F Paper Heritage - Railway Letter Stamps - Great Western Railway : Railway Letter Stamps of WALES

GWR Railway Letter Stamps & the . . .
. . . Railway Letter Stamps of Wales.

Great Britain & Ireland : 1891 : Genesis of Railway Letter Stamps :
Following a rise in the incidence of railway companies circumventing the General Post Office’s letter post monopoly, by accepting letters on the railway and sending them as parcels, the GPO took steps to protect their revenue. An agreement was reached between the GPO and representatives from the railway companies which saw the introduction in 1891 of a 2d supplementary 'railway letter fee' to be paid on any letter handed in at a station. Only railway companies which had signed up to the scheme could accept such mail.

The ‘Railway Letter Stamp’ (RLS) was additional to the appropriate Royal Mail stamp which was required in all cases, whether or not the letter was later posted into the Royal Mail system. The railway letter service was most useful in the late afternoon, when a sender had missed the final Royal Mail collection of the day at his location. Typically, a letter would be handed in at the local station, and having paid the 2d fee, the station staff would hand the letter to the guard on the next available train on a route that could hasten the letter’s progress. In 1891, and for many years afterwards, the basic inland letter rate was one penny (1d). At that period the RLS, priced at 2d, therefore tripled the cost of sending a basic letter.

Railway Letter Stamps Rhymney Railway 3d Wilson cover Railway Letter Stamps Rhymney Railway 3d Wilson cover Railway Letter Stamps Rhymney Railway 3d Wilson cover

For decades, Royal Mail sited important sorting centres within strategically-located stations. Quite frequently, there would be a posting box on the station platform adjacent to the sorting centre and travellers would be accustomed to seeing Post Office railway vans standing at a specially-reserved platform on one side of the station, waiting to be loaded with the mails partially pre-sorted by destination. A locomotive would be attached shortly before each mail train departure. Mail trains were precisely timed and typically afforded a signalling priority on a par with express passenger trains. In the case of RLS-franked mail arriving at stations without Royal Mail centres, the letters would be posted without delay, where possible in a pillar box which still had a collection remaining during the day.

Today, this human-intensive direct engagement for a single letter seems exotic but, at the time, staffing levels on the railways were high and mail sorting centres far more numerous and widespread than today, as well as being ideally located at a number of key stations on the railway system.

The Railway Letter Post commenced on February 1st 1891 and scores of railway companies became signatories to it from the outset. Businesses, but also well-informed members of the public, embraced the opportunity afforded by the Agreement in reasonable numbers. The rate remained fixed at 2d until 1920, before oscillating between 3d and 4d for many years before settling at 4d, its final level.

Usage fell over time. No doubt the rapid spread of the telephone in Britain after the Great War accounted for some of the decrease in usage of this service, along with the better roads and faster motorised transport which permitted later collections than had previously been possible, especially in rural and semi-rural areas.

Railway Letter Stamps Rhymney Railway 3d Wilson cover

A few names are particularly associated philatelically with the railway letter (and sometimes also railway parcel post) stamps. H. l’Estrange Ewen not only produced the first catalogue of railway letter stamps in the first decade of the 20th century but also travelled the country sending many pre-printed envelopes bearing RLS to himself in Norwood. He also badgered railway companies (successfully) to increase accessibility of their letter stamps to the collector market. There was a further catalogue of these stamps produced by Turner but we have no details about it. More recent catalogues are those of Capt. H. Jackson (1971) and the Revd. Roger de Lacy-Spencer (2000), this, to our knowledge, the latest available listing for these stamps.

With only a very few exceptions, all stamps are to the same design with identical wording ‘FEE FOR THE CONVEYANCE OF SINGLE POST LETTERS BY RAILWAY.’, the name of the railway company occupying the top and bottom panels. The approved colour for the stamps was green but a few companies, such as the Metropolitan Railway, did not fall into line over stamp colours, but they are very much the exception.

Catalogues identify the different printings of the railway companies’ stamps, which typically range between one and twenty issues in number, but a few companies have many more, the highest being the 170+ stamp issues of the North Eastern Railway. Where serial (Control) numbers are printed on the stamps, this is straightforward but, where they are not, small transfer differences between printings or changes in perforation can sometimes be used to identify them. Sometimes, though, it comes down to studying shades of green – with one’s resulting identification of a stamp too often accompanied by rather limited conviction.

Railway Letter Stamps Rhymney Railway 3d Wilson cover

These are fascinating stamps that served a real postal purpose. There were a small number of avid collectors, the most famous a Mr. A. Wilson who toured Britain posting hundreds (probably thousands) of letters to himself and, for some minor railways, his covers are the most numerous available, sometimes even the only ones known. A typical Wilson cover is shown above, bearing a Rhymney Railway 3d, which is a stamp unpriced in used condition in both the Jackson and de Lacy-Spencer catalogues.

It seems fair to assume that a number of stations on the lines of those companies that had signed up to the 1891 Agreement never handled a single railway letter. In the case of one or two railway companies, it is even questionable whether the entire railway company ever carried a letter at all! By contrast, the major railway companies carried significant numbers of RLS-franked covers of an entirely commercial nature and, in their heyday, the time-saving made possible by the agreement of 1891 served businesses in the British Isles well. Stamps from companies such as the Midland Railway, Great Western Railway, Lancashire & Yorkshire Railway and the London Brighton & South Coast Railway, to take but four examples, saw plenty of use, whilst the Aylesbury & Buckingham Railway or the Tralee & Dingle Railway may perhaps be examples of stamp-issuing companies that barely carried a handful of mail in total. Note that all of Ireland was covered by the 1891 Act and many Irish railways issued these stamps until Irish Independence in 1922.

We have produced another article on ‘old’ (meaning pre-preservation / heritage era) railway letter stamps. The other article is on the Metropolitan Railway RLS, q.v. , accessible from our Articles Index page (link in left panel). The Metropolitan Railway article does not have a detailed introduction to RLS but includes a link to the Railway Philatelic Group page describing these stamps and their use. We repeat the link here, should you like some further reading. Railway Philatelic Group page is here (opens in a new tab)

About this article's scope:
We had planned this as an article just on the RLS of the Great Western Railway (GWR) but its story is very strongly linked with at least two other RLS-issuing railway companies, the Cambrian Railways and the Manchester & Milford Railway. This in turn led to a decision to extend the article to any railway that had previously issued its own railway letter stamps that was either then acquired by the GWR or transferred at the Grouping by the Government to the GWR. Almost without exception, this proved to be railways which were Welsh in nature, with only one purely English RLS-issuing company, the Midland & South Western Junction Railway, coming under the aegis of the GWR. The result is essentially therefore an article on the Railway Letter Stamps of Wales and the GWR.

In order to complete the Welsh picture, we have appended to this article the small number of standard gauge railways with a Welsh connection which found their way into the portfolios of other railway companies. We have also given a brief mention to one mainly English railway, the Shropshire & Montgomeryshire, which just penetrated the principality but which remained independent. The article concludes with the issues fot the Great Western & Great Central Joint Committee.

Railway Letter Stamps Great Western Railway Wootton Bassett

Market Dominance of the Great Western Railway (up to the 1948 Nationalisation) :
The GWR’s main lines were, and those of its modern counterpart today are, from London Paddington to Bristol, South Wales and the West Country. In the GWR era, there was a second long-distance route, albeit of lesser importance, from Paddington to the North-West, serving Oxford, Birmingham, Wrexham and the Wirral Peninsular in addition to numerous lesser lines into ‘rival’ territory. Today’s the modern incarnation of the GWR still reaches Oxford and Worcester but no longer serves Birmingham and stations beyond, but it does retain a few lines into Southern and South-Western territory. There are relatively few Welsh lines that remain open today but Great Western’s tentacles in the province have been so severely trimmed that only the South Wales main line to Swansea now remains under Paddington’s umbrella.

Long before the advent of the Railway Letter Post, the GWR had expanded through dozens of amalgamations and acquisitions, mainly adding to its portfolio railways which were financially unstable or simply not viable without the economies of scale that a well-run, much larger heavy-industry enterprise can bring. Some acquisitions, however, were of viable companies of strategic importance, for example the Bristol & Exeter Railway, which allowed the GWR progressively to extend its network and become the dominant railway in the West of England. A full listing of all the companies absorbed by the GWR can be accessed on this Wikipedia page (opens in a new tab)

The page linked above contains a long list but we are only concerned with railways acquired in or after 1891 who were signatories to the RLS Agreement up until the final flurry of acquisitions in 1922 leading to the (January 1st) 1923 ‘Grouping’. This is a term used for the government-led concentration of almost all of the standard gauge railway network, other than underground railway systems, into four large private companies, often known as the ‘Big Four’, one of which was the GWR. As 1923 dawned, Wales found itself dependent almost entirely on the GWR for its rail transport, whilst the GWR’s two great administrative centres were still firmly in England, at Paddington and Swindon.

Railway Letter Stamps Great Western Railway 1891

The Railway Letter Stamps issued by the GWR itself were, of course, widely used in England as well as in Wales, such as shown on the 1909 Express cover from Pangboune to nearby Oxford above. Occasionally, for a few years after the 1923 'Grouping', GWR railway letters may be found franked with the RLS of a pre-Grouping railway company acquired by the GWR, the stamp usually amended in manuscript (or by handstamp) to acknowledge the GWR as the carrier.

From 1923, GWR RLS were distributed widely around its enlarged network, resulting in RLS being available at stations on some absorbed railways where they had never previously been seen at all. This new, more widespread use of GWR letter stamps, though, was not long-lived. As early as the late 1920s, perhaps faced with rapidly changing RLS rates, the GWR seems to have been one of the first companies to choose to affix appropriately-denominated off-the-shelf alternatives to railway letter stamps, in this case Newspaper stamps, rather than surcharging existing RLS or printing stamps to meet the new face values. This is a subject to which we return later in this article.

Scans : In creating this article, we have at times leaned quite heavily on the April 2021 Grosvenor Auctions catalogue which featured the Stuart Phillips collection of RLS. The sale number was 141 and a pdf file of the catalogue is available on the Grosvenor website. In several cases, we have captured scans from that catalogue in order to illustrate some of the rarer items. One or two further scans were acquired from Grosvenor's 2015 sale of the De Lacy-Spencer collection. We have sometimes mentioned the source of such scans in the article below but, to avoid much repetition, we have not done so in every case. We would like to thank Grosvenor Auctions for their help in this regards and for their permission to use these scans.

G.W.R. Issues :
The Great Western Railway (GWR) signed up to the Railway Letter Post scheme from the outset. Remarkably, certainly by the standards of most of the major railway companies, there were only twelve purely-GWR stamps issues between 1891 and the gradual demise of the letter post service from the early 1930s to the mid-1950s. However, the GWR's willingness to recourse to the use of Newspaper or Parcel stamps on letter post items in later years and the total absence of manuscript surcharges on RLS in 1920 and 1928/29 by the company was certainly a contributory factor. The fact that there were only a dozen issues, though, has not led to a convenient simplicity for philatelists. Identification of some of the issues is anything but straightforward.

Over a dozen formerly independent railway companies which had issued their own stamps were added to the GWR fold between 1891 and 1923. Three of these were prior to the ‘Grouping’, in the years 1896-1906. The rest were absorbed into the GWR in two tranches in January 1922 and July 1922. Rather unconventionally, we have interspersed our listing of GWR stamps in places, so as to create a chronology, showing where newly-absorbed companies (and their RLS) fit into the GWR history of expansion.
In order to facilitate a quick check through GWR issues only, these have been listed in dark green text, rather than our usual green.

The Chronology (with dates of acquisitions) :

GWR : Issues 1-3
Pembroke & Tenby Railway (1896)
North Pembroke & Fishguard Railway(1898).
GWR : Issue 4 & 5
Manchester & Milford Railway (1906)
GWR : Issues 6-12
Additions at the Grouping (January & July 1922)
Other Welsh lines at the Grouping that were not transferred to the GWR

Great Western & Great Central Joint Committee Issues


G.W.R. : Issue 1 :
Railway Letter Stamps Great Western Railway 1891
First Issue on Cover. Both the Royal Mail 1d and the RLS have a postal cancel, a Paddington duplex,but there is no indication of the sender's location, which could be anywhere on the GWR network. The stamps do not appear to have been cancelled in any manner by the railway clerk, an unusual omission.
Railway Letter Stamps Great Western Railway 1891

For the first year or two in particular, there are a number of non-standard cancellations found on RLS. They were not infrequently placed at top right of the envelope, rather than the official lower left, resulting in many acquiring postal cancels, as on the cover and the 4th and 5th stamps shown above. The 2nd stamp is 'cancelled' with a routing instruction, something normally written on the envelope where needed. It reads 'Camborne to Truro 9.12.91', both of which are in Cornwall. The 3rd stamp is particularly pleasing in that it has been cancelled with the station handstamp, rare on GWR stamps at this period; it became a little commoner from about the 4th issue onwards. The cancellation appears to read MARY TAVEY / STATION / G.W.RY , an error by the GWR, it seems, as we can find no reference to the village ever being known other than as Mary Tavy.

GWR : 1st Issue :
This issue can be identified by several features, such as the thick, coarse lettering in the upper and lower panels, thicker lines in the four triangles and, most easily where visible, the full stop in front of the word 'FEE'. It is also in a noticeably deeper blue-green than the following issues.

Railway Letter Stamps Great Western Railway 1891 1st issue variety Railway Letter Stamps Great Western Railway 1891 1st issue variety Railway Letter Stamps Great Western Railway 1891 1st issue variety Railway Letter Stamps Great Western Railway 1891 1st issue variety
Four varieties of the 1st Issue, described below.

First Issue : Perf. 12 :
GWR : 2d : Ist Issue (1891) [ . ] [ . ]
- ditto - Diagonal flaw-line between first two pillars at right [ . ] [ . ]
- ditto - frame-line missing and first vertical short bar turned sideways (Posn.5; R1,5) [ . ] [ . ]
- ditto - No Stop before FEE (scarce) [ . ] [ . ]
- ditto - Damaged first 'N' in 'CONVEYANCE' (Posn.49; R9,1) [ . ] [ . ]

There are other varieties on this issue which is poorly produced. The letters 'A' in the top and bottom panels, for example, are often defective.

The second and third printings are difficult to distinguish. There are two small features of the second printing not present in the majority of the third printing, as shown below.

Railway Letter Stamps Great Western Railway 1891 2nd issue variety Railway Letter Stamps Great Western Railway 1891 2nd issue variety
Features of the 2nd Issue

For reasons of clarity that are explained below, we have chosen to describe the stamps from the 2nd and 3rd Issues as Type 2 and Type 3, the above being features of Type 2.

In Type 2, there is a tiny dot towards the top right of the right frame-line; there is also a break in the line under the left downstroke of the 'A' of 'RAILWAY' in the bottom panel. In Type 3, these two flaws are not present. However, when the stone for the 3rd Issue was prepared, it was done by making three impressions at a time, two of which were Type 3 but the third was a Type 2. Due to the final stamp in the sheet then having its Type 3 replaced by a Type 2, the result was a sheet of 60 stamps with 21 Type 2 stamps and 39 Type 3 stamps.

As a consequence, in order to be certain that you have a 2nd Issue stamp, it needs to be in horizontal pair with another Type 2 as well as not being from the bottom right-hand corner of the sheet. However, as most mint stamps are singles and used stamps would never normally be in pairs except by favour, it is normal to make the assumption that, where one or both of the two flaws shown above are visible, the stamp is from the 2nd Issue.

Finally, we have seen a small number of stamps with the dot present at top right but no break below the 'A' of RAILWAY. We currently consider these to be 2nd Issue - but this may not be correct.

G.W.R. : Issue 2 :
Railway Letter Stamps Great Western Railway 1891 2nd issue variety
A 2nd Issue stamp on 1897 cover. Sir T. Fowler apparently lived at Corsham, which is probably the originating station.

Railway Letter Stamps Great Western Railway 1891 2nd issue variety
2nd Issue stamps: Mint; Used with red obliterating lines (and a Crewe Station postal cancel, Aug 27 1893) and (right) used with a violet manuscript cancel 19/4/96 and an Exeter duplex postal cancel of the same date. It is reasonable from this to assume success by the GWR in achieving the purpose of a railway letter stamp and advancing the letter's progress by a day.

Railway Letter Stamps Great Western Railway 1891 2nd issue variety
Second Issue : Perf. 12 :
GWR : 2d : 2nd Issue (1893) [ . ] [ . ]
- ditto - W-dot-A flaw (see scan) [ . ] [ . ]


G.W.R. : Issue 3 :
Railway Letter Stamps Great Western Railway 1891 2nd issue variety
Poorly perforated stamps are common at this period, often preventing an inspection of the lower frame-lines. Above is a mint pair of the 3rd Issue. The dot towards the top right is present on the right-hand stamp only, though hard to see in the scan, identifying thus a Type 3 (at left) in pair with a Type 2. This is therefore a 3rd Issue pair. The stamp on piece is also 3rd Issue, used in 1898.

Third Issue : Perf. 12 :
GWR : 2d : 3rd Issue (1894) [ . ] [ . ]

Between the 3rd and 4th GWR issues, two RLS-issuing railway companies were added to the GWR's growing empire.

The Pembroke & Tenby Railway : Acquired 1896 :

Railway Letter Stamps The Pembroke & Tenby Railway

This railway made only two issues, both in a design similar to the above:

The Pembroke & Tenby Railway :
1891 : 2d Yellowish-Green : Controls 1-1000 [ . ] [ . ]

1893 : 2d Bluish-Green : Controls 1001-2000 [ . ] [ . ]

Jackson (and de Lacy-Spencer) report that only about 500 of the 2nd set were issued, the rest being sold as remainders by the GWR after acquisition.

The North Pembrokeshire & Fishguard Railway : Acquired 1898 :

Railway Letter Stamps The North Pembrokeshire & Fishguard Railway

The stamps were issued in January 1898 and the railway acquired by the GWR in August. Although 200 stamps were printed, they are very scarce and we are uncertain whether any used examples are known.

The North Pembrokeshire & Fishguard Railway :
1898 : 2d Bluish-Green : [ . ] [ ? ]


We now pick up the story of the GWR's issues again.
G.W.R. : Issue 4 :
Railway Letter Stamps The Great Western Railway 4th Issue Saltash Station cancel
GWR 4th Issue 1905 cover Saltash to Saxmundham in Suffolk, redirected to Par Station in Cornwall.

Railway Letter Stamps The Great Western Railway 4th Issue Ewen cover from Adderbury Station
A Ewen cover, philatelic, another example identifying the departure station, something which had become more common by this period. Adderbury was on the line from Banbury to Chipping Norton and Cheltenham, the first station after leaving the Banbury-Oxford main line at King's Sutton.

Railway Letter Stamps The Great Western Railway 4th Issue

This is a revealing small piece of an envelope. Tregaron was on the Aberystwyth-Carmarthen line, which until July 1st 1906 was a line owned and run by the Manchester & Milford Railway (M&MR). For the next five years, the line was operated by the GWR, total ownership only passing to the GWR in 1911. We know that there were plenty of unsold Manchester & Milford RLS but these, it seems, were already out of use, at least at Tregaron, as early as March 1907, as evidenced above. Due to the GWR needing to have precise accounting during the 5-year transition period, during which the M&MR retained a financial interest, it may well have been policy to replace M&MR stamps with GWR issues at an early stage. We return to M&MR stamps a little lower down.
Footnote : Tregaron closed in September 1965 as part of the 'Beeching cuts'.

The 4th Issue is easy to identify by its perforation, Perf 11. It is also in a deeper, more emerald green than the 2nd & 3rd issues.

Railway Letter Stamps The Great Western Railway 4th Issue
Fourth Issue : Perf. 11 :
GWR : 2d : 4th Issue (1899) [ . ] [ . ]
- ditto - Broken base to 'S' in 'SINGLE' [ . ] [ . ]


G.W.R. : Issue 5 :
Railway Letter Stamps The Great Western Railway 5th Issue

This is the hardest GWR stamp to identify. The perforation reverts to 12 and is reported to be a rough perf but we do not think this is true of the whole issue. We believe that it can be distinguished from the 3rd Issue by the more emerald, richer tint and a slightly sharper printing and that the cover above probably bears a 5th Issue stamp - the only example of this stamp that we have encountered. The stamp was listed by Jackson, who referred to it as sourced from the Turner listing. The De Lacy-Spencer catalogue repeats the Jackson (Turner) mention of 'narrow imperf sheet margins'.

The cover above is from 1918 and posted at Cookham, a relatively minor station which could quite conceivably have still been in possession of an issue from perhaps a decade earlier. However, even the date of issue of this stamp is vague, described in all catalogues as 190(?). It is a puzzling stamp.

Fifth Issue : Perf. 12 : See description above :
GWR : 2d : 5th Issue (190?) [ . ] [ . ]

The Manchester & Milford Railway :
We first gave a mention to this impecunious railway a little higher up, describing how its operations were taken over by the GWR in 1906 before being fully absorbed by that railway in 1911. Despite its impressive title, in the end this was just another minor railway company which had once had grand aspirations, based around a plan to create a new through route by combining its own limited track mileage with negotiated running rights over other railways' metals. A glance at the SECOND map on the main Wikipedia page, showing M&MR lines in red, and reveals its rather limited contribution (opens in a new tab).

The M&MR issued three Railway Letter Stamps, in 1891, 1897 and 1905 :
Railway Letter Stamps The Great Western Railway 5th Issue
Left-to-Right: Issues 1, 2 & 3.

These three issues have overlapping control numbers and other means are therefore needed to identify them. The 3rd issue is PERFORATED (Perf. 12), whereas the first two issues are rouletted. The sheet margins of the 2nd issue are much wider than the first issue but there is also a shade difference as shown above. On the rare occasions that one has a dated postmark (as above), anything used before December 1897 will be a 1st issue.

The Manchester & Milford Railway :
1st Issue : 2d : Rouletted, narrow sheet margins : Deep Yellowish-Green : Controls 1-3000 : [ . ] [ . ]

2nd Issue : 2d : Rouletted, wide sheet margins : Dull Yellowish-Green : Controls 1-2000 [ . ] [ . ]

Railway Letter Stamps The Great Western Railway 5th Issue Railway Letter Stamps The Great Western Railway 5th Issue
The 3rd issue was printed in two panes/12, each 2x6, but we have not been able to establish whether the two varieties shown above, which appear on the same stamp from the bottom right-hand corner, occur once or twice per full sheet/24.

3rd Issue : 2d : Perf 12 : Pale Blue-Green : Controls 1992-10000 [ . ] [ . ]
- ditto - damage to top & bottom frame-lines (bottom right corner stamp) [ . ] [ . ]

A further issue was prepared in 1906 for the Manchester & Milford Railway but these stamps were overprinted for the GWR 6th issue, described next, and for the GWR & GCR Joint Railway, described towards the end of the article. So far as we are aware, not a single example of this proposed 4th Manchester & Milford issue has survived unoverprinted.


G.W.R. : Issue 6 :

When the GWR acquired the Manchester & Milford Railway, the M&MR had just ordered 60,000 new RLS. The stamps were overprinted by the GWR either for itself alone or as a partner of the GCR in the Great Western & Great Central Joint Committee (GW&GCJC). There is a detailed listing by control number in Jackson in which he shows 1404 stamps being overprinted for the GW&GCJC in eleven separate printings, the overprint style displaying very minor differences on some printings. We are unsure whether Jackson's count included some assumptions.

This leaves over 58,000 stamps nearly all of which were overprinted, we think in a single print-run, for GWR use. However, the stamps with controls 1-180 were not issued and, whilst the fate of controls 121-180 are believed to be known, that of controls 1-120 appears to be a mystery. Given that controls 121-180 are trial printings, it is quite possible that controls 1-120 were used in earlier, unsuccessful, trial printings and then destroyed. As just mentioned, we know of no example at all of this M&MR stamp without overprint.

GWR : 6th Issue : Trial Overprints : Two types with overprint ABOVE the original text :
Railway Letter Stamps The Great Western Railway 6th Issue Trial Overprint on M&MR Railway Letter Stamps The Great Western Railway 6th Issue Trial Overprint on M&MR

Railway Letter Stamps The Great Western Railway 6th Issue  Hollow Pillar variety

Sixth Issue : 1st Trial Overprint : Black Bars through original text, new text above bars :
GWR (on M&MR) : 2d : Trial Ptg. : MANCHESTER & MILFORD obliterated with a black bar : Controls 121-126 [ . ]
- ditto - Hollow bottom pillar on left side (see detail scan) [ . ]

Sixth Issue : 2nd Trial Overprint : No black bars, new text still placed ABOVE original text + demonetizing vertical line :
GWR (on M&MR) : 2d : 6th Issue (1907) : Trial Printing WITHOUT black bar : Controls 127-180 [ . ]
- ditto - Hollow bottom pillar on left side (see detail scan) [ . ]

We know the hollow pillar variety to exist on the trial printings as visible on stamps with controls 125 and 167 above. This flaw is also present on the regular 6th issue, where we have seen it on #22640 and #56640. There seems no reason to believe that it does not exist on the GW&GCJC issues as well. Based on the control numbers of the stamps that we have seen with this variety, it would appear that it occurs more than once per sheet.

Railway Letter Stamps The Great Western Railway 6th Issue
The pair shown have a slight overprint shift upwards, making the original text partially visible. These are clearly issued stamps, though, since the trial printings are limited to stamps with Controls 121-180 and they also have a vertical demonetizing bar.

Railway Letter Stamps The Great Western Railway 6th Issue  Double Frame-Break variety
Detail from the large scan above : Left stamp with double frame-break below the first 'E' of 'MANCHESTER'.

GWR : Sixth Issue : Overprint ON TOP OF (and obliterating) original text
GWR (on M&MR) 2d : Controls between 181 and 60000 [ . ] [ . ]
- ditto - Hollow bottom left pillar variety [ . ] [ . ]
- ditto - Double frame-break below first E of MANCHESTER [ . ] [ . ]

GWR (on M&MR) 2d : Imperforate Vertically [ . ] [ . ]

Jackson reports stamps from one sheet/60 imperforate vertically, Controls 29701-29760. The scan above of stamp 29906 in this condition suggests that at least two sheets were affected, although if the sheets were in order, that would imply four sheets as a minimum. Many perforating machines can only handle between 4 or 5 sheets at a time and it is possible, based on the two Controls known, that a small batch of sheets, perhaps 5 in number, had missing vertical perforations. However, these stamps are line-perforated, so it is by no means certain that whole sheets were mis-perfed. It may only have been 2 or 3 columns in one small group of sheets where the perforating was omitted. With no reported multiples, much is speculation. What is known is that extremely few of the stamps with this major error appear to have survived.

GWR : 6th Issue Covers :
Railway Letter Stamps The Great Western Railway 6th Issue Railway Letter Stamps The Great Western Railway 6th Issue

Left : A mourning cover sent from Paddington to Wrexham and cancelled on a very early date for this issue, Nov. 6 1907. De Lacy-Spencer gives the issue date as some time in this month.
Right : A Ewen cover designed to show the departure station, here Aberystwyth, somewhat ironic as the letter would probably have travelled over former Manchester & Midland Railway metals on departure, bearing one of that railway's former stamps, albeit unissued in that form.

G.W.R. : Issue 7 :
Railway Letter Stamps The Great Western Railway 7th Issue Railway Letter Stamps The Great Western Railway 7th Issue
The cover is unusual in that there is no postal marking. It was probably posted at some point but not cancelled by Royal Mail. However, the Peerless Hotel was less than half a mile from Tenby Station, so it is possible that it made its whole journey by train and was either collected by the addressee or, just possibly, delivered to the hotel by one of the station staff.

For the 7th and 8th Issues, the GWR continued its use of Control Numbers, first introduced with the 6th Issue. Quantities issued are large, 6000 for the 7th Issue, nearly 5000 for the 8th issue, yet they seem surprisingly scarce compared to earlier issues with similarly large print-runs.

GWR : Seventh Issue :
GWR 2d : Controls 60001-120000 [ . ] [ . ]

G.W.R. : Issue 8 :
Railway Letter Stamps The Great Western Railway 8th Issue Railway Letter Stamps The Great Western Railway 8th Issue

The 1912 cover, addressed to Kilkenny in Ireland, correctly bears the internal Royal Mail letter rate of 1d as would continue to be the case until Irish Independence in 1922. The GWR stamp has a Bristol cancellation dated March 6th; the Royal Mail stamp shows the letter had been received in Kilkenny by the following afternoon; times of yore!

The RLS on the cover has a GWR Bristol cancellation. The stamp scanned alongside has a Cardiff cancel.

GWR : Eighth Issue :
GWR 2d : Controls 120001-169873 *[ . ] [ . ]

* Jackson reports the highest known control on this issue to be 163260, whilst the later de Lacy-Spencer catalogue reports #169873. Assuming complete sheets/60, this would indicate controls at least up to #169920 (2832 sheets/60, an unlikley print-run, suggesting higher numbers once existed - and may still do so).


G.W.R. : Issue 9 :
The Ninth Issue is the only 2d value WITHOUT Control Number but WITH a solid background to the shield bearing the value. (Of the 2d values, Issues 1-5 have a shaded background; Issue 6 is the overprinted M&MR stamp; Issues 7 & 8 have a solid background but carry controls).

Railway Letter Stamps The Great Western Railway 9th Issue
On the small piece, both stamps are cancelled by GWR PADDINGTON cancellation. Note that the inland rate is now 1½d, raised from 1d on June 3rd 1918. However, the RLS rate will remain at 2d for another 18 months.

A table of Royal Mail tariffs may be found here (opens in a new tab) For those not familar with 'oz', this is short for ounce(s), 1 oz = 25.4 gms. For the currency, most will be aware that, pre-1971, there were 12 pence (pence written as 'd') to one shilling ('s') and 20 shillings (20/-) to the £.

GWR : Ninth Issue : Solid Background to Shield AND Without Control :
GWR 2d : as described above : [ . ] [ . ]


G.W.R. : Issue 10 :
Railway Letter Stamps The Great Western Railway 8th Issue

The stone used for the final 2d Issue was used for the 3d, with the figure '2' being removed and a '3' substituted. Most stamps show some remnants of the figure '2' at the top of the shield as is clearly visible in the scan above. Both stamps display an arc (remnants of the '2') above the figure '3'.

GWR : Tenth Issue : 3d :
GWR 3d : [ . ] [ . ]
- ditto - Stamp with a manuscript control number [ . ] [ . ]
- ditto - Imperforate Vertically [ . ] [ . ]

We have not seen either of the varieties and do not know whether they have been reported mint and/or used.


G.W.R. : Issue 11 & 12 : General Introduction :
The 11th and 12th Issues are both denominated 4d and Jackson describes them as 'Light Green' and 'Deep Green' respectively. Although we are not convinced that the shade is a wholly reliable differentiator, we think it may in fact be at least as valuable an identifying tool as others put forward.

In similar manner to the previous (3d) issue, the 11th Issue is produced by removing the 3d and replacing it with 4d. According to long-established wisdom on these issues, some stamps of the 11th Issue still show traces of the figure '2' and/or have damage to the left side to the shield. The theory continues that the 12th Issue has no trace of the figure '2' remaining and an undamaged shield. We have had a limited number of stamps to examine but such evidence as we have does not sit happily with this hypothesis.

We do not know whether Jackson, or others, may have had access to a complete sheet of the 12th Issue. It seems quite unlikely as they are scarce stamps. Having examined about a dozen 4d stamps, far fewer than we would like, on balance we do not think that the 12th printing is devoid of remnants of the figure '2', nor do we think the damaged shield is much help either. We feel obliged, in the end, to list them only by shade but we have provided larger scans of the tops of the shields immediately below the full stamps that are shown.

11th Issue :
Railway Letter Stamps The Great Western Railway 11th Issue
Above: Three 4d stamps : Below : The same three stamps with tops of shields shown larger.
Railway Letter Stamps The Great Western Railway 4d Issue
These two scans, taken at the same time on the same scanner, illustrate well the problem of scanners and colours. The detail (lower) scan is closer to the true colour. Note that the middle stamp of the three has the remains of the '2' impinging on the green field above the shield. The gum on the mint stamps is white, which may perhaps be a key indicator.

GWR : Eleventh Issue : 4d : 1920 : See description above :
GWR 4d : Bright (slightly yellowish) Green [ . ] [ . ]
- ditto - with manuscript Control [ ? ] [ . ]


12th Issue :
Railway Letter Stamps The Great Western Railway 12th Issue
As in the previous issue, we show the full stamps above and the tops of their shields enlarged below.
Railway Letter Stamps The Great Western Railway 4d Issue Railway Letter Stamps The Great Western Railway 4d Issue
The remnants of the figure '2' are visible on two of the three stamps but we believe all these stamps to be 12th Issue nonetheless. The cancellation was applied at Paddington in February 1925. The mint stamps have yellowish gum.

GWR : Twelfth Issue : 4d : 1920s (date unknown) : See description above :
GWR 4d : Dull (slightly bluish) Green [ . ] [ . ]

We are quite unsatisfied with this coverage of the 11th and 12th issues. Our view of them may be revised dramatically, should we encounter more examples to study in detail or some useful reader input.

Railway Letter Stamps The Great Western Railway 4d Issue

The 11th issue appeared in 1920; the 12th issue date is unknown, other than at some point in the 1920s. The cover above bears a 4d in a dull grey-green colour which is perhaps slightly closer to the 12th issue shade than the 11th. It was posted in November 1921 and could be from either printing although the 11th issue is perhaps a more likely candidate, if based on dates alone.

Railway Letter Stamps The Great Western Railway 4d Issue
A note accompanying this cover bearing a GWR Newspaper Stamp stated that it was damaged in the London Blitz in 1942, although this cannot be proven.

As mentioned in the introduction, towards the end of the 1920s, in the face of diminishing use of the Railway Letter service at a time of rapid rate changes, the GWR chose to dispense with the trouble of printing RLS in a new denomination and turned to using available alternatives, as in the scan above.

For a few years, Newspaper Stamps were employed but these in turn were largely replaced from around 1934 by Parcel Post stamps. We have found nothing to indicate that Royal Mail took exception to this practice - in sharp contrast to their meticulous care over the wording to be applied to railway letter stamps at the time of the 1891 Agreement and their rapid enforcement of that rule when the North Eastern Railway stepped out of line. By the 1930s, letter mail whose journey started in the offices of railway companies would have been such an infinitesimal portion of the Royal Mail's business that chasing aberrant railway companies was either deemed not worthwhile or perhaps even went largely un-noticed.

Whilst larger centres would have needed to use Newspaper, and later Parcels, stamps within a short time of central supplies of the RLS becoming exhausted, it is possible that some stations, especially those handling very little mail, may still have had a a few RLS available for many years longer. However, we have not seen a later RLS cover that would confirm this but, equally, it is not something for which we have actively searched.

Nationalisation at the start of 1948 did not bring an immediate end to the sight of GWR stamps on letters, with GWR Parcel Post stamps still appearing on mail until the mid-1950s. Railway Letter Post mail bearing Newspaper or Parcel Post stamps is both interesting and very collectible, but it is outside the scope of this article.


Railway Companies absorbed by the GWR at the Grouping 1922/23 :
We look in this section at the railway companies acquired by the GWR during 1922, preparatory for full absorption into the GWR on January 1st 1923. After the First World War, in which the railways had been taken over by the Goverment and worked to exhaustion with only the minimum investment and renewals, many railways were close to financial ruin. The Government's chosen path of unifying the hundreds of railway companies, large and small, into the 'Big Four' new companies affected the GWR the least. Uniquely among the four, the GWR was more 'expanded' than 'founded'. The other three companies were each an amalgam of two or more major enterprises along with the myriad of smaller companies, whereas the GWR dwarfed all the railways added to its network and, consequently, there was little compromise in working practices on the GWR with the workforce of the newcomers being quickly trained to do things 'the GWR way'.

We have not always been able to provide as many scans as would be ideal for the stamps of these 1922 acquisitions. It should be borne in mind that our listing of railways acquired is limited to those that had issued Railway Letter Stamps. There were many more railways added to the GWR empire that had never signed the 1891 Agreement.

Below, we have provided dates of the first and last stamps issued by each company subsumed by the GWR. Where the company changed its name significantly, the first and last dates for stamps under each name are given. Note that current issues of each company's stamps would have remained in use until at least 1922.

Barry Dock & Railways (1891-1894), Barry Railway (1894-1920) acquired January 1922
Brecon & Merthyr Railway (1891-1920) acquired July 1922
Cambrian Railways (1891-1920) acquired January 1922
Midland & South Western Junction Railway acquired July 1923
Neath & Brecon Railway (1891-1922) acquired July 1922
Port Talbot Railway & Docks Co. (1901-1920) acquired January 1922
Rhondda & Swansea Bay Railway (1891-1920) acquired January 1922 (or May 1922 according to one source)
Rhymney Railway (1891-1920) acquired January/March 1922
Severn & Wye and Severn Bridge Railway (1891), Severn & Wye Joint Railway (1895-1910s) **
Taff Vale Railway (1891-1922) acquired January 1922

** Not technically a GWR acquisition, this was a Joint Railway with the LMS, but operated principally by the GWR.


Barry Dock & Railways (1891-1894), Barry Railway (1894-1920)

Map Barry Docks & Railway AND Taff Vale Railway
The Barry Railway (lines shown in Yellow-Brown) had an extensive track mileage in South Wales with some local competition from the Taff Vale Railway, shown in Grey-Green. Part of the GWR main line westwards from Cardiff is shown in Yellow towards the top of the map. The one pink line, north from Cardiff, is the Rhymney Railway and the blue lines are the Cardiff Docks network.

Railway Letter Stamps Barry Docks & Railway Railway Letter Stamps Barry Railway
Image of cover from Grosvenor Auctions April 2021 sale.

Only the First Issue of 1891 was inscribed BARRY DOCK / AND RAILWAY and had Controls 1-500. Other than a mint strip of three in the British Museum, there is, according to de Lacy-Spencer, just one other example of the stamp recorded, on a cover. We do not know whether this is the same (known) cover as shown above, which sold for £806 inclusive of buyer's premium in the Grosvenor 2021 sale.

There followed 14 different 2d issues, the first few very rare, all identificable by Control Numbers. In 1920 there were three final issues in quick succession in response to rate changes, a 3d, a '4' surcharge on 3d and a 4d value, 18 issues in all, the last 17 all being inscribed simply BARRY / RAILWAY.

Barry Dock & Railways :
2d : Controls 1-500 [ . ] [ . ]

Barry Railway :
2d : Controls 501-1000 [ . ] [ . ]
2d : Controls 1001-1600 [ . ] [ . ]
2d : Controls 1601-2800 [ . ] [ . ]
2d : Controls 2801-4000 [ . ] [ . ]
2d : Controls 4001-6400 [ . ] [ . ]
2d : Controls 6401-8800 [ . ] [ . ]
2d : Controls 8801-13800 [ . ] [ . ]
2d : Controls 13801-18800 [ . ] [ . ]
2d : Controls 18801-20804 [ . ] [ . ]
2d : Controls 20805-22804 [ . ] [ . ]
2d : Controls ? ? - 30800 [ . ] [ . ]
2d : Controls 30801-34000 [ . ] [ . ]
2d : Controls 34401-38000 [ . ] [ . ]

3d : Controls 1-432 known [ . ] [ . ]

4d/3d : Purple handstamp '4' [ . ] [ . ]
- ditto - Black handstamp '4' [ . ] [ .]

4d : Controls 1-324 known [ . ] [ . ]

Brecon & Merthyr Railway (1891-1920)

Railway Map Heads of the Valleys, Wales
Above Cardiff were the South Wales Coalfields, a series of steep-sided north-south valleys where the 'black gold' was mined, much of it being shipped worldwide from South Wales ports. Railways vied with each other for a share in the transport profits of this valuable mineral, resulting in a plethora of small railways.

The map shows a number of railways covered in this article, the Brecon & Merthyr Railway shown in Blue (or blue-and-red combined where it shared a line into Merthyr with the LNWR); The Rhymney Railway in pink; the Taff Vale Railway in Green and, in Yellow, various lines of the GWR.

Unlike many areas of Britain, small railways could prosper in such an environment and many were still profitable enterprises when the railway 'Grouping' took place in 1922. The LNWR had one valley line but also owned the so-called 'Heads of the Valleys' line, connecting many of these coalfield railways.

Railway Letter Stamps Brecon and Merthyr Railway Railway Letter Stamps Brecon and Merthyr Railway
Brecon & Merthyr Railway :
2d : Dull Green / bluish [ . ] [ . ]

2d : Bright Green [ . ] [ . ]

3d / 2d : Bright Green (black manuscript surcharge) [ . ] [ . ]

4d / 2d Green (Stencil figure '4' in black) [ . ] [ . ]

Cambrian Railways (1891-1920)

With the exception of the last 2d, the 3d and the 4d, the Cambrian Railways had an idiosyncratic RLS design, correct textually but only mimicking in some respects the approved format. Some of the issues are hard to distinguish and we therefore display all ten issues in a single scan below, in order.

Railway Letter Stamps Cambrian Railways The 10 issues

Issues 1 and 2 have a white spot in the centre of the figure '2'. The 1st issue is wide-spaced all round, whilst the 2nd issue has the rows of stamps close together, hard to prove without a vertical pair but one is probably shown in our scan.

Issues 3 and 4 are very similar and we are unsure if we have placed them in the right order, or indeed whether we have shown Issue 3 at all, or two examples of Issue 4. Issue 3 is said to be Dark Green on white paper, whereas Issue 4 is Yellow-green to Green on a more cream-coloured paper. However, toning of the paper makes identification by paper colour much more difficult over time. A feature of both Issue 3 and Issue 4 is that the tail of the figure '2' ends in a sharp point, as in Issues 1 and 2.

Issue 5 : Most stamps of this issue have a BLUNT end to the tail of the figure '2' but we look at this in more detail below.

Issues 6 and 7 are still in the idiosyncratic design but in a Rich Dark Bluish-Green. Issue 6 is Perf 12 and seems much scarcer than the Perf 11 stamps that are Issue 7. Both stamps in our scan show a blemish in the figure '2' towards the upper right of the figure. We have seen a complete sheet/12 of Issue 7 and this flaw only occurs in Position 12 (lower right corner). We suspect the same will be true of Issue 6 but have no information to prove this.

Issues 8, 9 and 10 are a 2d, 3d and 4d in conventional RLS format.

Cambrian Railways stamps are in sheets/12 arranged 3 rows of 4, except Issues 6 & 7, arranged 4 rows of 3.
Railway Letter Stamps Cambrian Railways 1st issue variety
'Open Frame' at north-east corner on right marginal stamps. We have established this as being present for the 1st printing and absent by the 5th printing. As a New Die was used for the 3rd and 4th Issues, the variety is unlikely to occur there. By contrast, it is very plausible for the variety to be present on the 2nd Issue, but we have not been able to verify this.

1st Issue : 2d : Spot in'2', wide spacing between rows [ . ] [ . ]
- ditto - Broken (open) frame at NE corner (right marginal positions R1,4; R2,4; R3,4) [ . ] [ . ]

2nd Issue : 2d : Spot in'2', narrow spacing between rows [ . ] [ . ]

3rd Issue : 2d : Spot removed, pointed end to '2' - Dark Green (see notes above) [ . ] [ . ]
4th Issue : 2d : Spot removed, pointed end to '2' - Yellow-Green to Green (see notes above) [ . ] [ . ]

Railway Letter Stamps Cambrian Railways 5th issue

Railway Letter Stamps Cambrian Railways 5th issue

Railway Letter Stamps Cambrian Railways 5th issue
The scans above are from a 5th issue complete sheet/12, in order, positions 1-4, 5-8, 9-12.

Whereas the end of the tail of the '2' on all the stamps of the first four issues ends in an almost sharp point and leaning very slightly to the left of the vertical, the tails of the figures '2' in the 5th issue are mostly blunt, but there are varieties within the sheet/12 as evident in the scans above.

5th Issue : 2d : Blunt end to '2' [ . ] [ . ]
- ditto - Hammerhead tail-end to '2' (Posn. 1) [ . ] [ . ]
- ditto - Flattened End but not 'hammerhead' (Posns 4 & 12) [ . ] [ . ]
- ditto - Sharp end pointing to the north-west (Posns. 3 & 5) [ . ] [ . ]
- ditto - Long thin vertical line at end (Posn. 8) [ . ] [ . ]
- ditto - Short thin vertical line at end (Posn. 9) [ . ] [ . ]

Issues 6 & 7 are both in a Deep Green and very distinctly different from the Yellow-Green of Issues 1-5.

6th Issue : 2d : Deep Bluish-Green : Perf 12 [ . ] [ . ]

7th Issue : 2d : Deep Bluish-Green : Perf 11 [ . ] [ . ]

Design now more standardised :

Railway Letter Stamps Cambrian Railways 5th issue Railway Letter Stamps Cambrian Railways 5th issue
We show the offset for interest but we do not usually list offsets amongst varieties.

8th Issue : 2d : Deep Bluish-Green [ . ] [ . ]
- ditto - Damaged 'O' and long scratches (see scan above) [ . ] [ . ]

All the 8th Issue 2d stamps have a flaw below the 'AI' of 'RAILWAYS' and frame breaks below the 'RIAN' of 'CAMBRIAN' and these are not therefore listed as varieties.

9th Issue : 3d : Deep Bluish-Green [ . ] [ . ]
- ditto - Major outer frame-line damage at right middle [ . ] [ . ]

This variety is present on the 3d of the scan above showing all 12 Cambrian issues.

10th Issue : 4d : Deep Bluish-Green [ . ] [ . ]
This final official issue is produced to a far higher quality than most of the other Cambrian Railways stamps.

Railway Letter Stamps Cambrian Railways cover Railway Letter Stamps Cambrian Railways cover
An 1896 1st Issue Cambrian stamp on cover, sent from Bettisfield on the Oswestry-Whitchurch line, closed in 1965. Alongside, detail from a 1926 cover, with manuscript change of railway name to 'Gt. Western'. See below next scan for further comment.

Railway Letter Stamps Cambrian Railways cover
A Wilson cover from Frankton, which, like Bettisfield, was on the Oswestry-Whitchurch line.

Jackson lists three local provisionals with name alteration to the Great Western Railway on Cambrian Railways stamps. To these, we have added one more, the manuscript overprint 'Gt Western', which is illustrated alongside the Bettisfield cover above. This practice of 'Great-Westernising' other companies' stamps seems to be limited to RLS of the Cambrian Railways.

The listing we provide below can only be a sample of many possible individualistic types of amendment of company name. We have only provided one check-box for used; mint examples seem unlikely - but not impossible.

4d Cambrian Railways 10th issue, CAMBRIAN crossed out and G.W.R. written above, in Red Ink. [ . ]

4d Cambrian Railways 10th issue, Great Western over CAMBRIAN and S of RAILWAYS crossed out, all in Black Ink [ . ]
- ditto - but Gt Western (for Great Western) and 'S' of RAILWAYS not crossed out (not in Jackson) [ . ]

4d Cambrian Railways 10th issue, CAMBRIAN overprinted with the G.W.R. portion of a rectangular handstamp [ . ]


Here, we briefly interrupt this flow of Welsh lines into the waiting arms of Paddington to show the only RLS-issuing English railway to be assigned to the GWR at the 'Grouping'.

Midland & South Western Junction Railway (1891-1920)

The line ran between Cheltenham and Andover with connections to Midland Railway (MR) tracks at the Cheltenham end and with the London & South-Western Railway (L&SWR) at the southern end. In independent days, running as it did straight across the heart of GWR territory in England, the line was seen favourably by the MR and the L&SWR as a means of sending freight in particular, but passengers too, from the Midlands to the Southampton area without being at the mercy of the GWR, who often set up obstacles.

Had it not been for the vested interest of the MR and L&SWR in the railway, the financial difficulty in which the Midland & South Western Junction Railway found itself in the 1890s might well have proved terminal. It survived and proved to be extremely valuable to the country in both world wars but it was always vulnerable to the financial reality of its very rural nature and almost all of the line closed in the early 1960s. Unsurprisingly in such a thinly populated area, used stamps from this railway are very scarce. Indeed, we are not sure that a used 4d has ever been reported.

Railway Letter Stamps Midland & South Western Junction Railway Railway Letter Stamps Midland & South Western Junction Railway

1st Issue : 2d Green [ . ] [ . ]

2nd Issue : 4d Green [ . ] [ ? ]

Neath & Brecon Railway (1891-1922)

The railway produced eleven stamp issues, of which the first eight were 2d values. The printing quantities are very small for every issue. The last three issues all seem to be very scarce and they may not all exist in both mint and used condition.

Railway Letter Stamps Neath and Brecon Railway Railway Letter Stamps Neath and Brecon Railway

Transfer I : Inscription 'NEATH AND BRECON' occupies the full width of the upper tablet :
1st Issue : 2d Green [ . ] [ . ]

Transfer II : NEATH AND BRECON with width as shown in scans above.
2nd Issue : 2d Yellow-Green Perf 11½ [ . ] [ . ]
3rd Issue : 2d Blue-Green Perf 11½ [ . ] [ . ]

4th Issue : 2d Dark Green Perf 11 [ . ]
5th Issue : 2d Black-Green Rouletted [ . ]

6th Issue : 2d Yellow-Green : Controls 001-144 [ . ] [ . ]
7th Issue : 2d Deep Green : Controls 145-288 [ . ] [ . ]
8th Issue : 2d Dull Green : Controls 289-432 [ . ] [ . ]

Transfer III : Full Stop after the word 'BRECON.'
9th Issue : 3d Green : Controls 000-149[ . ] [ . ]

10th Issue : 4(d) / 3d : Manuscript '4' in Black Ink (possibly only one known ??) [ . ] [ . ]

11th issue : 4d Blue-Green : Controls 001-200 [ . ] [ . ]

Port Talbot Railway & Docks Co. (1901-1920)

The GWR had been operating the passenger trains on the Port Talbot system since 1907 and it was this relationship that led to the unusual arrangement of GWR RLS being overprinted for another railway. This occurred from an unknown date in the 1910-1920 decade up to the final new issue in 1920. Unlike other acquisitions in 1922, the Port Talbot Railway & Docks Company appears to have been added to the GWR empire as a subsidiary company.

Railway Letter Stamps Port Talbot Railway and Docks Company Railway Letter Stamps Port Talbot Railway and Docks Company Railway Letter Stamps Port Talbot Railway and Docks Company
The 1st, 2nd and 6th Issues. Only the 1st Issue was not an overprint on a GWR stamp.

Railway Letter Stamps Port Talbot Railway and Docks Company 3d/2d Railway Letter Stamps Port Talbot Railway and Docks Company 4d/3d Railway Letter Stamps Port Talbot Railway and Docks Company 4d/3d
Some examples of manuscript surcharges from this railway.

1st Issue : 2d : Pale Bluish-Green : Controls 1-500 [ . ] [ . ]

G.W.R. Stamps overprinted PORT TALBOT RLY / AND DOCKS CO. (or Co.) in RED : Font Sizes Vary.
2nd Issue : 2d : Bluish-Green : Controls 167461-167700 [ . ] [ . ]

3rd Issue : 3(d) / 2d : Manuscript surcharge '3' in Black Ink on 2nd Issue [ . ] [ . ]

4th Issue : 3d : Bluish-Green [ . ] [ . ]

5th Issue : 4(d) / 3d : Manuscript surcharge '4' in Black Ink [ . ] [ . ]
- ditto - surcharge in Red Ink [ . ] [ . ]
- ditto - surcharge in Blue Ink (seen on a Wilson Cover) [ ? ] [ . ]

6th Issue : 4d : Green [ . ] [ . ]

The map below shows part of this railway's network as well as most of the network of the R&SBR which now follows.

Rhondda & Swansea Bay Railway (R&SBR, 1891-1920)

Map Port Talbot & Docks Railway AND Rhondda & Swansea Bay Railway
The burgundy-coloured lines are part of the Port Talbot & Docks Railways, whilst the violet lines show almost all the network of the Rhondda & Swansea Bay Railway. The GWR lines are in yellow, whilst the red lines at the extreme left are part of the LNWR network.

With the GWR looking to strengthen its position in South Wales, the R&SBR agreed to the entire operation of this railway being transferred to the GWR in 1906. The R&SBR remained the owners and their leasing terms with the GWR provided healthy profits in return for little work and almost no risk. New stamp issues continued to bear the R&SBR name until the Railway was absorbed into the GWR at the 'Grouping'.

Railway Letter Stamps Rhondda & Swansea Bay Railway Railway Letter Stamps Rhondda & Swansea Bay Railway

1st Issue : 2d Blue-Green WITHOUT Control Number [ . ] [ . ]

2nd Issue : 2d Blue-Green WITH Control Number (1-1224 reportedly issued) : Perf 10 [ . ] [ . ]

3rd Issue : 2d Blue-Green WITH Control Number (1081-3300) : Perf 11 [ . ] [ . ]
- ditto - Manuscript letter 'A' to right of Control Number [ . ] [ . ]

4th Issue : 3(d) / 2d : Stamp of 3rd Issue with figure '3' stencilled in purple [ . ] [ . ]

5th Issue : 4(d) / 2d : Stamp of 3rd Issue with figure '4'
stencilled in purple [ . ] [ . ]

Railway Letter Stamps Rhondda & Swansea Bay Railway
A low quality scan from Grosvenor's de Lacy-Spencer sale, showing a 1922 Wilson cover with a MANUSCRIPT surcharge, 4D/2d. Curiously, this is not catalogued, nor even footnoted, by de Lacy-Spencer but it is listed in Jackson who states 'only one known', with Control 3105. The scan above shows Control 3106, so doubling now the known quantity with manuscript surcharge.

Further Issue : 4D / 2d : Stamp of 3rd Issue surcharged '4D' in in manuscript in black ink [ . ] [ . ]

Rhymney Railway (1891-1920)

This was an important and often profitable railway with a complex history of joint operations and traffic agreements. Wikipedia provides a lengthy overview of how this railway's operations dovetailed with other Welsh lines, accessible here (opens in a new tab) .

Railway Letter Stamps Rhymney Railway 2d Ist Issue cover
Railway Letter Stamps Rhymney Railway 2d Railway Letter Stamps Rhymney Railway 3d
Both 2d images show 1st Issue Rhymney stamps (of 1891); the 2nd issue did not appear until 1903.

Jackson reports that the Control Numbers of the Ist Issue have straight bars to the figures '2' and '7', whereas these are curved on the 2nd Issue. 2nd Issue controls are also slightly larger. We show below two stamps which include the figure '2' which confirm the indentification of the two styles of '2' in the control numbers, although this is hard to see clearly in the scans.

Railway Letter Stamps Rhymney Railway First Issue -  Straight '2' Railway Letter Stamps Rhymney Railway Second Issue - Curved '2' Railway Letter Stamps Rhymney Railway First Issue -  Straight '2'-detail Railway Letter Stamps Rhymney Railway Second Issue - Curved '2'
1st Issue (scan 1 & detail in scan 3) and 2nd Issue (scan 2 & detail in scan 4) : Different figures '2' in the control.

1st Issue : 2d Dark Olive-Green or Dark Yellow-Green : Controls 1-3000 [ . ] [ . ]

2nd Issue : 2d Dark Green : Controls 1-3000 [ . ] [ . ]

3rd Issue : 3d Blue-Green : Controls 1-1200 [ . ] [ . ]

4th Issue : 4(d) / 3d : Manuscript surcharge '4' in Red pencil [ . ] [ . ]
- ditto - surcharge in Blue pencil [ . ] [ . ]

4th issue : 4(d) / 3d : Manuscript surcharge in Red Ink [ . ] [ . ]
- ditto - in Black Ink [ . ] [ . ]

5th Issue : 4(d) / 3d : Handstamped '4' in Blue [ . ] [ . ]

Only tiny quantities of all the 4d provisionals exist and it seems very unlikely that both mint and used examples will have survived in the majority of cases.

Severn & Wye and Severn Bridge Railway (1891), Severn & Wye Joint Railway (1895-1910s)

Map Severn & Wye and Severn Bridge Railway
The Joint Railway is shown in deep red on this map. Passing through the thinly-populated Forest of Dean, its main focus was more on freight than passenger income. Part of the line has reopened as a heritage railway from Lydney to Park End with proposals for an expansion to Cinderford.

There was just a single issue under the original title and a further three issues for the Joint company. The joint railway was LMS & GWR, the LMS holding the higher capital value in this largely unprofitable railway after the Grouping.

Railway Letter Stamps Severn & Wye and Severn Bridge Railway Railway Letter Stamps Severn & Wye Joint Railway
Left to Right : 1st, 4th and 3rd issues.

Severn & Wye and Severn Bridge Railway
1st issue : 2d Green (shades) [ . ] [ . ]

Severn & Wye Joint Railway
2nd Issue : 2d Dark Green : Perf 11½ RAILWAY and FEE close-spaced [ . ] [ . ]

3rd Issue : 2d Olive-Green : Perf 11 : White paper [ . ] [ . ]
4th Issue : 2d Olive-Green : Perf 11 : Buff Paper, brownish gum [ . ] [ . ]

In the 3rd and 4th issues, the words RAILWAY and FEE are widely spaced, as in the scans above.

Taff Vale Railway (1891-1922)

Maps : Parts of this railway are shown higher up on two maps, one in the Barry Railway section, the other the 'Heads of the Valleys' map which heads the listing for the Brecon & Merthyr Railway.

Despite having a railway letter service from 1891 to 1922, the Taff Vale made just two printings of its 2d stamp, which sufficed up to 1920. There followed two years of haphazard handstamping and surcharging in manuscript, all on the 2nd Issue.

Railway Letter Stamps Taff Vale Railway
Railway Letter Stamps Taff Vale Railway

Taff Vale Railway
1st issue : 2d Dull Green : Controls 1-5000 [ . ] [ . ]
2nd issue : 2d Dull Green : Controls 5001-10000 [ . ] [ . ]

3rd issue : Handstamped '3' (colour and height of '3' given)
3(d) / 2d Dull Green : h/st Purple; diameter 15 mms [ . ] [ . ]
3(d) / 2d Dull Green : h/st Purple; diameter 19 mms [ . ] [ . ]
3(d) / 2d Dull Green : h/st Black; diameter 19 mms [ . ] [ . ]

4th Issue : Surcharge '4' applied in various ways, both on 3(d)/2d and on 2d stamps :
4(d) / 3(d) / 2d Dull Green : Surcharge in manuscript in RED (over Purple 19mm '3') [ . ] [ . ]
- ditto but in BLACK manuscript [ . ] [ . ]

4(d) / 3(d) / 2d Dull Green : HANDSTAMPED in VIOLET (over Purple 19mm '3' - right-hand scan above) [ . ] [ . ]

4(d) / 2d : Dull Green : Handstamped in BLACK (15 mms high) [ . ] [ . ]
4(d) / 2d : Dull Green : Handstamped in PURPLE (16 mms high) [ . ] [ . ]
4(d) / 2d : Dull Green : Handstamped in RED (19 mms high) [ . ] [ . ]

4(d) / 2d : Dull Green : Handstamped with WIDE FIGURE '4' in Purple (15 mms high) [ . ] [ . ]

This Wide Figure '4' handstamp is illustrated in a block/8 above (from the Grosvenor Auction). Although we have given check boxes for all the above both mint and used, many will not exist in both states. Occasionally, Jackson quotes the quantity known as just ONE, although more examples of some issues have come to light in the 50 years since Jackson's catalogue appeared.


Other Welsh lines at the Grouping that were not transferred to the GWR.
No mention has been made so far of the narrow-gauge railways of Wales, as they mostly remained independent throughout their existence; a large number are successful heritage lines today. One line, though, the Vale of Rheidol Railway was acquired by the Cambrian Railways in 1912 and thus became part of the GWR empire at the 'Grouping' in 1922. It continued into British Railways ownership in 1948 and was only (re-)privatised in 1989. The Vale of Rheidol was an RLS-issuing railway but only from 1970-1985 under British Railways. Its stamps are essentially philatelic, albeit valid for postage, and outside the scope of this article but a listing may be found in the Railway Philatelic Group's catalogue of 'modern' RLS.

Of standard-gauge lines, there were four companies with a Welsh connection which had issued RLS at some point and which escaped the clutches of the GWR. We look at these next.

Central Wales & Carmarthen Junction Railway (1891)
This railway was transferred into London & North-Western Railway ownership in 1891, the stamps therefore having a very short life. At the Grouping, it became part of the LMS empire, a long line through the centre of 'GWR territory'. It survived the Beeching cuts under British Railways ownership and the line today is a rare rural survivor, now marketed as the 'Heart of Wales' line.

Railway Letter Stamps Central Wales & Carmarthen Junction Railway

Central Wales & Carmarthen Junction Railway
1st issue : 2d Green : Controls 1-105+ [ . ] [ . ]

Jackson and de Lacy-Spencer both report that only one copy is known of this stamp, Jackson suggesting 120 (or more) were printed, de Lacy-Spencer quoting 105 as the known print run, presumably based on Jackson's listing the only known stamp as having the Control 105. It was on a cover. The scan above is again from the Grosvenor sale and shows a loose stamp with Control Number 3. This now puts the known number surviving from this railway at two stamps. It (#3) sold in April 2020 for £1302 including buyer's premium.

North Wales & Liverpool Railway Committee (1896-1899)
This was a short lived joint operation from 1896 to 1904, when it became part of the Great Central Railway. The GCR itself only survived until 1922 when it became part of the London & North-Eastern Railway network.

Railway Letter Stamps North Wales & Liverpool Railway Committee

North Wales & Liverpool Railway Committee
1st issue : 2d : Deep Green [ . ] [ . ]
2nd issue : 2d : Bluish-Green [ . ] [ . ]
3rd issue : 2d : Greyish-Green [ . ] [ . ]

Shropshire & Montgomeryshire Railway (1914-1940)
This railway was part of Colonel Stephen's run-on-a-shoestring empire, comprising mainly rural railways that were mostly impecunious throughout their lives. His cost-saving, minimalist culture kept many of these lines going much longer than they would otherwise have survived. The Kent & East Sussex heritage railway today, for example, almost certainly owes its continuing existence to Colonel's Stephen's ability to keep the line running long enough to pass into British Railways' portfolio at nationalization.

Almost all of this railway was on the English side of the border and we, therefore, provide just a few scans below, rather than a listing. Railway Letter Stamps Shropshire & Montgomeryshire Railway
Railway Letter Stamps Shropshire & Montgomeryshire Railway
The four stamps are from the Grosvenor sale and sold for between £62 and £99 each inclusive of buyers' premium.

Wrexham, Mold & Connah’s Quay Railway (1891-1905)
Similar to the North Wales & Liverpool Railway Committee, this railway became part of the Great Central Railway and in turn was absorbed into the London & North-Eastern Railway network at the 'Grouping'.

Railway Letter Stamps Wrexham, Mold & Connah’s Quay Railway Railway Letter Stamps Wrexham, Mold & Connah’s Quay Railway Railway Letter Stamps Wrexham, Mold & Connah’s Quay Railway
The detail scans are taken from the stamps shown in full alongside.

Wrexham, Mold & Connah’s Quay Railway
1st issue : 2d : Yellowish-Green : Controls 1-1000 [ . ] [ . ]
- ditto - Broken top to 'O' in 'CONNAH' [ . ] [ . ]

2nd issue : 2d : Green : Controls 1001-3000 [ . ] [ . ] ***
- ditto - Broken top to 'O' in 'CONNAH' [ . ] [ . ] ***
In the 1st issue, the number of stamps with the broken 'O' seem quite numerous, perhaps even equal in number to those with the 'O' intact. We have not been able to verify that both types exist for the 2nd printing but we have listed them provisionally.

Jackson reports that the 2nd printing was never issued but was made available to collectors.

Great Western & Great Central Joint Committee (1901-1922) :
We conclude the article with an entirely English affair, the issues for the Great Western & Great Central Joint Committee which were used from Northolt Junction in north-west London where the GWR line from Paddington towards Bicester & Banbury was joined by the Great Central Railway’s (GCR) more westerly line out of London Marylebone, these tracks being shared as shown in red on the FIRST maps shown on this Wikipedia page (opens in a new tab)

The easterly line, shown in maroon on the same map, was the other GCR line out of Marylebone which it shared with the Metropolitan Railway. This other GCR Joint Line just happens to be covered by our article on the Metropolitan Railway which may be accessed via the 'Railway Articles' link in the left panel.

De Lacy-Spencer greatly simplified the listing of this joint committee's stamps, compared to Jackson, for understandable reasons. We shall steer a line in between. All overprints on 2d stamps are in Violet with letters G W & G C JT , the T in smaller lettering and all letters with curious extending tentacles below the letters. We have not numbered the issues beyond the first issue.

We have struggled with producing a listing for this last section and are aware that it has many defiencies, both with regard to the shortage of images and the lack of totally coherent text. Nevertheless, we have chosen to include it and hope that it may at least serve as a modest basis for anyone new to these issues.

Railway Letter Stamps Great Western & Great Central Joint Committee Railway Letter Stamps Great Western & Great Central Joint Committee
GW&GJ Joint 4th issue (left) and 5th issue (right)

1st issue : 2d Green : Opt. on GWR 1st issue [ . ] [ . ]

On the GWR 4th Issue : Perf 11 :
Next issue : 2d Emerald-Green : 26mm Opt of GWR 4th issue : wide space between C and J [ . ] [ . ]
- ditto - : 28mm Opt on GWR 4th issue : 3mm between G and C; 3 mm between C and JT [ . ] [ . ]
- as last but 'J' now like a hook [ . ] [ . ]

On the GWR 5th Issue : Perf 12 :
Next issue : 2d Emerald-Green : Same opt. as last (J now like a hook) but on GWR 5th issue [ . ] [ . ]

We now come to the GW&GCJT overprints on Manchester & Milford Railway stamps and we are hampered here in having no examples to hand (and no scans), despite these apparently having been produced in significant numbers. Jackson has a highly detailed listing, running to eleven issues whilst de Lacy-Spencer amalgamates them into a single listing. We have essentially followed de Lacy-Spencer and not identified different printings by Control Number and only in one instance by a noticeable handstamp feature.

Manchester & Milford Stamps with GWR opt (GWR 6th issue) plus the G W & G C JT handstamp in Violet as above.
Next Issue : 2d Bluish-Green : on GWR 6th Issue with opt 25-26 mms long [ . ] [ . ]
- ditto - but wide space between 'G' and 'W', opt. 27 mms long [ . ] [ . ]
- ditto - Hollow bottom pillar on left side [ . ] . ]

We have assumed that the 'hollow bottom left pillar' variety exists here as on the GWR 6th issue.

The next issues were overprints on GWR 7th issue stamps, still with the same G W & G C JT violet handstamp.
Next issue : 2d Green : on GWR 7th issue (opt. 25-26 mms long) [ . ] [ . ]
- variety - 'C' for 'G' : Opt. is CW&GCJT and 28.5 mms long [ . ] [ . ]

Next issue : 2d Green ; on GWR 7th issue but SHORT OPT., only 12 mms long [ . ] [ . ]

Railway Letter Stamps Great Western & Great Central Joint Committee Railway Letter Stamps Great Western & Great Central Joint Committee

Bespoke 2d stamp, now without violet GW&GCJT overprint.
Next issue : 2d Blue-Green (Joint Committee bespoke issue) [ . ] [ . ]

PROOF : 2d Greyish-Green : IMPERFORATE bespoke issue [ . ]

From 1914 onwards, unoverprinted GWR stamps at the 2d, 3d and 4d rates are known used from stations where the Joint Committee's stamps would normally have been used.

In 1920, it appears that a small number of GWR 11th issue 4d stamps were handstamped for use on Joint Committee lines.
Next issue : 4d Green : GWR 11th issue (4d) with large handstamp G.W.& G.C.Jt in Blue [ . ] [ . ]

4d Green : GWR 11th issue handstamped in pale purple : G.W.& G.C. Jt / PARCEL'S OFFICE, AYLESBURY [ . ] [ . ]

We rather doubt that either of the above are known mint. It is also improbable that many other stamps listed above, most of them very rare, are known both mint and used.

After the 4d issues above, the GW&GCJC used Prepaid Parcel stamps for the next two decades, reportedly all 3d Black stamps, for the small number of Railway Letters that they carried.

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