There have been a lot of films lately about rock stars and their music.

This got me thinking about how people entertained themselves in pre television days. Our collection at Didcot Railway Centre has some lovely Great Western Railway concert programmes.

In February 1921, the Great Western Railway Musical Society put on a concert at the Queen’s Hall, Langham Place. The programme is beautifully illustrated and on the front cover of the programme there are some marvellous line drawings of Paddington Station and the coats of arms of London and Bristol. Queen’s Hall, which was built in 1893, was the home of the Proms until it was destroyed in the Blitz.

As well as a Musical Society, the GWR had an Amateur Theatrical Society. A programme from 1923 shows they presented the charming comic opera in two acts, Merrie England by Basil Hood in the Large Hall of the Mechanical Institution in Swindon. The details of the plot seem very complicated and involve Queen Elizabeth I, Sir Walter Raleigh and the Earl of Essex.

The Institution, which opened in 1855, has a long and interesting history and the 1920s were said to be one of its golden ages. In that decade the auditorium and stage were extended and the building became a location for touring productions by GWR.

Doing a bit of internet research I found a GWR modelling website that is a great source of GWR material, including lectures from Swindon Mechanical Institution from 1896 to 1955. I’m afraid I got a bit distracted from my theme by the fascinating mix of subjects ranging from Modern Railway Carriages (by G J Churchward, 1896), through train lighting by electricity (Francis L Wait, 1902), The construction and maintenance of motor omnibuses (C S Wilson, 1907), The legal development of inventions (J F Tonkin, 1911), Freight locomotives for working across the Rocky Mountains (George Bulkeley, 1921), The accounting arrangements of the Chief Mechanical Engineers Department (H W Gardner, 1929) and Maintenance methods of the G.W.R Road Transport Department (A E C Dent, 1931) to Notes on Running Shed Practice (by T J Tarrant, 1949).

It is easy to think of the GWR as being local to our area with concerts in London and theatre in Swindon but another programme describes a celebrity concert put on by the GWR Staff Association by Henry Hall and his orchestra at the Gaumont Palace Theatre, Chester.

If you want to see these programmes, and much more of our wonderful collection, Didcot Railway Centre is open at weekends. We are also getting ready for Christmas events with Thomas the Tank Engine and we strongly recommend booking online through our website to reserve your favoured timeslot.