Gloucester Waggon Works

A history of the Gloucester Waggon Works

Of whom it was once said – “every carriage and wagon is,.   yet another Ambassador for  British Craftsmanship”

1850s 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.

1860 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 5 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 April 10. A sealed bottle containing coins of the period and   parchment inscribed with the names of the directors and the general manager was   placed beneath the first stone of the workshops. 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 1000 coal wagons for the West Midlands   railway company This followed a decision by the company early on 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 had been made (according to the first   annual report of the directors published in February 1861)

1861 July. 50 wagons were being produced each week. At the   end of the first two years of trading 1948 wagons had been produced and a profit   of £12 000 was made in 1861.

1862 Despite a slight recession in trade due to the American   Civil War G.W.C-Ltd. produced Britains first all-iron goods wagon – an 8 ton   open

1867 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 and Dover railway,

1868 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 and Vitebsk Railway and special axlebox grease had to be   specified for this order (worth £230 000). The regular grease was found to be   poisonous when eaten by starving peasants

1886 G.W.C,Ltd built horse-drawn tramcars 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 Ltd., 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

1887 G.W.C,Ltd. renamed the Gloucester Railway Carriage and   Wagon Company Ltd. As well as keeping up with the latest railway innovations the   company also built horse drawn vehicles of many sorts and even wheelbarrows

1890 Luxury composite (first and second class) carriages   were built for use around Buenos Aires.

1893 November, 10 ton coal wagon ordered by Burtt, Beehive   Manufacturer and Coal Merchant of Gloucester- Black with white lettering. 6 tons   tare. Body inside measures14 5’’ long x 7′ wide x 3’8″ deep. It   was a typical Railway Clearing House approved design of the era.

1894 “Gantry Car” built for Magnum 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.

1896 Directors saloon built for the narrow gauge Padarn   Railway in North Wales,

1897 Monorail carriage built for “Behrs Lightning Express   Railway.’ running at the Brussels Exhibition,

1898 Electric taxi built for London Electric Cab Company – 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.

1900 Both staff and works were offered a pension scheme but   only the staff took up the idea.

1902 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 company.

1903 GRCW produced what was probably its oddest 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 tine the joinery section of the   Wagon Works were also building sack trucks, pulpits and fireplaces.

1906 Stanley Baldwin (later a Conservative Prime Minister of   the 1920s and 30s) joined the board of directors.

1908 Double Decker bus built for use in Chelmsford

1909 Sir Richard Vassar-Smith becomes Chairman of Lloyds   Bank, a position he held until his death in 1922.

1911 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 amongst   chargehands or ‘piece bosses”- The piece bosses them 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 GRCW 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 GRCW in 1911 was 53 hours.

1912 The 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

1914 September- GRCW 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 was   in World War 2. As hostilities continued the company produced stretchers,   ambulances, shells and wagons for French Railways.

1917 Sir Richard Vassar-Smith becomes President of the   Federation of British Industry until 1918 and eventually becomes Chairman of the   Conference of European Bankers.

1918 November. By Armistice Day 821 GRCW workers had died in   the armed forces. As the Great War ended, the Government let the company keep   some of its profits to build a sports ground in Tuffley Avenue.Later known as   the Winget Ground and nowadays as Tuffley Park it is where Gloucester Cricket   Festival was held for many years.

A relative of Richard Vassar-Smith employed at GRCW between the wars was an   ex Cavalry officer and an ex Mercenary who, it is said, fought with the US   Cavalry against both Mexicans and Indians and was also involved with the Boxer   Rebellion in China

1919 At the age of 76 and having helped finance much of the   Great War, Sir Richard Vassar-Smith begins 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 ordered underground trains for its District Line (“G” stock,   later uprated to “Q” standard) and subsequently bought battery locomotives,   cable drum, hopper and flat wagons.

1930 GRCW took a controlling interest in Gloucester Foundry,   Alfred Street.

1931 Further order from London Transport for Piccadilly Line   trains. Leslie Boyce (later Sir Leslie Boyce, Baronet) became Chairman of GRCW,   Son of a Sydney lawyer he was nearly 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   M.P- for Gloucester. He was also an experienced financier and the first   Australian to become Lord Mayor of London. He died in 1955.

1933 GRCW 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.

1935 LT ordered more trains (the metadyne controlled ‘0″   stock) for the Hammersmith and City system and received Britains first all   welded wagons from GRCW. These were 68’ long 20 or 30 ton dropside   vehicles-Frank Barber joined GRCW in February The first GWR streamlined railcars   were also produced with Gloucester RCW bodies on AEC chassis-[Gloucestershire   County Archive ref. D4791 4967, 495t, 4998, 50S7]

1936 Luxury State Coach 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   that time Built to run on 5’6’’ gauge tracks it measured 68′ long by 10′ wide   and weighed over 50 tons. The Art Deco interior was designed by the Maharajahs   Swiss-German architect Herr Muthesius 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 smart and very modern appearance. At least one earlier Indian Royal   vehicle had included a bell code system for summoning the harem member of the   Maharaja’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.

Worlds first dedicated Parcels Railcar – GWR No-l7 – produced first all steel   welded wagons built in Bristol Road.

1937 GWR No-18 built with buffers, drawhook and uprated   engine to allow the haulage of trailing vehicles- Ancestor of modern British   diesel multiple units

.401 new carriages of “P” and “Q” stock built for District Line-arguably the   best vehicles that London Transport had in the 1930s. Largest order for GRCW to   date, worth £1 500 000. GRCW by then 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 and Wilcox   water tube boilers feeding a Westinghouse Parsons turbine and two Robey Engines   coupled generators- These were rated at 368kw, 332kw and 280kw- 33 000 units of   dc electricity were produced in the summer and 55-60 000 units in the winter.   The Works also boasted 150 ton presses and pneumatic rivetters working at 90   psi- Its subsidiary, Gloucester Wagon Hiring Limited, helped GRCW weather the   slump and a showroom for the Wagon Works was located on the South side of George   street- Issued capital at this time was £1 000,000.

1939 Wartime products included wooden shoe soles, tank   carrying railway wagons for Churchills and Shermans 25lb and other shells,   antiaircraft projectiles, copper bands, bomb lifting cradles, stampings for   tanks and aircraft, Bailey Bridges and spitfire propellers for airscrew experts   ROTOL in nearby Cheltenham. GRCW had the finest stock of timber in Britain   during the war and Queen Mary paid two official visits to the Wagon Works in   this time-

1941 July. First of 764 Churchill tanks produced 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 75mn artillery piece capable of   firing 251b shells. Bridge layer and flail variants were also built at Bristol   Road-

1944 “Whale” pivoting sections for Mulberry Harbour used on   D-Day built at GRCW

1947 More London Transport tube stock ordered- EMUs for   Victoria Railways built with rheostatic controls and pantographs. These featured   Bradford Kendall bogies which were shipped to Melbourne direct GRCW thus had to   use mock-ups to gain curve swing profiles Diesel-electric MU stock was built for   the 3’6′ gauge Australian Commonwealth Railways. These featured first and second   class seating and full air conditioning.

1948 Gloucester Wagon Hiring Ltd Nationalised Its fleet of   10, 000 coal wagons, formerly leased to mines and coal factors, was transferred   to the British Transport Commission.

1950 Gloucester Foundry bought out by GRCW. The Alfred   Street firm was by then making most of the brake blocks for London Transport By   this time the wagon Works had produced a variant of the classic 16 ton mineral   wagon for the Ministry of Supply- An all steel riveted version was supplied to   BR Western Region [Archive ref. D4791 105 5339] and a corresponding all welded   version to BR London Midland Region [Archive ref D4791 106 5340,5347]. Meanwhile   the “Gloucester” and Metalastik designs of Chief Engineer Fred Sinclair were   pushing back the frontiers of bogie technology

1951 Order for carriages for Canada’s first subway in   Toronto won by GRCW in the face of competition from North America and Europe-   The cars were originally due to be 48′ long-the sane length as a Toronto   tram-but GRCW advised that 57′ would be a better idea in terms of cost,   maintenance and efficiency- However, the old tram gauge of 4’1O 7/8″ was   perpetuated despite the first use of 90 degree hypoid gearboxes sleeved to the   driving axles.

1952 September. 520 wagons-worth £500,000-ordered by West   Africa.

October. Gloucester Citizen reports £2,500,000 order won by GRCW from British   Railways for 6000 16 ton mineral wagons.

1953 Deliveries of the 106 Toronto cars begin and last up to 1955 with   associated work lasting until 1959. The first 100 of these were made of   steel and painted red while the final 6 were aluminium and outshopped in a plain   metallic finish These were influential in later North American subway design   Archive photos D4791 5422/1 shows 7′ wbse begin with “Salisbury” transmission-   Dated June 1958. Order number 3949A

1955 May 3. Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II was shown around   the Wagon Works by Deputy chairman Mr. J.H.. Beach, with Leslie Smith guiding   Prince Phillip (and Fred Sinclair their Equerry) as Sir Leslie Boyce was too ill   to attend. Overhead line electric multiple units built for Victorian Railways   Melbourne outer suburban traffic with GRCW bodies and English electric   electrical gear.

Following the death of Sir Leslie Boyce, Mr John Howard Beach becomes   Chairman at the age of.80, having risen through GRCW 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 .

1957 Two GRCW coaches built to B-R. specification   exhibited at a rolling stock exhibition at Battersea Wharf, London, alongside   the English Electric “Deltic” diesel and coaches from Cravems, Birmingham RCW   and Metropolitan Canmell- However, the GRCW vehicles were the only ones filmed –   in colour – by the newsreels cameras

7 car aluminium train built for LTs Piccadilly Line in competition with BRCW   and Metro-Canmell. 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

1958 First of three orders from British Transport Commission for bulk cement   presflo wagons started. Last presflo leaves Bristol road in 1961.

1959 Ten examples of Class 128 Diesel Parcels Unit are the   last of a range of DMUs and railcars built for British Rail under the   1955 Modernisation Plan.

1960 Dramatic shrinkage of British rolling stock industry   due to partial completion of British Railways D-M-U- fleet (and later classes   being built by BR works at Derby, York, Swindon, Crewe etc) and growing   competition from foreign makers in traditional Commonwealth markets BRCW and   Cravens had folded by 1964, Metropolitan-Cammell diversified and survives today   as part of GEC Alsthom while GRCW stayed in business by concentrating on bogies,   suspension and rolling stock undergear .

Among the last BR wagon orders are 21 ton coal hoppers, the link between 16   ton minerals and the modern 32 ton hoppers for merry go round workings.

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   wt and 28 lbs. and a capacity 1500 square feet, this natural finish container   was the forbear of the modern intermodal freight containers used all over the   World [BRS details Comm No- SV100S7-1 Exp & Dev prog. 1960,Western Division   (Oxford) veh 2/4209/47 1960/1/41] Gloucester missed an opportunity   there.

1961 February. ‘Cemflo” Light Alloy Bulk Cement Wagon   outshopped for Associated Portland Cement Manufacturers Ltd

By this time Gloucester Railway Carriage & Wagon Company had acquired The   Gloucester Foundry Ltd, William Gardner & Sons (Gloucester) Ltd, Joseph Kaye   & Sons Ltd,Wright & Martin Ltd (renamed GRCW Company in 1961),Hatherley   Works Ltd, Gloucester Wagon Hiring Company, and was a major shareholder in Wagon   Repairs Ltd

29 December l961-GRCW Co acquired by Wingets Ltd of Rochester, Kent,   New parent company called Winget Gloucester Ltd- Former GRCW Co in   Gloucester renamed Gloucester Engineering Company Ltd, The firm in Rochester was   still known as Winget Ltd.

1962 Most rolling stock construction ceases.

1 April- Activities of Muir Hill were transferred to Gloucester Engineering   Company Ltd- Muir Hill was the trading name of E.Boydell & Company Ltd – a   subsidiary of Winget Ltd. Trading Activities of William Gardner & Sons   (Gloucester) Ltd also transferred to Gloucester Engineering Company Ltd,

1963 1 April- Activities of Moxey Ltd- transferred to   Gloucester Engineering Company after acquisition of Moxey Ltd- by Winget   Gloucester Ltd November. Full Brake 81628 became the last complete coach to be   built by the company for BR,

1968 A sheet sided covered bogie van became the last   complete wagon to be outshopped

1972 LT District Line “Q23” Driving Motor Car 4184 taken   back to GRCW by road from Ruislip and displayed at the Wagon Works

1977 Cast bogies still in production at Bristol Road-

1986 GRCW taken over by Babcock Industrial and Electrical   products Ltd, after associations with Wingets of Rochester, Kent for many   years.

1987 DMC 4184 donated to City Council and moved for safe   keeping to RAF Quedgley. In the early 1990s this was returned to the LT District   Line and mow forms part of their Vintage Train.

1989 Redundant GRCW offices in Bristol road demolished to   make way for “Toys R Us” while much of the rest of the site has been gives over   to Burger King. Pizza Hut, a Virgin Multiplex Cinema and other retail outlets   collectively known as the Peel Centre after Peel Developments- The Midland High   Orchard branch, closed since 1972, was replaced by Trier Way. Perhaps the only   true Gloucester RCW buildings left – once used for building carriages – were   occupied by the Gloucester Karting Centre until 1998.

1990 Remains of GRCW business bought by Powell   Dyffryn of Cambrian Works, Maindy, Cardiff. Managing Director of ex GRCW   interests within Powell Dyffryn is Alan Harding BSC of 2 Parc Pentre, Mitchell   Troy, Monmouth, Gwent. 01600 6421,

1996 As well as the GRCW Archives held in Alvin Street and   two Gloucester built wagons on show at the National Waterways Museum, a 1950s   diesel multiple unit is also preserved – by the Class 119 Society – at Pontypool   and Blaenavon, south Wales.The original wooden building for first station at   Cinderford Gloucestershire is now also preserved on the Dean Forest Railway at   Norchard. It was built by Messrs. Eassie later absorbed by GRCW in 1875.

With Grateful thanks to Alan Drewett –

Alan runs the Gloucestershire Transport History site