Thursday, 24 June 2010

Mallard at Shildon

Readers here will recognise I have a major and personal interest in NRM York, something like 100 metres of shelving. However York is 100 miles away and the Shildon Locomotion outstation is about 30. That's fortunate and the goings on at Shildon are interesting and worth following. The prospect therefore that Tornado would take Mallard to meet Joem in a family get together yesterday afternoon was very tempting. Fiona drove myself and Clare - after her Hexham swim - down to Shildon. The train had run slightly early and we arrived about 10 minutes after the real action. We were in enough time to see Tornado leave and hear a chorus of chime whistles. And we managed a picture of Mallard in her traveling condition. A lot of people were losing their cool trying to take photos as large numbers of people wanted their own personal picture up close with the great icon. The result was that a clear unhampered picture was almost impossible. That does not phase me. The people watching is just as enjoyable. Our picture managed to work because whenever a TV crew were nearby everyone had to clear off! I think the lady is Look North's Weathergirl Hannah Bayman about to do a live broadcast. The fact that the sun shone and that a huge crowd turned out will rightly make NRM management pleased. These railway engines are stars and they have all the pulling power of those who walk the red carpet. So I congratulate the NRM. They had publicised the journey in advance with movement times readily available. Elsewhere in my blog it is interesting to note a comment at . We do raise in this blog matters which are worth comment and debate. It is not just myself who thinks this, I am being told that by folk with some influence. But that debate does not seem one that the NRM is rushing to engage in. That is a pity. When you change a major loan policy for 2 1/2 years or prepare to turn the Great Hall upside down, a mechanism for debating with your informed audience would seem useful.

Wednesday, 9 June 2010

Spare a thought

All sorts of things wind their way into the Forsythe household. Fiona went to a local watermill and came back with Towpath Talk Issue 56 May 2010. Readers of the blog might think we are timetable obsessives who have nothing else to do in life but worry about things on two rails. We believe in fighting the corner strongly for issues we take up but the reality for anyone who enters our house and eyes the shelves or follows our diaries is that we maintain a very diverse range of interests. In my life waterways and boats came first as I was brought up on the Norfolk Broads. So whilst I truly think that the National Railway Museum has to be kept up to the mark and has to fight strongly to get the best deal it can, I cannot avoid saying how fortunate that the tale of the national waterways museum is not that of the NRM. In history they stem from the same root. The nationalised British Transport Commission enabled both the railway and waterways elements of its operations in the 1960s to have museums. There was Clapham in London for land transport and Stoke Bruerne in Northamptonshire. Today Stoke Bruerne is one of three sister museums. The others are at Gloucester and Ellesmere Port. Their collections are easily of the order of the National Railway Museum. British Waterways remains the only nationalised operator still in being from the 1948 creations. Yet as this issue of Towpath Talk (and I think the recent TV series "Behind the scenes at the museum" which I missed) elaborates, the last few years have been totally torrid. Thankfully 2009 saw some optimism and visitors grew by 25%. But to only 70,000 across three sites. And no free admission. That is awful!

The core point is whilst railways, ships and coal mining all feature properly funded national museums, the three waterways museums despite being spun out of a state organisation have been cast adrift. This is completely unfair in the total context of what the waterways meant in British history and in our leading industrial revolution, nor does it do justice to the astonishing revival of the waterways network since the 1960s. And whilst all sorts of rescue plans have been hatched, exhibits of real importance have rotted and crumbled away.

The article argues that in a very bad situation, The Waterways Trust has achieved a great deal. It has not closed any museum, it is back on the up, it has no central grant, but has created a whole series of new and positive local relationships. It is receiving recognition from museum peers for its work. The future for public museums looking ahead is evidently going to be very tough and it is really sad that in the last few years of plenty, the neglect of the waterways museums was allowed to happen. I think someone could find a fascinating study in comparing and contrasting public policy and the National Railway Museum and the waterways museums taking as a start date 1948. Would it not be fascinating to be able to speak to Tony Hirst and Tom Rolt about this?

If someone undertaking that needed a little bit of worrying context examining the history of ISCA the International Sailing Craft Association and the Exeter Maritime Museum would be instructive. In that instance there was no reprieve and the collection has wandered around Britain subsequently. I think Eyemouth is the current home?

Monday, 7 June 2010

The Stirling Single and its Tender

This time it is the Railway Magazine's July 2010 fascinating feature about GNR tender 1002 which has caught my eye. What an epic tale! The Stirling Single GNR No. 1 preserved since 1907 is a true icon of Victorian locomotive design. By a quirk of fate it has spent all its preserved life attached to the wrong tender, not one it worked with in service. Now thanks to the dogged determination of several individuals, it looks set within the next year to be re-united to the correct tender. In the first place we must thank Messrs Boddy and Leech who back in the mid 1960s, realised the error, discovered a correct survivor and ensured its then preservation (the exact narrative of where it then went and who "owned" it could be expanded I don't doubt). Anyway, neglect in preservation then followed until the Gresley Society Chairman took up its cause. Malcolm Crawley evidently would not take no for an answer. He was in absolute command of the facts and of the intellectual requirement that something had to be done. So to the moral of the story. Never listen to a no from the NRM (and I know that too in the cause of publicity ephemera). Persevere, lobby, refuse to go quiet, and eventually as the article narrates so long as your argument is sound, U turns are possible. The tender has now gone to Locomotion Shildon for full restoration and for myself I have no doubts Andrew Coulls there will appreciate its importance and why its restoration and attachment to GNR No.1 will be a worthy moment in the annals of railway preservation.