Object of the month

September 2022

GWR Shipping

Did you know that the GWR operated its own shipping service? STEAM is lucky enough to hold many objects relating to the company’s shipping services and September’s Object of the Month takes a look at some of the unique shipping items in our collection.

A poster advertising steamer services to Guernsey and Jersey in about 1891

The GWR began to develop its own passenger shipping services from 1871.  They operated routes from Milford Haven, and later Fishguard, to Ireland, and from Weymouth and Portland to the Channel Islands and France.  The company also operated smaller services such as the River Severn crossing and the Dartmouth Passenger Ferry.

An integrated rail and shipping service meant that passengers could travel across Britain and continue over the waters all courtesy of the GWR.  Connection times between boat trains and ships were no more than 15 minutes.  Between 1889 and 1923 the journey time from London to Jersey fell from 14 ½ hours to 10 ¾ hours.

The GWR also offered day trips from Weymouth and Torquay to Guernsey, the Isles of Scilly and Cherbourg in France.  Excursions to the Lakes of Southern Ireland left Paddington Station on a Friday evening and returned the following night.  These excursions were generally fully booked.

GWR ship SS St Julien, in operation as a hospital ship during World War II

During both World Wars the Admiralty commandeered a number of the GWR’s ships and crew for military service.  They played a vital role in transporting troops, cargo and wounded soldiers across the English Channel.  When the railways were nationalised in 1948 the GWR’s ships, docks, and employees were taken over and operated by British Railways until the shipping service was privatised in 1984.

A model of TSS St David (III) which was built in 1947

A number of the fascinating shipping related objects featured in this blog are on display in the Speed to the West area of the Museum.

First Aid box from the SS St Patrick

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