Bath on the Rails

A treasure trove of iconic railway posters, paintings and 19th century prints will be celebrated at Bath & North East Somerset Council’s Victoria Art Gallery in a new exhibition being held at the gallery this winter.

‘The Railway Station’ by William Powell Frith, oil on canvas, 1862 © Royal Holloway, University of London;
‘The Railway Station’ by William Powell Frith, oil on canvas, 1862 © Royal Holloway, University of London.

‘Bath and the Great Western Railway’, which runs from 23 November until 2 February 2014, tells the story of how our public transport system was radically changed for ever.

Brunel’s Great Western Railway (GWR) opened in the early years of Queen Victoria’s reign. It transformed southern England, making travel quicker and easier. Railway travel broadened the horizons of the whole of society, giving people opportunities to travel for pleasure in a way that would have been unimaginable in Georgian times.

Alongside fascinating 19th century prints and watercolours of the railway in Bath, visitors will see a wonderful array of iconic GWR railway posters from the early 20th century, urging people to journey to “the Georgian City” with the slogan “it’s quicker by rail”.

Cllr Ben Stevens Lib-Dem Widcombe Cabinet member for Sustainable Development.
Cllr Ben Stevens
Lib-Dem Widcombe
Cabinet member for Sustainable Development.

Councillor Ben Stevens (Lib-Dem, Widcombe), Cabinet Member for Sustainable Development, said: “Bath & North East Somerset Council is proud to honour this piece of the area’s rich heritage as we aim to offer a wide variety of culture to everyone. The exhibition looks at the GWR’s impact on Bath; celebrates the railway’s engineering marvels and examines the changes it made to the Georgian city. ‘Bath and the Great Western Railway’ is a must-see for lovers of Bath and railway enthusiasts alike.”

‘In 1828 by the new steam carriage’ poster by Eric Frazer, 1955
‘In 1828 by the new steam carriage’ poster by Eric Frazer, 1955

The show also offers the opportunity to see William Powell Frith’s epic panorama of Victorian life, ‘The Railway Station’ – which depicts dozens of passengers from all walks of life boarding a train at Paddington. This famous painting is only occasionally on public display, and has been borrowed by the Victoria Art Gallery especially for this exhibition.  Frith’s iconic work was so popular when it was first unveiled to the public in 1862, that the police were brought in to control the crowds so desperate to see it!

The humorous side of railway life is also covered with works by quirky cartoonist William Heath Robinson who was commissioned by the GWR to produce ‘Railway Ribaldry’, a book of wacky cartoons celebrating the railway’s centenary in 1935.

victoria art gallery
Victoria Art Gallery

The exhibition contains over 60 exhibits, many from the Victoria Art Gallery collection as well as loans from the Museum of Bath at Work and Royal Holloway, University of London.

There will also be a series of free lunchtime talks at The Guildhall, Bath, 1.10-1.45pm:

  • Tuesday 26 November – ‘Railway posters of the GWR’ with Ed Bartholomew from the National Railway Museum
  • Tuesday 3 December – ‘GWR: the Bath to Bristol line’ with railway historian Colin Maggs MBE
  • Tuesday 10 December – ‘GWR: a general history’ with Tim Bryan, transport historian.

Also on display in the Victoria Art Gallery’s small gallery will be an exhibition by Bath artist, Ione Parkin: Primal Matter. A member of the Royal West of England Academy, all Ione’s works will be for sale.

The Victoria Art Gallery, near Pulteney Bridge in Bath, is open Tuesday to Saturday 10am to 5pm, Sundays 1.30pm to 5pm and closed on Mondays. For more details call 01225 477233 or visit the Gallery’s website www.victoriagal.org.uk.

ENDS