Another collection of named trains that had long histories, and which have long since disappeared, could be found on British Railway Western Region, running out of Paddington to Penzance, South Wales, and even Birkenhead on Merseyside in the 1950s and 1960s. Leafing through a copy of the 1961 timetable, no less than 18 such services were listed, one of which – “The Pines Express” – was also operated in concert with London Midland Region, whilst others covered the West Midlands, South and North Wales.
In South Wales, international services operated to Fishguard for Ireland, along with numerous cross-country trains to Chester, Liverpool, and further north to Durham and Newcastle.
As on other regions of British Railways, the naming of principal expresses was reinstated after the Second World War, and some new names were introduced, whilst others were withdrawn, then reinstated and dropped again. In 1961 the Western Region listed these:
Of these 21 trains, more than half had disappeared by 1970, with no fewer than 7 being stripped of their title in 1965 including the third oldest – “The Torbay Express” – which had been operational since 1923. Three more disappeared in 1967, including the “Birmingham Pullman”, one of the newest prestige trains, and which had been operated using the “Blue Pullman” sets, built by Metro-Cammell only a few years before.
Far and away the oldest surviving named train in 1961 was, of course, the “Cornish Riviera Express”. In 1904, this was the first train booked to run non-stop to Plymouth, and was perhas the most prestigious of GWR trains, a status it carried through to BR days, with some of the most powerful steam locomotives of their day. From “City” class 4-4-0s like “City of Truro”, through to Churchward’s revolutionary designs from the “Star” class 4-6-0s, to “Castle” and “King” class. In BR days the latest, and unique “Warship” also hauled this train, together with “Western” class diesel-hydraulic locos and later still, HST sets. The Hitachi Class 802 Bi-mode trains now ply this same route. A service seemingly at the cutting edge of technology.
The schedule from the outset was tight, but after opening the shorter route via the “Westbury Cutoff” in 1906, it was possible to speed up the service to the west, with a start from Paddington at 10:30am, arrival at Plymouth was set for 2:37pm. Looking at the 1961 timings, these timings were still in force more than 50 years later. In the up direction, Paddington was reached from Penzance in 6hrs 40mins, with a 10:00am departure. The arrival at Paddington in 1961 was 4:40pm, which was only 5 minutes quicker than for most of its life.
Two trains that I remember seeing regularly were “The Royal Duchy” and “The Mayflower”, both destined to run from Paddington to the West Country, with the “Royal Duchy” starting life in January 1955, but needing consent from the Queen to carry the name. In the down direction, the train left Paddington for Penzance at 1:30pm, taking 7 ½ hours to reach Penzance, whilst in the up direction, Penzance departure was 11:05am, arriving at Paddington by 7:10pm. In the early evening, the down “Mayflower” left Paddington for Plymouth at 5:00pm, for a 10:20pm arrival, and in the up direction, Plymouth departure was 8:30am, with a 1:25pm arrival in Paddington.
Both of these trains carried headboards with the coats of arms of the Duchy of Cornwall, and the services received their names in te same year that the Western Region began to repaint its rolling stock in chocolate and cream. This individuality shown by the region, with its reference back to the former Great Western Railway lasted just over a decade, before the being consigned to history. The services carried on, but the names assigned to prestige trains like these were dropped in large numbers in the 1960s.
The West Country was served in total by 8 of these prestigious expresses, one of which “The Cornishman” originated in Wolverhampton – at least the BR service which was given the name officially in 1952. In fact, this had originally been a London to Penzance train, towards the end of the GWR’s ‘Broad Gauge’ period, starting life in 1890, and prior to the “Cornish Riviera Express” was the fastest GWR service to the far west. Starting from Paddington at 10:15am, Penzance was reached over the last miles of Brunel’s broad gauge tracks by 6:57pm – but this was before the ‘Westbury Cutoff’ and the route was via Bristol. After 1904, this particular service ceased to carry a name.
For the summer timetables of 1952, British Railways re-introduced the name for what was essentially a cross-country express from the West Midlands to the South West, taking in Wolverhampton, Birmingham, Stratford-upon-Avon, Cheltenham, Bristol and Penzance. In 1961, the train was still using Wolverhampton Low Level and Birmingham Snow Hill, for the down service, staring at 9:00am, through Cheltenham and Gloucester at 11:02am and 11:20am respectively. From Bristol at 12:15, the “Cornishman” made Plymouth at 3:15pm and finally, Penzance at 5:55pm.
One of the last of the West Country express services that was started before the Second World War was “The Bristolian”, which was initiated by the GWR in 1935, as a tribute to the centenary of the company. The GWR was proposed in the 1830s to link the cities of London and Bristol, and the new service was intended to link the two cities in as short a time as possible. In 1935, this was set at 105 minutes, some 15 minutes less than the previous best for the trip in the down direction. The down and up “Bristolian” used different routes – one via the original GWR main line to the city – 118.3 miles, whilst in the return trip to London, from Temple Meads, the train used the Badminton cut-off, from Filton Junction via Wooton Bassett. The ‘up’ service route was 117.6 miles – just a fraction shorter.
From Paddington, and a start at 10:00am, Bristol arrival was 11:45am, whilst in the up direction, arrival at Paddington at 6:15pm, from a 4:30pm start at Temple Meads, to maintain the schedule. In the 1950s, the same 105 minute schedule was maintained – with “Castle” Class 4-6-0s, and despite an attempt to introduce a 100 minute timing in 1959, by 1961 the service reverted to its 105 minute schedule. However, with increased loadings, of 10 or even 11 coach trains, and the new 2,000hp diesel-hydraulic locos, the time from Paddington to Temple Meads was actually increased by 14 minutes to 119 minutes.
Sadly, despite the advent of the 2,700hp “Western” class diesels, the train lost its name in 1966, starting from Paddington at 8:45am and an arrival in Bristol at 10:30am, but the service continued until 1973 before its final demise.
The West Midlands and Manchester & Liverpool was served by five express services in 1961, two of which dated from GWR days – “The Cheltenham Spa Express” and “The Pines Express”, which started life in 1923 and 1927 respectively. Actually, the “The Cheltenham Spa Express” “The Cheltenham Spa Express” began life just after the First World War, with a service from Cheltenham and Gloucester timed to arrive in Paddington at 5:00pm. By the early 1920s, the Cheltenham service had been turned into the “Cheltenham Flyer”, with a view by the GWR to turn this into the fastest express service in the world. The claim was based around a 75-minute schedule from Swindon to Paddington, a distance of 77.3 miles, with a start to stop average of 61.8 mph. This was essentially how the service remained, and with an accelerated timing to 67 minutes between Swindon and Paddington was the fastest train in the world in 1931, and after the timing was cut again to 65 minutes the following year, the train achieved an average of 71.4 mph. The service was briefly the fastest in the world, but by the start of WW2, that title was lost, as indeed was the name.
In British Railways time, the name “Cheltenham Flyer” never re-appeared, but in the 1950s, in common with many other expresses, BR chose to revive the “Cheltenham Spa Express”. In 1961, the down service left Paddington at 5:00pm, arriving in Gloucester at 7:17pm, and Cheltenham St James at 7:40pm. In the up direct, starting from Cheltenham at 8:00am, Paddington was reached by 10:35am, and was allowed 74 minutes between Swindon and Paddington – almost the same as the 1920s timing. The “Cheltenham Spa Express” lost its title in 1973, although the service continued well into the 1980s.
Another service from Paddington to the West Midlands in 1961 was the “Cathedrals Express”, which was designed to serve Oxford, Worcester and Hereford – the cathedral cities. The train only received its name in BR days, in 1957, but services had been operated by the GWR over this route since around 1904, and was the only named train to carry a bishop’s mitre on its headboard.
Of course, the “Blue Pullman” diesel sets made their appearance in 1960, and both the “Bristol Pullman” and “Birmingham Pullman” made their debut arrival at Paddington at almost the same time, and in adjacent platforms. The Birmingham train took 2 hours 5 minutes in the up direction, departing from Snow Hill at 7:30am, to arrive at Paddington at 9:35am, whilst the Bristol service started from Temple Meads at 7:40am. The service actually started from Wolverhampton Low Level at 7:00am, but in the down direction, the service only went as far as Birmingham Snow Hill, on a 115 minute timing, and a 25 minute turnaround in Birmingham before heading back to London at 2:30pm. These “Blue Pullman” services in 1961 were expanded, as an existing Pullman service to South Wales was converted to diesel traction.
Wales had no fewer than 6 main line express services in the 1950s and 1960s, although only one of these, the “Cambrian Coast Express” had been introduced before British Railways, which had begun life as a restaurant car service to the Welsh coast in July 1921. The “Cambrian Coast Express” in GWR days started in the summer of 1927, and was operated on Fridays and Saturdays only, leaving Paddington at 10:10am, for Aberystwyth, Barmouth and Pwhelli. In 1961, from a 10:10am start, the train’s route took it to Birmingham Snow Hill, Wolverhampton, Shrewsbury, Machynlleth and Aberystwyth, where it arrived at 4:15pm. To get to Pwhelli of course required a different train to carry you around the coast by way of Barmouth, Harlech, Portmadoc (Porthmadog), and Pwhelli, with a final arrival at 6:10pm. The return trip to Paddington started out at 9:45am from Aberystwyth, arriving, via Birmingham Snow Hill, in Paddington at 4:00pm in the afternoon.
Following the introduction of diesel traction, and the Pullman services in the early 1960s, to say nothing of Beeching, the route to the Welsh coastal resorts through Birmingham disappeared, and in 1967, so did the title of this train. However, not without a little irony – bearing in mind the GWR and LMS competing for traffic to Birkenhead and North Wales in the pre-war era – in 1986, this named train was revived, but started from Euston.
All of the other titled trains running in 1961 were introduced in British Railways days – the “Red Dragon” started the naming of express trains off in 1950, and was quickly followed by the “Pembroke Coast Express” in 1953. A third service – the “South Wales Pullman” – which appeared in 1955, was introduced to take advantage of the increasing business traffic and commercial importance of South Wales. On its introduction it was a standard rake of Pullman cars, hauled by a “Castle Class” locomotive, but which by 1961, had given way to being supplanted by a new ‘Nanking Blue’ diesel Pullman set.
The “South Wales Pullman” left Paddington at 08:50am, arriving at Cardiff, in just 2hrs 50mins, at 11:40am, and by way of Bridgend, Port Talbot and Neath, arrived in Cardiff at 1:10pm – 4hrs 20mins from London. By 1973, it was no longer a named train, and no longer a Pullman service.
The “Red Dragon” and “Pembroke Coast Express” have been described as being at opposite ends of the express train criteria – the “Red Dragon” was much slower, taking some 5hrs 54mins from Paddington to reach its final destination Carmarthen. This down train started at 5:55pm, whilst the up service fared little better, with a 7:30am start from Carmarthen, Paddington was reached at 1:00pm – a mere 5hrs 30mins. As a name, the “Red Dragon” was revived in BR’s ‘InterCity’ sector days – for a brief period – in 1984.
In the high speed category, the “Pembroke Coast Express”, which was introduced in 1953, laid claim to the fastest steam hauled service between London and Newport, and reached Swansea in 3 ¾ hrs from Paddington. Once again, this title disappeared from Western Region timetables in the 1960s, with the major regional and timetable changes – for the “Pembroke Coast Express” this meant that the name was withdrawn in 1963.
Some of the main routes and services remain, but the names have long since gone, and now, finally, the Western Region main line has been electrified – around 60 years after the original proposals, and the familiar green livery. (I know it’s not the same.) The motive power – well fixed formation train sets, now in hybrid form as well – all look similar, so is it maybe time to re-introduce some individuality?