90 years ago in November 1931, the westbound Paddington to Penzance “Cornish Riviera Express” hauled by “King” class locomotive number 6000 “King George V” carried a “Buy British” exhibition organised by the Empire Marketing Board. Great Western Railway (GWR) Chairman Viscount Churchill hosted the event with General Manager James Milne. Paddington station was decorated with flags of the Empire. A large crowd of visitors was shown through the train to see the Empire exhibits. 6000 ‘King George V’ was fitted with a headboard covering the smokebox door. The train’s carriages were decorated with posters and slogans.
This photograph shows the train at Paddington. Standing on the bufferbeam of the locomotive is the Rt Hon James Henry Thomas PC MP, National Labour member for Derby. He was Secretary of State for the Colonies in Ramsay MacDonald’s National Government, and Chairman of the Empire Marketing Board. He was born in Newport, Monmouthshire in 1874. At the age of 15 he started work as an engine cleaner on the GWR and progressed to fireman before becoming a full-time union organiser in the Amalgamated Society of Railway Servants. He was elected to Parliament in 1909. The GWR Magazine reported Mr Thomas as saying:
“It will be my privilege to see this train off. I only regret I am not driving it myself, because whatever may be the fate of anyone else, if I am ever turned out of Parliament, I want it to be distinctly understood that I can work for my living. It is very appropriate that this magnificent engine, one of the best in the world, should be named after the symbol which unites us all, ‘King
George V’. I believe sincerely we are opening a great campaign. We are giving to the West of England an example that they will follow, and we are showing that in British enterprise and development, the Great Western Railway leads the way.”
The luncheon car menu stressed that the meals served would be British. There was Scotch Broth, Dover Sole, Southdown Mutton, Cornish Cauliflower, Scottish Kale, Devonshire Junket and Huntley & Palmers’ biscuits (from Reading). The coffee, though, had to come from the Empire – Kenya – which was a Crown Colony at the time. The Lord Mayor of London donated baskets of Empire produce which were taken on the train to be presented to the Mayors of Exeter and Plymouth. They, wearing their full regalia, met the train at their respective stations and received their baskets.
The locomotive “King George V” is now in the National Collection. When withdrawn in 1962 after over 35 years’ service for the GWR and British Railways, she had covered 1,910,424 miles. When new in 1927, she was shipped to the USA for the Baltimore & Ohio Railroad Company’s “Fair of the Iron Horse”, returning with the prominent bell (seen in the photo) and two commemorative medals on her cabside. After 1962, she occasionally ran on main lines in semi-retirement until 1987.
Mike Peart is the co-author of Volumes 3 (Freight Marshalling Yards), 4 (Level Crossings) and 5 (Train Detection and Control) of the “History & Development of Railway Signalling in the British Isles” series, and “Trains of Hope”, all published by The Friends of the National Railway Museum. He’s been an active Friend of the NRM since 1994 and was a founder member of the Great Western Society in 1961.