Great Western Railway: A History
Most of the time its admirers dubbed it God's Wonderful Railway. It was an appropriate way of saluting the astonishing engineering feats of Isambard Kingdom Brunel's main line from Paddington to Penzance, with its stupendous bridge over the River Tamar, endless Box Tunnel and that exhilarating stretch of railway alongside the sea at Dawlish Warren. And even when the sceptics nicknamed it the Great Way Round, because of its bucolic but often circuitous branch lines winding through the West Country, along which a small tank engine shuffled between sleepy halts with the odd carriage in tow, it was fundamentally in homage towards a revered British institution. The Great Western Railway, celebrating its 175th anniversary in 2010, has always been adored by rail buffs and the general public alike.
Now, Andrew Roden has written a new and comprehensive history of this remarkable railway company, whose well-engineered network survives not only into the privatised era but also in numerous lovingly restored steam railways from the Dart Valley to the Welsh coast, and brings the tale right up to date.
It is an extraordinary story, of a civil engineering marvel brought about by perhaps the greatest of all the railway barons, and of nothing less than the opening-up of the isolated south-west of England to the trade and tourism of the modern age. It has bequeathed us not only a railway infrastructure that in soaring stations like Paddington and Bristol Temple Meads, remains unsurpassed, but also glorious railway traditions like the 'Night Riviera' sleeper train to Cornwall which endure to this day (not least thanks to the author's own campaigning!). While the beautiful green 'Castle', 'King' and pannier tank locomotives and their rakes of chocolate and cream carriages may have given way to corporate purple on all but our restored lines, anyone who wants to return to the golden age of the railways will find the history of the Great Western Railway an enthralling journey.
Hardback with dust jacket, 306 pages, 45 black & white plates
Condition: Very Good
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Updated: 29 December 2021