Company Servants' welfare

Insurances and other schemes

Great Western Railway Staff Association

This booklet of over 90 pages has the rather long descriptive title Seventeenth Annual Report and Statement of Accounts for 1938 and Handbook for 1939. The Staff Association had therefore only started in 1921 although it was predated by a number of similar schemes, both all-line and local. The objects of the Association are given as being 'To develop recreative and educational organisations amongst Great Western Railway employees and their families, to foster the spirit of fellowship and goodwill, and to do everything possible to further the prestige of the Great Western Railway.'

GWR Staff Association Annual Report and Handbook
Seventeenth Annual Report

In the report for 1938 it is noted that contributing members (active and retired) numbered 22,620, and that this number did not include wives and dependant children who were also entitled to join. The Association was organised on a divisional basis, with each division comprising a number of branches each with a branch secretary. Locally, branches were based at Oxford, Witney, Steventon and Didcot. Members could participate in competitions and events which covered the whole spectrum of interests which included sports, music, arts and crafts, horticulture and indoor games. Special arrangements were also in place for members to purchase sports and other goods at reduced prices and benefit from reduced rates with the Boots' Booklovers Libray. Each branch was permitted to organise an annual excursion at a specially reduced fare. The Association was financed by members' subscriptions, gifts and fund raising events.

The Association also administered the 'Helping Hand' fund which was previously administered by the GWR Social and Educational Union. Staff in financial distress could apply for assistance by way of a grant or loan. The 'Helping Hand' fund committee would review all claims and in 1938 dealt with 638 cases, of which 55 were refused on account of insufficient evidence of distress. Typically assistance was sought due to prolonged illness or severe injury preventing a return to work. In such circumstances a grant might be made in the form of weekly payments. In addition to financial support, boots and clothing might be provided, and at Christmas groceries, sweets and toys were distributed. The fund was self financing in that it relied on donations, money raising activities such as whist drives and concerts, and the sale of promotional items. One such item were books of matches, of which 151,000 were sold in 1938.

A number of Great Western Railway Staff Association branches are still in existence at the time of writing. However in many cases, as the number of railwaymen has steadily declined, they have survived by operating more as community social clubs.

Insurance schemes

Before the formation of the National Health Service and the provision of State support, such as Statutory Sick Pay and State Pensions, all such support had to be paid for by the recipient. There were many insurance schemes, both private and via trade organisations, which GWR staff could join that guaranteed benefits in case of illness, injury or death, and in retirement. Some of the schemes available would be advertised in the Great Western Railway Magazine or other publications and weekly contributions were often collected at source and benefits paid via the GWR wages department. The GWR had arrangements with various benevolent funds and insurance companies such as that with the Ocean Accident and Guarantee Corporation. This scheme was promoted through the magazine whereby a subscriber paid an extra penny (1d) for the insurance edition, this would then provide a range of benefits covering both time at work and whilst travelling on the GWR.

GWR Widows' and Orphans' Pension Society Rules
Rules 1922 edition

Support for Widows and Orphans

Several schemes were created which made provision for the widows and orphans of various grades of Great Western Railway employees who had lost their life as the result of an accident at work. It has proved difficult to determine when the first such fund came into being, but one press report suggests it was constituted in 1842 whilst the GWR was under the chairmanship of Charles Russell, who was also M.P. for Reading at the time. There are some suggestions that Daniel Gooch may have been the first chairman of that first fund which was initially for the benefit of salaried staff only. Whilst primarily set up to provide a widow's pension we include mention of these schemes here as they were essentially an optional insurance taken out by eligible employees.

In our collection is a booklet entitled Rules of the Great Western Railway Salaried Staff Widows' & Orphans' Pension Society which gives the date of its establishment as 25th December 1922. The membership rules mention '...any person who is a Member of an existing Benefit Fund of the Company which makes provision for Widows and Orphans...', thus confirming that several such schemes were running concurrently

GWR Widows' and Orphans' Pension Society Rules
Rules 1912 edition
GWR Widows' and Orphans' Pension Society Rules
Rules 1931 edition
GWR Widows' and Orphans' Pension Society Rules
Rules 1937 edition

Provident Society

The Great Western Railway Provident Society was registered as a Friendly Society in January 1920. According to the rule book 'The objects of the Society shall be to provide relief in sickness, medical attendance in certain cases, and a sum for the funeral expenses of members, their wives, and widows.' Membership of the Society was restricted to Wages Staff employed 'in the manipulation of trafic' and those employed in specified grades within the Locomotive and Carriage, Engineering, and the Signal and Telegraph departments. The rule books must not have been reprinted very often as the the membership form in the copy from 1937 notes that W.E.Rolph joined in 1947 and it contains an amendment sheet dated 1940. The 1931 edition records H.W.J.Shail joining in 1935. He must have been a railway employee for a number of years as this booklet contains several amendment sheets, the latest being dated 1974.

Pension and Superannuation schemes

All salaried staff were required to join a pension scheme, such as the Great Western Railway Salaried Staff Supplemental Pension Fund, the GWR Salaried Staff Retiring Allowances Fund, or the GWR Female Clerks Pension Fund. Membership contributions were a percentage of salary and were matched by the company. Each of these schemes published a Rule Book which detailed who could join, what benefits were provided and the rules by which the scheme was governed. These would be subject to revision over time and new versions, or amendment sheets, were issued to members when apropriate.

GWR Pension Society Rules
Pension Society Rules
1907 edition
GWR Pension Society Rules
Pension Society Rules
1949 edition
GWR Superannuation Scheme Rules
Superannuation Scheme Rules
1908 edition
GWR Superannuation Fund Rules
Superannuation Fund Rules
1945 edition

The Great Western Railway Magazine, in its edition of May 1904, notes that the Great Western Pension Society came into existence on 28th March. The article mentions that the event was of importance to the 15,000 uniformed staff of the Traffic Department and that the new Society took the place of the Servants' Pension Fund which was established in 1880. Quite some detail of the differences between the two schemes was covered. These included new contribution rates and benefits, and the means by which the Company was to contribute towards the new scheme.

Over time various funds were merged and others others came into existence, many lingering on after nationalisation. The biggest amalgamation of the various railway company schemes took place on 2nd January 1974 when the 'British Railways Board (Alteration of Pension Schemes) Order 1973' came into effect. This act served to consolidate a large number of legacy funds under the single umbrella of the British Railways Board.

GWR Savings Bank Rules
Rules 1907 edition
GWR Savings Bank Rules
Rules 1936 edition

Great Western Railway Savings Bank

One scheme operated by the GWR for the benefit of its employees was the a Savings Bank, and employees could elect to have part of their wages paid directly into their account. Forms were availableClick or tap to see
some examples of these forms
for the deposit or withdrawal of savings at stations. Interest was paid at about 3½%. The savings bank was first started in the early 1890s and, according to its nineteenth annual report, in 1910 it had 6,385 depositors, who paid in a total of £109,166, drew out £69,828 and had £495,504 to their credit at the end of the year. The London Standard of 8th May 1912 reported that '...An interesting sidelight upon the thrift of railway employees is provided in the record of the Great Western Railway Savings Bank, which had a balance of £564,863 standing to the credit of its depositors at the beginning of the year. In all directions, including the amount deposited and the number of new depositors, there has been consistent and unchecked advancement. One thousand one hundred and seventy-five new accounts were opened last year, and deposits amounting to £126,906 were received.'

Government legislation

Into the mix we must mention that various Acts of Parliament came into force over the years which affected how healthcare and pension schemes operated. The whole history is complicated but, in summary....
The National Insurance Act of 1911 provided for a National Insurance scheme with provision of medical benefits. Access to the scheme was via Approved Societies, who collected the contributions, paid out for treatment, and provided day-to-day administration with a worker free to choose which Approved Society to join. These Approved Societies collected their members' contributions and forwarded them to the National Insurance Fund. The Fund would then reimburse the societies' expenditure, such as the cost of treatment and administrative overheads. As well as societies created by trade unions and friendly societies, commercial insurers also established Approved Societies. In 1925 and 1931. Further Acts were passed amending the scheme culminating in The National Insurance Act 1946 which came into effect on 5th July 1948 and established the National Health Service we know today.
Varying levels of state pension was provided for via a number of different acts. The Old Age Pensions Acts of 1908 to 1924 provided a basic non-contributory, but means tested, benefit at a retirement age of 70, and the Widows', Orphans' and Old Age Contributory Pensions Acts from 1925 to 1932 extended ts coverage and benefits. The Basic State Pension came into being in 1948.
Sometimes this changing legislation led to some employees paying excess contributions which had to be refunded as appropriate.


The Great Western Railway also provided a certain amount of housing and accommodation for various grades of staff, ranging from Staion Master's houses such those at Radley and Culham, through workmans' houses as built in Didcot and more famously in Swindon, remote accommodation such as crossing keeper's cottages, down to rooms which may have been in barrack blocks or above stations and offices. In January 1932 the GWR announced a schemeClick or tap to see
the announcment, and some plans and photos from the magazine
for assisting employees to buy a house. The maximum cost of a house was limited to £1,000 and the employee had to find a 10% deposit.Interest was fixed at 5% per year and the maximum term to 20 years. A six page article, The Housing of G.W.R. Employees, appeared in the August edition of the Great Western Railway Magazine which went into great detail as to new housing estatesClick or tap to see
some plans and photos from the magazine
and houses built by employees using the scheme. This was followed in the October edition with three more photographs of houses built utilising the scheme. It may be noticed that the scheme's requirement for a large deposit precluded many lower paid employees who might have benefitted from it the most.