Chad Valley GWR jigsaws

Advert for jigsaws in GWR magazine of March 1924Click or tap to scroll through a gallery of jigsaw adverts through the years
Great Western Railway Magazine, December 1933

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 1920s. About 44 different jigsaw puzzle titles were issued before ceasing in 1939. The puzzles varied in the number of pieces from 'about 150' and 'about 200' which sold for 2 shillings and 6 pence (2/6 or Half a Crown) each. A few larger puzzles were also published having either 375 (these boxes didn't say 'about') or 'about 400' pieces at 5 shillings (5/-). Just one jigsaw was ever produced with 'about 300' pieces (King George V) which sold for 3/6. 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.

See a gallery of some advertisements for GWR jigsaws by clicking or tapping on the thumbnail image.

In about 1927 they also published three versions of what they called a 'Puzzle Train' Click or tap to see a gallery of adverts for these puzzles , which was made for them by Chad Valley. That series consisted an engine (King George V), a composite coach, and a combined (although smaller) set of both engine and coach. They were made up of a number of pieces ½inch thick which locked together and were fitted with wheels so they could be pulled along.

As the number of puzzles increasedClick or tap to reveal our hidden page describing the range in December 1933 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 over time and there is a special page dedicated to describing all the different boxes used.

Operator cutting out a jigsawClick or tap to scroll through a gallery of images
Great Western Railway Magazine, September 1931
Operator cutting out a jigsawClick or tap to scroll through a gallery of images
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 on the box labelling. They were all of a high quality, being made from 3-ply wood, although the thickness and quality of the wood did sometimes vary as did the quality of cutting on rare occasions. The pieces are very varied in shape and size as the puzzles were cut out by hand four at a time. Some very delicate pieces could result, and 'false starts' can sometimes be seen in the cuts when a puzzle has been assembled. Different operators seem to have developed their own personal style of cutting over time and this helps explain the slightly flexible number of pieces each box actually contained.

Every jigsaw was checked for completeness and a packing slip initialled by an overseerClick or tap to see some examples which came with our jigsaws 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 and the wording on the packing slips also varied over time with at least three different ones being known. These small pieces of paper were often lost or discarded but a number of puzzles in our collection still contain their original slip.

The September 1931 edition of the Great Western Railway Magazine carried a four page illustrated article detailing a visit to the Chad Valley factory in Harborne. See some more photographs from the article by clicking or tapping on the thumbnail image.

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 and accurate index. Both the Science Museum and the V&A hold a few examples in their collections but they are not accurately dated. 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 Royal Route to the West - 200 and 150 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 several 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 Click or tap to scroll through a gallery of jigsaw adverts through the years
Literature advertising GWR jigsaws. Author's collection

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. See a gallery of various advertisements for GWR jigsaws by clicking or tapping on the thumbnail image.

As the range of publications and jigsaws increased a small booklet 'The Literature of Locomotion' was produced to be included in the jigsaw boxes. We have many examples of these booklets in our collection dating from 1928 to 1938. This promotional material provides a useful reference, although sometimes being undated it can also serve to confuse.

Ever mindful of a sales opportunity, with the exception of the earliest editions, each of these 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 order form is now addressed to The Sationery Superintendant, G.W.R., 159 Westbourne Terrace, London, W.2, later changing to number 167. This art deco style buildingClick or tap to see this building
when newly completed
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

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 1920s.

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 1970s.

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 large collection of original GWR jigsaws. Illustrated on the following pages are those puzzles currently in the collection, listed roughly in ascending 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 ¼ or ⅛ 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. Sometimes advertisements were published with not only subtly changing titles but on at least one occasion quoting the wrong number of pieces, and dates quoted in reference sources have been found to be contradictory on occasion. We have therefore developed our own table showing the various dates of publicationClick or tap to see the date table
(pdf document format)
and source references which is based on materials held in our collection and is updated whenever new information comes to light.

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All the versions of any particular jigsaw in our collection are grouped together, and presented alphabetically within ascending year of first publication.
The title above each puzzle is shown as it appears either on the guide picture or box of our example and may differ from that by which the puzzle is referred to in advertisements or other publications.

Navigate between pages using the drop down list on the right of the secondary menu bar
Click or tap on any jigsaw thumbnail to see a larger image.

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