Dir: Walter Creighton
Starring: Donald Wolfit and Betty Shale
A short film charting the first 100 years of the Great Western Railway
This short historical drama is a real curiosity. It recorded the main events connected with the history of the GWR from 1835 to 1935, and was commissioned as part of the company’s 100th Anniversary celebrations. Events portrayed included the 1833 Bristol meeting at which Robert Bright’s speech to promote the railway aroused great enthusiasm among Bristol traders, the meeting at Bristol in 1835 at which it was decided to form the company, the opening of the Paddington-Maidenhead line in 1838, the hectic days of the 1860s when Sir Daniel Gooch salvaged the company from financial collapse, the completion of the Severn Tunnel in 1886, and the conversion from broad to standard gauge in 1892. This is then followed by a survey of the GWR as it was in 1935, the towns and cities served, the freight traffic, general operating procedures, and a detailed study of Swindon Locomotive Works where there is footage of a ‘King’ under construction. A final sequence of the streamlined ‘King’, No.6014 King Henry VII shows the most recent innovation in high speed express running. Carl Harbord played Isambard Kingdon Brunel, Donald Wolfit took the part of Sir Daniel Gooch and Robert Rendel played Robert Bright. Betty Shale took on the role of Lady Gooch, although there were two ‘Ladies’ following the death of the great man’s first wife in 1868. As well as the professional actors, members of the GWR’s own Amateur Dramatic and Operatic Society took part in several crowd scenes, and in the gauge conversion scenes of 1892 the permanent way men dressed up in the period clothing of the forefathers. As the GWR had inexplicably scrapped their only remaining Broad Gauge loco in 1906, the replica of the 2-2-2 North Star that had been built at Swindon in 1925 using parts from the 1837 original was used in the broad gauge scenes. Other locos noted in the film included ‘Castle’ No.5011 Tintagel Castle, ‘King’ No.6013 King Henry VIII, various 0-6-0 Pannier Tanks, and an exceptional rarity in the form of a privately-owned Beyer-Garratt, in this case East Moors Iron & Steel GKB No.12 Vivien at Cardiff Steel Works. The film was a powerful piece but it was never shown publicly, and apart from three private showings at Paddington in 1935 it appears to have disappeared entirely. It’s current whereabouts are not known.