Grace's Guide is the leading source of historical information on industry and manufacturing in Britain. This web publication contains 126,737 pages of information and 199,758 images on early companies, their products and the people who designed and built them.
The Great Western Railway (GWR) is a British railway company linking South West England, the West Country and South Wales with London.
A series of articles about The Great Western Railway entitled One Hundred Years of British Railways appeared in 'The Engineer' in 1924:
The Great Western Railway was built as Bristol wanted to maintain the position as the second port in the country and the main one for American trade. The increase in the size of ships and the gradual silting of the River Avon had made Liverpool an increasingly attractive port, and with its developing rail connections with London it threatened Bristol's status.
The proposal was to build a railway line of unprecedented standards of excellence to outperform the other lines being constructed to the north-west.
1833 The Company was founded at a public meeting in Bristol. See Great Western Railway: 1833 Committees
1835 It was incorporated by Act of Parliament
Isambard Kingdom Brunel was appointed as engineer at the age of 27, and made two controversial decisions: to use a broad gauge of seven feet (actually 7 ft 0.25 in or 2140 mm) for the track, to allow large wheels, providing smoother running at high speeds; and to take a route which passed north of the Marlborough Downs, an area with no significant towns, though it did offer potential connections to Oxford and Gloucester and then to follow the Thames Valley into London. He surveyed the entire length of the route between London and Bristol himself.
1835 Brunel appointed engineers G. E. Frere, George Thomas Clark and T. E. March for the western half of the line, and Robert Pearson Brereton, J. Hammond, and T. E. Bertram for the eastern part with William Glennie to handle the Box Tunnel
The initial group of locomotives ordered by Brunel to his own specifications proved unsatisfactory, apart from the North Star. The 20-year-old Daniel Gooch was appointed as Superintendent of Locomotives.
Brunel and Gooch chose to locate their locomotive works at the village of Swindon, at the point where the gradual ascent from London turned into the steeper descent to the Avon valley at Bath.
1838 Opened the first stretch of line, from London Paddington to Taplow, near Maidenhead.
1839 The GWR commissioned the world's first commercial telegraph line. This ran for 13 miles from Paddington Railway Station to West Drayton and came into operation on 9 April 1839.
1840 The main line ran from Paddington to Farringdon Road with stops at Ealing, Hanwell, Southall, West Drayton, Slough, Maidenhead, Twyford, Reading, Pangbourne, Goring, Moulsford, Steventon. Fares ranged from 14s to 6s for a one-way journey. The trains left regularly with times published from their starting point but Bradshaw's shows no arrival times at the stations.
1841 The full line to Bristol Temple Meads opened on completion of the Box Tunnel.
The Bristol and Exeter Railway reached Exeter by 1844, and the Bristol and Gloucester Railway brought the broad gauge to Gloucester in the same year. Gloucester was already served by the standard-gauge Birmingham and Gloucester Railway resulting in a break of gauge, and the need for all passengers and goods travelling through Gloucester to change trains.
In 1846, the Great Western Railway took over the running of the Kennet and Avon Canal.
1849 The South Devon Railway (which for a time experimented with the Atmospheric Railway system of propulsion) was opened, extending the broad gauge to Plymouth, and the Cornwall Railway took it over the Royal Albert Bridge and into Cornwall
1850 The South Wales Railway, terminating at Neyland, opened and was connected to the GWR via Brunel's ungainly Wye bridge in 1852. The route from Wales to London via Gloucester was a roundabout one, so work on the Severn Tunnel began in 1873, but unexpected underwater springs slowed the work down and prevented its opening until 1886.
1851 Award at the 1851 Great Exhibition. See details at 1851 Great Exhibition: Reports of the Juries: Class V.
1852 GWR pressed ahead into the West Midlands, in hard-fought competition with the London and North Western Railway. Birmingham was reached in 1852, at Snow Hill (although the GWR had initially considered building to Rugby instead of Birmingham), Wolverhampton Low Level (the furthest-north broad-gauge station) and Birkenhead (on standard-gauge track) in 1854.
1854 The Bristol and Gloucester Railway had been bought by the Midland Railway in 1846 and converted to standard gauge in 1854, bringing mixed gauge track (with three rails, so that both broad and standard gauge trains could run on it to Bristol.
By the 1860s the gauge war was lost. With the merger of the standard-gauge West Midlands Railway into the GWR in 1863, mixed gauge came to Paddington, and by 1869 there was no broad-gauge track north of Oxford.
1867 The GWR reached Penzance
1888 See Locomotive Stock June 1888 where they are listed third with 1,600 locomotives
Through this period the conversion to standard gauge continued, with mixed-gauge track reaching Exeter in 1876. By this time most conversions were bypassing mixed gauge and going directly from broad to standard.
1892 The final stretch of broad gauge was converted to standard in a single weekend in May.
The 1890s also saw improvements in service of the generally conservative GWR - restaurant cars, much improved conditions for third class passengers, and steam heating of trains. The company also built new track to shorten its previously circuitous routes.
After 1902 G. J. Churchward developed nine standard locomotive types, with flat-topped Belpaire fireboxes, tapered boilers, long smokeboxes, boiler top feeds, long lap, long travel valve gear and many standard parts between locomotive types. Most of these were developed from five experimental locomotives, No's 40, 97, 98, 99 and 115. From these were developed the famous Star class locomotives, the Saint class locomotives and the 2800 class locomotives. Such was the success of these locomotives that they influenced locomotive design in the United Kingdom until the demise of steam traction. Two notable locomotives were 111 The Great Bear, the first 4-6-2 locomotive in the United Kingdom, and 3440 City of Truro, the first locomotive to be recorded at a speed of 100 mph in 1904 (although this speed has never been formally confirmed).
1908 The company owns 2,492.5 miles of road, and partly owns 136.75 miles more. 
Churchward remodelled the Swindon Works, building the one-and-a-half-acre boiler-erecting shops and the first static locomotive-testing plant.
1910 A comprehensive report on the GWR published at The Engineer 1910/12/16 Supplement.
WWI At the outbreak of war the GWR, along with the other major railways, was taken into government control.
1923 After the war the government considered permanent nationalisation, but preferred a compulsory amalgamation of the railways under the Railways Act 1921 into four large groups. The GWR alone preserved its identity through the grouping, which took effect on 1 January 1923. See the Great Western Railway: 1923 Constituent Companies:
The 1920s also saw the introduction of the GWR's most famous locomotives - the Castle and King classes developed by Churchward's successor, C. B. Collett.
1929 With the passing of the Railway Companies Road Transport Acts, it became clear that the bus companies could face stiff competition so the management of the National Omnibus and Transport Co led the way in negotiating with the main railway companies, forming 3 joint companies, firstly the Western National Omnibus Co with the Great Western Railway .
The 1930s brought hard times, and the records set by the Castles and Kings were surpassed by other companies, but the company remained in relatively good financial health despite the Depression.
WWII brought a further period of direct government control, and by its end a Labour government was in power and planning to nationalise the railways. The war damaged GWR became part of British Railways on January 1, 1948.