved only by drawing over 5 000 from the Guarantee Fund.

The business of the Company, like the business of the country, was slow in making a complete recovery from the depression which had begun in the year 1866.  The Chairman had his own ideas about this; he thought it was partially due to the unsettled political state of Eastern Europe, ' for when Eastern affairs are unsettled capitalists are always shy.'  But although the 1880s were years of smallish profits, the Company itself thought itself quite lucky. 'If you look at the long trade depression' the Chairman said in 1884,' of all kinds of trade and manufacturers in the country, and , above all, our great staple industry of agriculture,' he thought they were doing well enough.  It was a depressing time, and the Chairman did not believe that the Company, or other companies like it, were ever going to pay 10 per cent again.  The best they could ever look forward to was 6 or 7 per cent.  Meanwhile Alfred Slater, who had succeeded his redoubtable father as General Manager in 1885, was doing some very depressing sums.  When he calculated the prime costs of contracts completed for the first half of 1886 he found that those which had made a profit had brought in 363 but those which ad made a loss had taken away 1 631.  In the second half of the year things were even worse.  The profit was 518, but the loss was 3 579, almost 3 000 of which came from a single contract for 500 goods wagons for the Indian State Railways.  Everyone felt the pinch; wages, which had averaged 1. 5s and 4 1/2d, were down to . 3s and 3 1/4d ten years later.  The directors cut themselves down to a total of 500 a year.

 
 

 

  
  By 1887 things were very gloomy indeed.  The Company's thousand shareholders were uneasy and restive, and were pressing the management to cut down expenses.  Although the condition of other wagon companies was no better, poor Alfred Slater's salary was to be cut from  800 to  400.  And the directors were told they were lucky to get even their  500;  4.00 for each director for each attendance at a meeting would be quite enough.  In some important companies - as a shareholder indignantly told the Board - the directors thought themselves well off with a guinea a time. 
 

 

  
  By 1887 things were very gloomy indeed.  The Company's thousand shareholders were uneasy and restive, and were pressing the management to cut down expenses.  Although the condition of other wagon companies was no better, poor Alfred Slater's salary was to be cut from 800 to 400.  And the directors were told they were lucky to get even their 500; 4.00 for each director for each attendance at a meeting would be quite enough.  In some important companies - as a shareholder indignantly told the Board - the directors thought themselves well off with a guinea a time.

Certainly the Company, like most companies in Britain, was feeling the strain.  The value of material and properties had gone down so far that wagons which had cost 80.00 to build could have been manufactured in 1887 for 43 to 45.  And buildings, too, had gone down in value.  The Company in fact was in real difficulties, and had to fight back.  The truth was that for some time past it had been over-capitalized, and for some time past there had been talk on the Board of reducing the capital.  This was the obvious and sensible thing to do, but the directors postponed it from year to year, perhaps because they knew that this operation would worry the shareholders, and perhaps damage general confidence in the Company, although of course the shareholders at any rate stood to benefit very considerably.  But shareholders, in the eighties, still found it hard to understand how they could be better off by a reduction of capital.  At least some of them did, and when the Board proposed a reduction from 500 000 to 300 000 a party among the shareholders believed they could think up a better plan by themselves, if the Board would let them form a committee and provide them with information.  But the Board was not willing to abdicate, and although there was a good deal of speech making ( it must be remembered that almost every shareholder in British industry was a very anxious man in those days) the reduction was duly voted.  And because they had to have an Extraordinary General meeting anyway, the directors took the opportunity of doing something that they had often thought of.  For some time past the Company had been making carriages as well as wagons, and the Board asked the shareholders to change the name of their company to the Gloucester Railway Carriage and Wagon Company Limited.

 
 

 

  
 

From the collection of Stewart Blencowe comes Gloucester RCW Official Photograph 3726 of Cardiff Railway Company steam motor trailer carriage 4 dated November 1910

 
 

 

  
  From the collection of Stewart Blencowe comes Gloucester RCW Official Photograph 3726 of Cardiff Railway Company steam motor trailer carriage 4 dated November 1910 
 

 

  
 

Perhaps it would have been better if the writing down had been carried out a year or two earlier, but in fact it came at a time when trade was improving anyway, and this double stimulus provided spectacular results. 1888 was a very good business year, and the Chairman, Henry Wright, told the shareholders that there would once again be a 10 per cent dividend.  He was in a state of great jubilation, and no wonder.  He had expected never to see such a thing again.

All the same, it was no accident.  the late eighties and early nineties were a period of important changes in the design of railway vehicles.  Steel was replacing iron in frame work and underframes, and bogie vehicles were being brought in to replace the old four wheelers.  At the time it seemed that every inquiry the Company received was for railway vehicles which were longer and higher, and they had worked very hard to keep abreast of the times, putting up new buildings to meet the demand.

So the shareholders had deserved their bumper year.  It seemed that the good old days had come back, and the older shareholders had very happy memories of them.  One of them remarked that he had sent his son through Marlborough on Gloucester's 10 per cent dividend.  There was no more talk of cutting Slater's salary, but votes of thanks instead, and at the second Ordinary Meeting of the new Company in August 1890 the Chairman - already 80 years of age - carried through the meeting like a happy family party, ending up with a wish of health and prosperity ' to the time of our next merry meeting.'

But future meetings were not quite so merry, and by 1893 there was disappointment.  Business was everywhere bad again - down thirty and even sixty per cent.  But the Company was in good shape, and was able to make its way prosperously enough towards the end of the century.  The Chairman too was in very good form, except that he was becoming a little hard of hearing.  This was hardly surprising - when he retired in 1901 he was 94, and still in active command, so that we have the spectacle of a man who must have had clear recollection of the Waterloo celebrations still in active charge of a great Company busily engaged in supplying rolling stock for the new war in South Africa.

 
 

 

  
 

From the collection of Stewart Blencowe comes Gloucester RCW Official Photograph 3776 of five 10-ton covered vans in the markings of Baldwins Limited, King's Dock Works, Swansea, dated March 1911.

 
 

 

  
  From the collection of Stewart Blencowe comes Gloucester RCW Official Photograph 3776 of five 10-ton covered vans in the markings of Baldwins Limited, King's Dock Works, Swansea, dated March 1911. 
 

 

  
 

The Victorian Age was ending and things were changing - in 1900 for instance, the Board agreed that married women might now hold shares in their own names.  Money went a long way in those Victorian days, but the Company's records show how hard people worked for it.  Salaries and director's fees were always very small; everybody was expected to work hard and take responsibility as a matter of course.  It is true that the rewards for taking risks were very high - a dividend of 10 per cent in the nineteenth century meant 10 per cent - but the penalties of failure were severe, and were exacted without much sentiment.  At almost every director's meeting there is a brief entry about at least one unfortunate who had failed to meet his bills, and against whom the Company's solicitors were told to proceed.  So every meeting was a lesson in prudence.  From the very beginning the Gloucester Company itself had been large, rich and powerful, but the directors knew very well that only a few mistakes and one or two pieces of bad luck - perhaps the failure of an important creditor - might still do terrible damage.  Prudence, caution, the building up of reserves - these must still, in the new century, be the watchwords of financial policy.

Yet if things were changing in the outside world, it is perhaps surprising how little the Company and its business had changed.  It was still deeply and proudly lcal, Gloucester through and through, from its Chairman down to its youngest apprentices.  There was still very little outside money in it, and there were still no 'big names' on the Board - although, as we shall see, there soon were to be.

And for all its very important business overseas, much of its profit continued to come from the original sources, quite small orders from colliery and iron companies, especially in South Wales.  All the time the familiar sounding names were coming up - the Cardiff Iron and Tinplate Company, the Dynevor Coal Company, Ebbw Vale Steel, Iron and Coal Company, the Naval Steel Coal Company, and so on.  A dozen wagons here and a dozen wagons there were put alongside the big orders of the Santa Fe and the orders from newer places like the Straits Settlement and Natal.  And the home market was well catered for.  By 1900 the Company was maintaining around a thousand repair depots all over England and Wales, each depot employing several men.

In those last years before the motor car, the Company had been manufacturing road as well as railway vehicles.  They ran 'from Broughams and Victorias, and other high sounding vehicles, to cars and wheelbarrows'.  Another side of the business, too, had played its part.  This was the joinery work which the Company had acquired in 1876 by buying William Eassie and Company, whose works adjoined the Company's own, and whose acquisition doubled the area of the Gloucester works.  It had been a curious, but on the whole successful, acquisition, for although the work done in the joinery works lay outside the ordinary sphere of the Company's business, the manufacture of wooden buildings, often for the Government and the undertaking of joinery work for various large contractors, had proved an asset.  But joinery work did not really belong, and at the turn of the century the joinery works were turned over to carriage building.

Another line of business, not so far removed from the Company's normal role, had also played its part during the nineties.  Beginning about 1890, the Company had begun a business of buying rolling stock in America, usually in partnership, and then letting it to American railroad companies on deferred purchase.  They had begun with the Central railway and Banking Company of Georgia, and had kept up this business for some time.  It was, of course, an extension of the financing which had always been so important a part of the Company's business - and an important part of the business of its competitors  also, for the business of wagon building was characteristically tied up with the business of wagon financing.

The Company's relations with its workpeople were as friendly and pleasant at the end of the century as they had always been, and as they are at the present day.  In 1895 the Board had requested from the men that the hours of work might be reduced from 54 to 53 on the grounds that the lower hours were worked in other wagon companies.  The Board agreed, and the workmen, in a gesture of appreciation, presented the Board with an illuminated address ' for granting us a 53 hour movement by leaving at 12 o'clock on Saturday'.  In 1900 a pension scheme was started; it was to be open to office staff and workpeople alike, but only the staff agreed to go in.

The Boer War brought an improvement in the Company's business, as wagons were wanted in South Africa.  So were ambulances; and these made a considerable impression on no less a person than Lord Roberts, who acquired one to use as a mobile headquarters, which he did throughout the war.  This celebrated vehicle was put on show in Gloucester at the end of the war, and the Company wanted to buy it, but Lord Robert's feeling for it was too strong; he would not agree to sell.

Among the changes that the new century saw was the retirement of Alfred Slater.  Slater, like his father, had devoted his life to the firm, and although he was still a comparatively young man, his retirement was 'attributable to the anxiety of my 20 years management of the Company's business'.  It marked the end of an era in the Company's history.  Alfred Slater had never dominated the Board as his father had done, but he represented in his own person a direct connection with the legendary days of the Company's origins, and at a time when works managers generally expected the instant obedience given to an officer in the field combined with the personal respect given to a Victorian paterfamilias. Slater received both in full measure.  He was ( like many other directors and employees in the Cathedral City ) a strong churchman, and attended All Saints Church; and a large number of foremen were drawn to worship in a place where they might fall under the Manager's austerely benevolent eye.

In 1904 another change was seen when Michael Hicks-Beach became a member of the Board; son of a well -known County family, Hicks-Beach was soon to become a Member of Parliament, and he was joined on the Board in 1906 by a representative of a well-known iron and steel family who was to give faithful, if not conspicuous, service to the Board over a number of years, before he moved on to another sphere of activity.  This was 'Mr Stanley Baldwin of Astley Hall, near Stourport.'  In bringing to its Board County magnates and Members of Parliament, and outside industrialists, the Company was now expanding beyond its old local character, of course the progress was inevitable.

The Company was doing well over these years.  It was making good profits, and putting considerable sums to reserve.  Contracts came from India and China and South America.  Overseas business now formed by far the larger part of the whole; yet as always the colliery, iron and steel companies, and the home railways were coming in with their small contracts which, when added up, were important for prosperity.

With one break these good times continued up to the outbreak of war in 1914.  The break came in 1910, and was due to 'unprecedented competition' which brought about a loss in the manufacture of rolling stock.  perhaps new blood was needed; a new manager came in 1911 and did a good deal to bring working conditions right up to date in the matter of amenities - he arranged for the works to be closed during Bank Holiday week, and for better arrangements for sick pay - while at the same time he introduced a modern system of time booking.  The system that had operated up to that time was a curious survival.  The men were paid a weekly wage, and on top of that, piece money was divided up each month among the foremen, who in turn divided it up among charge-hands known as 'piece bosses'.  The piece bosses passed it on to their men at their own discretion, a florin here and a half-crown there, generally in the 'Railway Arms' beside the Company's offices.  For the piece bosses themselves the system was an admirable one; they were the aristocracy of the Works.  But the men also liked the old system, or at least were not prepared to have it swept away by a new broom.  They came out on strike for one day - the only works strike in the century which this history covers - but were persuaded to return, and on the first pay-day under the new system found their money so much increased that they went to talk the matter over with the former piece bosses.  They, however, had made themselves scarce, and some did not reappear for several days.

 
 

 

  
 

The Company, then, was in good shape to face the rigours of the post-war years.  This was just as well, as the rigours, forte Company as for the rest of British industry, were to be severe.  Still, 1919 was a boom year for all, and even in 1920 the Company was still doing well.  But by the beginning of 1921 they were beginning to feel the universal pinch, and the Managing Director was anxious to cut down night work. To make up for the loss of production which this entailed, the Company had spent a good deal of money on new machine tools, and in authorising this the Board was, so to speak, girding the Company's loins.  They were still paying a dividend in 1922 but 1923 was a bad year, with a small loss and the dividend passed.  Later than most British firms, but still inevitably, the Company was now faced with the post-war slump.

 
 

 

  
  It was at this time also, that Richard Vassar-Smith became Chairman.  Son of that Richard Tew Smith, the Goods Agent of the Great Western, who had been one of the founders, and later Chairman, of the Company, Richard Vassar-Smith had been seventeen when the Company was formed, and was thoroughly a Gloucester man, being educated at the College School.  Having become a banker, he had risen to be Chairman of Lloyds, and was an important figure in the City of London.

By 1912, then, the Company was in good trim to take advantage of business conditions which at that time were moving from merely good to excellent.  Both in 1913 and 1914 the profits were only twice what they had been in the early years of the century.  And prospects were good.  The Chairman was quite clear about the reasons for this happy position; the business was solidly rooted in the development of new countries, colonial and foreign, and there was nothing speculative about it.  Although the 'wonderful' conditions of trade could not last for ever, nevertheless, as long as the Company kept its strong roots in the development of railways all over the world, it should continue to do well.

In 1914 the picture changed again.  Business was still good ( although the steel trade was ' about as bad as it had ever been'  and strong German competition had pulled down prices ), but the political situation was very bad.  Trouble in Ireland was stopping the Company from sending its usual supplies to Belfast, while the foreign news was ' about as bad as it can be'.  The Chairman trusted that those things would pass away - or perhaps he merely said so - for he was actually speaking almost on the eve of war, and in his position, with his wide contacts, perhaps he had a clearer insight into the future than the great bulk of his fellow countrymen.

Let us then take a look at the Gloucester Carriage and Wagon Company as it was in the last days of a commercial epoch that was ending.  With reserves of 160 000 its financial position was as strong as it well could be - as strong and as well-founded a Company as any shareholder could have wished to see.  It had very largely completed the great modernisation of its work; Alfred Slater, still a leading member of the Board, said in 1914 that the works had been so enlarged and improved that he could hardly find his way about them.  Still deeply rooted in Gloucester, the Company was now a great national concern.  In being Chairman of Lloyds Bank, Vassar-Smith had taken Gloucester to the City of London rather than - as was more usual - bringing the City talent and money into the locality.  And although Vassar-Smith was the most important man on the Board of the Company, they had two other Members of Parliament as well, and although they were both still quite obscure back-benchers, one of them had made quite a reputation for himself by a speech advocating the protection of British industry.  Apart from this single speech Stanley Baldwin had not addressed the House of Commons at all frequently, but he had made a reputation in the Conservative Party as a man who knew what he was talking about when he did talk, and a man with a sound sense of what the ordinary people of England were really interested in, and what they really wanted.  No doubt Stanley Baldwin's good sense and business experience were very useful to the Gloucester Wagon Company; but no doubt his intimate knowledge of something so intimately British as the Gloucester Company gave back to the future Prime Minister something equally valuable.

The outbreak of war in August 1914 found the shops well filled with work, including a big order for grain wagons for the Argentine railways.  Within a few weeks all this was grinding to a halt, not so much because of war orders, although these were soon to follow, but because the men, swept up in patriotic enthusiasm, had downed tools and enlisted.  There was, of course, no machinery for keeping back key men, and the result was a disorganisation of production from which it took a long time to recover.  The experience, of course, was a common one, repeated throughout industry.  It taught the government to try different methods in 1939.

The Company's first war order was for stretchers - so it had been in the Boer War - but if this was intended to discourage the departure of key men it failed.  Then, as the Germans invaded France, capturing French rolling stock upon which the Allied armies relied for transport ( '40 Hommes, 8 chevaux') the Company received large orders for replacements for the French railways, and throughout the War something up to half its capacity was employed in this work.  One shop, indeed, was turned over to shells, but in the main, war production was of things not unlike peace production - Artillery limber wagons, for instance.

There were some good moments, when for example, the Board added its gifts to hard-won decoration - twenty guineas for Private Harris's DCM - but many more bad ones as the mounting casualty lists included more and more well -known names.  The Board meetings became very small; many directors, like Stanley Baldwin, were engaged elsewhere, and one, Lord Quenington, had died on active service in Egypt in 1916.

Financially the war was, for the Company, a period of high profits which, though greatly consumed by taxation, nevertheless enabled the directors to increase the reserves to 310 000.  This was an advantage to the shareholders; but they were not the only people who benefited. By a special dispensation from the Government the Company was allowed to retain some of its profits to purchase a sports ground not far from the Works.  Later added to and provided with pavilions, the sports ground is today among the largest, technically among the finest, and - as anyone who has watched the County playing cricket there will agree - certainly amongst the most beautifully owned by any company in the country.

The Company, then, was in good shape to face the rigours of the post-war years.  This was just as well, as the rigours, forte Company as for the rest of British industry, were to be severe.  Still, 1919 was a boom year for all, and even in 1920 the Company was still doing well.  But by the beginning of 1921 they were beginning to feel the universal pinch, and the Managing Director was anxious to cut down night work. To make up for the loss of production which this entailed, the Company had spent a good deal of money on new machine tools, and in authorising this the Board was, so to speak, girding the Company's loins.  They were still paying a dividend in 1922 but 1923 was a bad year, with a small loss and the dividend passed.  Later than most British firms, but still inevitably, the Company was now faced with the post-war slump.