GWR road vehicles

by Mikkel Kjartan

Introduction and references

The first GWR Double Decker: GWR No. 6 as running on the Slough-Windsor service from 1904 onwards. Seen here at Slough station

An early bus-service from Cardigan to New Quay, seen here in 1907

A charabanc (i.e. sideless bus) at Paddington station

An early parcels delivery van

Development of the delivery van: A Thornycroft Express Cartage van in 1939

All photos from the authors's collection of old postcards

The GWR operated an extensive system of road-vehicles in conjunction with its rail services.

This included numerous horse-drawn carts and flat-beds. The horse-drawn vehicles were usually constructed at Swindon and lasted in operation until just after WW2.

The GWR pioneered regular bus services in the UK with the introduction of its first motorbus from Helston to The Lizard in 1903. This was soon followed by doubledecker services at Torquay, Slough and elsewhere. GWR bus-services lasted until 1933, following a gradual handing over of routes to private companies.

The company also operated a large fleet of motorized vans and lorries for parcels delivery, goods transport etc.

As with buses, the vans and lorries tended to have the bodies built at Swindon while the chassis came from companies such as Mills-Daimler (especially pre-WW1), AEC and Thornycroft.


Horse-drawn vehicles and early buses and vans were originally all-over chocolate, with blacks canvas tops where relevant and lettering in either white (canvas) or gold (bus sides).

The two-tone chocolate and cream colour was gradually introduced to both horse-drawn and motorized vans and busses, and was fully standard from 1923 onwards. This featured cream canvas tops and panelling above the waist-line, and chocolate below.

Most trailers and flat wagons had all-over brown sides throughout, as were steam rollers and steam tractors.

While busses carried standard "GWR" lettering (below the waistline),vans and lorries featured these same letters in unshaded block serif. From 1934 the shirt-button monogram was introduced on cab sides.

Vans usually has space set aside for carrying advertisements, and also often featured various slogans promoting the company.


There are a number of reference works for studying the road vehicles of the railway companies. These include:

P. Kelley "Road Vehicles of the Great Western Railway" and "Great Western Road Vehicles Appendix" OPC, 1973 (and reprints)

B. Aldridge & A. Earnshaw "Famous Fleets, Volume Four: Great Western Railway Road Vehicles" Trans-Pennine, 2000

J. Cummings, John "Railway Motor Buses and Bus Services in the British Isles 1902-1933" (2 Vols) OPC, 1980


A few links for you here on GWR road vehicles:

STEAM Picture library The STEAM museum's picture gallery includes interesting photos of GWR road vehicles
GWR Road Motor Services (Wikipedia) Describes some of the road services operated by the GWR