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1947 - The last year of the Great Western Railway at Paddington Station

The penultimate summer season. A crowded Paddington station on a summer Saturday in 1946. Photo: Great Western Trust.
1947 was, of course, the last year of operation for the “Big Four” railway companies before the 1948 Nationalisation. Despite having had a bad war like the three other companies, the Great Western Railway (GWR) was striving to recover and improve its service to passengers.

Throughout January 1947, the GWR conducted a survey of the facilities provided at Paddington station. One aspect looked into how passengers arriving at Paddington station continued their onward journeys. The results showed that 22% used taxis or cars; 40% used the Bakerloo and Inner Circle Underground trains; 20% used buses; 5% used GWR suburban services, and 3% walked to Lancaster Gate Underground station for a Central Line train. The same survey listed other facilities for passengers at Paddington. There were 30 toilet cubicles for men, 31 urinals, 14 wash basins, 5 hairdressers’ chairs and 2 baths. Women were provided with 22 toilet cubicles, 13 wash basins and 2 baths. Refreshment facilities at the station were able to seat 220 people and there were 22 booking office windows.

Passengers for departing main line trains were studied and were usually found to arrive between 7 and 22 minutes of the departure time. There was a peak around 15 minutes before.

Passengers for suburban services usually arrived within 10 minutes of departure. The tickets of departing passengers were checked at barriers. Arriving main line trains were studied and showed that coaches normally emptied within 80 seconds of arrival. Where there were arrival ticket barriers, passengers passed through at a rate of 20 a minute for main line passengers (with a more thorough check of smaller-size tickets made), and 35 a minute for suburban ones (with many commuters holding larger and easier to spot season tickets). For luggage, mails and parcels the station had 300 two-wheeled and 542 four-wheeled barrows available.

The last GWR timetable and “snapper’s” (ticket collector’s) tool of the trade. Photo: Mike Peart.
In March 1947, Mr C R Stone, chief clerk in the Paddington stationmaster's office retired after 42 years’ service with the GWR. He recalled the days when the running of a special train was a common occurrence. His quickest time in providing one was 15 minutes from the time of the request to the train’s departure! Another special train was put on to enable a national newspaper whose road transport had broken down to have its papers on West Country breakfast tables at the usual time. Now that’s service!

On 31st December 1947, Chairman of the GWR, Viscount Portal, and Sir James Milne, GWR General Manager, both issued statements on their final day in office before British Railways was due to take over the day after. Viscount Portal said, “I myself naturally feel the forthcoming changes as I am the third generation of the family which has been intimately connected with railway affairs.” Sir James Milne said, “When after 112 years the GWR ceases to have a separate entity, I am confident all members of the staff will make an important contribution to the well-being of the country. Every possible effort will be needed to make the new administration a success but I know they will uphold their traditions.”

In July the following year in the brave new world of British Railways, Paddington station hosted a display of the new British Railways (Western Region) liveries with the “lion over wheel” logo. Three locomotives with three different liveries were put on show. They were “Hall” class number 6910 “Gossington Hall” which appeared in the new mixed traffic black livery. “Castle” class number 5023 “Brecon Castle” was presented in apple green livery and “King” class number 6009 “King Charles II” was in Ultramarine Blue. This initial blue livery was soon abandoned in favour of Caledonian Blue and then Brunswick Green when it was discovered that attempts to retouch the blue colours between overhauls stood out much more than they did on the green and black liveries. They had trouble with the blue - one Southern Region locomotive received coats of three different shades of blue within a year!

A blue “King”. Preserved number 6023 “King Edward II” at Didcot Railway Centre. Photo: Mike Peart.

Mike Peart

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