Wednesday, 19 October 2011

Curatorial Corner - 19th October 2011

Football, Steeplechases and Regattas

The Curatorial department at STEAM have been working on a conservation and re-storage project for over 100 fragile and historically important handbills.  The handbills all date from 1909 and highlight the very interesting social history of the Edwardian period.

January 1909 handbill

The brightly coloured handbills advertise excursion trips to various destinations, including Wales, London, Cheltenham and Windsor.  The handbills are a buzz of information giving details of prices and timings for the excursion trains.  There are also adverts informing passengers of what they might see at their destination.  In June 1909 an excursion from Wolverhampton to London was arranged for passengers to go and see the Africa and the East Missionary Exhibition and in March of the same year local services were put on for the North Warwickshire Hunt Steeplechases.  Adverts on the reverse of the handbills provide information on trips to Brittany on the steamer RMS Antelope, via the GWR Docks at Plymouth, or to Ireland via Fishguard on turbine steamers.

Some of the most interesting handbills advertise excursion trips to top league football matches.  Famous named clubs such as Aston Villa, West Bromwich and Reading appear on the handbills, but other clubs such as Glossop and Clapton Orient (later renamed Leyton Orient) also appear playing against these top flight teams.  Even 100 years ago football played an important part in people's lives and the GWR was making it possible for the fans to travel to matches.

The handbills are a great find and definately make for an interesting read!

Reverse of February 1909 handbill showing football fixtures

Wednesday, 14 September 2011

Curatorial Corner - 14th September 2011

Acton Garden Village

Steve Gregory, Library and Archive Volunteer at STEAM, was lucky enough to catalogue a new donation of photographs on the GWRs garden village at Acton.  In this Blog he shares his thoughts on this fantastic set of images.

STEAM has been lucky enough to receive a collection of 50 photographs tracing the development of the homes built by the GWR in its Acton Garden Village.  Donated in August, the images (all in black and white, but from a mixture of sources) start in 1924, and trace the growth of this development over almost 40 years. This collection will fascinate those who are interested in the history of the GWR and the ways in which it sought to look after its employees. Individual types of house available are clearly illustrated, along with aerial photographs showing the layout of the whole estate.
I was lucky enough to be asked to index the collection, and to add details of each image to the database which is used to help manage STEAM’s large collection of photographs, book & magazines. As I worked my way through the pictures, it struck me how much other information this small collection also contained. I had not realised, for instance, that there were companies providing aerial photography as a commercial service so soon after World War I, but here was the stamp of “Aero Films Ltd., Hendon NW9”, with individual negative numbers and a date of 1924. By 1928, the same firm was again taking a new set of photographs, so business must have good enough for it to survive the start of the depression.

A view of Acton Garden Village in 1935

By 1930, the houses are starting to show the individual touches added by the various tenants – roses growing on trellises or archways over garden paths. In 1935, communal areas have been grassed and planted with trees and shrubs, and even some hard-landscaping makes an appearance. 
Being so close to London and to the main lines, it would have been surprising if Acton Garden Village had escaped damage from bombing raids. Sure enough, a group of 12 photographs shows damage to West Acton School, and various houses with tiles blown from the roofs. There is even a close-up of what I assume (and hope, for the photographer’s sake) is an unexploded bomb of some kind. Judging by the garden fork lying nearby, it must have been a fair sized device, which makes the small amount of damage to the houses even more remarkable.
 After the war, there is a gap in the collection until 1961 when a picture from a local newspaper shows the estate as well established and well cared-for.
The collection shows a tremendous amount of social history and the changes to everyday life over the years ; 1930s pictures show a horse-drawn van and a delivery boy’s bike , while cars are parked outside some houses in 1961. The war-time shots show a very uncomfortable-looking pushchair, and a hand mangle to press  water out of items being washed at home, and barbed wire features on a number of fences.
Over the years, those who lived in the village have had a range of social activities.  An aerial shot from 1928 shows a cricket pitch, complete with well-kept wicket and pavilion, not far from the houses. A commercial photograph shows a trip to Ostende in Belgium organised by the Tenants’ Association - almost certainly in the late 1920s or 1930s, to judge by the clothes and the magnificent “Coach 7”, supplied by the British Travel Bureau of Ostende.  Another newspaper picture from 1961 shows the Acton Garden Village Sports Day Queen being ‘crowned’ by the Chairman of the Residents’ Association.  
The donation of 50 pictures, by a range of photographers, is a lovely little collection which adds still more interest by filling a previous gap in the STEAM Library and Archive. 

The donation of photographs also came with a range of paperwork relating to the history of the Village and a silver cup for the Village Allotment Association.

Friday, 29 July 2011

Curatorial Corner - 28th July 2011

New home for Photographic Collection

Upgraded Storage System
(System Stores Solutions Ltd)
The photographic collection at STEAM is one of our fastest growing collections.  At present we have over 40,000 prints, together with 1000s of slides, negatives and glass plates.  The images range from industrial scenes to locomotives and from official staff portraits to architecture.  It is a fascinating cross section illustrating the history of the Great Western Railway.

The photographic collection is housed in our archive and thanks to a generous grant from The Friends of Swindon Railway Museum the original storage system has been upgraded to allow the storage of another 20,000-30,000 photographs.

The Museum gets donated photographs almost every month and it is thanks to a dedicated team of volunteers that they get sorted, catalogued and filed.  It has taken 10 years to catalogue 40,000 photographs, and there are many years of work still ahead!

Our photographic collection can be viewed by appointment at the Museum, or you can access the collection online at  Some of our amazing images can be seen below.

Evening Star, 1960

Women making nets in Swindon Works, c1930s

Sir Daniel Gooch

Friday, 15 July 2011

Events Diary - Railway Festival Update

Swindon Railway Festival 10th - 11th September

Ian Surtees, Commercial Manager, gives a further update on the forthcoming Railway Festival.

Swindon Works Tunnel Entrance in the 1930s

With nine weeks to go before the Swindon Railway Festival the Museum is just putting together the finishing touches to this years show.

To coincide with the 25th anniversary of the Swindon Works closure – STEAM are launching two new exclusive models at this year’s festival. Working with model specialists Dapol, we can confirm a limited edition run of the legendary Swindon designed and built Western Class ‘D1000 Western Enterprise’ will be available for pre-order at the show. This exciting news follows the recent announcement that STEAM have joined forces with market leader Bachmann to produce a low relief 00 gauge model of the Swindon Works tunnel entrance.  The tunnel is one of the most iconic features of Swindon Works and will be a great addition to any industrial model railway layout.  The new model will available to purchase at the Festival.

The following traders and exhibitors have already confirmed they’ll be at this year’s show and more traders are expected to follow soon.

  • Hornby Magazine
  • Picture Pride Displays
  • Squires Model & Craft Tools
  • Just Like The Real Thing
  • Hornby Hobbies
  • Bachmann Europe
  • Oakwood Press and Visuals
  • Kernow Model Rail Centre
  • The Signal Box
  • Severn Valley Railway
  • 6024 Preservation Society
  • 6880 Betton Grange Society
  • Friends of the Swindon Railway Museum

Confirmed Layouts

7mm (O Gauge)
East Wheal Dream
Knockley Gate
Dainton Bank
Happisburgh Goods
East Midlands Test Track (to showcase models)

4mm (OO Gauge)
Mythur Riverside
Llanryglyn – Cambrian period railway
West Cliffe
S Scale
Aston Magna

2mm Fine Scale (N Gauge)
Highbury Colliery

There will also be lots of demonstations taking place over the weekend, includings demos in soldering, locomotive building, painting and wagon building.  And as confimed in April's Blog we will also be joined by Stanley Steam Cars, Box Steam Brewery, Hatch Steam Heritage and Roy Nash photography.

Prices for this year’s show will be held at the 2010 rates, but following demand we’ll be issuing weekender tickets for visitors wishing to join us for the whole weekend.

Admission: £8.50 for adults; Seniors and Concessions £5.50; Family tickets £24.00 (two adults, two children) and £27.00 (two adults, three children), Weekender Tickets: Adults £12.00, Seniors and Concessions £8.50. Under three go free. Swindon Card discounts available

View our previous Blog at

Wednesday, 29 June 2011

Curatorial Corner - 29th June 2011

In the Kitchen!

Back in April we were successful in obtaining a fabulous object at auction.  It arrived last week and we were thrilled with our purchase.  The item in question is a GWR Hotels copper saucepan.  It sounds very ordinary, but it is the first object of its kind that we have at STEAM.

We already have a large collection of cutlery, china, glass and silverware from the GWR Hotels and Refreshments Department.  All of these items are good quality, delicate, pieces that were used in front-of-house services for use by passengers in dining cars or hotels.  The copper saucepan is the complete opposite - plain, solid and very heavy (it weighs 3kg!).

The kitchens on carriages, in stations and hotels were an integral part of the GWR dining service provision.  It would have been a hive of activity with chefs preparing 5 course meals, sometimes in tiny confined spaces, for large amounts of people.  The copper saucepans were very heavy and would have been even heavier filled with water or vegetables.  It must have been a tough job working as a chef for the GWR, especially in a dimly lit kitchen carriage, swaying and lurching from station to station.  Not for the weak or faint hearted!

GWR Chef preparing food in a cramped kitchen carriage - note the saucepan on the left

Friday, 27 May 2011

Education News - 27th May 2011

STEAM Education Gets Top Marks for Educational Visits!

We’re fast approaching the end of another incredibly busy year with school visitors to STEAM. About 20,000 children a year come to experience our hands on interactive workshops, stepping back in time to the eras of Queen Victoria and the Home Front during WW2 (not at the same time!)

The Education Team is spending the summer planning and developing new activities to enthuse children, ready to launch at the beginning of the new academic year in September.

We’ve had great fun putting ourselves into the shoes of children and devising lots of new ways to use original objects, photographs and drama with schools. We can’t wait to try them -  if we grown ups didn’t stop laughing, then neither will the children!

We are enhancing our hugely popular We’ll Meet Again event for schools, which runs for two weeks every autumn and spring, based on feedback from our school customers.  Children will be up and moving when they come to immerse themselves in life in 1940! Jitterbug, anyone? Doubtless, there will be quite a few ‘Black Bottoms’! Regular visitors will spot new activities relating to wartime childhood and cracking codes. Ladies in a local care home are reminiscing about their own memories of being little girls in wartime, ready to share their stories with us (whilst spanning the eras by crocheting Victorian costume for children to use at the same time!)

However, the most exciting news for us and for our school visitors is that STEAM Education has just shown itself to be at the ‘top of the class’ for school educational visits by being the first heritage site in Wiltshire to be awarded the Learning Outside the Classroom Quality Badge. For us, this means that we have been nationally recognised by the Council for Learning Outside the Classroom for both the quality and safety of the experiences we offer school children and teachers. For schools and teachers, this means that they can cut red tape when planning to take children to our Museum and do not need to carry out their own risk or quality assessments.

We are absolutely delighted to be the first in Wiltshire, it is a huge coup for the Education team and all the staff here at STEAM and we look forward to welcoming even more children and young people from across the region to our wonderful Museum.

Thursday, 19 May 2011

STEAM Guidebook - 19th May 2011

The updated guidebook

A new edition of the STEAM guidebook has just been launched!  At £4.50 this new edition has a much fresher feel and includes lots of new images.

The guidebook is a great accompaniment to the Museum and tells the unique story of the Great Western Railway whilst guiding you through the displays at STEAM.

We have also included a new set of images within the guidebook.  STEAM worked in conjunction with the HND photography students at Swindon College to produce some of these images.  These range from atmosheric shots of our character figures to some detailed close up shots of objects within the Museum's fabulous collection.  The students produced some great photographs, with 6 individuals lucky enough to have their work included in the guidebook.

The guidebook is an interesting read and the perfect souvenir to take home.  Buy your copy today!

A close up of some GWR uniform buttons.  Taken by former
Swindon College Student, Christine LeHeup -

An atmospheric photograph of the "Typist" character figure taken by
Swindon College Student, Kevin Morrow

Wednesday, 11 May 2011

Curatorial Corner - 11th May 2011

A Visit to Highgrove

Back in 2009 the Museum was approached by the Public Catalogue Foundation, their aim being to photograph every oil painting in public ownership in the country.  It was a huge feat and STEAM was happy to help out.  We have a small painting collection here at the Museum, and only five oil paintings.  However, we have five very beautiful and different paintings that are now featured in the new Gloucestershire and Wiltshire edition of the Catalogue. 

This edition of the catalogue was launched at Highgrove on 3rd May 2011 with a champagne reception hosted by HRH The Dutchess of Cornwall, the patron of the PCF.  Both Felicity Jones and Elaine Arthurs of the Curatorial Department were lucky enough to be invited to the launch.  The afternoon started with a two hour tour around the gardens at Highgrove, followed by champagne and canapes.  It was a real honour be there, alongside other institutions, such as hospitals, local councils and galleries, who all display various publically owned oil paintings.

Felicity and Elaine spoke to her Royal Highness and were able to tell her all about STEAM, even suggesting she brought her own family along!  Prince Charles opened STEAM in 2000 so it would be great if his wife could come too!

All those invited to the launch were given a copy of the catalogue.  It is a massive book full of some amazing paintings - and this is just for two counties!  Our five images look stunning and colourful.  A range of abstract, modern and traditional style oil paintings.

It was a great afternoon and one Felicity and Elaine will not be forgetting soon!

Elaine Arthurs and Felicity Jones meet HRH The Dutchess of Cornwall

Wednesday, 27 April 2011

Curatorial Corner - 27th April 2011

Loaned print of Maidenhead Bridge
 The Railway meets the River

The Curatorial Department took a visit to the River and Rowing Museum at Henley on Thames yesterday.  What has a museum like this got to do with the Great Western Railway?  More than you think!

Last year we were contacted by the team at Henley who were in the process of putting together a new exhibition on the Victorian's growing interest in the Thames as a holiday and tourist destination.  The Great Western Railway served Henley, as well as other places along this famous river.  Before the coming of the railway it could take 5 hours to reach Henley by stagecoach, but the building of the GWR allowed ordinary people the chance to travel to new destinations in a much shorter time.  The Thames at places like Henley, Windsor, Marlow and Pangbourne was a lot more idylic and cleaner than it was in the capital, London.  During the 19th Century the Thames in London was a busy shipping port and extremely dirty.  It wasn't a tourist destination like it is today.

Picnic basket, truncheon and other
loaned objects

The exhibition, Escaping the City - The Victorian on the Thames, borrowed objects and archive material from the collection at STEAM to help illustrate the railway's involvement in tourism on the Thames.  It was great to see our objects in a different environment!  Some of the items on show were a GWR picnic basket and tea pot.  These would have been purchased at one of the major stations, like Paddington, and filled with lots of goodies to keep day trippers happy as they lounged on the banks of the Thames, or took a ride on a river boat.  We also loaned a GWR Policeman's truncheon.  The railway police had a presence at the Henley Regatta and ensured people got to and from the station without incident.

The Curatorial Department had a great time at the River and Rowing Museum and enjoyed seeing STEAM's objects displayed in such a fascinating exhibition.  Escaping the City closes on Monday 2nd May 2011.

River and Rowing Museum website -

Escaping the City exhibition

Collections Officer, Elaine, by the Sydney
Olympic's winning GB coxless four boat

Thursday, 14 April 2011

Events Diary - Railway Festival Update

Swindon Railway Festival 10th - 11th September 2011

Ian Surtees, Commercial Manager, gives an update on the forthcoming Railway Festival.

Layouts at the 2010 Railway Festival

The planning for this year’s Swindon Railway Festival is already gathering pace, and I can confirm 12 of the country’s finest GWR and BR (W) layouts will be attending this year’s show on 10th and 11th September sponsored by the Hornby Magazine. The Swindon Railway Festival brings together the country’s best layouts, demonstrators and traders – with nine of this year’s layouts making their first time appearance at Swindon! In addition to the fabulous model railway layouts will be impressive displays from model giants Hornby and Bachmann and celebrity modeller, pop music legend and Museum Patron Pete Waterman OBE will be at the show.

2011 marks the 25th anniversary of the Swindon Railway Works closure and we’ll be paying tribute to the men and women who worked ‘inside’ at the famous Swindon Works which now houses the stunning Museum collection. We are currently working on assembling some poignant photographic displays for the show that will showcase the Swindon Works both in its heyday and during its sad decline in the mid 1980s.

And if that’s not enough, we are planning a ‘live steam and real ale’ arena outside the Museum’s recently refurbished Great Western Hall, comprising of traction engines and road rollers courtesy of Hatch Steam Heritage, extremely rare Stanley Steam Cars courtesy of the Steam Car Club of Great Britain and an outdoor bar selling the Museum’s fine range of real ales courtesy of Box Steam Brewery.

Prices for this year’s show will be held at the 2010 rates, but following demand we’ll be issuing weekender tickets for visitors wishing to join us for the whole weekend.

Admission: £8.50 for adults; Seniors and Concessions £5.50; Family tickets £24.00 (two adults, two children) and £27.00 (two adults, three children), Weekender Tickets: Adults £12.00, Seniors and Concessions £8.50. Under three go free. Swindon Card discounts available

Confirmed Layouts 

East Wheal Dream
Knockley Gate
Dainton Bank
Test Track (to showcase models)

Mythur Riverside
Llanryglyn – Cambrian period railway
Oldbury Junction
West Cliff
S Scale
Aston Magna

2mm Fine Scale
Highbury Colliery

Wednesday, 30 March 2011

Events Diary - 30th March 2011

Station Platform shoot
High Fashion comes to STEAM!

 Last week saw the Museum transformed for an exciting fashion shoot.  Duo, who specialise in boots and shoes, came to STEAM to shoot their Autumn/Winter range of footwear.

The Museum provided a wonderful backdrop for a 1930s inspired shoot, full of glamour and intrigue.  The shoot took place in and around our Station Platform, on our buffet car and by Caerphilly Castle.  In person the scene shots looked great, but seeing them on screen made the Museum look amazing!  The lighting looked moody and evocative and the special effects brought the photographs to life.  The late night shoot based by Caerphilly Castle used dry ice to create the effect of live steam.  The photographs gave the impression of a dark and atmospheric station at night. 

Special effects under Caerphilly Castle

Duo brought with them a team of stylists, make-up artists and a photographer.  And of course the model, Lisa, who made all the outfits and footwear look stylish and chic.  The shoot took 2 full days and the team photographed approxiamately 10-15 different styles of boots and shoes.  The Museum was priviledged enough to see a sneak preview of the new range, but we won't be able to show you what we saw just yet! The new range is launched in July 2011.

Duo specialise in special fit boots and shoes and can offer boots in up to 21 different calf sizes.  Check out their latest collection at and go online in July to see STEAM featuring in their promotions.

Lisa having her make-up applied

Sean, the Photographer, at work

Thursday, 10 March 2011

Curatorial Corner - 10th March 2011

A Charitable Find!

A recent find in a charity shop in Swindon has got the Curatorial department buzzing with excitement!  Last Monday a call from one of the Museum's volunteers alerted us to a GWR inkwell set sat in the window of the Prospect Hospice Shop on Victoria Road, Swindon.  A frantic call to the shop confirmed the inkwell set was still for sale and the Curator and Collections Officer rushed on over to take a look.

The complete GWR inkwell set

We were staggered by what we found.  A near perfect GWR inkwell set, complete with three glass inkwells sat in a lovely wooden stand.  The stand still had the brass pen holder attached.  Two of the glass inkwells are branded with the letters GWR, and the third with the slogan Go Great Western. The publicity slogan Go Great Western was introduced in the 1920s and the style of the script on the inkwell dates the set to 1926.  Both the stand and the pen holder are stamped GWR too.

We settled up with the shop and took our prize find back to STEAM.  We do not know where the inkwell set came from, but like to think that it sat on the desk of an important Works Manager or Station Master!  I guess we will never know.

A close up of the "Go Great Western" glass inkwell

The Museum hopes to display the inkwell set in a new display over the summer.

Tuesday, 22 February 2011

Events Diary - 22nd February 2011

Cupcake Passion!

So many cupcakes!
It’s been cupcake crazy today at the Museum with "Design your own Cupcake" sessions taking place in STEAM’s Caerphilly Castle Hall, and the whole event has been an overwhelming success! The sessions have been run in partnership with Swindon based Cupcake Passion who had baked and brought in 500 Vanilla, Lemon, Chocolate, Coffee and Strawberry cupcakes for visitors to decorate.  Children and adults alike have been creating their own unique cupcake masterpieces, using colourful piped icing, sparkly sprinkles and cut-out iced shapes. Even our Curator and Collections Officer had a go!  Check out their efforts below.  I don’t think Delia Smith needs to be worried just yet!

The Collections Officer, Elaine, getting cupcake crazy!

The whole Museum has been buzzing with half-term visitors today and we’re geared up for a busy week with the STEAM Smiley Cats kids club taking place on Wednesday and Thursday. There’s also an Odd One Out trail running this Half Term with a treat for all those that take part.

The efforts of the Curatorial Team

Making decorations

So, if you have not been already get to STEAM for some Half Term fun!

Tuesday, 15 February 2011

Curatorial Corner - 15th February 2011

A Titanic Find!

We always come across interesting finds at STEAM.  But sometimes you find something that makes you stop in your tracks (if you excuse the pun!).  Recently we had one of those moments when we uncovered some paperwork relating to the RMS Titanic.

Everyone knows the story of the ill-fated ship that sank on 15th April 1912 so when we discovered the documents with the word Titanic printed on them we really took notice.

The first document is a letter dated September 1910 from the GWR's District Goods Manager's Office in Liverpool to James Inglis at Paddington.  It confirms the building of the Titanic and her sister ship, Olympic.  The GWR were obviously intrested in the White Star Line's new liners for a purely commercial reason and probably were hoping to provide the passenger transport to and from the proposed ports.  The GWR had been advertising with the White Star Line since the late 1890s.

The second set of documents is on a more personal level and relates to a passenger who died on the Titanic.  The passenger in question was Christopher Head who was a shareholder in the GWR.  The letters between the GWR and a London based firm of solicitors are confirming the death of Christopher when the Titanic sank, so the the shares could be released.  We know from passenger lists that Christopher was a former mayor of Chelsea and he boarded the Titanic at Southampton as a first class passenger.  He paid £42 10s for his ticket and occupied cabin B-11.  His body was never recovered.

Christopher Head

Wednesday, 2 February 2011

Curatorial Corner - 2nd February 2011

This is the first update from the Curatorial department at STEAM and we have some exciting new objects to share with you.

We are always trying to fill gaps in our collection and acquire interesting and unique objects that allow us to tell the story of the Great Western Railway and preserve its legacy.  Railwayana auctions are always full of wonderful items and it is often the place that we will find ‘something special’.  Over the past couple of months we have bidded successfully (and unsuccessfully!) at various auctions and the items below are some of the items we won.

Cup and Saucer

The GWR had an active Hotels and Refreshments department that used all sorts of china and cutlery in its ventures.  Some of these items that have survived are more common than others, but this cup and saucer from Paddington Station is one we have not seen before. 

The cup and saucer dates from the early part of the 20th Century and was made by Grindleys Hotel Ware of Holburn, London.  It is a sturdy piece and designed for on-the-go passengers who were passing through Paddington Station – an early version of the cardboard take-away cup I suppose!

The cup and saucer can be viewed at STEAM in the Station Platform display.

Photochrom Carriage Prints

Another great object that we were lucky enough to win at auction was a mounted set of Photochrom Carriage Prints.  To find these prints in a mounted set is quite unusual.  We have some loose prints in our archive already, but this was that ‘something special’ that we couldn’t resist.

We can date the carriage prints to between 1886 and 1898.  This is when the company, Photochrom, were producing them for the GWR.   The images are actually colourised lithographs produced from black and white negatives and the GWR used these carriage prints as an early, and inexpensive, means of publicity that promoted the destinations on their network.   Photochrom was a Swiss company that had a branch in London.

West for Winter poster

The Curatorial department always has an eye for glamour and this poster definitely caught ours!  This vibrant and glamorous poster dates from the late 1930s and advertises the benefits of West Country resorts in the winter.  The artist is Raymond Sheppard, who produced a number of posters for the railways in the 1930s, 40s and 50s.

Bold, colourful and attractive images were used heavily by the GWR’s publicity department during the 1920s and 30s.  There was also strong shift towards advertising locations and activities.  This poster is modern and sophisticated and would have appealed to the masses.

STEAM joins the blogging community!

Welcome to the new blog for STEAM - Museum of the Great Western Railway!

This blog will keep you updated with all the behind the scenes action at the Museum, as well as bringing you all the latest news regarding events and activities.