Benjamin Shaw, 1835 - 1837
The first Great Western Chairman was appointed at the first General Meeting of the company on 29 October 1835. Little is known about Shaw except that he resigned as Chairman on 9 October 1837 and left the Board entirely in 1839.
William Sims, 1837 - 1839
William Unwin Sims succeeded Shaw as Chairman on the 26 October 1837, although another director, G. H. Gibbs, had been offered the post and declined. Sims initially supported Brunel in the merits of the use of broad gauge, but later urged the company to replace Brunel as its resident engineer.
Charles Russell, 1839 - 1855
Born in 1786, Charles Russell served as the Conservative MP for Reading from 1830 - 7 and 1841 - 7. During his first term in office, he assisted the passage for the creation of the Great Western Railway in 1835. Elected as Chairman of the company in 1839, he fully supported Brunel's idea in the use of broad gauge. Because of his vigour in establishing and then the growth of the Great Western, he was described by one writer as ' . . . . one of the greatest early Victorian railway chairman'.
Rt. Hon. Spencer Walpole, 1855 - 1856 and 1863
Another MP, Walpole was Home Secretary to Lord Derby's Government in 1852, and again in 1858 - 9 and 1866 - 7. Born at Stagbury, Surrey in 1806, he joined the Great Western Board in 1853. When Charles Russell retired as Chairman in 1855, Walpole agreed to temporarily take over the post during the 1855 Parliamentary recess and began an enquiry into the company's financial affairs. In February 1856, the Chairmanship was taken on by Lord Barrington, Deputy Chairman since 1843.
Viscount William Barrington, 1856 - 1857
Born in London in 1793, he was educated at Westminster School and Christ Church College, Oxford gaining a BA in 1813. Upon his father's death on the 4 March 1829, he became the 6th Viscount and was elected Conservative MP for Berkshire in 1837. He joined the Great Western Board in 1839, elevated to Deputy Chairman in 1843, and was made Chairman in February 1856. He agreed to take on the role on the understanding that a successor would be found to replace him, although he remained as Chairman until the following year. Barrington died on 9 February 1867.
Hon. Frederick Ponsonby, 1857 - 1859
Ponsonby was Chairman of Pilbrow's Atmospheric Railway and Canal Propulsion Company before becoming Chairman of the Great Western in May 1857. During his short period in office, he secured peace in the row with the Oxford, Worcester and Wolverhampton Railway. After his Chairmanship he remained a GWR Director until his death on 11 March 1895.
Lord Shelburne, 1859 - 1863
Lord Henry Petty-Fitzmaurice Shelburne was born on 7 January 1816, the second son of the Marquis of Lansdowne. Elected as the Liberal MP for Calne in Wiltshire in 1837, he joined the Great Western Board in 1858. In February 1863, he succeeded his father as 4th Marquis of Lansdowne and resigned from the Chairmanship shortly afterwards. He died of paralysis on 5 July 1866.
Richard Potter, 1863 - 1865
This Gloucester timber merchant was born in Manchester 1817 and joined the Great Western Board in 1849. His company made wooden huts for the English and French troops fighting in the Crimea and designed a prefabricated hospital at Renkioi. Potter resigned from the Board in 1856, but in 1860, he became a Director of the West Midland Railway. When the WMR amalgamated with the GWR in 1863, he returned to the GWR Board and was quickly elected as Chairman.
Sir Daniel Gooch, 1865 - 1889
Born the son of a manager of an iron foundry at Bedlington, Northumberland in 1816, young Daniel Gooch grew up among people such as George Stephenson, Timothy Hackworth and William Hedley. His first job was at an ironworks at Tredegar, but in the next five years he moved to - and gained much knowledge from - Robert Stephenson's Vulcan Foundry at Warrington, the London & Birmingham Railway with his brother Thomas, as draughtsman under James Stirling in Dundee, and by the time he was 20, he became a partner to Sir Robert Hawks at a new works in Gateshead. Unfortunately this project failed, but undaunted, he applied to Brunel for the post of Manager of the Great Western's "Engine Manufactory". Brunel accepted the young engineer's application and Gooch joined the GWR on 18 August 1837.
Frederick Saunders, 1889 - 1895
Frederick Saunders was born on 24 December 1820 and was appointed as Assistant Secretary to the South Wales Railway in 1844, becoming Chief Secretary in 1849. When his uncle, Charles Saunders retired as Secretary to the Great Western in 1863, Frederick filled his place and when he resigned from this post in June 1886, he was made a Director of the company. Succeeding Gooch in 1889, he retired in June 1895 although he remained a member of the Board until his death at Reading on 1 January 1901.
Viscount Emlyn, 1895 - 1905
Born the eldest son of the second Lord Cawdor on 13 February 1847, Emlyn was made a Director of the Great Western Board in 1890. Within a year he was elevated to joint Deputy - Chairman with Alexander Hubbard and in 1895 was elected the Chairman of the GWR becoming the youngest Chairman of a British railway company.
Alfred Baldwin, 1905 - 1908
Born in the pretty town of Stourport-on-Severn in June 1841, he became the head of the firm of Baldwins Limited, and for 16 years from 1892 was Conservative MP for Bewdley. He joined the Great Western Board in January 1901 and elected to the post of Chairman in 1905. His term in office ended suddenly when he died of a heart attack on 13 February 1908. He was buried at Wilden, Worcestershire. His only son, Stanley, became a more prominent figure as British Prime Minister in the 1920's and 30's.
Viscount Churchill, 1908 - 1934
The only son of Baron Churchill of Whichwood, Churchill was born in London on 23 October 1864. Educated at Eton, he then went on to Sandhurst and later became a Lieutenant in the Coldstream Guards. He was created the first Viscount Churchill in July 1902 and joined the Great Western Board in 1905.
Viscount Horne, 1934 - 1940
Viscount Sir Robert Stevenson Horne was elected as the Unionist MP for Glasgow Hillhead in 1918 and immediately appointed Minister of Labour. In 1920 he became President of the Board of Trade and in the following year elevated to Chancellor of the Exchequer.
Sir Charles Hambro, 1940 - 1945
First son of Sir Eric Hambro, of the well-known banking house, Charles was born in London on 3 October 1897. As joint Managing Director of his father's firm, he was elected to the Great Western Board in September 1930. He became Deputy-Chairman in 1934 followed by Chairman in 1940. Although he resigned his position in 1945, Hambro remained an active member of the GWR Board until the end of the Great Western in 1948. He died on 28 August 1963.
Lord Portal, 1945 - 1948
The last Chairman of the Great Western was born on 9 April 1885 at Overton, Hampshire. His family had been connected with railway affairs for many years and he was elected to the Board in 1927. He resigned his Directorship in 1938 when he appointed as additional Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Supply and he became Minister of Works in 1942. Copyright © by John Daniel 2013.
Copyright © by John Daniel 2013.