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