Great Western Railway, service timetable January 1916

Sometime after January 1916, the month in which the Gallipoli campaign came to its pathetic end, somebody dropped a Great Western Railways (GWR) service timetable through the floorboards of a house in Milman Road. It was discovered nearly a century later, much chewed by molluscs and discoloured by time.

The house where the timetable was found was owned by John Swain, a local landowner and “cardwainer” (shoemaker) from 1887 to 1919. It seems improbable that he either lived in the house or had access to GWR service timetables; it is more likely that the timetable was dropped by an unknown tenant and GWR employee.

Reading has been a railway town since the GWR arrived in 1841. The ranks of Victorian terraced housing that comprise much of the town’s central residential areas were as much home to railway workers as to employees of Reading’s famous “beer, bulbs and biscuits” industries, Simonds Brewery, Suttons Seeds and Huntley and Palmers biscuits.

Several of the railway lines on the map no longer exist; the Didcot, Newbury and Southampton Railway was closed in 1964 and the Lambourn Valley Railway was closed in 1972. Reading’s Coley Branch, closed in 1983, is either missing or obscured on the map, but it existed at the time of the map’s publication. There is no longer a station at Savernake although the railway line is still used. The GWR itself was taken over by the government in 1914, restructured together with other UK railways in 1922, taken over by the government again in 1939, nationalised as part of British Railways in 1948 and wound up in 1949.

The author of the timetable clearly had a fondness for prolixity and a strong disinclination towards clarity :

The Time Specified in the Time Tables is the Departure from the Station when Times of Arrival and Departure are not stated: and in such cases the Trains should ARRIVE in sufficient time to enable [that] work to be done, in order to leave the Station at the time appointed.

The second page includes this hilariously long-winded instruction :

A representation having been made to the Railway that their Servants should be required to use every care to avoid running over Packs of Hounds, which during the Hunting Season, may cross the Line, all Servants of the Railway are hereby enjoined to use every care consistent with a due regard being paid to the proper working of the Line and Trains.

Or, more succinctly, “please don’t run over dogs on the line unless you are late.”

  1. Great Western Railway
  2. Reading’s lost railway