Crème de la Crème

One of our fantastic volunteers, Tania, looks at the extraordinary measures British Railways took to test their ice cream. 

British Railway poster using summer imagery to promote rail travel.  © National Railway Museum / SSPL.

British Railway poster using summer imagery to promote rail travel.
© National Railway Museum / SSPL.

You would think that British Railways’ scientific and chemical analysis departments would be concerned solely with the technical side of railway operations. However whilst myself and another volunteer were surveying and repackaging this collection in the stores we were surprised to come across documents detailing the extraordinary lengths that British Railways went to test and analyse the ice cream that was served in their hotels.

Bradford Midland Hotel is one of many mentioned in the documents.  © National Railway Museum / SSPL.

Bradford Midland Hotel is one of many mentioned in the documents.
© National Railway Museum / SSPL.

These papers document the whole process of collecting and analysing samples. A lab assistant was given this slip from his superior so that hotel knew he was collecting samples for analysis, and wasn’t just trying to blag a free ice cream!


Scientific Papers I. Cotter Donation ALS2/28/C/6

The weather and culinary tradition seems to have hindered the quest for ice cream excellence:


Scientific Papers I. Cotter Donation ALS2/28/C/6

Once the sample had been taken, it was sent back to the lab for analysis, undergoing rigorous testing:


Scientific Papers I. Cotter Donation ALS2/28/C/6

Ice cream was a serious business, not only did British Railways want to ensure a quality product, but they also had to adhere to legislation:


Scientific Papers I. Cotter Donation ALS2/28/C/6

Although the stereotypical image of British Railways’ catering in its later years was the soggy sandwich, these papers show that in earlier times British Railways paid close care and attention to the quality of something as trivial as ice cream.

Posted in Museum news | 1 Comment

How 4 ½ million servicemen drank tea at York Station

Today’s guest blog is written by our fantastic volunteer, Alexandra Baker, who has written about the Soldiers’ and Sailors’ canteen at York Station during WW1.

NER Magazine 1915.

During the First World War hundreds of thousands of servicemen passed through York Station on their way to or from the battlefields. These soldiers and sailors would have been hungry and tired, waiting at the station for connections. The existing buffet at the station closed every day at 5:30pm, and there were reports in the Yorkshire Evening Press of poor service being delivered to soldiers.

Tea room

The ‘Ladies of York’ take action

So, the ‘Ladies of York’ decided to do something about this problem. On 15 November 1915, a Soldiers’ and Sailors’ Canteen was established on platform three (now platform one).

It was made up of two carriages donated by the North Eastern Railway, and served tea, coffee and food to servicemen in uniform – for low costs. Run by volunteers, it was open twenty four hours a day, seven days a week until it closed on 23 May, 1919. During this time it served four and a half million soldiers and sailors – an average of 18,000 per week. In its first year of opening it spent £7,630 on tea, coffee and food – that’s about £330,000 today. In 1917 the average spent on mugs was £12 per week – about £596 today.

A friendly face

The women of the canteen didn’t only provide sustenance for troops; in many cases, they were a much needed friendly face. A cup of warm tea and a kind remark would have gone a long way for many of these boys, who had likely been away from home for a long time. In some cases, women running such canteens are thought to have written back to the families of soldiers they met, reassuring them of their safety.

A tiring job

These women worked tirelessly at all times, and their efforts were recognised by a passer by, who wrote to the North Eastern Railway Magazine about his experiences:

“A READER having occasion to make a night journey, comments on the busy aspect of York station in the small hours. Service men predominate but civilians of both sexes awaiting train connections help to swell the numbers. Arriving trains disgorge not only sleepy passengers, but incredibly large quantities of parcels, newspapers and mails. But what struck him most was the unselfish service given by the ladies at the soldiers’ and sailors’ canteen where business was very brisk indeed.” NER Magazine, November 1918, Vol. 8 No. 95.

A holiday needed

You can imagine what a difficult job this would have been for the women – to remain positive and welcoming at all times of the day and night whilst most likely seeing awful things, especially when the ambulance trains came in. However, they most likely felt it was their duty to help their boys fighting for their country. Nevertheless, when the canteen closed on 23 May 1919, Mrs Morrell, chair of the committee, remarked how all of the volunteers needed a holiday – and I think they definitely deserved it!

Alexandra Baker

The National Railway Museum is now looking for information from people who may remember their relatives telling them about the Canteen, volunteering for it, encountering it on the station, have pictures of it or any other evidence. If you or anyone may know someone who recalls this get in touch at: or 01904 685 750.

Posted in Museum news | Leave a comment

Model students mark record for world’s oldest working model railway

Associate Curator Russell Hollowood  talks about the world’s oldest working model railway.

March 2014 found Students of Carr Junior School, York, helping the museum celebrate a world record – when the Lancashire & Yorkshire Railway School of Signalling display was officially named as the world’s oldest working model railway.

Volunteer Peter M Webster, helping Carr students signal trains

Volunteer Peter M Webster, helping Carr students signal trains

Built in 1912, the model was used until 1995 to train railway workers in the rules and regulations of railway signalling. Since 2003 it has been restored to working order by a team of dedicated volunteers and today it’s still doing what it was designed to do, teach people how to signal trains.

The story began in 1910, when the Lancashire & Yorkshire Railway established a ‘School of Signalling’ on the upper floor of its headquarters in Manchester Victoria Station. The school enrolled 100 students who, as now, attended in their own time to learn absolute block signalling.

Built in 1912 and still training young signallers.

Built in 1912 and still training young signallers.

The experiment was successful enough for a working model railway to be commissioned and installed in the classroom. The model was built as a training exercise by apprentices of the company’s Horwich works and supplied with rolling stock by Basset Lowke Ltd. It was installed in 1912; and in use by1913.

The models are radio controlled today

The models are radio controlled today

The newly installed model had working block instruments, interlocked mechanical lever frames and electrically powered trains. It replicated in miniature every situation railway signallers were likely to encounter. In the following 82 years of service, it changed to reflect the railway its students worked on. Overhead wires (catenaries) were added, colour light signals appeared and a train control desk was built. However, despite these changes, it remained a vital training tool for signallers.

In 1995, Rail Track called time on the Edwardian masterpiece and its long working life came to a finish. The layout was donated to us and over four days in September 1995, it was packed into boxes and transported to our museum.

Bob Brook (NRM Volunteer) holds the world record certificate

Bob Brook (NRM Volunteer) holds the world record certificate

In 1999, Bob Brook and some fellow volunteers began the process of unpacking the boxes and restoring the model to its former glory. This was a painstaking process, but slowly the team pieced the puzzle back together and made the trains roll again. By 2003, the layout was working again.

Richard Pulleyn (NRM Volunteer) helps the students keep the trains moving

Richard Pulleyn (Museum Volunteer) helps the students keep the trains moving

Today the model is demonstrated to museum visitors, used by Network Rail and offers hands on signalling experience to school students learning about railway safety. It is a living object that links the museum with 100 years of railway tradition and is now a world record holder!

The original L&Y volunteers Bob Brook, Peter M Webster, Len Green Horn and David Eastoe with the world record certificate.

The original L&Y volunteers Bob Brook, Peter M Webster, Len Green Horn and David Eastoe with the world record certificate.

In celebrating the record, it’s important to remember the pioneers, who laid the foundations of success. Therefore, it is a big thanks to Dave Eastoe, Bob Brook, Len Green Horn and Peter Munthe-Webster for laying the foundations that made this record-breaking achievement possible.

See the layout in action with a regular programme of live demonstrations. Find out more.

Posted in Museum news | Tagged | 2 Comments

‘Germany becomes mobile’, with a little help from Coppernob.

Today’s guest blog was written by Sven Bracke, Curator at the Dresden Transport Museum. Coppernob is about to go on display there as part of their new exhibition. 

On 8 April 2014 the special exhibition “Germany becomes mobile” will open at the
Dresden Transport Museum after a preparation time of nearly two years. It intends
to take a new look at the first long-distance railway in Germany, the Leipzig-Dresden
line, which opened 175 years ago on 7 April 1839. This railway line marks a milestone in the history of mobility in Germany, because it provided affordable transport for hundreds of thousands of people.

Dresden Transport Museum

Dresden Transport Museum

While the buildings and line of this 115 km long railway have been the focus of many
exhibitions and scientific research in the last 50 years, our exhibition focuses on the
men who built, designed, financed, planed and ran the line: engineers like Theodor
Kunz, the directors of the company like Gustav Harkort or Wilhelm Seyfferth, the
designers of engines and wagons like George Stephenson and Thomas Clarke Worsdell
and the workers as well as the passengers.

It centers on three main objects: first of all, the last remaining wagon of the Leipzig-
Dresdner Eisenbahn, which serviced both the LDE and later the Royal Saxonian State
Railways and was then bought by Villeroy & Boch. Since 1954 it is part of the collection of
the Transport Museum of Dresden and was reconstructed for this exhibition.

Leipzig-Dresdner Eisenbahn Wagon Image courtesy of the Dresden Transport Museum

Leipzig-Dresdner Eisenbahn Wagon
Image courtesy of the Dresden Transport Museum

Second, the”Saxonia”, a replica of the first working steam locomotive built in Germany, which is part of our permanent exhibition. The replica was built in 1989 for the 150th anniversary of the LDE.

Replica of the locomotive Saxonia.  Image courtesy of the Dresden Transport Museum.

Replica of the locomotive Saxonia.
Image courtesy of the Dresden Transport Museum.

Last but not least there is “Coppernob” built by Edward Bury in 1846. The loan of “Coppernob” from the National Railway Museum is not only a sign of great co-operation between our two museums; it’s leaving England for the first time gives us a great opportunity to show the transfer of technology from England to Germany. Its twin, Rothwell’s “Comet”, was the model for the first working
locomotive built in Saxony in 1838 – Johann Andreas Schubert’s “Saxonia”.

Sven Bracke
Curator at the Dresden Transport Museum

See how Coppernob was prepared for the move here:

Posted in Museum news | Leave a comment

Privatisation : The Railway Revolution?

Today’s blog was written by John McGoldrick, Curator of Museum Collections, and looks at the privatisation of Britain’s railways – a process that began 20 years ago today. 

Exactly 20 years ago to this day, the first building blocks in the privatisation of Britain’s railways were put in place with the birth on 1st April 1994 of Railtrack – the body responsible for running the railway infrastructure.  Details of the new structure first appeared in Transport Secretary, John McGregor’s White Paper New Opportunities for the Railways which was unveiled in July 1992.  Over the preceding decade, British Rail seemed to be establishing itself as a well run concern, especially with its profit-making InterCity sector which ran frequent high speed services.

National Railway Museum Intercity

Painting of an Intercity train

Railtrack was subsequently privatised by public flotation in 1996.  The process of dividing up the role of operating trains into discreet franchises was longer-winded.  These were to be awarded after a biding process to the respective Train Operating Companies (TOCs).  Franchising was also delayed by a legal challenge from the Save our Railways pressure Group.  Responsibility for rolling stock went to Rolling Stock Companies (ROSCOS).  By 1997, Britain’s railways were effectively privately run.

National Railway Museum Railtrack

A Railtrack sign from our collection

The privatisation of this hugely complex industry inevitably generated massive controversy.  Critics protested – and continue to do so – about public funds being allocated to private companies to run franchises.  Others point to growing investment and greater adaptability in today’s industry.  Wherever the truth lies, it is clear that Britain’s railways look to be facing an exciting period of development with major projects like Crossrail, HS2 and the electrification of many routes linking cities in the North of England.

The double arrow flag, or arrows of indecision if you prefer, pictured below from the Museum’s collection no longer flies over railway buildings.  However, the logo unleashed on a reluctant public in 1966 still endures today as the commonly accepted railway symbol.

National Railway Museum British Rail

British Rail flag from our collection

Posted in Museum news | Leave a comment

Railway marine staff among first prisoners of war

Today’s blog was written by Simon Batchelor, our Assistant Curator of Collections, and looks at the internment of railway marine staff at the outbreak of the First World War. 

When Britain entered a state of war on August 4th  1914 there were still a large number of British citizens living and working in Germany, amongst them were the continental agents of several railway companies and the crews of ships owned by the railways.

In an attempt to prevent the Admiralty requisitioning them, the internment of British ships became a priority for German port authorities. Both the Lancashire & Yorkshire Railway (L&Y) and the Great Central Railway (GCR) had regular services running to Hamburg and each had ships in the port at the end of July 1914.

Poster produced for the Great Central Railway to promote their route from Grimsby to The Netherlands, Belgium, Germany, and Denmark. © National Railway Museum / SSPL

Poster produced for the Great Central Railway to promote their route from Grimsby to The Netherlands, Belgium, Germany, and Denmark.
© National Railway Museum / SSPL

Despite German attempts to prevent them, two of the L&Y vessels managed to leave Hamburg in ballast before the 4th August deadline but the “Dearne” and the “Equity” had not finished discharging their cargoes and were therefore unable to join them.

The three Great Central ships, “City of Leeds”, “City of Bradford” and “Bury”, were according to Dow[1], “… seized by the Germans. Homeward bound, before the expiry of the British ultimatum, they were stopped by German patrol vessels at the mouth of the Elbe and ordered to return to Hamburg.”

Initially it appears that the crews were interned aboard their vessels and the captains of the ships were allowed ashore to purchase supplies but as the mood of the German populace changed they were confined with their crews. Both the GCR and the L&Y had agencies in Hamburg and subsequently supplies were purchased through them. The crews were visited by the American Consul and through his intervention the three female stewards serving on the GCR ships were repatriated, arriving back in Grimsby on 24th September.[2]

On 9th September German authorities transferred approximately forty British “suspects” to Ruhleben civilian detention camp, a racecourse at Spandau, a further draught of around forty, described as the crews of three small ships, were transferred on 6th October.[3] This latter group may have been the crews of the GCR vessels as the stewardesses had reported they were still aboard their own ships when they were released.

The ships were eventually taken over by the Imperial German Navy. “City of Leeds” became a minelayer and depot ship, it was returned to the GCR after the war.[4] “City of Bradford” was renamed “Donau” and became a floating workshop and then a mother ship for coastal forces, it was returned to the GCR after the war[5]. “Bury” became an accommodation ship for naval pilots and was returned to the GCR after the war[6]. “Equity” shipped war supplies from Finland to Germany before being returned to the L&Y at the end of the war[7]. “Dearne” was sunk in German service.[8]

National Railway Museum SS Dearne

SS Dearne at Holyhead docks 1911
© National Railway Museum / SSPL

The majority of the crews remained at Ruhleben until the end of the war but a number were released on compassionate grounds. Unfortunately there were also fatalities; these affected the crew of “Bury” the most as they lost both of their senior officers; Master Mariner E. Russell (Captain) and W. Jackson (Chief Engineer).

To learn more about the Ruhbelin Internment Camp and the men held there the following websites will be of use.

I hope to put up further posts about the railway marine service in the near future.

[1] Dow. G., 1965. “Great Central” Volume 3, p280.

[2] “G.C.R. Steamers interned at Hamburg” in Great Central Railway Journal, November 1914, pp128-129.

Posted in Library and archive collections, Museum news, Research | 1 Comment

Railway ships and the birth of the Aircraft Carrier.

Our Assistant Curator, Simon Batchelor, talks about the little-known role of railway ships in the birth of the Aircraft Carrier.

At the outbreak of the First World War the idea of aerial warfare was in its infancy. The Royal Navy had only just begun experimenting with aircraft support vessels in 1913 when the elderly Highflyer Class cruiser HMS “Hermes” had been converted into an experimental seaplane carrier with a forward launching ramp and aft hangar. At the end of the experiment the ship was reconverted and put in reserve. On the outbreak of war “Hermes” was reconverted to an aircraft transport and re-commissioned. She was sunk in October 1914

In May 1914 the Royal Navy purchased a vessel being built in Blyth, Northumberland. Originally intended to be a freighter the RN purchase led the vessel to be redesigned as a seaplane carrier, the first ship in history to be specifically designed for the carrying of aircraft – HMS “Ark Royal” was commissioned in December 1914.

Shortly after the declaration of war the Admiralty began requisitioning merchant vessels for use as naval support vessels, among those ‘taken up’ were three cross-channel steamers belonging to the South Eastern and Chatham Railway; Empress, Engadine and Riviera.  After initial use as transports for the Royal Naval Air Service, these ships were sent to Chatham Dockyard for rapid conversion into Seaplane Tenders. Each ship was fitted with canvass hangers to house its three aircraft (one forward and two aft), recovery derricks (each aircraft had to be lowered outboard to take off and then upon recovery raised inboard to be housed) and defensive armaments. By the end of September 1914 conversion of all three was completed, the ships were commissioned and attached to the Harwich Force. Between November 1914 and January 1915 these three former railway vessels became the only British vessels capable of launching aircraft available to the Admiralty. In December the Harwich Force including the three Seaplane Tenders were sent into the North Sea. On Christmas Day all three launched their seaplanes in an attack on the Zeppelin Base and port installations at Cuxhaven – this was the first ever attack carried out by carrier based aircraft on enemy port installations undertaken by the Royal Navy.


TSS Riviera before conversion.

January 1915 saw another Railway connected ship taken over and converted; the Isle of Man steamer Ben-my-Chree. The work was undertaken at the Cammell Laird yard, Birkenhead and differed from the earlier ships, an hangar for four – six seaplanes was constructed aft of the rear funnel, along with the derricks necessary for lifting the aircraft into and out of the sea. A dismountable flying off platform was installed for the foredeck, this was equipped with rails and a trolley thus allowing seaplanes to be launched from the deck. On commission in March 1915 she was sent to the Harwich Force.

Whilst this conversion was taking place the Admiralty sought to increase its permanent seaplane carrier fleet, in February 1915 it bought Engadine and Riviera from the South Eastern and Chatham Railway and both were sent to be modified at the Cunard shipyards. Like the Ben-my-Chree they both received aft permanent aft hangars for four aircraft but no forward launch ramp. Armaments were upgraded and they were also fitted with pigeon lofts which housed the carrier pigeons used by aircrews if their radios failed. Upon completion they were once again sent to the Harwich Force.

March 1915 saw another Manx steamer requisitioned, SS Viking, and converted to same design as Ben-my-Chree. Commissioned as HMS “Vindex”, she too was initially sent to Harwich, and in November 1915 was purchased from her owners. The concentration of seaplane carriers at Harwich lead to a number of joint operations between the ships: In July Engadine and Riviera took part in a reconnaissance of the River Ems, unfortunately the mission was unsuccessful as only one plane from Riviera was able to take off successfully and none of the aircraft detailed to attack the observing Zeppelins were launched from Engadine. A similar mission in 1916 involving Engadine and Vindex was also unsuccessful.

1915 also saw the development of a new group of seaplane carriers, following her conversion Empress was sent to Queenstown before receiving orders, at the end of the year, to join the East Indies and Egypt Seaplane Squadron, which then consisted of the Ben-my-Chree, HMS Anne and HMS Raven II, two former German merchantmen that had been impounded in Port Said at the outbreak of war. Ben-my-Chree made naval aviation history in June, during the Dardanelles campaign, when one of her aircraft launched the first aerial torpedo attack.

Finally aviation history was also made onboard Vindex when a Bristol Scout C aeroplane made a successful takeoff from her launch ramp, the first take of by a land type aircraft (one with wheeled landing gear) from a Royal Navy ship

1916 saw the arrival of another former railway steamer, the Midland Railway’s Manxman, into the ranks of the seaplane carrier fleet. Manxman had been converted at Chatham and boasted two hangars and a flying-off deck, and unlike her fellow converts she was immediately assigned to The Grand Fleet, but her conversion had a serious effect on her speed and it was found that she was unable to generate sufficient speed to keep up with the fleet, despite this she remained with The Grand Fleet until 1917.


1975-7948: Model of HMS. Engadine as she appeared at the battle of Jutland.

Perhaps the most famous sea battle of the war also took place in 1916 and the railway steamers were represented by Engadine which had been transferred to Beatty’s Battlecruiser fleet shortly after the joint action with Vindex. On the 30th May as part of the 3rd Light Cruiser Squadron she was sent to locate the German High Seas Fleet. 31st May she launched one of her aircraft and received a report that they had observed several enemy vessels, spot reports continued to come in until a ruptured fuel line forced the aircraft down. This was the first time in history that a heavier-than-air aircraft had reconnoitred an enemy fleet and it is unfortunate that Engadine’s wireless operators were unable to relay the messages to the main fleet.

This was not the end of the action for Engadine however, at approximately 18:30 hours she came up to the crippled HMS Warrior  whom she took in tow, but it was not enough to save the cruiser and early the following morning the tow was slipped and Engadine went alongside and transferred 675 officers and men from the stricken vessel.

1917 saw the last of the railway steamer conversions come into service, HMS Pegasus had originally been ordered by the Great Eastern Railway in 1914 but upon the outbreak of war work was stopped and the SS Stockholm as it was meant to be called was mothballed. In 1917 the Admiralty bought the partially built vessel and fitted it out as a mixed aircraft carrier. Beneath the forward mounted flight deck was a hangar for fighter aircraft; these were delivered to the flight deck by the first ever aircraft lift fitted to a Royal Navy Vessel.

Of the fifteen ships that served as aircraft carriers between 1914 and 1919 seven were former channel steamers owned by railway companies and their partners, and of these seven only one, Ben-my-Chree, was lost. One should also remember that when the ships were initially taken up so were their crews, the only exceptions to this being female stewards and non essential sea going staff over the age of sixty. Those who remained were expected to learn new methods of working, command structures and discipline, to understand the needs of the Royal Navy, the aircraft, their pilots and mechanics, and an entirely new form of ship, all in the time it took the shipyard to convert their cross channel steamer to a ship of war and for the Admiralty to test and commission it; approximately ten weeks.

Posted in Museum news | Tagged | 1 Comment