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.................

No comments:

Post a Comment