Whereas there are 'umpteen books about the development of the steam locomotive, relatively little has been written about early railway carriages. One of my aims in making models of some earlier carriages was to hep me visualise the changes that took place in the mid-19th century.
As railways moved from purely industrial uses to the carriage of people, the first thought was simply to mount benches inside ordinary wagons. The next step was to adapt the road carriages of the time to run on rails. Even Brunel, considered visionary in so many ways, did not appreciate the potential of his broad gauge, since his initial idea was to use large diameter wheels outside the body of the carriage itself - just like a road carriage. Thus, he missed the potential for much larger vehicles, by failing to leave sufficient clearance around his running lines.
It was not until the second half of the century that designers began to think of railway carriages in a different way and to move on from the 'stage coach' roots. During the 1870s, the Midland Railway imported some American style Pullman cars, which were on a completely different scale from what had gone before.
The GWR had started on its own course with the broad gauge but, by the middle of the century, the writing was on the wall for this system and the fortunes of the railway were in steep decline. There was no incentive to invest in new broad gauge stock, while their first standard gauge coaches came as acquisitions from other companies. These coaches were usually built by specialist contractors (often with their roots in stage-coach construction) such as Joseph Wright and Sons, Saltley Works, Birmingham. (not to be confused with the Saltney works of the Shrewsbury and Chester Railway)
When Joseph Armstrong (formerly of the Shrewsbury and Chester Railway) arrived at Swindon, he faced the need for the GWR to build its own standard gauge stock and a new carriage works was built at Swindon, starting in 1868. The Lot system for new carriages and wagons had started in August 1867 and it seems likely that there was a period of 'working up' for the new works, with some orders completed at Worcester or Saltney. The early carriage designs were of the simple slab side and flat end variety, with additional embellishments being incorporated as the local skills developed.
Lot 57, finished in May 1872 was the first of a new generation of carriages from the completed shop - followed in January 1873 by the 1st class coaches (later Diagram R2) shown in the above illustration.
I took the following photo in the Swindon Steam Museum, where an exhibit shows the method of construction used in these early carriages
The dramatic change in scale of the new generation of carriages produced after 1872 is clearly illustrated by my two models of passenger brake vans. The earlier design (on the right) is of the slab-sided variety, probably built at Worcester or Saltney in the late 1860s, whereas the later Diagram V5 dates from 1892 and is on a completely different scale.
The increase in the size of carriages during the 1870s, when designs finally moved away from their road-vehicle roots, only really came home to me when I built the models.
My last photo shows two trains passing at North Leigh Station. On the left is the down local 'Ox and Cow', heading for the 'County' end of its run, made up of old-style carriages and headed by the former OW&W locomotive GWR No.184 while, on the right, is a 'modern' train, including a V5 van and some clerestory coaches, headed by a Dean 2-4-0, No.3505