HISTORY OF THE GLOUCESTER RAILWAY
CARRIAGE AND WAGON COMPANY
Of whom it was once said .."[every carriage and wagon is] ..yet another Ambassador for British Craftsmanship"
The length of railway track in Britain almost doubled in this decade and was set to double again by 1875. National coal production had jumped from 60 to over 80 million tons a year and collieries and ironworks were desperately short of wagons to move raw materials.
Just as in the age of Telford and Macadam, Gloucester was now the crossroads of England as far as the railways were concerned. The Gloucester Wagon Company Limited was set up by a group of local merchants as "A joint stock company for the manufacture of railway wagons" on the bank of the Gloucester and Berkeley Canal within easy reach of the ports of Sharpness and Bristol and close to the coalfields of the Forest of Dean, West Midlands and South Wales. Its five acre site was served by the Midland Railway High Orchard Branch.
The first sod of the new works was cut by the Chairman of the Company - Richard Potter - on 10 April. A sealed bottle containing coins of the period and parchment inscribed with the names of the directors and General Manager was placed beneath the first stone of the workshops.
Richard Potter later became Chairman of the Great Western Railway. The first Works Manager was Isaac Slater. The Company began with a capital of £ 100 000 and a workforce of 120 men.
One of the earliest orders was for 1 000 coal wagons for the West Midlands Railway Company. This followed an early decision by The Gloucester Wagon Company Limited to concentrate on coal wagon production. By the end of 1860 313 wagons had been produced, 360 workers were employed and a profit of £ 434.00 had been made - according to the first Annual Report of the Directors published in February 1861.
By July 50 wagons were being produced each week. At the end of the first two years of trading 1948 wagons had been erected and a profit of £ 12 000 was made in 1861.
Despite a slight recession in trade due to the American Civil War Gloucester Wagon Company Limited produced Britain's first all-iron goods wagon - and 8 ton open.
The first foreign order for the company was for 500 sets of wagon ironwork for the Great Indian Peninsular Railway. The second foreign order - for carriages -came from the Buenos Aires Great Southern Railway of Argentina and the first home order for carriages came from the London Chatham & Dover Railway.
A long business relationship began with Tsarist Russia. Rolling stock was eventually exported in kit form for final assembly at a Gloucester Wagon Company supervised works in Riga, although this factory soon shut due to the poor quality of labour available. The first Russian customer was the Orel & Vitebsk Railway, and special axle grease had to be specified for this £ 230 000 order. The regular grease was found to be poisonous when eating by starving peasants!
"Bow sided" tri-composite carriages 19 and 20 delivered to the Festiniog Railway in North Wales. Both are still operational: 19 having been restored in 1963 with major body repairs in 1982 while 20 was restored in 1957 with major body repairs in 1987. Vans 4 and 5 were delivered in 1880 but today run as 11 and 12, much modified as a guard/observation twin set.
Gloucester Wagon Company Limited built horse drawn tram cars for use in Gloucester. Richard ( Later Sir Richard) Vassar Vassar-Smith (born in Gloucester in 1843) became Mayor of Gloucester, like his father before him. He was also Chairman of Gloucester Wagon Company Limited, Carrier to the Great Western Railway, Chairman of the Gloucester Gas Light Company and, when the 'Wagon Works' bought interests in Wales, Chairman of Port Talbot Steelworks.
Gloucester Wagon Company Limited was renamed the Gloucester Railway Carriage and Wagon Company Limited. As well as keeping up with the latest railway innovations the company also built many types of horse drawn vehicles - and even wheelbarrows!
Luxury Composite ( First and Second Class) carriages were built for use around Buenos Aires.
November. 10 ton coal wagon was ordered by Burtt, Beehive Manufacturer and Coal Merchant of Gloucester. This had a six ton tare weight and a body measuring 14' 5" long x 7' wide x 3' 8" deep painted black with white lettering. This was a typical Railway Clearing House approved design of the era.
A "Gantry Car" was built for Magnus Volks Brighton and Rottingdean Seashore Railway Company. This stood 40' tall on metal legs allowing the vehicle to run through the sea. The coach body featured a ships bell and lifeboat and required a qualified sea captain to drive it.
Directors Saloon built for the narrow gauge Padarn Railway in North Wales.
A monorail carriage was built for "Behr's Lightning Express Railway" running at the Brussels Exhibition.
Electric taxis were built for the London Electric Cab Company - over a century ahead of today's "green" electric prototypes! Around this time, too, a saloon body on a Daimler motor car chassis was produced for the King of the Belgians.
Both staff and works were offered a pension scheme but only the staff took up the idea.
Many horse drawn ambulances and other vehicles were built for the British Army fighting the Boers in South Africa. This included the headquarters wagon of the Commander in Chief, Field Marshall Lord Roberts, which was converted from an ambulance. This was displayed in Gloucester after the Boer War but Lord Roberts was so attached to it that he would not sell it back to the Gloucester Railway Carriage and Wagon Company.
The Gloucester Railway Carriage and Wagon Company produced what was probably its odest vehicle: a one wheeled carette (similar to an open topped sedan chair) for the use of the Crown Agent for the Colonies. At the same time the joinery section of the Wagon Works were also building sack trucks, pulpits and fireplaces.
12 October. Steam rail motor with Kerr Stuart boiler and mechanical portion delivered to Buenos Aires Great Southern Railway, Argentina, for use in Rio Negro Valley. The 20 metre long vehicle has 28 first class and 24 second class seats.
Gloucester Railway Carriage & Wagon Company photograph 3201 showing Khartoum Disinfecting Cart Number 1 outshopped in April 1906 to Order 25599.
Stanley Baldwin ( later a Conservative Prime Minister of the 1920s and 30s ) joined the Board of Directors.
A double deck bus was built for use in Chelmsford
Sir Richard Vassar-Smith became Chairman of Lloyds Bank, a position he held until his death in 1922
A modern "clocking on" system of timekeeping was introduced for workers. Prior to this, all employees were paid a weekly wage plus piece money. Piece money was first divided up between foremen and then among charge hands or "piece bosses". The piece bosses then handed down money to their men as they saw fit - a similar system to the "Little Butty" practices in the Forest of Dean coal mines of 50 years before.
In addition, the introduction by management of a timesheet system where each employee kept a record of how long each job took provoked a strike at The Gloucester Railway Carriage and Wagon Company in October 1911 when 1500 men gathered round the Nelson Foster memorial Drinking Fountain at the junction of Southgate Street, Stroud Road and Bristol Road. Workers argued that they were paid only for production, not for filling in timesheets. A compromise was finally reached by which a timekeeper was employed to keep timesheets for the workers. The average working week at The Gloucester Railway Carriage and Wagon Company in 1911 was 53 hours.
The Gloucester Railway Carriage and Wagon Company Chairman, Mr MacGregor, offered a profit sharing scheme to the Works Committee who were so suspicious of "something for nothing" that they turned the offer down.
In September The Gloucester Railway Carriage and Wagon Company struggled to finish an order for Argentine grain wagons as workers enlisted in droves for the Great War. There was no procedure for keeping back key men in "reserved occupations" as there would be in World War 2. As hostilities continued the company produced stretchers, ambulances, shells, and wagons for French Railways. Despite wartime austerities however, the Gloucester RCW brass band remained smartly turned out in 1916.
Sir Richard Vassar-Smith became President of the Federation of British Industry until 1918 and eventually became Chairman of the Conference of European Bankers.
By Armistice Day - on 11 November 1918 - 821 Gloucester Railway Carriage and Wagon Company workers had died in the armed forces. As the Great War ended, the British Government let The Gloucester Railway Carriage and Wagon Company keep some of its profits to build a sports ground in Tuffley Avenue. Later known as the Winget Ground and later Tuffley Park, it was for many years the venue for Gloucester Cricket Festival. A relative of Sir Richard Vassar-Smith employed at The Gloucester Railway Carriage and Wagon Company between the Wars was an ex cavalry officer and ex mercenary who, it was said, fought with the US Cavalry against both Mexicans and Indians and who was also involved with the Boxer Rebellion in China.
At the age of 76 and having helped finance much of the Great War, Sir Richard Vassar-Smith began to rebuild the ruined banking system of Germany. A bust of him by John Edward Hyett (1867 - 1936) can today be found in Gloucester City Museum.
London Transport (LT) ordered underground trains for its District Line ('G' Stock, later uprated to 'Q' standard, as seen below at Acton in this Michael A. Morant collection image) and subsequently bought battery locomotives, cable drum, hopper and flat wagons from The Gloucester Railway Carriage and Wagon Company.
The passenger carriages of the Ashover Light Railway comprised ex War Department underframes and bogies supporting bodies built by the Gloucester Railway Carriage and Wagon Company Limited in 1925. These bodies were among the last narrow gauge pasenger rolling stock to be built in Gloucester as motor buses and lorries made such light railways increasingly redundant. The models seen here are Meridian Models kits. Note the external handbrake wheels at each end.
The Gloucester Railway Carriage and Wagon Company took a controlling interest in Gloucester Foundry in Alfred Street.
The Gloucester Railway Carriage and Wagon Company gained a further order from LT for Piccadilly Line trains and Leslie Boyce ( later Sir Leslie Boyce, Baronet ) as its Chairman. Son of a Sydney lawyer, Leslie Boyce had nearly been buried alive after being wounded in the Great War. Luckily a grave digger at Gallipoli noticed that he was still breathing and he went on to Balliol College Oxford, the Bar and Parliament as MP for Gloucester. He was also an xperienced financier and the first Australian to become Lord Mayor of London. He died in 1955.
The Gloucester Railway Carriage and Wagon Company built a Gloucester Corporation bus, and a trolleybus which was exhibited at the London Commercial Motor Show. This was later sold to Southend Corporation. The first all-steel welded coaches to be built in Britain were also outshopped from Bristol Road in this year. They formed a 3 car lightweight articulated electric multiple unit for the South Indian Railway.
LT ordered more trains - the metadyne controlled 'O' stock for the Hammersmith and City system and received Britain's first all-welded wagons from The Gloucester Railway Carriage and Wagon Company. These were 68' long 20 or 30 ton dropside vehicles.
Frank Barber joined The Gloucester Railway Carriage and Wagon Company in February and eventually rose to become Chief Draughtsman.
The first Great Western Railway streamlined railcars with Gloucester RCW bodies on AEC chassis were also introduced in July [ Gloucestershire County Archive Ref D4791 16 4967, 4981, 4998 and 5037 ]
A State Coach was ordered by His Excellency The Maharajah Holkar of Indore. This was probably the most luxurious railway carriage ever built and was the largest ever to be constructed in Britain at the time. Built to run on 5' 6" gauge tracks, it measured 68' long by 10' wide and weighed 50 tons. The Art Deco nterior was designed by the Maharajah's Swiss-German architect Herr Matthias and built with sycamore wood, chrome, pink mirrors and an internal telephone system. Air blown over ice was used to keep the vehicle cool while the underframe and bogies were valenced over, giving the carriage a very smart and modern appearance. At least one earlier Indian Royal vehicle had included a bell code system for summoning the harem member of the Maharajah's choice, and on this job a small boy had to be sent up into the ceiling to connect the gas and water pipes. Sadly, though, the Maharajah Holkar was overthrown before his carriage was delivered, but it still exists in India.
Another apocryphal story about the Maharajah's carriage regards the inspection of the interior wooden panelling. On one visit, the building inspector walked the length of the coach only to pick out one panel on the right hand side that he felt was substandard and would have to be replaced. The foreman however felt the standard of workmanship was good enough and, as the panels were difficult to replace, the workers turned the carriage round before the next inspection visit so that the offending panel was on the left near the entrance. The inspector then walked the length of the carriage, looked at the right hand panel, turned round, walked back and put a seven pound hammer through the defective panel. It then had to be replaced!
The World's first dedicated Parcels Railcar - GWR Number 17 - and the first all-stell welded wagons left Bristol Road
Streamlined railcar Number 18 was built for the Great Western Railway with buffers, drawhooks and an uprated engine to allow the haulage of trailing vehicles: the ancestor of modern British diesel multiple units.
401 new carriages of 'P' and 'Q' stock were built for London Passenger Transport Board's District Line: arguably the best London Underground trains of the 1930s and - at £ 1 500 000 - the largest order to date for The Gloucester Railway Carriage and Wagon Company.
In this era The Gloucester Railway Carriage and Wagon Company had a 28 acre site, 2400 workers and its own power station. AC electricity was bought from Gloucester City Council but 980Kw of 230v direct current could be made in-house with six Babcock & Wilcox water tube boilers feeding a Westinghouse Parsons turbine and two Robey Engines coupled generators. These were rated at 268Kw, 332Kw and 280Kw. 33 000 units of dc electricity were produced in the summer and 55-60 000 units in the winter. The Wagon Works also boasted 150 ton presses and pneumatic rivetters working at 90 psi.
Its subsidiary, Gloucester Wagon Hiring Limited, helped The Gloucester Railway Carriage and Wagon Company to weather the slump of the 1930s and the latter had a showroom in George Street, near the Great Western station in Gloucester.
Issued capital at this time was £ 1 000 000.
Wartime products included wooden shoe soles, tank carrying railway wagons for Churchills and Shermans, 25lb and other shells, anti-aircraft perojectiles, copper bands, bomb lifting cradles, stampings for tanks and aircraft, Bailey Bridges and Spitfire propellers for airscrew experts ROTOL in nearby Cheltenham. The Gloucester Railway Carriage and Wagon Company maintained the finest stock of timber in Britain during World War 2 and Queen Mary paid two official visits to the Wagon Works in this time.
In July the first Churchill tanks left Bristol Road, The Gloucester Railway Carriage and Wagon Company producing 764 examples up to 1945. Weighing 45 tons and powered by a Vauxhall flat-12 engine, the Churchill began with a 2 pounder gun but was later fitted with a 75 mm artillery piece capable of firing 25 lb shells. bridge layer and flail variants were also built at the Wagon Works.
"Whale" pivoting sections for the Mulberry harbours used after D-Day were built by The Gloucester Railway Carriage and Wagon Company.
More tube stock was ordered from The Gloucester Railway Carriage and Wagon Company by London Transport. Electric multiple unit trains were also built with pantographs and rheostatic controls for service with Victoria Railways. These featured Bradford Kendall bogies which were shipped to Melbourne direct. The Wagon Works thus had to use mock-ups to gain curve swing profiles. Another order for Australia was for diesel electric MU stock with first and second class seating and full air conditioning for the 3'6" gauge Australian Commonwealth Railways.
Gloucester Wagon Hiring Limited was Nationalised. Its fleet of 10 000 coal wagons, formerly leased to mines and coal factors, was transferred to the British Transport Commission.
Gloucester Foundry was bought out by The Gloucester Railway Carriage and Wagon Company. the Alfred Street firm was by then making most of the brake blocks for London Transport.
By this time The Gloucester Railway Carriage and Wagon Company had produced a variant of the classic 16 ton mineral wagon for the Ministry of Supply. An all steel rivetted was supplied to British Railways Western Region[ Archive reference D4791 105 5339] and a corresponding all welded version to British Railways London Midland Region [Archive reference D4791 106 5340 and 5347]
Meanwhile the "Gloucester" and"Metalastik" designs of Chief Engineer Fred Sinclair were pushing back the frontiers of bogie technology.
The order for carriages for Canada's first subway in Toronto was won by The Gloucester Railway Carriage and Wagon Company in the face of competition from North America and Europe. These cars were originally due to be 48' long - the same length as a Toronto tram - but The Gloucester Railway Carriage and Wagon Company advised that 57' would be a better solution in terms of cost, maintenance and efficientcy. However, the old tram gauge of 4' 10 7/8" was perpetuated despite the first use of 90 degree hypoid gearboxes sleeved to the driving axles.
Deliveries of the 106 cars for Toronto began, not finishing until 1955 and with associated work lasting up to 1959. The first 100 vehicles were steel built and painted red while the final six were aluminium and outshopped in a plain metallic finish. These were influential in later North American subway design. [ Archive photos D4791 5422/1 of Order 3949A dated June 1958 shows a 7' wheelbase bogie with Salisbury transmission]
Fifty British Railways Mark 1 Brake carriages numbered 34451-34500 were built to GRCW Lot 30660.
On 3 May Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II was shown round the Wagon Works by Deputy Chairman Mr J. H. Beach, with Leslie Smith guiding HRH Prince Phillip and Fred Sinclair guiding their equerry. Sir Leslie Boyce was too ill to attend.
Overhead line electrical multiple units were built for Victoria Railways Melbourne outer suburban traffic with Gloucester built bodies and English Electric electrical gear.
Following the death of Sir Leslie Boyce, Mr John HowardBeach became Chairman of The Gloucester Railway Carriage and Wagon Company at the age of 80, having risen through the Company from the post of Accountant by way of Company Secretary and Financial Director. His elder son, Mr R.H. Beach, succeeded him in the post of Company Secretary.
Two carriages built by The Gloucester Railway Carriage and Wagon Company to British Railways specifications were exhibited at a rolling stock exhibition at Battersea Wharf, London, alongside the English Electric "Deltic" diesel and carriages from Cravens, Birmingham RCW and Metro-Cammell. However, the Gloucester RCW vehicles were the only ones filmed - in colour -by the newsreel cameras.
A seven car aluminium train was also built by The Gloucester Railway Carriage and Wagon Company for London Transport's Piccadilly Line in competition with Birmingham RCW and Metro-Cammell. This was, unfortunately, built of soft rather than hard aluminium and outshopped in a natural finish rather than being painted. As a result rivetting flaws were visible and an order for 1600 vehicles failed to materialise.
The first of three orders gained by The Gloucester Railway Carriage and Wagon Company from the British Transport Commission for bulk cement Presflo wagons. The last Presflo was not to leave Bristol Road until 1961.
Ten examples of Class 128 Diesel Parcels Unit become the last of a range of DMUs and railcars built for British Railways under the 1955 Modernisation Plan.
The whole British rolling stock industry experienced a dramatic shrinkage due to partial completion of British Railways DMU fleet and later classes being built by British Railway's own works at Derby, York, Swindon, Crewe etc. At the same time, foreign train makers were competing for business in Commonweath markets that had once been exclusively British. Birmingham Railway Carriage & Wagon Company and Cravens had both folded by 1964, Metropolitan Cammell diversified and survives into the 21st Century as part of Alsthom while The Gloucester Railway Carriage and Wagon Company stayed in business into the 1980s by concentrating on bogies, suspension and rolling stock undergear.
Among the last British Railways orders were 21 ton coal hopper wagons, the link between the 16 ton mineral wagons and the modern 32 ton hoppers used on Merry Go Round workings.
However, The Gloucester Railway Carriage and Wagon Company did try to break into the modern container market. Works order number 3561 (Photograph D4791 5454 in the final archive album) outshopped in December 1960 was a prototype 8 ton 2 deck aluminium fork lift container (box pallet) for British Road Services. With a tare weight of 1 ton 10 cwt and 28 lbs and a capacity of 1 500 square feet, this natural finish item was the ancestor of the intermodal freight boxes used all over the World [BRS details: Comm No SV10037/1 Exp & Dev prog. 1960. Western Division (Oxford) veh 2/4209/47 1960/1/41]
In February the first "Cemflo" light alloy bulk cement wagon was outshopped by The Gloucester Railway Carriage and Wagon Company for Associated Portland Cement Manufacturers Ltd.
By 1961 The Gloucester Railway Carriage and Wagon Company had acquired:
The Gloucester Foundry Ltd
William Gardner & Sons (Gloucester) Ltd
Joseph Kaye & Sons Ltd
Wright & Marvin Ltd (remamed GRCW Company in 1961)
Hatherley Works Ltd
Gloucester Wagon Hiring Company
and was a major shareholder in Wagon Repairs Ltd
On 29 December 1961 The Gloucester Railway Carriage and Wagon Company was acquired by Wingets Ltd of Rochester, Kent. The new parent company was called Winget Gloucester Limited with the former Gloucester RCW site being renamed Gloucester Engineering Company Limited. The Rochester operation was, however, still known as Winget Ltd.
Most rolling stock construction ceased, whilst on 1 April the activities of Muir Hill were transferred to Gloucester Engineering Company Limited. Muir Hill was the trading name of E. Boydell & Company Limited - a subsidiary of Winget Limited. The activities of William Gardner & Sons (Gloucester) Limited were also transferred to Gloucester Engineering Company Limited.
On 1 April the activities of Moxey Limited transferred to Gloucester Engineering Company Limited after acquisition by Winget Gloucester Limited.
In November Full Brake 81628 became the last complete carriage to be built by the Wagon Works for British Railways.
A sheet sided covered bogie van became the last complete wagon to be outshopped from Bristol Road.
LT District Line "Q23" Driving Motor Car 4184 was brought back by road from Ruislip for display at the Wagon Works.
Cast bogies were still in production at Bristol Road
The Wagon Works was taken over by babcock Industrial and Electrical Products Limited after a long association ith Wingets of Rochester.
Driving Motor Car 4148 was donated to Gloucester City Council and moved for safe keeping to RAF Quedgeley. In the early part of the 1990s this was returned to the LT District Line and now forms part of its Vintage Train.
The redundant Gloucester Railway Carriage and Wagon Company offices in Bristol Road were demolished to make way for a branch of Toys R Us while the rest of the Wagon Works was flattened to make way for the Peel Centre and its collection of shops, restaurants and a cinema. The only Gloucester RCW building left on site is the former carriage erecting shop, now home to JDR Karting.
Remains of the Gloucester rolling stock business bought by Powell Dyffryn of Cambrian Works, Maindy, Cardiff
As well as the Gloucester RCW archives held in the County Records Office in Alvin Street, Gloucester, two Gloucester built wagons are currently on show at the National Waterways Museum.
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