Before the First World War the GWR had concentrated on publicity for attracting passenger traffic and the freight traffic customer had been largely ignored. After the grouping of the railways at the end of 1921, rates and charges were regulated and fixed by the Railway Rates Tribunal and, as a result, the GWR embarked on a drive to increase traffic volumes generally, which was supplemented by a publicity campaign.


It began in a modest way in April 1923, with the publication of Trade, Travel and the Great Western Railway. A 26 page booklet in plain covers, it started by explaining the benefits that the grouping would bring to the trader - principally savings in transit times by not having to transfer freight from one railway company to another and savings in cost as a result of the regulation of rates by the Railway Rates Tribunal. The booklet also listed the wide range of industrial activities in the area served by the Great Western (coal, iron & steel, oil, slate & limestone, china clay, tin, fishing and so on) and provided brief descriptions of each the company’s docks, ports and harbours. There was a small section on ‘Sites for New Works’ and even a few paragraphs on the Great Western’s credentials as the ‘Holiday Line’.


This booklet was re-issued in April 1924 under the title Commerce and the Great Western Railway to coincide with the opening of the British Empire Exhibition. The GWR saw the British Empire Exhibition as a good opportunity to bring its credentials before a wider public and, as a result, the introduction to the booklet was addressed to trade visitors to the Exhibition both from home and from overseas.




1923 also saw the publication of the H N Appleby produced South Wales Ports, which was to become Great Western Ports in 1925 and Great Western Docks in 1935. Alongside this, the GWR itself published The Docks of the Great Western Railway which first appeared in around 1924. This was a much more modest publication bound in illustrated card covers containing brief details of the company’s ports with pull out plans for seven ports (Barry, Cardiff, Newport, Penarth, Plymouth, Port Talbot and Swansea). It was re-issued with the same dock plans and virtually the same text sometime later and a final edition under this title was published in July 1931 with five more dock plans (Weymouth, Bridgwater & Lydney, Burry Port, Briton Ferry and Brentford) being included. In 1932 the Great Western published Sites for Works at the South Wales Docks and Plymouth, which, despite its title, was essentially a new edition of the ‘Docks’ booklets which preceded it and it included the original seven dock plans. In March of that year Build your Works on the G.W.R. The Best Location was published, which specifically focused on the opportunities for factory development in the area served by the GWR. This was substantially revised and re-issued under the title Factory Sites. Ideal Sites for Works in March 1936.




Although, after the grouping, the GWR had comprehensive coverage of the South West and South Wales there were still large numbers of small towns and villages in rural areas that had no easy access to a railway station. As a result, the company started to develop a ‘Country Cartage’ scheme for the collection and delivery of parcels and merchandise by lorry from and to shops, farms and private residences situated within 15 miles of GWR stations. The scheme started relatively modestly with 8 lorry services in operation by the end of 1925 and 19 by the end of 1926 but in 1927 the rate of expansion increased significantly so that by the end of that year 45 services were being operated. In [1928] the scheme expanded still further and a booklet Door to Door by Country Cartage Services was issued explaining how it worked and listing the 78 stations from which, by then, the GWR lorry service operated together with the charges in force. A monochrome photograph of a GWR lorry laden with sacks was tipped on to the front cover. By late 1929 132 services were being operated and the booklet was re-issued in a slightly larger format in November of that year with a photograph of a 4 ton Thornycroft lorry on the front cover. A much more substantial edition with colour covers was published in September 1931 and a final edition with full colour covers by Ralph Mott was published in March 1935, by which time the number of services had increased to over 160.




A similar scheme for larger commercial customers, known as Railhead Distribution, was introduced in 1926. This involved customers consigning in bulk to stations participating in the scheme which the GWR then broke down and delivered on behalf of the consignor to its end customers. The service was initially available from Bristol, Cardiff, Exeter and Swansea stations but it was not until May 1929 that a booklet titled Railhead Distribution for Speed and Satisfaction was published. By this time the service had been extended to the Birmingham area and a separate 4 page leaflet was included in the booklet giving details of the recently introduced arrangements for that area. This booklet was re-issued in around 1934.




In 1927 Felix Pole had introduced to the Railway Clearing House the idea of ‘guaranteed transits’, a scheme whereby, on payment of a fee, the railway companies would track the progress of consignments throughout their journey and guarantee delivery times. As there was considerable nervousnesss about guaranteeing delivery and the risk of large claims in the event of failure, Pole suggested using the word ‘registered’ rather than ‘guaranteed’, although this still did not allay the fears of the Clearing House. Despite Pole persevering the majority prevailed and, as a result, in March 1929, the GWR launched the scheme on its own. A short paragraph announcing the scheme was included in Speed in Transport which was published later in the year and which explained the GWR’s service offering to its ‘traders’, going as it did under the somewhat wordy sub-title Warehousing Facilities, Railhead Distribution, Goods Train Transits and other matters affecting the Trader's Transport Problems. Felix Pole retired from the Great Western on 6 July 1929 and the publication was re-issued under the title How to Send and How to Save shortly thereafter noting that James Milne was then the General Manager. Whilst there were a few more chapter headings than in its predecessor it was essentially the same publication under a different name and it seems odd that it was re-issued so soon. Whilst both of these publications had striking and attractive covers, they were replaced in 1936 by the much more austere plain covered Guide to Economical Transport. In the event, the ‘registered transit’ scheme was a resounding success and in March 1933 it was adopted by all the railway companies under the Green Arrow banner.




Two other commercial publications deserve particular mention. In 1924 the Great Western published its List of Collieries on or Connected with the Great Western Railway and this was re-issued in 1932 and in 1933, following the lead set by the London & North Eastern Railway in 1929 with its booklet ‘How the LNER Carries Exceptional Loads’, the Great Western published its own Exceptional Loads in a square format showing how unusual and large loads could be carried on a variety of Great Western wagons. A second edition appeared in 1936 and both editions had striking covers.




There is no doubt that the regulation of rates and charges hampered the growth of the railways but, somewhat surprisingly, it was not until 1938 that the ‘Square Deal’ campaign was launched by the four railway companies in an effort to end the control over pricing. Whilst some progress was made, the Government had more urgent and pressing matters on hand with the storm clouds gathering over Europe and nothing was concluded.


With the Second World War on the horizon, the 1939 editions of Appleby's Great Western Docks duly appeared but this was to be the last title before the war. During the war all publicity activiety necessarily ceased and after the war, whilst Holiday Haunts and a handful of other booklets were to be found on the bookstands, there were to be no new commercial titles before nationalistion at the end of 1947.