We hold an interesting set of railway publicity material, including a 1947 GWR London poster by Frank Mason purchased in 2005 and a 1920s GWR Cornwall poster by Barry Pittar purchased in 2011. These form part of a collection of around 200 posters which is supplemented by almost 100 GWR holiday guides and pamphlets.
The GWR has long held a reputation for having an innovative and forward thinking publicity department. However, the early posters the GWR used to publicise the destinations along its route were bland and old fashioned compared to those produced by rival railway companies.
From the 1920s however, the material that the Publicity Department produced went from strength to strength and the GWR gained its reputation for advertising excellence. During the 1930’s the GWR style of poster became an instantly identifiable brand. A number of the finest graphic designers were employed to design the company’s publicity posters. Artists such as Ronald Lampitt, Charles Mayo and Frank Mason developed posters that were bold and innovative. Their designs not only captured the spirit of the time, they also created an enduring style of advertising poster that is still being emulated by railway companies today.
The above poster was produced in 1891 to promote the introduction of three new steamers on the Weymouth to Channel Islands service. The GWR passenger vessel, TSS Ibex, is depicted leaving the harbour on its route across the Channel.
The GWR produced a huge amount of guide books and smaller tour booklets to publicise the destinations that could be visited along its route. In the early 1900s, the Publicity Department decided to produce publicity material that was so attractive that the public would want to buy it. GWR docks and famous engines were amongst the subjects covered by newly published books. As were books aimed at train spotting enthusiasts. Some of the company’s most popular products were those designed for children. These included Railway Books for Boys of All Ages and a children’s painting book.
Winter in the West was produced by the GWR in the 1930’s as part of the GWR’s Winter Resorts publicity campaign. The campaign encouraged travellers to enjoy the scenery and sub-tropical weather that the West had to offer out of season.
The booklet is full of poetic descriptions of holiday resorts in the West, promoting stunning landscapes, cosmopolitan towns and a restorative Mediterranean climate.
“None have disputed the magnificence of the coastal scenery of Devon, Cornwall or Wales. Its grandeur is enhanced in the winter…”
The striking art deco style cover has an oriental feel to it. It was designed by Leonard Cusden who produced artwork for a number of GWR booklets and posters during the 1930’s and 40’s.
The GWR set up its Advertising Department in 1886 and very quickly handbills, fliers and advertising leaflets began to appear in station booking halls and travel agents. A Season Programme of Excursion Arrangements was produced by the 1890s. Not only did these leaflets give details of train times and fares, they also included descriptive notes about the main places of interest at these holiday destinations. Excursion fliers were also produced that gave travel details about specific events, including football matches, Cheltenham Races and Henley Regatta. Over the years the Publicity Department was responsible for the production of hundreds of different leaflets and fliers. However, the throw away nature of advertising material means that most of these leaflets and fliers have disappeared over time. As a result the remaining material is now very collectable but we are fortunate to have an interesting and varied selection in our collection.
The most well-known of all the publicity merchandise was the jigsaw puzzle produced jointly with Chad Valley. They generally featured pictorial images of locomotives or places of interest on the Great Western routes. 46 different jigsaws were produced and by the time production of the jigsaws ceased in 1939, over one million had been sold. Today, the jigsaws are highly collectable, with some examples, such as Lost in Transit, being extremely rare. STEAM holds 77 GWR jigsaws, with subjects including Caerphilly Castle Locomotive, The Vikings at St Ives, Windsor Castle, and a Cornish Fishing Village.
The above Lost in Transit puzzle shows a boy and a girl who are upset at having opened their parcel to find their toy train is damaged, with a dented boiler and broken wheels. The caption across the jigsaw reads ‘Wouldn’t you be annoyed if your goods arrived damaged’. Despite being made by Chad Valley who produced the GWR’s other jigsaw puzzles, Lost in Transit was cheaply made, with no clues as to the finished image and loosely interlocking pieces that made it difficult to put together.
The jigsaw was given to staff for just the one Christmas and its limited numbers mean that it is now the rarest of all the GWR jigsaws. It has been made rarer still by the fact that many employees, insulted by the message of the jigsaw, threw their jigsaw away.
In 2017, Great Western Railway, the company that operates the original Great Western network today, decided to use the retro theme of the Famous Five for its new marketing campaign. The imagery used for the Famous Five campaign is reminiscent of the designs used by the GWR for publicity 80 to 100 years ago. The message promoted by the original GWR Publicity Department was to explore Britain by train. This same message is at the heart of GWR’s advertising today.
This is one of a set of six Famous Five posters donated to STEAM by GWR.