Brunel's Big Railway: Creation of the Great Western Railway (Gresley Books)

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This is a history of the Great Western Railway from its early days to the end of the steam era.

The book starts with the historical background, including the Kennet & Avon Canal, the role of Bristol in the trans-Atlantic slave trade, its decline as a port following the abolition of the slave trade, and the need for a rail link to London to reverse this decline compared to the port of Liverpool which was now served by the Liverpool & Manchester Railway.

This is followed by the construction of the GWR between London and Bristol, and railway engineer Isambard Kingdom Brunel’s determination to create a railway that would be better than any other by using innovative features such as the 7 ft ¼ in broad gauge rather than the 4 ft 8½ in standard gauge used elsewhere. There are then chapters on Box Tunnel, the early GWR locos, the extensions into Devon and Cornwall, and the GWR steamships used on the trans-Atlantic route to New York including the “SS Great Britain” which is now a popular visitor attraction in Bristol Harbour.

Towards the end the book describes the demise of GWR broad gauge and the conversion of the former broad gauge network to standard gauge, the last stage of which was completed in one weekend along the entire length of the London to Penzance route. This is followed by the record-breaking speeds of the “Cheltenham Flyer” in the 1930s, the diesel era and the closure of Swindon Works, and finally the book briefly examines the legacy of the GWR era that lives on with its present day namesake including the survival of named trains such as “The Cornish Riviera Express” and “The Golden Hind” and moves to make Brunel’s original main line between London and Bristol a World Heritage Site.

Hardback. 168 pages. Approximately 60 black & white photographs and drawings.

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