Wednesday, 16 December 2009

Another key post filled.........................

Some three weeks ago the vacancy for Senior Curator, Rail Vehicle Collections at the National Railway Museum was filled. It is an important position and it has gone to someone who combines an NRM track record with a lifetime's experience of railway and steam preservation. That means Anthony Coulls had passed out an apprenticeship at Shildon and has moved to headquarters. Quite appropriate really as many employees of the one time North Eastern Railway probably followed the same route. So the NRM's next vacancy is at Shildon....................

Anthony has been notable for blogging his job for the last several months. I hope he continues to do so. Scroll down only an entry or two here and you will see the link. Or use A Curator's Life is at .

Meantime the month's other big news from the NRM for my eyes is the actual release in a fanfare of publicity of the Bachmann exclusively for the NRM City of Truro. The museum shop or their website are the only outlets. £145 for the basic model, £195 with a plinth and platinum colour box. It is an iconic engine to model and Airfix did very well 40 plus years ago with their kit. It ought to sell well.

Friday, 11 December 2009

New NRM Website

At some point in the last little while since I blogged, the NRM has launched a new website. At . Clearly a lot more work in the new site than the old one. For instance press releases are separated according to whether they cover York or Shildon. I did not rapidly spot a quick NRM staff structure plan which is one of my personal bugbears compared for instance to the National Maritime Museum Greenwich.

I think represents a clearer attempt than hitherto to provide on line access to the collection. It remains very much a taster even if a significant taster. For instance is expanded coverage but readily confesses to how much of a future task a full online catalogue is.

And inevitably since refers to The Forsythe Collection by name, both Fiona and myself are chuffed with this new development.

Tuesday, 17 November 2009

Cataloguing Process

Okay this is not cataloguing in the strictest sense but the task of converting the one line of entry in the descriptive list of The Forsythe Collection into one sheet for each entry is making progress. A team of Graham Cornish (doing the donkeywork), myself and Tim Procter have now tackled about 40 of the 633 headings and December's date is scheduled. I was at the museum yesterday and my incidental gossip is limited to noting how the HST prototype power car had moved back to where it was in June. Since in September it had been right over the far side of the Great Hall, no-one should underplay what one imagines the heavy gang get up to the in dead of the night. Re-arranging the display with the frequency that this implies means undertaking some very detailed shunts. Quite fun to watch and photograph one I imagine. I was travelling East Coast the Monday after the Friday night before. In other words National Express East Coast was no more. Instead I was collecting the first issues of East Coast (by DOR or Directly Operated Railways) material. York was left on the 15.55, the 14.00 ex London Kings Cross to Aberdeen, the Aberdonian. Already this was a complete HST rake in the new Purple trim East Coast livery. Rather nice really. However, think about it, here was one of the crack trains of the day linking the two great capitals of the Island and it was a 31 year old HST train. Wonderful trains, yes, but what are we to make of state transport policy when from a 1919 start, it took till 1991 to get the wires to Edinburgh and still in 2009 they do not go beyond. The new livery East Coast train articulates the fact that Britain's premier main line has been in commercial chaos ever since Sea Containers owners of GNER went belly up in 2006. How the Japanese, the French, the Germans and even the Spanish will all smile knowingly at this situation.

Friday, 6 November 2009

Dust settling

Railway Magazine this month (December dated published 5th November) has a massive crop of NRM stories, the effect of which is that the dust is starting to settle from this summer and autumn's changes. I summarise them:
page 7 Steve Davies as new director
page 9 GBRf 66727 named Andrew Scott CBE
page 26 (SLS LNWR miniature Orion at Locomotion)
page 63 (Best ever Locomotion Steam Gala)
page 63 All change at the NRM
That is an important summary of staff changes. Brian Hayton is assisting Helen Ashby, as Assistant Director. Chris Beet - Carnforth associations is the new Engineering and Rail Operations Manager.
page 64 the NRM's own working replica of Rocket to return in steam in February 2010.

And away from York but of interest to all who follow heritage operations page 85 reported that Devon's Morwellham Quay has become insolvent. Pretty tragic news for those who appreciated industrial archaeology and associated railways. Withdrawal of local authority funding is the reason and drop of visitor numbers. This was one of the great early industrial open air museums on a par with Ironbridge or Beamish.

See .

Tuesday, 3 November 2009

A Curator's Life

A Curator's Life is at . November is already starting with plenty to blog about for the NRM. The idea that we should blog about the National Railway Museum is gaining momentum. Now Anthony Coulls, following Paul Jarman's lead at Beamish, has started one. This should be very interesting as Anthony combines a fascinating background and a job with many aspects not least being the only NRM presence at Shildon. Additional note added October 2010: Anthony's blog is now at .

I have seen the future and it may be Dutch

(Above, good fun at Utrecht Railway Museum; below, the museum train the Heimwee Express in action. It stables in the former display area to the left)

A lot has happened to us this last week. We turned 50. For what we did see . Before that we went en famille to the Netherlands and to the Utrecht Railway Museum and Eurospoor. First time to the latter, breath-taking. Been to the railway museum in 1972 and 1981. Knew it had been entirely re-vamped. Very interesting to go again. Broadly in favour. Some surprise at how little there was in the old museum area but that was partly because it has become an operational station as we discovered by enjoying a train ride to Hilversum and back on a genuine Dogs Head EMU. Across the lines and into the new building is where it really happens. The actual display of trains appeared a bit ragged. Some favourites seemed missing. That is because the new core is four high tech chronologically themed pods. Once you get into these, you have an experience. We only had time to do two. There are queuing issues and this sort of interpretation is neither cheap to put in or maintain. However it is quite awesome. I would doubt there is any railway exhibition in the world in the genre of 1920-1970's pod, the Steel Monsters. It takes the form of a ghost train ride in four seater cars. A fair amount of terror is induced in a darkened trip which confronts trams and massive steam engines. You appear to hurtle to personal disaster before at the last moment descending into a pit and examining the underneath of the murdersome locomotive. For many folk great fun. Actually our daughter was somewhat alarmed at 9 1/2 and no overt warnings in English had been noticed. The leaflet said this particular display was entrancing. It is more than that. Away from the pods, I enjoyed the model gallery and the play area complete with self propelled ferry and pump trolley is right up there with the best. I would not be at all surprised if what has happened at Utrecht is at least considered in the thinking for what happens with NRM +. I think it fair to question whether your icons can only be experienced in such a programmed manner.

An appreciation of the new Director

The following piece is being circulated on a number of e-lists. It was sent to me and it offers an interesting and positive appreciation of the new director:

Hi All,

Just to inform you that it has now been officially announced by the National Railway Museum at York, here in England, that Steve Davies MBE, currently the director of the Museum of Science and Industry in Manchester, has been appointed the new Director of the NRM and will take up his position sometime in the New Year.

I believe that Steve in just 1 year, turned the slumbering giant that was MOSI, into a get up and go exciting museum to visit, and this was certainly proved by the success of the Great Garratt Gathering, the biggest event ever staged at MOSI, since it opened on that site in 1980.

I also know that from my brief time of knowing Steve and his love of railways, that he will certainly breathe new and exciting life into the NRM, whilst I am sure maintaining its core railway values.

I would like to congratulate Steve and wish him every success at the NRM

Graham Kelsey

Thursday, 29 October 2009

The New Director is Announced

At is the announcement of the new director. First impressions count and these are good. The gentleman is standing in front of a Garratt locomotive. Not at the NRM but near his existing institution (I think it may be Gorton works?). The successful candidate is Steve Davies MBE. He is described as having a passion for railways and he is currently head of the Greater Manchester Museum of Science and Industry. That runs at least three major railway themes: Liverpool Road Station of the Liverpool and Manchester, Garratt's from Beyer Peacock and Woodhead. But also such a museum is good at seeing the railway in its context and that will be an important task at York. The same press release also noted that the retiring Director Andrew Scott will continue in his pro tem role as the head of NMSI until the summer of 2010 (earlier posts explain this convolution).

For an appreciation of Steve Davies when he arrived at Greater Manchester look at .

Thursday, 22 October 2009

Oscars at the NRM

The NRM's latest press release is a good news success story. See . They have won two Yorkshire tourism Oscars. Two facts stand out: the oft repeated but undeniably true, this is the most visited museum outside London and 2008/09 proved a bumper year in that regard. There is praise for the "continued re-inventing of the wheel" and in that context the Railway Children wins one of the awards. Staff at the NRM appear justifiably pleased with this achievement and I have no wish to underplay that. What it appears to say is that they can put on a show. This is the case in partnership with other professional colleagues like the Theatre Royal or the operators of the Wheel. Even so wise management will realise that if you keep scoring hard on the visitor number front but behind the scenes ramp up years of backlog in your curatorial tasks, a tension will develop. That in my judgement has happened at York and although steps to resolve this have been taken with the building of Search Engine there is still a long way to go. I remain fascinated though little the wiser really why if at one level the museum is so successful, then at another level it has had such a rate of senior staff turnover in this last year.

Thursday, 15 October 2009

A potential candidate

It's amazing what can come to mind when sitting in the hairdresser's chair. Regular readers of the blog are perhaps not surprised to find I was thinking who might be the next director of the National Railway Museum. At once for all those who love Britain's railways, a most important job and, as you might be able to deduce from the blog, a task with some challenges ahead of it. Who might be willing to take up the chalice?

I don't feel well qualified to name names, certainly not in the plural. And I have absolutely no knowledge. But sitting in that hairdresser's chair, a name did come to mind. Back in front of the computer a quick bit of net searching found a public profile and for those interested in a little bit of speculation, perusing that profile may make it clearer as to why, if she put her name forward, I think she would be in with a chance.

The link is . It looks as if she is back in Britain and possibly available. As I re-iterate, I am privy to no more knowledge than any other likely reader of the blog. If I had to bet on it I would reckon, she would be in with a 10% chance of pulling it off. That's quite a good chance. But this is no personal endorsement just a reading of the runes about a very well qualified museum professional who may well be seeking the next career move. Do I know the lady? Our paths have crossed once or twice but not since 1991. IF it did come to pass, you could say that you read it here first. When an announcement is made - and I learn about it - I hope to say something.

Monday, 28 September 2009

Acting Director NRM appointed.

I see a poster on uk.railway says

"Helen Ashby has been appointed as acting NRM director.
The selection process for the full time director is in progress. "

Nothing as of this moment on the NRM press release site so I might say this awaits confirmation. A story that is quite fast moving.

Nothing in the NRM web page on vacancies at all.

First posted 28th September. By 1st October, no change on the web page. I was at the museum yesterday. I applaud Rails & Reels and I liked the display of such esoteric items as the Belvoir Castle wagon and other horsedrawn items. Have I not clocked those before? Someone would have undertaken quite a shunt to move the prototype HST over towards the workshop and get L&Y Saloon 1 in its place for use with filmshows.

Even so success surely does not mean a public body will not have a proper recruitment process? One member of the staff said to me "I believe headhunting has occurred". Regardless of what I personally think about the NRM and it really is considerable admiration, I am very clear and many conversations over the last few years have convinced me of this, it has a difficult reputation with quite some chunk of its "audience", the one's who go out and buy railway magazines. In those circumstances and in the recent development over what has happened with the parent museum director, it is surely inappropriate not to advertise the significant number of vacancies that must be due at the NRM with both the railway heritage press and on the museum's own website? I challenge the museum to undertake to do both those things.

Reading NRM Volunteer News 14 I found a list of departing staff. Janice Murray, Richard Taylor, Jim Rees, and Stephen Richards. I don't know their job titles because there is no published museum staff structure. That list was since News 13. I know senior positions in the areas of Archives, Engineering and Display were covered. Add to this, since June the search for a director. Is it not a bit strange for the museum's website about Vacancies not to deal with this?
(and just in case you read and wonder, I do not imagine myself as a candidate for any of these).

And another amendment made 1st October. An informant says in respect of the NRM Director job "Advertised in The Times Executive Vacancies a month/ 6 weeks ago I recall". My question: was this ever advertised in any of the railway heritage magazines or on the museum's own website where there is a vacancies page? Could someone answer that?

Information as of 8th October direct from the museum itself responding to questions I posed. Helen Ashby is the acting director but counts herself out of the permanent position. The museum directorship was advertised in the Guardian and the Times. Headhunters have also been retained. Recruitment is progressing. This vacancy was not placed in the railway press or on the museum's website.

Sunday, 27 September 2009

A sudden move onwards and upwards

For several months it has been public that museum director Andrew Scott would retire and be replaced this autumn. Matters took an unexpected turn last Tuesday. Andrew's boss, the head of the NMSI (National Museums of Science and Industry) was removed from post for contractual irregularities. This is all public now. is one of several sources. Another is . Molly Jackson had only been in this post at the NMSI for a matter of months. Pro tem the NRM director has a new job as director of NMSI. One perspective will be quite relieved that the NMSI structure allows the rapid re-deployment of senior staff when these situations arise. Another will quietly despair that the NRM's lack of independance means that in a year when it has already seen considerable turnover in its senior staff, it will now continue to experience "discontinuity" at the top. An eye to be kept open: who becomes the new NMSI director? It is unlikely to be Andrew who has stated he is heading for retirement at 60 publicly. Who is appointed as acting NRM director? And who is recruited to the post full time?

Wednesday, 23 September 2009

The Railway Children and the NRM

I would not want anyone reading this blog to think I am against activities which bring new audiences to the NRM. I am adamant that there are serious critical issues which ought to be addressed but when the museum does well would wish to praise it. One of the obvious challenges of transport museums is to reach new audiences and particularly youthful ones. There is a well trod route to this called Thomas the Tank which the NRM has joined in. However a couple of years ago the NRM realised there was another one which would appeal to a family audience. The result has been the staging with York's Theatre Royal of Edith Nesbitt's classic The Railway Children. In recent times this came to fruition in the mass market with a film made on the Keighley and Worth Valley and then re-made after a few decades on the Bluebell Railway. The latest press release from the NRM testifies to this. Audience figures at 26,000 are 9.2% up over the 2008 figure. This is obviously good news, not just for the museum but for the city of York. I have absolutely no hang ups over this sort of activity. Linking railways and culture is an exciting prospect. There are many avenues open for this. Just a couple of personal favourites from me are the folk tradition for instance Ewan MacColl and The Ballard of John Axon. A surprising number of navvy songs are out there being quietly forgotten about. Even recent writing can slip out of memory. Mike Donald's Land of the Pennine God about the 1910 Ais Gill smash is almost entirely forgotten although I heard it on Garsdale Station at Easter 2009 and went digging to find the music and lyrics. Another personal favourite is W H Auden. Major artistic icons in British culture have loved their railways.

Sunday, 20 September 2009

Locomotion and Mr Quick

This weekend has offered up two subjects to extend our blog about the NRM without even going to York. One is largely praise and the second, not quite. The praise: with daughter, friend and his son, we went to the annual steam gala at Locomotion Shildon. Since Locomotion opened in 2004 it has proved very popular and well exceeded its visitor projections. It is a clever concept. It took an existing and important subject in The Timothy Hackworth Museum and added about half a mile away a brand new building which combines being an exhibition hall as well as acting as a welcome overflow store for exhibits from York. Between the two a short line acts as the link. Administratively an interesting model was established. Only one NRM person is employed on site: A Coulls, the curator. Otherwise the entire site was administered and operated by Sedgefield District Council who used to run the old museum. They were abolished in April 2009 and their role inherited by Durham County Council. So far the only obvious change was that the replica Sans Pareil locomotive bore a slogan now part of the National Collection. Since I am well
known for thinking some engines could safely exit the collection, I am happy to say this is one that fully justifies being a member.

The politics of any museum may bore some but they are fundamental to its existence and the future of a free entry museum being run by an authority whose other museums are all pay for may prove interesting. Killhope, Bowes Museum, Beamish all these charge in County Durham. However for the steam gala, this possible cloud did not intrude and despite no big star being on hand (Oliver Cromwell was due Sunday) I enjoyed myself. I liked seeing the Planet Replica from GMMSCI Manchester in action. The Furness 0-4-0 is a splendid machine and quite iconic. Neither are members of the National Collection but that is my point. The National Railway Museum can put on a splendid show by working with others. Co-operation was evident elsewhere. Volunteers to get the show on the road had come from quite a way. Two gentlemen had come from IMATT in Hampshire with a stall. Another man in overalls is normally beavering at Kirkby Stephen East on the Stainmore project.

I have been several times to Locomotion and I applaud the changing scene. The prototype Deltic had gone, the V2 4771 had come. I like the "secondary" exhibits some of which many a preserved railway might overlook. The BR Mark One Horsebox from which Dublo made a famed model, the GER Sand Wagon which I think inspired a Keyser kit, the made for SNCF 1946 mineral wagon, all of these can tell a decent story and merit their place. So do the bits and bobs of APT although their interpretation can be a challenge. The Crab 2-6-0 was a clean large lump occupying a fair space and that would be one of my targets for new owners!

To turn away from Shildon, the postman delivered a package on Friday. It turned out to be the fourth edition of Michael Quick's Railway Passenger Stations in Great Britain A Chronology. Is that earthshattering? Yes, it is. Since 2001 Michael Quick and his publisher the Railway & Canal Historical Society have delivered four editions of this magnum opus. The first three were spiral bound and felt like work in progress. Their appearance became part of a growing network of informants which with Michael's scholarship has produced a remarkable "finished product" for as the author remarks, he thinks the project has gone about as far as it reasonably can without further substantial input like long sessions in the British Library Newspaper collection. Michael has undertaken his task from near Taunton and his 544 page magnum opus is now beautifully presented. He does omit preserved, miniature and cliff railways and I cannot blame him for that. As someone who has a book under their belt working towards publication (Are we on time? British Railways Timetables 1948-1997), I find Michael's model of publication interesting. Largely he has worked without the internet or email. For the final punch subscribers were sought and therein lies the rub.

It was nice to see myself in the Acknowledgements, but I became even more excited seeing my name in the Subscription list. I think it is the first time I have offered patronage like this. Very wise, I paid £30 up front in July 2009 and am rewarded with the book at the door bearing a cover price of £49.50. I then sat down to leaf through the subscribers. That's when the brain began to whir. Sir William McAlpine, numerous members of the RCHS and the Transport Ticket Society. Two library services: Hampshire and Cambridgeshire. I knew the latter had a particular interest in ephemera and so being thorough enough to subscribe to Quick did not surprise. But what about other institutions? There was only a few more amongst whom London Underground Infrastructure Library and Middleton Press stood out for me. David St John Thomas, Andrew Dow and Philip Atkins were others among a good number that I recognised. Now the last two of those once worked at the NRM and the NRM is acknowledged for its assistance in the acknowledgements.

Am I missing something? Why was the NRM not in the subscriber list? Part of my growing argument and one which many folk are saying to me is that the NRM no longer rates specialist railway knowledge amongst its staff. On the face of it an unwillingness to shell out £30 in advance for what must be a contender for railway book of the decade (and should jolly well be nominated for a reference book prize) does not really advance the idea that the NRM supports scholarship. Nor could I immediately see either the Institute of Railway Studies or the University of York Library. The project has evidently not made it onto the present NRM director's desk to the degree that he felt it worth either investing in one himself or instructing a museum department to do so. Perhaps one of the names is a cover for the museum, perhaps they are relying on a review copy because £30 or £49.50 is unjustified expenditure. To me, unless I have missed something in which case I would publish a correction, if it had been my call, I would have wished the NRM as an institution to have known about the forthcoming book (the RCHS magazine is surely received at the museum) and to have been proud to have ordered an advance copy and seen the museum's name in the list of subscribers. The London Transport Museum is there.

I have tried to do some homework on this. The On Line Catalogue of the NRM does reveal that four earlier versions of Quick are at York. 1995, 1996, 1997 editions of his previous title giving opening dates only and the 2002 edition of the Chronology. That last entry does not quite tie with the 2009 book's own publication summary. Assume that it is a second edition of the Chronology and it means York lacks the 2005 and 2009 editions. And it is the 2009 edition that really represents the finished work and is bound and presented as such. It looks to me that a decade and more ago the museum was willing to support this research at the cost of minimal investment and that sometime in the last 6 years or so, that interest has died.

(16th November 2009: I was in the museum and noted that the new hardback edition of Quick was displayed in the New Books area, good stuff).

Thursday, 10 September 2009

Value for money

Anyone who stops by and reads through this blog will realise that in amongst some fascinating arcane stuff about old leaflets and carriages from Weardale, there is also the opportunity to debate the direction of a national museum. And anyone who has studied the history of this museum from the early years of the 20th century will realise that plenty of views have been expressed.

It is important therefore for me to express a bottom line as the museum heads towards a new director.

Here it is: Is the north of England, the home of the railway, worth more than a pack em in/stack them high museum product for surely that has to be the result of being both the most visited museum outside London and at the same time the National museum that achieves the most visitors for the least per head spend? That is my bottom line and one of several simple tests of what I claim is this: stand on the Search Engine balcony and ask yourself when was the last time the tops of the engines on show were cleaned? Does the museum have a cherry picker with a timetable for cleaning exhibits? Likewise look at the image at . Does that do justice to the museum's work?

It might appear we are picking some form of fight. Funnily enough, that is far from our character. I have been in the museum several times this summer and found it heaving. It is a free museum, one that you can spend all day, or just 20 minutes. I have no doubts that by a number of quite genuine measures, it is a great success. And it has established through the Institute of Railway Studies an organ for academic engagement, clearly a special interest of mine. Even so, the variety of publicised controversies (like 4472), the bottom line financial balance as I articulate it above and the opportunities that the arrival of a new director implies surely mean that interested individuals should have a public forum to talk about these issues and I invite readers to do that.

Some inside comment

Nigh on six months have passed and hardly anyone has added a "comment" to this blog. But it has been read! People keep making quiet comments to me. And today an exchange with a former senior member of management saw me agreeing to post the following by way of a comment. It is signed by a nom-de-plume and though I hedge my bets in agreeing with every word, I find my heart agreeing with many and certainly think this is a voice worth hearing and respecting:

"When I was there the curatorial view was that there was no need, for example, for so many Edwardian 4-4-0 locomotives in the collection, but that the corollary view was that no Head of Museum could or would dispose of five of them, and would never be allowed to if he wanted to. Not long after I left, I detected, there was a move away from subject specialists among the curatorial staff to museologists - in other words, people who would be equally at home in a collection of clogs or motor cars. Continued pressure from London resulted in tracks around the turntable in Great Hall being cleared for more and larger cocktail parties, dinners, and other revenue-producing events. The worst and most inexcusable case was the removal of the permanent way exhibits. This was done to create room for the Japanese power car: the failure to display permanent way elsewhere in lamentable - what is a railway without theway of rails? The besetting problem with museums, as with too much else in life, is the obsession with quantity at the expense of quality. Visitorship seems only to be measured, and only recognised by London, in terms of numbers of people and income received. No effort is made to measure the success or otherwise in informing the visitor: Is he better off, in his knowledge and understanding of railways, than when he went in? I think that one problem creeping up on NRM as a result of this is that the high visitor numbers disguise the fact that as time goes by, this nation has fewer and fewer people genuinely interested in railways. The Museum may be trading on its reputation rather than actuality. That is partly the product of anno domini as the old steam generation passes on, and partly because there is nothing to follow the juvenile interest in Thomas the Tank engine. If there is, anywhere, that function is probably being performed by the "preserved" railway, and not by the museum, even though through its collections it is a far better position to give a deep understanding, rather than the superficial attractions of a day out on the A B & C preserved railway.I think that the collections need a vast amount of attention, but that they are not likely to get it for as long as the Museum is seen as a producer of visitor numbers, and is seen as being based upon the interests of anoraks rather than real people. I do not see this changing, unless the Museum gets a truly Messianic director rather than a "safe pair of hands". Ray L Weigh "

Friday, 4 September 2009

Three Schools

Societies, even within Western Europe, exhibit varying responses in their willingness to examine sexual culture, I found it instructive to study this exhibition programme:!OpenDocument (then click Temporary Exhibitions)

SAFE HAVEN 18 February – 23 August 2009 In an era when the nuclear family was seen as the ideal, homosexual men found a certain level of freedom at sea on the ships of the Swedish America Line. The exhibition is based on interviews with homosexual and heterosexual men from the book ‘Those ones’ on the America boats by Arne Nilsson. Safe Haven sheds new light on our maritime cultural heritage, seafaring history and seamen’s lives. The exhibition is produced by the Maritime Museum, Stockholm.

Other temporary exhibitions on the maritime museum circuit of Sweden evidence a similar sensual interest. The reader may wonder what had brought me to this reflection. The linkages are really quite direct and start as far as the NRM is concerned at

At the outset of this blog I indicated a willingness when required to make fair criticism of the NRM and I certainly think it fair to ask whether the chosen image from the NRM's "stunning visuals" does itself justice. Was the original folded, stained, pictured through glass? The message of the chosen image is that this exhibition may become fogged. I hope not. One of the ways in which fogging would be avoided is to co-ordinate fully with what others have offered in the field. The NRM ought to be able to do this. In buying our own Forsythe Collection earlier in 2009, the museum now directly accesses thousands of readily used items (often using larger poster artwork) created for the subject of this exhibition. Many of these have been publicly presented in our book From Tilbury to Tyneside.

Just knocking around a few search terms revealed (some time ago now) that the subject does have a wide appeal and that a collection of North Sea Maritime Museums were themselves examining the theme. A book and an exhibition have resulted. This is called North Sea Passenger Lines. "The ”North Sea Passenger Lines”- project is launched in Hull 16 May as a publication as well as an exhibition. The exhibition is expected to be touring the North Sea until 2012". See

Hopefully by the time of the 10th North Sea History Conference in Gothenburg, 1-3 September 2011, those investigating the subject at the National Railway Museum and Nederlandse Spoorwegen will have closely tied themselves to those doing the same job at maritime museums around the North Sea.

Being a blogger allows one to take some liberties with comment as this entry does and it comes at time when (not unusually) the NRM is facing a period of change. A lot of faces have gone since January 2009 and the director himself is resigning this year. NRM + is a major project to re-present the Great Hall. Do I have pearls of wisdom on this? Not really. Oddly the more I know about the NRM, the less I feel I know. It is a byzantine behemoth and the truth of that for my money comes in the lack of any published staff structure plan so that for the user knowing who does what is a challenge.

Whoever becomes the new NRM director, I wish well and the only advice I can conjure up is a few oddball comments. When the NRM makes much of the idea that outside London it is the most popular UK museum and that also amongst the national museums it offers the best value for money (i.e. its cost per visitor is the lowest), this is a double edged sword. On the one hand, it says that the NRM achieves a lot for a little (this will please its masters). On the other, it means a lot of important behind the scenes work fundamental to the long term life of a museum does not happen. And by that we mean the cataloguing / research without which a museum cannot hope to endure indefinitely. I doubt that those at the NRM would disagree if I said that the Curator does not dominate the museum's agenda. If it were different then there would not be a 25 year backlog in cataloguing (that figure is the museum's). Search Engine is a clear step in the right direction but it now needs the support of intensive and properly staffed and funded projects which bring out the archive collections. For "bring out" translate as catalogued and that on-line. For instance tackling the task of developing access to the Forsythe Collection has revealed that the museum has no theasurus of terms for cataloguing a railway collection. Without a basic tool like this, the task will become a challenge indeed.

In reality the NRM is several complete and diverse operations in one. It is an archive, a library, an engineering workshop, a small railway company with engines for hire, an entertainment complex, even a funfair or giant wheel. Finding a talent who balances all this and does it as part of a government bureaucracy is no small order. And this same person has to meld unionised workers and volunteers with character together. No doubt the job requirements will run on.

I suspect that the best candidate should convince the selection board that they can offer the museum "tough love". By that I mean that they can evidence a real enthusiasm and committment to the subject. That railways really matter to them and that the post is not just another stepping stone in a "museum career". At the same time there should be a willingness to be a very tough nut. I suspect communication within the museum needs improvement. This is both between groups of staff and also ensuring that those developing projects are fully aware of what is happening outside the museum. Communication also means ensuring that when museum staff come before the railway media, they all sing from the same hymnsheet. Anyone who regularly reads Steam Railway or Heritage Railway will know what I mean.

Finally my Three Schools heading. It was an allusion to the multiplicity of views that this debate enables, as well as playing with the gender uncertainty of the Swedish exhibition. But it also speaks to something very pertinent. In Britain three Southern Railway Schools class engines are preserved. One of these is in the national collection. Those who know me will not be surprised when I question this. I think the era of indefinite expansion has gone for museums. Achieving value for money is (and yes, I do think a collection of publicity ephemera does exactly that, when you have 100 leaflets for one poster and exactly the same visual value) very critical today and will remain so. Why then does the museum live with so much duplication with its large exhibits? Each engine is a vast cost in maintenance and storage. When there are private individuals and trusts willing and enthusiastic to do this, why is the nation spending money on the task? That money could be allocated to areas of the subject just as significant and meaningful as the engines but which lack the popular cachet. Icons should always be in the national collection but outside the eye of the railway enthusiast is a Schools iconic? Is a Crab iconic (another two preserved)? Or even a Terrier (another nine exist)? And as for a GWR 28xx (another 15 exist)? Schools, Crabs, Terriers? What percentage of the British population realise they are railway engines? I would be kind and keep the Terrier in the national collection. After all most children (males anyway) recognise Stepney. My daughter does.

When the new appointee takes up their post, it will fascinate me to see whether it is "steady as she goes", "work incrementally on the backlogs", " develop the presentation opportunities", "make greatest use of the site (the" railway lands project")" or whether there is some sense of the "radical". That perhaps the era of endless collecting of big exhibits is not sustainable. Should a full blown HST enter the collection? In its place should funds be found to really exploit the vast reams of treasure that the museum already has in its archive and photo collections? Some will think me biased, but one of the experiences that has anchored this view was when literary gold was falling out of a former Clapham Museum correspondence file whose cataloguing was rudimentary and misleading to be generous (see a much earlier entry).

The reader should realise that often views are expressed to engender debate and I will be fascinated to see whether anyone offers comments and at what tone.

Thursday, 20 August 2009

Some more about the Hayward Collection

Peter Johnson has sent me some further notes and they are certainly worth clipping in for a wider audience:

The ZSPC series is documents transferred from the old BR records office so Hayward's collection was obviously transferred to the BTC. I understand that when the BTC collection was dispersed, Kew had the company documents and the NRM had anything dealing with locomotives and rolling stock. The PRO/NA is not a repository for photographs for their own sake so would not want them. My guess is that the bulk of the collection is at Kew. If anyone took the trouble to count every item in ZSPC11, every document, ticket, cutting and photograph, the total would approach the 18,000 mentioned. I photographed over 300 items in the Shropshire & Montgomeryshire Light Railway collection alone.

What Peter says about the splitting of the BTC collection makes sense and explains why Tim Procter the NRM archivist has come across lantern slides marked Hayward. Tim, by the way, tells me that having had the chance to read this and having found these lantern slides, some timetables he had found which he thought were Hayward (and which an earlier entry here refers to) are probably not.

A further update from Peter Johnson which I am adding on the 28th April 2010:
A little more on the Weh-lyn collection that I thought would interest you.
From the Journal of the Railway & Canal Historical Society March 1974:
New accessions to record offices, 1968-1971
British Transport Historical Records
Private collection: W. E. Hayward: collection including 776 files of articles, press files, railway ticket albums, Railway Clearing House maps and junction diagrams; 250 books relating to railways".

Monday, 27 July 2009

More about the Hayward Collection

A previous entry has spoken about the Hayward Collection at least part of which including correspondence and pieces is in the NRM. I have now been sent a fascinating email by Peter Johnson which speaks for itself:

RobertI have seen your blog but I can't post a reply because, so far as I can see, I don't have a suitable profile. This is what I would have posted: This refers to the WEH-LYN collection which is at the National Archives at Kew. See ZSPC 11. There are 780 main items catalogued, many of them single books, he probably had a copy of nearly every railway book published until the early 1960s. However, he also collected photographs, cuttings and ephemera which he pasted into scrapbooks dealing with particular topics. I have seen some of his material dealing with minor and narrow gauge lines but there is much else besides.WEH = W. E. Hayward. LYN = the name of his house, and the Lynton & Barnstaple Railway loco - he had an awful lot of LBR material. Hope that this is of interest. RegardsPeter Johnson

So a large chunk of the Hayward Collection is in the National Archives but by no means all. Certainly food for thought and work.

Wednesday, 17 June 2009

In Front of the High Speed Train

This post concludes the day's action. Several posts have been made to cover the photoshoot that myself and Fiona participated in at the National Railway Museum on the 16th June 2009. This was to mark the "official handover" of The Forsythe Collection of Transport and Travel Publicity Ephemera to the museum. Several photographers were at work and a number of themes explored. Of the various images that came our way, this is our current favourite. It is a National Railway Museum copyright image which I reproduce with acknowledgements to the museum. We thank the photographer Lynn Patrick. The prototype High Speed Train is an iconic British design from the early 1970s. The production trains remain hard at work today. Our collection is rich in material relating to both the prototype and production trains. One of those early pieces is in our hands. We hope the photo does credit to the various parties involved and that is certainly not to forget the creators of the train and those unsung heroes who produced its publicity.
If you read these posts and are interested in following the story, this photo should only be reproduced with permission from the NRM: . She will be the link person to numerous other pictures that their photographer took on the day. These included images in the store, of us with a Caledonian Princess piece and with a Macbraynes brochure.

You can target almost anywhere in the British Isles and we will find something punchy from the collection to tempt. There is particular strength however, owing to moves and family associations and other collections that have come in, with:
the Dover strait, the Bristol Channel area, North Wales, the Irish Sea and Mersey, Isle of Man, Ireland, Scotland, Northern England, Yorkshire Dales, Cumbria, the Fens and East Anglia.

Because of the Institute of Railway Studies Harwich project and the links the NRM has developed with NedRail in Holland also bear in mind there is very strong material, several files worth going back into the 1920s for Harwich and Holland.

NRM Text of Press Release regarding The Forsythe Collection issued 16th June 2009


Transport curator Robert Forsythe and his librarian wife Fiona officially hand over their collection, one of the most comprehensive private collections of transport history in Britain, to the National Railway Museum. They pose with their favourite item, an eye-catching leaflet about the Caledonian Princess which has a special significance for the couple as the steam ship was built in the Dumbarton shipyard where they first met.
Tuesday, 16 June, 11 am
National Railway Museum, Leeman Road, York, YO26 4XJ
Catherine Farrell, Senior Press Officer, NRM on 01904 686281 or e-mail


The National Railway Museum (NRM) is celebrating the acquisition of one of the most comprehensive private collections of transport history in Britain.

The Forsythe Collection of Travel & Transport Publicity Ephemera focuses on transport publicity particularly that of the nationalised railway from 1948, but also covers bus, air and water transport in the second half of the 20th century.

This vast collection which consists of more than 125,000 items of railway and other transport ephemera is now housed in Search Engine, the NRM’s £4million research and archive centre where Museum staff are now busy working on making it available to the public.

The story of the railways, from the pre- Beeching era through to the current day is told through a variety of publicity materials including timetables, handbills and brochures. The collection includes gems such as the only booklet British Rail produced specifically for women which proves particularly amusing reading to modern eyes, and a large volume of GNER-related material.

Robert Forsythe, who has a lifelong interest in transport history, also gathered material from across the shipping and tourism industries including Stena Sealink timetables, London Transport Bus maps and catalogues from well-known coach tour operators such as Shearings and Wallace Arnold.

His wife, Fiona, has been key in sorting and organising the collection, which is now occupying 18 bays (around 108 metres) of shelving at the NRM. A chartered librarian from a railway family, she has been aware of the importance of the transport network to people’s lives from an early age and joined forces with Robert in the crusade to save the paper records that the public – and often the companies themselves – tended to throw away.

The couple met at Denny’s, the Dumbarton shipyard which made so many of the vessels depicted in the sea transport section of the collection, including the BR owned Caledonian Princess steam ship, a key part of the Scotland Ireland transport network from 1961.

The Forsythe collection is highly regarded as key resource by historians.
Helen Ashby, Head of Knowledge and Collections at the NRM explained: “This is a key collection for anyone interested in transport and we’re delighted that people will be able to access it at the National Railway Museum where it can be used to find the answer to questions such as ‘What do we mean by integrated public transport?’ Given the wide range of publicity material within the collection, it would also appeal to anyone with a fascination for graphic design or advertising.”

Tim Procter, Curator of Archive & Library Collections at the NRM added: “The Forsythes have been building this renowned collection for years - it has been a real labour of love. At one point they had upwards of 625 binders stored on shelves and in cupboards in their 3 bed Northumberland family home! Now this fantastic treasure trove of transport history can be accessed by the public, and in the year ahead we will be working hard to make the archive even easier to use.”

For more information, please contact:
Catherine Farrell, Senior Press Officer, NRM
01904 686281

Notes to editors:

· Robert Forsythe has worked freelance in this sector since 1990 as an author and consultant. Fiona Forsythe also now works freelance in the cultural sector having latterly been Head of Library Services at Newcastle College. Further information is at

· Key items in the ‘Forsythe collection include handbills/leaflets relating to:
The Caledonian Princess Steam Ship
The 1966 World Cup
The Funeral of Diana, Princess of Wales
The 1953 Coronation
The 1968 end of steam on British Railways
The Start of Hovercraft services from the South Coast
Classic Pullman trains like The Golden Arrow and the Brighton Belle
The take up of Sealink vessels for the Falkland’s war

· Search Engine is a groundbreaking library, archive and research centre at the NRM.

· Search Engine is a £4million project funded by Heritage Lottery Fund (HLF), Higher Education Funding Council for England (HEFCE), Department of Culture, Media and Sport (DCMS) and Friends of the National Railway Museum.

· Search Engine’s archives include ‘hidden treasures’ e.g. works of art, railway posters, film, photography and sound recordings, engineering drawings and archive documents such as letters and diaries.

The National Railway Museum in York is home to over 300 years of railway history including over 100 locomotives and a million other objects - from posters and tickets to rolling stock and silverware. Visitors can enjoy a free family day out with the kids including an action-packed annual programme of special events and exhibitions. For more information visit

The Hayward Collection

In this blog on the 23rd April we wrote "Yet another fascinating file recorded a long running correspondence of John Scholes. This was in Clapham Correspondence Files File 15 Railway Museum Correspondence Box 43. In it over many years (1953-67) was a discussion about the Hayward Papers and Collection. This was clearly a major collection of interest to students of publicity ephemera and timetables. There was mention of 18,000 items. I ran out of time and was unable to ascertain whether this material had eventually made it to the museum for safekeeping. Something more to investigate." During our discussions on the 16th June for the Forsythe Collection photocall Tim Procter (the museum archivist) was able to say some of this material which in the 1960s it had appeared was intended to come to the British Transport Commission collections did indeed do so. He had come across items in the NRM collection stamped Hayward collection. This is a positive lead and as someone who knows what it is to create one's own collection there is an interest in learning more about Mr Hayward and offering him some little memorial to his similar endeavours to ours but many decades previously. Hopefully I shall be able to return to "File 15 Box 43" and note it more intensely. But out in the wider world there must be someone able to say more about Mr Hayward? If you know anything, please make a comment.

Press Launch for the Forsythe Collection at National Railway Museum York

Myself and Fiona spent the 16th June 2009 with Tim Procter Archivist at the NRM, other members of his staff and Mr Graham Cornish museum volunteer undertaking a press call. Three newspapers, a radio station and the museum photographer was the score. Here are some links (added to as they came in): (for Monday 22nd June 2009)

An on line interview and profile conducted last year can be found at:

And thanks to the helpfulness of Mr Michael Cowling of The Yorkshire Post I can add the lower heading photo with both myself and Fiona with the collection in the secure store.

It was very nice to be photographed in front of the prototype HST. The collection is rich in material about this train and its production siblings and the top photo should make the point. This one was on our camera this time.

The Faverdale Exhibition 1925

A brief note. I was in the Search Engine at NRM York 16.06.09 and had the Faverdale Exhibition catalogue 1925 and also the LPC account of the 1925 S&D Railway Cavalcade to look at. In neither could I find any reference to the Weardale Coach Rob Roy (see previous posts to make sense of this). This means at present we only know about the arrival of the coach at the old York Railway Museum through the photographs and the horn for which minuted references are known (see earlier posts). A considerable mystery attends both the exact date of arrival and departure after several decades of this not inconsequential exhibit. The museum has gone out of its way to "rediscover" what has been noted in this blog and at this point, without a further major lead appearing, I propose to close the subject. If you have anything to add, please do so with a comment here.

Thursday, 11 June 2009

The end of the Weardale Coach

Helen Ashby at the NRM and her team have found a further image. It is in fact another print of the image shown previously in the blog which John Askwith had once procured from British Railways. Where the interest comes is in some notes with the print. The print has a reference number Neg. no. 8532. The print is mounted on a BR87950 form on which is written: "Old Passenger Coach before Railways. Outside Darlington Works prior to removal to York Railway Museum. Burnt circa 1964 due to being riddled with woodworm". That destruction was as late as 1964, if this is accurate, is quite interesting. Some eight years after we know it had been dropped out of the museum catalogue. Conceivably the date is a bit out. What should be born in mind is that the Rolvenden coach undertaking the same conceptual task had been fully restored by then in the BTC collection.

Additional note from my bibilography: Between the Lines: The magazine of the Weardale Railway Society - August 2010: The Weardale Coach. The saga was written up there.

Note of 25th May 2011. I learn that the Weardale Motor Services Leyland Titan KPT 909 is at the Science Museum Store Wroughton having been at the British Commercial Vehicle Museum, Leyland. How fascinating that the same museum institution has ended up caring for two "buses" from Weardale. The motor bus seems in good order. I hope it stays that way.

I do a talk about Weardale and its Titans. For the next outing the horse coach will be added.

Tuesday, 9 June 2009

Team NRM deliver photographs of the Weardale Coach

Thanks to Helen Ashby and her team at the National Railway Museum, some very definite progress in memorialising the Weardale Coach Roy Roy can be reported. The story so far is in previous posts. John Askwith from the Weardale Railway came up with the first picture I had seen. Now the NRM have provided four more picture scans of additional images. Two are in the post here. One is of the horn. I quote Helen " we can now confirm that it was part of the Queen Street Collection and was numbered 2323/57Y. It was purple ticked in the ledger which suggests that it was identified for the new National Railway Museum but unfortunately we have been unable to establish what happened to it after the closure of the old York RailwayMuseum".
This means that the likely score is: the actual coach destroyed owing to woodworm c1956. The horn that was also donated and accessioned was in York c1975. It may well be there yet but not quite appreciated for what it is. The photo reproduced is a BTC picture (their name is in it). There was then the matter of the photographs donated to the infant York Museum before the coach arrived. It is my hunch that the three further images York have found could be these. One is reproduced. The other two show an earlier image (by the clothing) and a colour tinted postcard probably from the first two decades of the 20th century. It may be that this imagery can be reproduced in the Weardale Railway's magazine. It is all NRM imagery.
The story ahead? For the Weardale Coach, we may perhaps not unearth much more. Getting to a copy of a Faverdale Exhibition guide could reveal more and will be undertaken when I find myself in the NRM with time on my side. Seeing if a summing up magazine feature could appear makes sense.
For ourselves, we need to focus back on the Forsythe Collection at York. Both Fiona and myself should be there next Tuesday for a photoshoot in connection with a press release about the transfer of the Forsythe Collection.

Saturday, 2 May 2009

A picture of the Weardale Coach

The handy thing about blogging is that you can involve people as a team working in a public dimension. John Askwith of the Weardale Railway heard about my enquiry and has furnished the first image I have seen of the coach (above). He says "I obtained it from the old British Railways Photographic Unit , West Offices, York circa 1978". There was no caption or details on the print. So when was it taken and where? The likely hunch is outside the old museum? Perhaps before it was destroyed as "worm eaten"? But marvel, here was this wonderful Weardale artefact that after surviving decades disappeared with very little trace from a museum sometime in the 1950s. Progress may be slow but as the other threads suggest, there are still a number of leads to follow up and if you read this and think you can add anything to the story of the Weardale coach do comment. Something I might add is to mention the Rolvenden coach. This was a similar sort of vehicle from the south east and which has also ended up associated with a preserved railway. In its case the British Transport Commission fully restored it. Some net searching will quickly get results :
Horse-drawn omnibus, Kent & East Sussex Rly, ex Tenterden Station, green and yellow road coach.
National Railway Museum, Station Hall
NRM; SH; TRACK06 from

Monday, 27 April 2009

Weardale Coach: Faverdale, 3 pictures and a horn

To keep focussed on where next with the Weardale Coach, these are the next steps:
which is the NRM library entry for the Faverdale exhibition. This volume needs examination at the NRM or elsewhere to see if the Weardale coach is in. If it is there, largely the tale about how it got to York is answered.

It is clear that three sets of artefacts got to the old York Railway Museum. The coach which it appears was destroyed 1952-56 though that is to be confirmed. Three pictures: In the York museum minutes of 26th February 1925, Mr Wrightson an inspector at Middlesbrough donated three pictures of the Weardale coach to the museum. And a horn: In the 1950 British Transport Commission Initial Catalogue in addition to the "standard entry" for the Weardale coach, the next entry says Horn inscribed "Presented to James Wilkinson Mail Coach Driver Weardale".

So my next question for the NRM is are the photographs and the horn traceable? And if so my target is to manage to show a picture of the horn and one of the coach in this blog. At which point I will feel we have done some justice to making a little memorial to the Weardale coach.

Thursday, 23 April 2009

The Weardale Coach morphs into short sea BR shipping

Back from my first visit to York to see The Forsythe Collection. As ever it is the unintentional consequences which are worthwhile. Seeing what had been our collection housed for the first time ever in one sequence in one of the newest archives in Britain had to be quite exciting and it was. A smile did cross my face when in the second bullet point to the NRM's own summary of what they had taken on, the phrase "Key collection for the study of "telling the public where they can go"" was used. I met three students of the Institute of Railway Studies and it was very good to see their evident enthusiasm for the material which had become available for study. The staff at the NRM have clearly done a lot of work to get the Collection this far since the removal in January.

I was also in Search Engine to investigate a thread which I call the Weardale coach (just over the hill from home) and which had come about by seeing an entry in the 1948 edition of the old York Railway Museum catalogue which is in the Forsythe Collection. As a result of working through what the Search Engine staff had prepared for our study we know a bit more. The Weardale coach also known as the Rob Roy was operated by Mr Richard Mews of the Pack Horse Inn, Stanhope. Between 1862 and 1895 it provided the updale connection to Wearhead and Cowshill. Then the railway opened to Wearhead. By August 1927, the Weardale coach was on display in the old York Museum. It was there until at least 1952 when in minute 186 of the old museum minutes, it was noted that it was "worm eaten". There is no immediate record of what then happened but it is not in the 1956 catalogue.

Reading the NER Museum Minutes (copies in one bound volume) is absolutely fascinating. One appreciates that the NER museum did not appear ex nihilo in 1922 but had been years in the gestation in the acts of key managers. There is also a barely concealed (not concealed at all?) argument in the early years of the project about whether it should be permanently located in York or Darlington. Meanwhile all sorts of private collectors are knocking on the door offering items. Museum work was ever thus.

But how did the Weardale coach reach York? I left with no answer but a hunch. During 1923-25 exhibits flooded in. In the minutes of 26th February 1925, Mr Wrightson an inspector at Middlesbrough donated three pictures of the Weardale coach to the museum. I wonder whether between these pictures and the Faverdale Exhibition later in 1925, the Weardale coach surfaced? Was it displayed at Faverdale and thence moved to York?

The minutes have quite a gap in the 1925 period. It is evident there were tensions between the York and Darlington parties. British Rail in Cavalcade Remembered (1976) said "the historic items at Faverdale were to form the nucleus of York Railway Museum". That is an angle which the York museum committee in 1922-25 would likely have sternly disagreed with preferring it the other way around. Something I still need to see is a guide to the Faverdale display of 1925.

Although we must accept that the Weardale coach is long gone, the hunt for its story is not yet complete. Not only should I read a Faverdale guide but we need to see if any of those photos handed in in 1925 still exist. There's something else too. In the 1950 British Transport Commission Initial Catalogue in addition to the "standard entry" for the Weardale coach, the next entry says Horn inscribed "Presented to James Wilkinson Mail Coach Driver Weardale". If the coach does not survive, does the horn?

Meanwhile as I leafed through various suggested files, all sorts of other threads which fascinate me surface. The summary of which is how museum correspondence files are FULL of the ephemera of the types which the Forsythe Collection is built around. I was seeing items of a calibre which I dream about and which were totally fresh to me.

As a file cited in order to research the Weardale Coach I was led to:"British Transport Commission Archive - Technical Files Road Vehicles"
I noted this box labelled as Clapham Road Vehicles & Services (Goods)
and within it is an orange file labelled S1.

This file is full of late SR shipping pieces and early BR items. FULL, fascinating, important. Press release for instance of new Tilbury Gravesend ferry. Oostende Dover 1946 centenary celebrations, various pieces. Items for the Falaise. It has the feel of being a file created by being on a mailing list. Also relevant newspaper cuttings. For anyone interested in early post war short sea shipping, well worth consulting.

I think I can see the logic of how it has been "mislabelled" but that is another story. The important thing is to know this material is there and to be able to see it.

One of the gentleman proposing to use the Forsythe Collection is Japanese and within an hour of chatting to him, I was leafing through a box labelled "Clapham York Museum Technical Files XX". One item within referred to the Weardale coach. Another (XX32 within XX31) was an envelope labelled Japanese Museum of Information and full of JNR publicity ephemera. Yet another fascinating file recorded a long running correspondence of John Scholes. This was in Clapham Correspondence Files File 15 Railway Museum Correspondence Box 43. In it over many years (1953-67) was a discussion about the Hayward Papers and Collection. This was clearly a major collection of interest to students of publicity ephemera and timetables. There was mention of 18,000 items. I ran out of time and was unable to ascertain whether this material had eventually made it to the museum for safekeeping. Something more to investigate.

As a new user of Search Engine, I have absolutely no doubts that so long as I had a practically infinite amount of time, I would never be bored of studying these files. The real story of how the marvellous York museum came to be is locked in them with lashings of human drama and to my surprise (somewhat) there are items of significance and importance to my own ephemeral and publicity interests way beyond what a correspondence file might suggest would be contained. Much scope for more work.................. hey ho.................

Tuesday, 14 April 2009

Why this blog?

This blog has started out of the ether; well, almost. I did a search on National Railway Museum blog and although I could find some individuals who posted something about the NRM York, I could find nothing that represented a blog about the museum. If I have that wrong, please tell me. So why does it need a blog? I have several angles on that. In my past I have been a professional museum curator and my wife a librarian. We have "used" the NRM in the sense of visiting and undertaking occasional research. We know some of the curatorial team. We read the magazines in the railway heritage world and we read very good reports about the museum and some complaints. Over the last year or so, our encounter with the museum has become rather closer. explains this. Over many years we had created a vast collection of travel and transport publicity ephemera which, naturally, became far too large for a semi. We are talking about 275 shelf feet of material. Happily the Museum saw the importance of this material and earlier in 2009, we were able to part with the collection and it has been relocated to the Search Engine at York. We anticipate in the future that an amount of our working lives will be spent in that facility working on that material although it is no longer "ours". The whole process of agreeing the transfer took a couple of years. Fortunately we had not died so everyone had time on their side but the experience opened up to us reading about many of the debates that the NRM finds itself in. We wonder whether a blog would be the place in which some of this chat could take place. Have we asked the NRM about this or sought their approval? No, we have not. That would be to undermine the point of a blog. This is my blog and I will welcome other contributions though they will be moderated. I have immense respect for the task that the NRM undertakes especially when balanced to the resources available. Good criticism has to balance the wish list against the attainable.

Here are some throughts about the diverse range of subjects that could be commented on: the debate about the Flying Scotsman restoration is a live one at the moment even down to what colour it should carry or whether vacuum brakes should be fitted. The latter is a technical matter with implications about where it can work. Search Engine is the new and major archive facility. Users experiences and feedback could be interesting. The museum has major plans for the redisplay of the main hall and for an involvement in what is called The Railway Lands west of the present site. Something I have always found a bit challenging is to know who does what at the museum. As an outsider it is often a struggle to sort this out. Personally, I would challenge the museum to publish on their website a clear structure plan with individuals named. A little bit of research I am about to undertake concerns an artefact called The Weardale Coach. This worked near where we live between Stanhope and Cowshill before the railway reached Wearhead. So in the 1862-1895 period. It has been a struggle to convince folk that this artefact ever reached the museum. But it did and was certainly there 1948-1952 and maybe for a lot longer. This was the old York Railway Museum as created by the LNER. With developments like Locomotion at Shildon and the Weardale Railway, knowing a bit more about this coach would be fascinating. Another subject for blogging could be about museum events.

Now whether any of this will take off, I know not. If you do wish to make a comment, add it to this post. If you wish to post something substantive, email me copy and I will put it up so long as I can see the sense of it. Yes, I am going to moderate this, even if this means no one participates. I have no wish for this blog to be knocking the institution pointlessly or stupidly. Constructive criticism, debate and praise is my style. I did not do two theology degrees for nothing. If relevant people either from the museum or outside can convince me that they wish to contribute to the blog regularly, a request to me may expand the blogging team.