musings while allatsea

Musings of a curious individual

Tag: Brunel

Chippenham churnings.

This semi fine morning I had to make a trip to Chippenham for a job interview. It was a grey sort of day, in fact its been a grey day since the beginning of the week, so not much has changed. The town is situated on the London Paddington-Bristol Temple Meads line with First Great Western, and it was quite an expensive way to waste money on train fare.


Traveling through Didcot Parkway and Swindon, Chippenham was the next stop. It is really quite a sleepy sort of station though, and I will come back to it. 

However, the area I needed to be in was in the opposite side of the station to where the city centre was. I was running about an hour early so headed off towards a church spire that I could see from the station. This was however not the church that I had seen from Google Earth.  
Called St Pauls, it is a wonderful old building with an enormous spire that sticks out above everything else. It also had a wonderful churchyard with 9 CWGC graves in it.


The graves had been photographed before so I am not too worried about missing some of them. Unfortunately there was some sort of group on the go when I was there so I could only grab one quick image before I headed off to the taxi rank and my interview.


After my interview, (which went well, but which did not land me the job) I headed back towards the station, although aiming for an area that looked interesting beyond the station. Fortunately I did not have to worry too much about train times as it was still reasonably early.

As is to be expected, the closer you get to town, the older the houses become, and from what I can see Chippenham is more residential than commercial. The railway line runs on one side of the town, and it runs over one of those beautiful bricked arches that I have seen in a number of places.  I always marvel at the interior brickwork of the arch, there are so many of these structures all over Britain, and they are all reasonably old, so they were built to last. I did however miss the Brunel Railway Viaduct, but did not know it was there until now.


I had more or less arrived where I wanted to be, but discovered that it was not where I should be to see what I wanted to see, so headed off towards the town centre which was 10 minutes away. This is where you get to see the age of the town, and some of the architecture that is still standing today.  The town centre sits more or less on a hill, and the river Avon meanders through the town, I suspect this is the same Avon that I encountered in Bath, Bristol and Salisbury. 


The small roofed structure is the Buttercross, and it has somewhat of a chequered history, the original having been erected in 1570. Once past the Buttercross I was almost at the top of the town and my destination was in sight. 

The spire probably gives it away, and the structure on the traffic island is the Chippenham War Memorial.  The church is known as St Andrews, and it is one of those old churches that seem to originate many centuries ago and that have undergone so much restoration and modernisation that it is difficult to know what part is original. Unfortunately, I could not get inside, but the graveyard is reasonably intact and has the largest collection of chest tombs I have ever seen in one spot.
It does however stand in an awkward space, so getting a decent image of it is very difficult. However, the buildings behind the church are really beautiful, and I just wish I had better photography weather. 

And then it was time to start heading back to the station.


Crossing over the river once more. I more or less knew where the station was now so headed in that general direction.  There were still many pretty buildings to see, but I was starting to tire and really wanted to be on my way home.
Is that part of the Brunel Viaduct? it is possible, but I cannot be too sure.


The local Class 153 pulled into the station shortly after I arrived, and that was pretty much the sum total of trains that I saw at the station outside of the FGW fast inter-cities that I had come here on.  These towns must have really been something to see in the heady days of steam, although they would have probably been much dirtier and full of smog.

Alas, all we have now are dirty diesels.
Random pics.
Don’t blink now, but that was Chippenham. It was an interesting diversion, but rationally it was a waste of money. A whole days wages is not to be sneezed at, although at the end of the day I need to go for interviews, and hopefully one of them may pay off. Unfortunately in the case of this one I never heard from the agency again, so the odds are I never got the job. It is doubtful that I will come through here again, which is a pity because I suspect there is much more to see here than meets the eye. 
© DRW 2015-2018. Created 13/02/2015 images merged 26/04/2016
Updated: 31/12/2017 — 09:32

The Steam Museum in Swindon (2)

Continuing where we left off, this part deals with some of the other odds and sods that I saw at the Steam Museum of the Great Western Railway. The reproduction station that was erected at the museum is really a glimpse of something that no longer exists. Small rural stations and branch lines met their ends with the Beeching Axe, and that is still being debated long after it happened. 

And when we lost the rural station we also lost the rural signal box. The station was an important part of the community, and when the trains stopped many communities stopped too. A similar thing happened in South Africa, although the axe was wielded by neglect and bad planning

I do suspect this guy may be waiting for a train that never comes.

I do suspect this guy may be waiting for a train that never comes.

The museum also emphasizes the role that the railway played in holiday travel, a trip to the seaside by train must have been something that all youngsters dreamt of, just like we did in South Africa when I was young. The GWR played its part too, and there were lots of travel posters that played on this urge to grab your picnic basket and dash off to Cornwall or Fishguard or similar.

The trains still run to Cornwall, but the romance of it has gone, and the modern snazzy airplane style coaches do not have that appeal, and neither do diesels for that matter.
Interior of current First Great Western carriage stock

Interior of current First Great Western carriage stock

The museum also shows the role that the railways had during the wars, and it is difficult to fully explain just how the war affected the railways, and how much they contributed to the war effort. Women were brought into the workforce in large numbers and they did the job with enthusiasm and pride, and their own lives were changed forever. 
Our lady with the tea trolley made a contribution that may be seen as something really small, but to those servicemen and women who were trying to get home, or who were en route to bases, knew that it was just as important as those who were out there getting killed in battle. 
Like many industries, the Swindon works were involved in munitions and equipment production, and  a large portion of their male workforce would have joined the forces. And, as I expected, there are Remembrance Plaques and Rolls of Honour in recognition of those who never came back.  I have posted images of the ones I photographed at allatsea 
Britain was a very different place back then, and the war really made it what it is today.  
Then it was time to head out, I had to find graves from that war in a nearby cemetery, and my missing hour had cut into the time I had available to do this. I had enjoyed this little march through the past, like so many of these museums this one is a gem, and I can’t help but wonder how many working and static steam locos I had seen in Britain compared to the masses of derelicts that I saw in South Africa. I was also fortunate enough to visit Mid Hants Railway in 2013 and the glimpse of the country station there was just as fascinating. I may return here one day, because I am still missing 28 graves from the cemetery, so maybe there will be a part three to this blogpost somewhere down the line.
Random pics. 
The goods yard

The goods yard

Scammel delivery van

Scammel delivery van

Railcar drivers position

Railcar drivers position

Fishguard? lets go!

Fishguard? lets go!

Working loco model

Working loco model

GWR Brakevan

GWR Brakevan

Carriage works

Carriage works

Track inspection vehicle

Track inspection vehicle

© DRW 2015-2018 Created 17/01/2015, images migrated 22/04/2016

Updated: 27/08/2018 — 07:59

The Steam Museum in Swindon (1)

After much vacillating and excuses I finally got my butt in gear and headed off to Swindon to visit Steam. Museum of the Great Western Railroad.
I was looking at doing a trip to the museum since last year, but doing it from Salisbury would have been a mission, whereas from Basingstoke it entailed a train to Reading, and then another to Swindon. This is Great Western territory as opposed to my usual South West Trains that I have been using regularly on my travels. This is also the furtherest North that I have traveled since coming to the UK in 2013.
The train trip was a bit of a disaster though; I had left a bit later in the morning than I should have and it put me in Reading just after 10am. I had two visits lined up for the trip and theoretically had enough time to do both. Unfortunately the train before us had problems with its central door locking at Didcot Parkway, and was stuck in the station while we ended up stuck not too far from the station as a result, and I sat watching the time march from the comfort of the inside of a train. We sat for almost an hour and by the time I hit Swindon I had seen my plans take somewhat of a dive. The museum is not too far from the station, in the former engine works of Great Western. Looking at images from there you cannot believe that all that engineering is gone, and in one case it has even been replaced by a yuppie fashion house. These works and Great Western are also closely associated with the famous engineer Isambard Kingdom Brunel, The Museum is housed in a former machine shop, and the last steam locomotive that came from these works in 1960 was the Eastern Star, which is the last steam locomotive built by British Railways. (Tornado was not built by British Railways). Hopefully there would be some steamers still inside the building, and that was what I was after. 
The traverser and 4 wheeler were a good sign,  and I eventually found my way into the museum. Schools were open so theoretically it should not be too crowded. 
The first surprise was a set of driving wheels for Brunels broad gauge loco, Lord of the Isles.
These wheels are 8 foot in diameter, which makes Brunel look short. It is worth remembering that Brunel was using the “broad gauge” which is 7 ft (2,134 mm), later eased to 7 ft 14 in (2,140 mm) which meant his rolling stock was very big. The gauge they use in the UK now is 4 ft 8 in (1,422 mm), now eased to 4 ft 8 12 in (1,435 mm). (South Africa uses what is known as “Cape Gauge” 3ft 6 inches). There is quite a good explanation on track gauges on Wikipedia
The first major artefact which caught my eye was a boiler with all the complications that it entails (including a woman sitting in the smokebox). This is a representation of the boiler works
The one thing I have learnt is that steam engine boilers are very complex devices with a lot of engineering that often does not make sense. However, when you consider the energy that steam is able to generate then you can see why the boiler has to be so strong and designed with so much inherent strength and flexibility. The locos that were coming out of these works would be in service for many years and works like this produced some fine machines that would still be running had it not for the demise of steam traction. 
Just around the corner I discovered one of the many intact steam engines in the museum,  GWR 4073 Class 4073 Caerphilly Castle.  The nice thing about her is that you can actually walk underneath her and see those hidden bits that are all taken for granted.

She was built in 1923, and withdrawn from service in 1960. I was going to wait for the person in the wheelchair to move before I took the last pic, but then I realised that he did give a sense of scale to the machine.

Around the corner I came to a replica of  the 1837  “North Star”, and it is really a comparatively simple loco when compared to the machines that rule the rails 100 years later.

The original was purchased by GWR and ran one of the first trains between Paddington and Maidenhead in 1837. There is no consideration for crew comfort in this machine, although I am sure these locos did not break too many speed records.

2516 is a Dean locomotive, built in 1897 and used on freight services. It has some resemblance to a cab, but has been split away from her tender.  She is the only survivor of her class of 260 built at Swindon.

9400 is a relatively new machine, having been part of  a class that was built between 1947 and 1956. She is an 0-6-0 Pannier Tank loco, and her class really had very short lives as the diesel made more inroads into their traditional roles. She is one of two survivors of her class

At this point we come to a replica station and the trains pulled up at the platforms. There are two locos here, namely 4003 “Lode Star”:


She was built in 1907 and is the only remaining GWR 4000 Class locomotive. 

And  7821 “Didcheat Manor”  She is a reasonably new loco too, having been built in 1950. 

And that really concluded the collection of steam engines at the museum, The other interesting piece of motive power at the museum is a GWR diesel railcar.


The art deco styling of this railcar must have really been a sight to see as it trundled along the route between Birmingham and Cardiff, and they were really the precursor to the DMUs that I travelled on so often in Salisbury.  Unfortunately the railcar was not open so I could not see the interior except through the windows, and it did look really nice inside.

The museum also has a Buffet coach on display, and its green interior must have been very comforting to somebody having a cuppa and a sticky bun inside.

There is also a Great Western Royal Saloon on display, and it formed  part of Queen Victoria’s Royal Train. Unfortunately part of the vehicle is closed off and I was not able to get much of an impression about the coach, which is a pity really because this is quite an important exhibit.

The rest of the museum has a lot of very interesting exhibits, in fact it is overall a very nice museum, although I would have liked to have seen more rolling stock and coaches, but then beggars can’t be choosers either.

The station is particularly interesting because it really shows most aspects of what stations may have been like so many years ago, and in the  follow up to this post I shall add in some pictures of the other exhibits.Please turn the page to go to Part 2

© DRW 2014-2018. Images recreated 22/04/2016
Updated: 31/12/2017 — 08:30

Visiting the SS Great Britain.

Bristol held one more attraction for me, and that was yet another preserved ship: Brunel’s SS Great Britain. There is no doubt in my mind that Brunel was an engineer that could do almost anything. He was ahead of his time and his vision seemed to encompass anything that needed doing. Ship were just one task he applied himself to with a passion, and the Great Britain is one of his finest creations.  I am not qualified to expound on the history of this grand old lady from a different age, I just tell it like I see it.  I suggest a visit to the Wikipedia page for the history thereof.
Berthed at the the drydock in the Great Western Drydock in Bristol, she is back in the place where she was created, and she is a stunning example of shipbuilding the way it was back then. I took the walk to her after my sojourn at Arnos Vale, although I did not really realise how far away she was from the cemetery. It did mean a long walk along the banks of the Avon, and a detour through the docks, which was a good thing because I discovered a whole new place to shipwatch.
The Great Britain was still quite a walk from where I entered the docks, but eventually I spotted her, resting in her dry dock, far from the place where she nearly ended her days. The fact that she still survives is a testament to her design and construction, and of course the fact that she was seemingly forgotten so was reasonably untouched by the destructive hand of the scrap merchants.  Her return to the UK was a triumph in itself, and today she is an extremely popular member of the preserved fleet that is resident in this country. Entrance to the vessel is via the top deck, which is wide and relatively unencumbered for a ship that boasted sails and an engine! 
I did find the surplus of skylights quite odd, but their reason for being there would only come about when I went below. There are three decks to explore: the Weather (top) Deck, Promenade Deck, and finally Saloon Deck.  The Promenade Deck did not feature a promenade deck as they are associated with cruise ships and TransAtlantic liners, instead it was more of an internal space where people strolled up and down and tried to escape the incredibly small cabins that were found on this deck.  

It is worth remembering that ships like this did not have air conditioning, and probably no running water in the cabins.

Ventilation would be almost minimal, although it is possible that a porthole could be opened depending on what deck you were on and what the weather was like outside. Ablutions would be “down the hall”, and any entertainment was usually provided by the passengers themselves. The concept of stabilisers did not exist, the passengers were at the mercy of the sea just like the crew, although they may have had more superior accommodation to the fo’c’stle where the deck crew usually were bunked.

Voyages were long, cramped and uncomfortable. But a ship like the Great Britain was probably light years ahead of her competitors, and she was no tub either, but a well found vessel, albeit one that seems to have had a chequered career.

The skylights in the image above are directly underneath the skylights on the deck above so that light could penetrate the gloom below. It is really an effective method of providing light, although I wonder how watertight they were? This is the Promenade Deck and it has the large windowed stern at the far end.

Rising up into this deck area is the engine room, and this is a fascinating space in itself. The machinery occupying the space is massive. It occupies 3 decks and weighs in at 340 tons. There are 4 cylinders in 2 sets, each at a 33 degree angle in a V shape.

These drive a wooden toothed chain wheel just over 18 feet in diameter which turns another wheel on the shaft via a set of chains. The Great Britain used the same principle as a bicycle! The engine really has to be seen to be believed, quietly turning but never going anywhere. 

From what I have read the engine in the ship now is actually a full scale working model built with lighter and more modern materials.

Apparently her original engines were replaced by better ones (as the technology improved) and naturally there would be the benefit of more efficiency with less expenditure of money. However, the reliance on sails still existed, and while she was built as a steam ship with sail power available, she later changed to a sailing ship with an auxiliary engine. She also had the unique ability to retract her propeller when not in use and when running on sail.

I was also able to catch a glimpse at “steerage” dormitory style accommodation, and it is frightening to think of being cooped up in this area on a long voyage.

Another area of interest was what I expect you would call the first class dining saloon, and it is quite a large space, although the decor doesn’t really do much for me. I do not know what was behind those ornate doors though,. although I do know one was the gents!

Right in the bow of the ship was a large open area that was probably used at one point for cargo and probably crews quarters. Its a dark area and I don’t know how original it is, but it does give a good indication of the internal lines of the ship.

The ship is not afloat, and rests on keelblocks in the dry dock. Parts of her hull plating are rusted through, and there is a sophisticated humidifying system in place in the dry dock. to keep her hull stabilised. The fact is that iron rusts, and this ship is over 160 years old, and spent many years neglected and unused and semi derelict, it is inevitable that she is not in a pristine condition, in fact she is really a very tired old ship, but also a very handsome tired old ship.
Parts off the hull plating have rusted through and these have not been replaced, but you can get an idea of the fragility of the hull if you really take the time to have a look.

The part that interested me was in the dry dock itself, the ship is surrounded by glass panels and water flows across the panels giving the impression that she is afloat. For some reason this seems to work much better than what they did with the Cutty Sark which is more like a giant goldfish bowl.

Bear in mind that each of those rivets was put in by hand….. and many of the hull plating has a curvature to it. And did I mention it is over 160 years old? Seeing a ship from this angle is always fascinating because it is here that you really get a sense of scale (and how small you are compared to it). The propeller is a replica of Brunel’s 6 bladed design which is remarkably similar in performance to modern 6 bladed screws.

This propeller shape also features on a memorial to the engineer in Portsmouth.
Two dehumidifying machines (one inside the ship and one in the drydock), help keep the humidity at bay, without them the Great Britain would be living on borrowed time. A comprehensive history of the vessel is also available at the website dedicated to the engineer who was such a forward thinker and whose work still exists in so many forms today. Sadly, yet another of his ships “The Great Eastern”  would ultimately cause the death of her designer on 11 September 1859. He is buried in Kensall Green Cemetery in London.

There is still so much to say about the ship and what I saw, it is always difficult trying to do justice to a vessel such as this in a blog, the ship is always better seen and experienced up close and personal. I know she was very different to what I expected, and I would have loved to have explored much more, but time was catching me and I still had to get to the station for my train. I will return to her one day, preferably in summer when the days are longer, and hopefully this time will know what to look for.

**UPDATE 22/07/2018**

I revisited Bristol on 21/07/2018 and while I did go to the bookshop did not go on board the vessel. It was pretty crowded in there and not a very cheap excursion either. However, I did manage to get pics of her from the other bank of the harbour.

More images:


© DRW 2013-2018. Images replaced 16/04/2016. 2 images added 22/07/2018
Updated: 25/07/2018 — 05:35
DR Walker © 2014 -2019. Images are copyright to DR Walker unless otherwise stated. Frontier Theme