Of the four major railway companies that were combined to form British Railways, the Great Western was perhaps the most independently minded. Resisting the corporate image of British Railways, the Western Region often seemed to be able to retain some of its Great Western charm. Well after other works had adopted standard liveries, Swindon tended to retain their own version of green. I once heard the excuse that they had a large stock of paint! Towards the end of steam, on the Western Region, it was not unusual to see beautifully turned out green locomotives hauling coaches painted in chocolate and cream.  Coaches were BR standard vehicles but, nevertheless, were still a visual reminder of Great Western Express trains of a former era.

Shrewsbury 1961, No. 6000 King George V has brought the down ‘Cambrian Coast Express’ from London Paddington. The headboard has been removed for the Manor class joining the other end of the train for the run to the Welsh coast. Modified Hall No. 7922 Salford Hall stands ready for the connecting service to Chester and Birkenhead. Heading north from Paddington, King George V seemed to be ailing. With a crew change at Wolverhampton her performance was spectacularly revived. An off-duty fireman and travelling companion commented that, spoiled by new diesel hydraulics, some firemen were losing their shovelling enthusiasm. (Wales and Western Region Railways, Amberley Publishing)

Locomotive performance and handling were usually of a high standard but, even for God’s Wonderful Railway, there were occasional lapses.  Such an occasion was on one of the many journeys I did from Paddington to Shrewsbury, travelling with the ‘Cambrian Coast Express’. I was pleased to see the pioneer King, No. 6000 King George V, in beautiful condition as she backed down from Old Oak Common to take our train forward. As the journey progressed, I became increasingly disappointed with our progress. There was no sparkle in our performance, and we were steadily losing time. From the noise at the front, it was clear that our locomotive was being worked with light steam.

Western Region
Shrewsbury 1961, No. 6025 King Henry III stands ready; her driver looks back for the ‘right away’! From April 1959, platform clearances at Codsall and updates to Shifnal Viaduct allowed Kings north of Wolverhampton. Earlier in the day, King Henry III and her crew brought the ‘Cambrian Coast Express’ north from London Paddington to Shrewsbury; rested and replenished, the return journey begins. (Wales and Western Region Railways, Amberley Publishing)

From 1959, permanent way improvements allowed Kings to venture north of Wolverhampton.  Once a stop for an engine change, Wolverhampton was still, for several years, rostered as a crew change point.  With a new driver and fireman, King George V could take the train forward to Shrewsbury.  As we pulled away from Wolverhampton, an off-duty fireman joined my compartment.  We began to chat and, commenting on our slow progress, I wondered whether our King was ailing.  The words were hardly out of my mouth when I realized that we were now travelling very fast in an attempt to make up lost time. My new travelling companion smiled, “there’s not much wrong up front now!” With the arrival of new diesel locomotives, he offered the view that some fireman, spending a great deal of time sitting up-front as second men, had lost their enthusiasm for shoveling! This was of course before the days when single manning became the norm. After a courageous final run, we arrived almost on time. From Shrewsbury a much lighter Manor would take the ‘Cambrian Coast Express’ onwards into central Wales.

Even with its proud traditions, the Western Region was not immune to occasional problems. For this traveller though, it was for their hard work, and heroic endeavours, that railway staff were most remembered. With waning support from senior management, locomotive crews performed wonders so that steam could go out with its head held high. 

Brian Reading and Ian Reading's book Wales and Western Region Railways is available for purchase now.