The Great Western Railway was created in 1835. From humble beginnings it grew to be one of the largest and most well known railway companies in the world with a network stretching from London to Penzance, to South Wales and to Liverpool.
This is how it all began...
The Inception of the GWR
Long before the railways were thought of the need to improve the means of transit between the major ports of Bristol and London was considered. The inland waterways of the River Avon, Kennet and Avon Canal and the Thames had provided a route of communication in the late 18th and early 19th centuries. It allowed for a cheaper alternative to moving heavy merchandise as road haulage was becoming a costly matter. However, ice in winter, and water shortage in the summer often meant that canal tansport wasn't always reliable.
The main road artery linking Bristol and London was the Bath Road. It became a popular stage coach route in the 17th and 18th centuries and took just 2 days for passengers to travel between Bath and the capital. However, non passenger traffic was frought with problems and again became slow and costly. Stage coaches were also a prisoner to bad weather, and heavy snow or rain could delay a journey by several hours, or even days.
During the early 19th century the possibility of railway transport was quickly becoming a reality. A railway would provide a faster route between Bristol and London and many prospective companies tried to obtain powers for such a construction. The opening of the Stockton & Darlington Railway in 1825 and the Liverpool & Manchester Railway in 1830 sparked a period of railway mania, and the plans for a railway between Bristol to London gathered momentum.
The citizens of Bristol were the fiercest backers for a new railway linking their city with London. The commercial impact would be huge and they united to make an effort to secure its construction. On 21st January 1833 reprentatives from the Bristol Corporation, the Society of Merchant Venturers, the Bristol Dock Company, The Bristol Chamber of Commerce and the Bristol & Gloucestershire Rail Road Company met to discuss the promotion of a new railway venture.
The proposal was widely received and the committee wasted no time in getting to work. Advanced monies allowed for procuring surveys and estimates, and therefore the first task was to select an engineer to survey the route. Isambard Kingdom Brunel, a young man of 27, was chosen for the job. He was known in Bristol after submitting succesful plans for the Clifton Suspension Bridge, but also widely regarded for work with his father, Marc, on the Thames Tunnel. After his appointment in March 1833 Brunel started work immediately and a route from Bristol to London, via Swindon and Didcot was decided. By July 1833 the committee were in a position to obtain an Act for the construction of the line and sought to form another committee in London to help raise the capital.
A number of prospectuses were issued during 1833 and 1834. The third prospectus issued asked for subscriptions towards the construction of the line, based on the profits recieved by the Liverpool and Manchester Railway. By 1835 sufficient capital had been raised and a Bill for the whole line was introduced for the 1835 Parliamentary session. Between March and August 1835 the Bill was put under intense scrutiny. The main concern was the impracticality of Box Tunnel. However, an array of engineering talent, including George Stephenson and Joseph Locke, were consulted and gave unequivocal support to Brunel and his designs. Finally, on 31st August 1835 the Royal Assent to the Bill was given and the Great Western Railway was born.