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).