Introduction to the Railways Act of 1921.
During the First World War, the railways of Britain were under State control and this continued until 1921. Before this time, more than 100 railway companies - large and small - were in competition with each other for business to the extent that, at Hastings, there were parallel lines for both the South Eastern Railway and the London, Brighton and South Coast Railway.
Complete nationalisation of the railways had been considered, but this was rejected for a more favourable method of amalgamating all of the seperate railways into four groups. Initially, Scotland was to have its own group, but it was decided that the three main Anglo-Scottish trunk routes would be better served by one company for the full length. Therefore, the West Coast Main Line and the Midland Main Line, would be operated by the Midland / North Western Group, and the East Coast Main Line would be operated by the Eastern Group.
The heading of the Act says "An Act to provide for the reorganisation and further regulation of Railways and the discharge of liabilities arising in connection with the possession of Railways, and otherwise to amend the Law relating to Railways, and to extend the duration of the Rates Advisory Committee. " and the opening papargraph states "With a view to the reorganisation and more efficient and economical working of the railway system of Great Britain railways shall be formed into groups in accordance with the provisions of this Act, and the principal railway companies in each group shall be amalgamated, and other companies absorbed in manner provided by this Act." Thus the Railways Act of 1921 also became known as the Grouping Act, and although the Act did not take effect untill 1st January 1923, many of the mergers had taked place the previous year.
The four Groups, later known as the 'Big Four' were :
The Great Western Railway (GWR)
The London, Midland and Scottish Railway (LMS)
The London and North Eastern Railway (LNER) and
The Southern Railway (SR).
Of these four Groups, the Great Western Railway was the only company in existance prior to the First World War.
For the Great Western, 18 railway companies were amalgamated, or absorbed, into the GWR. These companies were :
Alexandra Docks (Newport & South Wales) Railway,
Brecon & Merthyr Tydfil Junction Railway,
Burry Port & Gwendraeth Valley Railway,
Cleobury, Mortimer & Ditton Priors Light Railway,
Gwendraeth Valley Railway,
Llanelly & Mynydd Mawr Railway,
Midland & South Western Junction Railway,
Neath & Brecon Railway,
Port Talbot Railway,
Powlesland & Mason,
Rhondda & Swansea Bay Railway,
South Wales Mineral Railway,
Swansea Harbour Trust, and
Taff Vale Railway.
Some railway companies were not included in the Act, such as the Somerset & Dorset Joint Railway and the Metropolitan Railway in London.
As can be imagined, the huge influx of locomotives of various types, ages and conditions, meant a huge headache to the Great Western, and especially given the numbering system that the GWR employed for their own locomotives that neatly sorted them into the many classes . Therefore the first stage of renumbering of these locomotives was to seperate them into the various wheel arrangements using blank numbers from 1 to 1390, omitting numbers that were already carried by Great Western engines in use. In addition, many ex-GWR locomotives that had been sold to the various railway companies, returned to the Great Western. These engines regained their former numbers.
To give an indication of the qualitity of the locomotives, 43% of the 925 locomotives absorbed into the GWR system were withdrawn by the end of the 1920's and many of those that remained were updated by the Great Western with standard boilers, and other improvements to extend their lives into the 1960's.
Copyright © by John Daniel 2013.