GWR / BR(WR) Train Description Numbers: an aid to modelling over the period 1934 to 1960

These were carried on a frame attached to the front of the locomotive's smoke-box. The 3ft wide frame had provision for displaying three digits, 16 inches in height. Three digit numbers were allocated to each train. The first digit denoted the starting point. The second digit (most likely) denoted the train's order of departure, and the last digit was normally 0 or 5; numbers 1 to 4 and 6 to 9 indicated additional parts to a particular train e.g. Torbay Express.

Number sequence Starting point
100 - 199 Paddington
200 - 299 Shrewsbury
300 - 399 Birmingham & Wolverhampton
400 - 499 Bristol
500 - 599 Exeter
600 - 699 Plymouth
700 - 799 South Wales
800 - 899 ????
0XX Specials and Boat Trains

Here's some actual train description numbers from photos by Norman Lockett, RC Riley, et al. Where a train's name is in bold, the loco also carried a headboard.

Number

From

To

Date

Name of train

002 Plymouth Paddington 1939 Ocean Liner Special
017 Bristol Paddington 1956
017 Bristol Paddington 1959 The Bristolian
038 Paddington Bristol Post 1957 The Mayflower 
049 Paddington Aberystwyth ?1950s Cambrian Coast Express
063 Cardiff Paddington 1959 Capitals United Express
090 Weston-S-M Paddington 1959 The Merchant Venturer
100 Paddington Penzance Post 1957
107 Paddington Kingswear Post 1957
116 1954 The Bristolian
120 Swindon Paddington Pre 1948
120 Paddington Penzance Late 1930s
130 Paddington Penzance 1953 Cornish Riviera
130 Paddington Penzance 1957 Cornish Riviera Express
142 Kingswear Paddington 1958 Torbay Express
142 Paddington Weston-S-M 1954 The Merchant Venturer
144 Paddington Plymouth 1954
146 Paddington Kingswear 1956 Torbay Express
146 Paddington Kingswear 1958 Torbay Express
147 Paddington Plymouth 1957
150 Bristol Paddington 1959
153 Weston-S-M Paddington 1959
155 Paddington Weston-S-M 1958
160 Paddington Kingswear Pre 1957
171 Paddington South Wales 1957 Capitals United Express
175 Paddington Weymouth 1937
181 1954? The Inter-City
186 Paddington Post 1957 The Inter-City
186 Paddington Hereford 1957
195 Paddington WoE 1938
208 Liverpool Plymouth 1959
212 1959 On shed at Bristol - Bath Rd
247 Liverpool Plymouth 1952
255 Shrewsbury Paddington 1951
263 Plymouth Crewe 1958 Crewe for Liverpool, Manchester
273 Plymouth Liverpool 1955
415 Paddington Plymouth 1959
426 Paddington Falmouth 1960
455 Weston-S-M Paddington 1958
473 Bristol Paddington 1956 The Bristolian
505 1957  The Devonian
520 Kingswear Paddington 1954 Torbay Express
521 Kingswear Paddington 1958 Torbay Express
550 Paignton Wolverhampton 1958
580 Kingswear Cardiff 1955
605 Plymouth Paddington 1958 The Mayflower
615 Penzance Paddington 1938 'Limited'
620 Plymouth Paddington 1958
635 Penzance Paddington 1958 Cornish Riviera Express
635 Penzance Paddington Post 1957 Cornish Riviera Limited
645 Penzance Paddington 1958 The Royal Duchy
660 Bristol Hereford 1952 Through to Shrewsbury?
665 ? Bristol? 1946 the "North Mail"
675 Penzance Wolverhampton 1957 The Cornishman
720 Paddington 1954 The Red Dragon
758 Swansea Paddington 1950s
796 Sheffield Poole 1939 A relief service
815 Wolverhampton Paignton Post 1957
819 Penzance Wolverhampton 1958 The Cornishman
825 Wolverhampton Penzance 1953 The Cornishman
825 Wolverhampton Penzance 1957 The Cornishman
831 Kingswear Swindon 1959
940 Portsmouth Birmingham SN Late 1930s
995 Paddington Birkenhead 1946
Empty Frame Paddington Weston-S-M 1956

Notes

Where the date of a photo was not available, the emblem on the tender was used to determine BR period i.e. pre-1957 Lion & Wheel, as opposed to post-1957 ferret & dartboard - sorry don't know the official name!

There's quite a few anomalies between the above two tables e.g. 'up' trains with the description number of 'down' trains; a train originating from Sheffield, for Poole in Dorset, with a 700-series number supposedly denoting a train from South Wales, etc.

I read somewhere that train description numbering was only used on Summer Saturdays as an aid for signalman. However, a spectacular Norman Lockett photo of train no. 017 THE BRISTOLIAN about to depart from Temple Meads Platform 9 was taken on 20th April 1955, a Wednesday. Similarly a photo of train no. 263 taken on a Tuesday, and train no.146 TORBAY EXPRESS photographed on Sunday 9 Feb 1958. All this is a little academic as, more often than not, modellers opt for a Summer Saturday style of service for their layouts for increased operational interest. However it does tend to underline the fact that the above table should be treated at face value and not as the gospel truth. Therefore double-check, or opt for what I've done... modelled 6028 c1937 as KGVI with an empty train description frame!

It seems, to me, quite incongruous that information on GWR train description numbering has had so little public exposure. Is it a case of us modellers not wishing to spoil the look of a classic, Edwardian in origin, locomotive by adding the frame for the numbers, which has a bit of BR stigma attached to it!!!!!