Great Western Railway jigsaws

In addition to the ever growing range of books available for purchase, the Great Western Railway published a range of jigsaw puzzles starting in the early 1920's. About 44 different titles were issued before ceasing in 1939. The puzzles varied in the number of pieces from 'about 150' through 200 to 250 and were priced at 2 shillings and 6 pence (2/6 or Half a Crown) each. A few larger puzzles were also published having either 375 (3/6) or 400 pieces (5/-). Whilst still considered to be a bit expensive at the time, these prices only just covered the cost of production, but publicity rather than profit was the driver.

As the number of jigsaw puzzles increased so did the variety of the subjects covered, ranging from named trains and engines to Cathedrals, historical scenes and castles. Subjects were chosen by the Stationery & Printing or the Publicity departments of the GWR, the artwork being either specially commissioned or adapted from existing poster illustrations. The boxes containing the jigsaws also differed in artwork and design. Between 1924 and 1934 puzzles were sold in boxes with lift-off lids. The box lid labels varied with some listing other jigsaws that were available. From 1930 to 1932 the larger 375 piece puzzles were in a slightly larger box with a more elaborate deep blue label which carried a map of GWR routes. All these box labels featured the GWR company crests and a very ornate 'GWR' cypher. From 1932 to 1934 some puzzles were also published in a plainer slip case type box. In 1934 the box changed to a book design folding open and secured shut with a ribbon tie continuing in this form until production ceased in 1939. The labels on these boxes also varied in size and design whilst remaining very simple overall, and carried either the earlier ornate GWR cypher or the later shirtbutton roundel. All boxes of whatever form carried a small picture of the original artwork, either monochrome or coloured, printed or stuck on, to guide the completion of the puzzle.

Operator cutting out a jigsaw
From an article in the Great Western Railway magazine, September 1931

Jigsaw production

All of the puzzles were manufactured for the Great Western Railway by The Chad Valley Co.Ltd. in Harborne, whose name is included in the box labelling. They were all of a high quality, being made from 3-ply wood. The pieces are very varied in shape and size as the puzzles were cut out by hand four at a time. This also helps explain the slightly flexible number of pieces each box actually contained. Believe it or not, every jigsaw was checked by re-assembling it and a packing slip was put in the box as confirmation. Should you loose or damage a piece they would make a replacement on receipt of the immediately surrounding pieces, a stamped envelope for reply, and three penny stamps to cover the cost. This did rise to sixpence in later years.

Jigsaw packing slip

The wording on the packing slips varied over time with at least three different ones being known. This example from our collection also notes the approximate size of the finished puzzle.

Jigsaw range

Although the number of puzzles issued is generally accepted as being 44, it is a bit more difficult to determine exactly when each one was available as we have been unable to find a truly definitive index. However, the books The Chad Valley promotional jigsaw puzzles written and published by Tom Tyler in 2017 and Go Great Western - a History of GWR Publicity written by R.B.Wilson and revised by Colin Judge which was published by David St John Thomas and distributed by David & Charles in 1987 have proved valuable reference sources. Certain puzzles were re-issued in different sizes (for example The Cornish Riviera Express - 150 and 200 pieces), or sometimes under a slightly different name (such as Beau Nash's Bath and Bath) and also in different styles of box, all of which serves to complicate matters. There are examples of re-issued puzzles such as these in our collection.


Earlyish leaflet promoting jigsaws circa 1934 The Literature of Locomotion leaflets of 1934 and 1937 Later leaflet promoting jigsaws circa 1938

The jigsaw range was sometimes promoted by the inclusion in the box, or in other publications, of a single page leaflet listing jigsaws available at the time. Some examples of these leaflets are in our collection. They were highlighted as being The Best Jig-Saw Value in the World which could, amongst the usual outlets, be obtained from The Stationery Superintendant, Great Western Railway, Paddington Station, London, W.2. As the range of publications and jigsaws increased a small booklet 'The Literature of Locomotion' was produced being included in the jigsaw boxes. We have a number of examples of these booklets in our collection dating from 1932 to 1937. This promotional material provides a useful reference, although sometimes being undated it can also serve to confuse.

Ever mindful of a sales opportunity each of the sixteen (sometimes twelve) page booklets contained an order form with which you could order more books or jigsaws. In the earlier booklets, up to and including July 1934, the order form is addressed to either The Superintendant of the Line, Paddington Station, London, W.2 or The Stationery Superintendant, G.W.R., 66 Porchester Road, London, W.2. According to the introductory notes, sales of jigsaws were more than half a million in 1932, rising to three quarters of a million just a few years later. It is believed that total sales eventually exceeded one million puzzles. Increasing sales of publications in general must have led to a rationalisation of departments as the November 1934 (and later) order form is now addressed to The Sationery Superintendant, G.W.R., 167 Westbourne Terrace, London, W.2. This art deco style building is situated close to Paddington Station and was designed in 1933 by the GWR's chief architect at the time, P.E.Culverhouse. The Porchester Road building dates from 1903 and was the Stationery and Ticket printing Depot for the GWR. Both buildings survive and have been redeveloped as multiple occupancy office blocks.

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Early postcard view of the Harborne Works
'Chad Valley Works (the local centre of industry)'
Courtesy of WoolworthsMuseum.co.uk

The history of the Chad Valley company itself is interesting. The company had its origins as a printing business established by Anthony Bunn Johnson in Birmingham in the early 19th century. Under the management of his son Joseph and grandson Alfred the company moved to the suburb of Harborne in 1897. This was in the valley of the Chad Brook, which gave its name to the district of Chad Valley. The company registered the trade mark Chad Valley for use on its products, but did not change the company name until the early 1920's.

The purpose built factory, as seen on this early postcard, was adjacent to Harborne Station which was at the end of a short LMSR branch. It was served by its own siding which it later also shared with a Birmingham Corporation facility. Whilst the line closed to passengers in 1934 it continued to carry goods traffic both to and from the factory until 1963. The building was enlarged and the company grew through several aquisitions becoming a well known and respected manufacturer of quality toys. Cheaper foreign competition increasingly affected business however and the company finally ceased trading in the 1970's.

The Harborne factory itself closed in 1972 and suffered a devastating fire a year later. The site of both the factory and station have been extensively redeveloped but the former branch line survives as a green corridor called the 'Harborne Walkway'. The trade marked name was bought by various companies (including at one time Woolworth's) and still lives on as a brand exclusive to the Argos stores.

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Our jigsaw collection

As part of the memorabilia collection at the Old Ticket Office we have a representative collection of original GWR jigsaws. Illustrated below are some of the puzzles currently in the collection, listed roughly in published date order. The boxes are not shown to the same scale as their puzzle however. The number of pieces quoted for each puzzle is that shown on the box and is not necessarily the actual number of pieces in that particular puzzle. The assembled dimensions of each puzzle are given to the nearest 1⁄4 inch - and yes, we have made each of the puzzles up. The dates of publication and artist for each jigsaw are the results of our best research but they should not be taken as being definitive.

Click or tap on any thumbnail to see a larger image of the jigsaw.


The Cathedral

About 150 pieces (approx. 16"x12") in rare early squarer red box with full size white label and large printed sepia guide picture.
Published from 1926 to 1935, latterly being increased to 200 pieces.
This is an early version of only the second puzzle to be sold by the GWR. This puzzle is unique in that it also carries a map of the GWR network on the reverse, although no reference to this is made on the box. The box label is the first to state Manufactured by the Chad Valley Co., Ltd., Harborne, and Published by the Great Western Railway Co., Ltd. although it does not carry any other form of GWR branding.
Featuring Exeter cathedral exterior by the artist Fred Taylor.



Oxford

About 150 pieces (approx. 16"x12") in brown box with cream label.
Published from 1927 to 1930 this puzzle is the only one published which was not in full colour and only sold a few thousand copies.
Sepia pen and ink illustration of Oxford High Street by the artist Fred Taylor.



The Cornish Riviera Express

About 150 pieces (approx. 21"x9") in brown box with cream label listing other puzzles available.
Published from 1927 to 1936, this is the early version and has wavy edges. The puzzle was renamed and increased to about 200 pieces from 1934.
Featuring the engine 'Abbotsbury Castle' on its way to Penzance near Dawlish, it is by the artist James Thorpe.



Speed

About 150 pieces (approx. 20"x11") in brown box with cream label listing other puzzles available.
Published from 1928 to 1930. It is cut to the outline of the train and exhaust, with a wavy bottom edge.
Featuring the engine 'Caerphilly Castle' number 4073 by an unknown artist.



The Cathedral

About 150 pieces (approx. 16"x12") in brown box with black label.
Published from 1926 to 1935, latterly being increased to 200 pieces.
Whilst still being cut to about 150 pieces, this slightly later version of the puzzle is now packaged in the standard brown cardboard box rather than the rarer first more square shaped red box. This puzzle continues to carry a map of the GWR network on the reverse, still no reference to this is made on the box however.
Featuring Exeter cathedral exterior by the artist Fred Taylor.



Anne Hathaway’s Cottage

About 150 pieces (approx. 16 3⁄4"x11 1⁄2") in brown box with black label.
Published from 1928 to 1932.
From a painting by the artist Warwick Goble dated 1927.



A Cornish Fishing Village

About 150 pieces (approx. 12 1⁄2"x15") in brown box with black label.
Published from 1930 to 1933.
Painted by S.Clarke Hutton.



Glorious Devon

About 150 pieces (approx. 15 1⁄2"x12 1⁄4") in brown box with black label.
Published from 1930 to 1933.
Image derived from a photograph.



Warwick Castle

About 150 pieces (approx. 12 1⁄2"x16") in brown box with black label.
Published from 1930 to 1933, latterly increased to 200 pieces.
From a painting by Warwick Goble. This image is known to have been used for a poster which advertised Warwick Castle in Shakespeare's Country England and was headed Great Western Railway of England presumably being aimed at the transatlantic market.



The Torbay Express

375 pieces (approx. 27"x12 1⁄2") in blue box with blue label.
Published from 1930 to 1934. This is the early version with the puzzle being latterly increased to 400 pieces.
From the painting by F.N.J.Moody, originally used for a poster.



Vikings Landing at St.Ives

375 pieces (approx. 21 3⁄4"x15 3⁄4") in blue box with blue label.
Published from 1930 to 1936. This is the early version with the puzzle being increased to 400 pieces from 1933.
Painted by the artist Percy F.S.Spence and dated March 1928.



Windsor Castle

About 150 pieces (approx. 11 1⁄4"x16 1⁄4") in brown box with black label.
Published from 1931 to 1934.
Painted by the artist Percy F.S.Spence.



Bath

About 150 pieces (approx. 15 1⁄2"x12") in orange slipcase box.
Published from 1932 to 1936. This is the early version published until 1934, the puzzle later being renamed 'Beau Nash's Bath' and increased to about 200 pieces. This image was used for a poster in the This England of ours series.
Painted by the artist Claude H.Buckle.



Stratford‑upon‑Avon (Harvard House)

About 400 pieces (approx. 22"x15 3⁄4") in blue slipcase box.
Published from 1933 to 1938, initially with 375 pieces.
Prominent in the foreground is Harvard House of the title. It was the home of the maternal grandparents of John Harvard, founder of Harvard University. Possibly designed to appeal also to a transatlantic audience, it is shown flying the American flag. Also contains an original copy of the leaflet describing Harvard House.
From a painting by Michael Reilly.



Brazenose College Oxford

About 400 pieces (approx. 22 1⁄2"x15 1⁄2") in blue slipcase box.
Published from 1933 to 1939 being spelt variously with either s or z.
This is the only puzzle in the series to have a black border and was used for a poster advertising OXFORD in the This England of ours series. View inside Brasenose College quad in Oxford, painted by the artist Claude H.Buckle and dated 1932.



Cornish Riviera

About 200 pieces (approx. 21"x9") in orange slipcase box.
Published from 1927 to 1936. First titled 'The Cornish Riviera Express' with about 150 pieces, this is the later 1934 version which has been renamed. Whilst still retaining the wavy edges it now contains about 200 pieces. Written on the box is B.J.Pacey Ward 3.34. Presumably this puzzle was bought as a present for B.J.Pacey to occupy them whilst in hospital sometime during 1934.
Featuring the engine 'Abbotsbury Castle' on its way to Penzance near Dawlish, it is by the artist James Thorpe.



Henley Bridge

About 200 pieces (approx. 17"x11") in orange slipcase box.
Published from 1933 to 1935 initially with about 150 pieces, this is the later enlarged edition.
Painting by Fred Taylor, used for a poster and showing the 'Angel' and St. Mary's Church across the river.



Piccadilly Circus

About 200 pieces (approx. 10 3⁄4"x18") in orange slipcase box.
Published from 1933 to 1937.
An unusual night scene with Eros in silhouette, painted for use as a poster by the artist Charles Pears in 1932. The puzzle retains the tall portrait format of the original artwork.



Historic Totness

About 200 pieces (approx. 16 3⁄4"x11 1⁄2") in orange slipcase box.
Published from 1933 to 1939. This is the early version, the puzzle later being reduced to 150 pieces.
View up Fore Street and High Street featuring East Gate, by the artist Claude H.Buckle.



King Arthur on Dartmoor

About 400 pieces (approx. 22"x16") in marbled pink book type box.
Published from 1931 to 1936 initially with about 375 pieces, this is the later enlarged version.
Painted by the artist Percy Spence and dated February 1928. This image was used for a poster advertising Glorious Devon which included the title King Arthur and His Knights crossing Dartmoor.



Beau Nash's Bath

About 200 pieces (approx. 15 1⁄2"x12") in marbled pink book type box.
Published from 1932 to 1936, first titled 'Bath' and having about 150 pieces. This is the later version which has been renamed and increased to about 200 pieces.
Painted by the artist Claude H.Buckle. This image was used for a poster in the This England of ours series.



Royal Route to the West

About 200 pieces (approx. 18 1⁄4"x10 1⁄2") in marbled green book type box.
Published from 1933 to 1939. This is the early version, the puzzle later being reduced to 150 pieces. Included in the box is the original packing slip shown above, and a copy of the booklet 'The Literature of Locomotion' which is dated November 1934.
Illustrating King George V and train, painted by George H.Davis in 1929. Uniquely, the picture also bears the note Reproduced by permission of the "Illustrated London News"



King George V

About 200 pieces (approx. 22"x8 1⁄2") in marbled green book type box.
A very popular puzzle published between 1927 and 1936. Originally published with 150 pieces, this is the later enlarged version circa 1934 and is cut to the outline of the engine. Also published with 'about 300 pieces' between 1928 and 1932.
Image derived from a photograph.



The Cheltenham Flyer

About 200 pieces (approx. 17 1⁄4"x11") in marbled green book type box.
Published between 1933 and 1936 initially with 150 pieces, this is the later enlarged edition from circa 1934. Included in the box are the original pamphlet written by C.S.Lock describing the history of this famous train which is dated October 1933, and a copy of the booklet 'The Literature of Locomotion' which is dated July 1934.
Painting attributed to F.Moore, which was in fact the name of a collective studio rather than an individual artist, shows engine number 5000 'Launceston Castle' crossing Maidenhead Bridge.



The Streamline Way

about 200 pieces (approx. 17"x10 3⁄4") in marbled green book type box.
Published from 1934 to 1938. This is the early version, the puzzle being later reduced to 150 pieces.
Illustrating a streamlined diesel railcar and 'ghost' of the locomotive 'King George V' by an unknown artist.



London Highways

About 200 pieces (approx. 17 1⁄4"x10 3⁄4") in marbled green book type box - branded 'CP'.
Published between 1935 and 1936.
Painting signed by Claude H.Buckle and dated October 1934.

This rare (and short lived) puzzle is branded 'CP' which stands for 'Carter Paterson' who were a major parcels carrier at the time and one of their vans is featured crossing London Bridge. Whilst not carrying any reference to the GWR this is nonetheless part of the GWR promotional jigsaw series.
This puzzle is known to have been later sold under the Chad Valley brand, either as shown here or heavily cropped on the right removing the Carter Paterson van, the aeroplane and Tower Bridge!

Carter Paterson had a long history, being constituted as a limited company in 1887. In October 1933 the Big Four railway companies (Southern Railway, Great Western Railway, London, Midland & Scottish Railway, and London & North Eastern Railway) took control in equal shares of Carter Paterson. The company continued to operate but as a subsidiary of another carrier the Big Four had bought at the same time, the Hay's Wharf Cartage Company. Following railway nationalisation in 1948, Carter Paterson was absorbed by the British Transport Commission which adopted the name 'British Road Services' for its road haulage operations. The red and green 'CP' device on the jigsaw box echoed the design of a card which customers would display in a window to indicate that a parcel awaited collection. So well known were the company that for a very short period in 1948 the airlift of supplies to the British garrison and the civilian population of West Berlin was named 'Operation Carter Paterson'.



Drake goes West

About 400 pieces (approx. 23"x15 1⁄2") in marbled pink book type box.
Published from 1934 to 1939, firstly as ‘Sir Francis Drake at Plymouth’, then under this title from about 1935.
Painted by the artist Claude H.Buckle.



Royal Route to the West

About 150 pieces (approx. 18 1⁄2"x10 1⁄2") in marbled green book type box.
Published from 1933 to 1939, initially with about 200 pieces, this is the later reduced version. The box is inscribed with the message To Barbara, Wishing you Many Happy Returns, from Jean which is dated August 1939.
Illustrating King George V and train, painted by George H.Davis in 1929. Uniquely, the picture also bears the note Reproduced by permission of the "Illustrated London News"