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.