As we battle another infectious disease, 90 years ago, building work was underway on the Great Western Railway’s new carriage and vehicle disinfecting plant. Built at Swindon Works next to 24 Shop, this was a brick building containing an 85 feet long airtight cylinder into which the vehicle was pushed and the airtight door closed and sealed. The massive airtight door and sealing ring were machined in the millwrights’ G Shop at Swindon. Once sealed, the plant could create a vacuum of 28 inches with steam pipes raising the temperature to 120 degrees Fahrenheit. This was thought to kill all vermin, weevils, cockroaches etc after six hours. If a coach was thought to have come into contact with an infectious disease, formaldehyde gas was pumped into the cylinder when the vacuum had been destroyed. The plant was known as the "Bug House" to Swindon's workers. The inspiration was believed to have been a German carriage disinfecting plant built before the Great War used to disinfect carriages which had been into Russian territory. Station instructions required that coaches to be disinfected had to be placed in an isolated part of a yard or sidings. Windows had to be closed and paper had to be pasted over keyholes and other apertures. The coach would either be dealt with on the spot by a “competent person” or be sent to Swindon with a label stating whether it was “verminous” or “contagious” to go through the new plant. In extreme cases compartments were stripped and the trimmings were burned. The picture shows how a shunter’s truck was placed between the vehicle and the propelling engine.
I still tremble at the thought of having been on the BR(WR) front line at Southall during the 1962 smallpox epidemic without any “PPE” except cigarettes and alcohol. I think that most of the 10/-, £1 and £5 notes we took at Southall and sent to Paddington Cashiers was sent on by them to the Bank of England for destruction!
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By Mike Peart