World Book Day – How the railways spread a love of the written word

Happy World Book Day! Did you know that the railways had a huge impact helping spread a love of reading throughout the population? Below Karen, our Librarian, tells you how and shares one of the rarer books within our collection. 

National Railway Museum world book day

A rare copy of a Yellowback within our collection

This is a rare copy of a Yellowback book. Yellowbacks were produced for sale at railway bookstalls such as W H Smith. They largely had bright yellow or gaudy covers as a marketing ploy to make them stand out from their more sedate shelf-partners and encourage the burgeoning commuting public to part with their money.

National Railway Museum W H Smith

W H Smith bookstall, Manchester Victoria Station, c 1926.
© National Railway Museum / SSPL

It’s an important part of the collection as it is a good example of how railways were the facilitators in bringing literature to the general public and tells us a bit about passengers’ travelling habits, tastes and pastimes. What better object for World Book Day than a book that helped our ancestors foster the reading habit!

For more information on our amazing collection of books see our website.

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My Favourite Object: Flaman Speed Recorder

An example of a Flaman Speed Recorder, found in the cab of Mallard

For a long time, most of the world’s railway locomotives were not fitted with any kind of speed indicating device. In France, however, Nicolas Flaman designed a unit which was fitted to most French locomotives even before the outbreak of the First World War in 1914. Eventually, these same recording devices were fitted to British locomotives. One was fitted to Mallard and was no doubt studied with interest on 3 July 1938, when it would have shown a maximum speed of just over 126 miles per hour. It is still in place in the cab of our locomotive and you can see another example in the Warehouse.

Keith Taylor, Information Point Volunteer

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The Alan Jackson Archive


Alan Jackson was an inveterate collector of information on all aspects of the railways and recorded his data on a series of index cards.  He left his collection of cards and supporting material to the Railway and Canal Historical Society and they have passed them to us at the National Railway Museum.  The cards have been digitised and a team of volunteers is entering the hand written data into Excel spreadsheets.  When this lengthy process is complete, the data will be transferred into the Museum’s systems, to form an invaluable archive, available to specialist and general users.

National Railway Museum

Help make a lasting contribution to the future of railway research

The Role

As one of our volunteers you’d receive batches of up to 50 digitised cards, together with a prepared spreadsheet and guidance notes on how to transcribe the information. Included with this is reference material to explain the codes Alan Jackson used.  A digitised card looks like this:

An index card from the Alan Jackson Archive

An index card from the Alan Jackson Archive

 and, when transcribed, the spreadsheet looks like this:

An example spreadsheet, used for transcribing data from the Alan Jackson index cards.

An example spreadsheet, used for transcribing data from the Alan Jackson index cards.

We need

Many more transcribers, to help us move this project forward

Transcribers need

  • A computer with a good sized monitor, Windows 98 or later, and Microsoft Excel
  • A broadband link to receive and transmit files
  • Reasonable keyboard skills
  • A willingness to sit at the computer for blocks of time, capturing data

and some knowledge of railways can he helpful.

Does this project interest you?  If so, you can find a simple application form here

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Heritage Appeal

Harriet Lamb works for our Development team and talks about the amazing generosity of our visitors.

2013 was a really special year for our museum. To celebrate the anniversary of Mallard’s record breaking achievement we reunited all six remaining A4 locomotives. We welcomed thousands of visitors in July and again in November, with young and old, families and groups of friends, to see the Great Gathering (not forgetting the record-breaking visitor numbers seen this month at Shildon).

National Railway Museum

3 July 2013 saw the 75th anniversary of Mallard’s world steam speed record.

Something that stood out during these events was the support we saw from our visitors. We received many kind words and huge amounts of donations. We were completely overwhelmed by, and feel very grateful for, the generosity shown to us.

One of the things that makes working at the National Railway Museum so special is the support we receive from our visitors. Not just during events like the Great Gathering, but every day – last year in total our visitors donated over £690,000.

Last year, the money donated by our visitors paid for the redevelopment of Station Hall. Thank you for playing your part in transforming this much loved part of the Museum, and home to our splendid Royal Carriages, into something really magical. It simply wouldn’t have been possible without you.

National Railway Museum

Our new look Royal Platform

This year we have more plans to improve the Museum, allowing access to more of our collection and allowing visitors to get up close to railway heritage. We’re opening up our beautiful Topaz Pullman Parlour carriage, allowing visitors inside for the first time. We also have work to do on our Ellerman Lines sectioned locomotive, used by our Explainers to show how a steam locomotive works.

National Railway Museum

Our sectioned loco, Ellerman Lines, is used to demonstrate how a steam loco works.

We’re holding a Heritage Appeal this spring to ask for your support with our plans for 2014. While we receive some funding from the government, our grant has been reduced every year since 2010 and without the generosity of our visitors we would be unable to carry out essential improvements and activities, like the Station Hall redevelopment. You can support us by making an online donation, or by contacting

The beautiful Topaz carriage will be opened up for public access

The beautiful Topaz carriage will be opened up for public access

We’d also like to invite you to a special evening event on Monday 3rd March, from 6-9pm at the Museum. Come and see our collection out of hours, meet the team, take part in some exciting activities and learn about our plans. We’d like to say thank you in person. You can find out more about the evening at

Thank you again, and I hope to see you on the 3rd March!

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My favourite object

At the National Railway Museum not only do we have a wonderful collection of objects, we also have over 360 amazing volunteers. They support our work in a variety of ways, from assisting with research to running our miniature railway. We value their input tremendously and it’s important to us that they have a strong voice within our organisation. One of the ways we do this is through our “My favourite object” posters. Each month a volunteer writes 100 words on their favourite object from our collection, these are then displayed throughout the museum. As well as providing our volunteers with the chance to share their passion with our visitors, it has also proved a fascinating and personal way of interpreting the collection.

A favourite object of one of our volunteers.

A favourite object of one of our volunteers.

Since we started, almost two years ago, we have displayed a huge range of objects. My personal favourites include a story about the parents of one of our volunteers travelling on Golden Arrow and one man’s affection for a station bench!

Each month I’ll be sharing one of these stories with you. If you have any personal connections with the objects please let me know, as I’d love to hear them.

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How would British Railways survive nuclear attack?

Today’s blog was written by Tom Hercock. He’s been working at the museum on a placement from the Master of Archives and Records Management Course at Liverpool University. 

Archivists normally hate the media describing archives as “lost” and “discovered”. My only excuse for using such tired clichés is that this collection actually was lost and discovered.

During the recent rebuilding of King’s Cross, workers found a large, locked trunk. When opened, the trunk contained files and papers on civil defence – how the Eastern Region of British Railways would have kept the railways operating if there had been a nuclear attack on Britain.

These documents are probably unique – the other regions of British Railways would have kept records on their own preparations for World War 3, but it is not believed that material from any other region has survived.

Almost all the files in the collection are described as “Secret” or “Top Secret”

Top secret civil defence railway key points (1942 -1953)

Top secret civil defence railway key points (1942 -1953)

Plans for emergency control shelters, from where operations could be directed in the aftermath of a nuclear attack, were also drawn up

Plan of Bishop's Stortford South Signalbox (9 September 1952)

Plan of Bishop’s Stortford South Signalbox (9 September 1952)

Standard District Control Building type "H" (July 1953)

Standard District Control Building type “H” (July 1953)

The files include a lot of material on staff training. This poster was used to promote civil defence to Eastern Region employees:

British Transport Civil Defence  'Join Now' poster

British Transport Civil Defence ‘Join Now’ poster

Two workers were sent to the army camp at Longmoor, Hampshire, on a training course in how to repair track and bridges in emergency, wartime conditions. The photos these trainees took on the course are also in the collection:

Photograph showing civil defence training course. Railway staff were trained how to repair nuclear shelters

Photograph showing civil defence training course. Railway staff were trained how to repair nuclear shelters

Regional headquarters built up a large back catalogue of various civil defence magazines:

Civil Defence Magazine 'The Forth Arm' (1960s)

Civil Defence Magazine ‘The Forth Arm’ (1960s)

The bulk of the material is from the 1950s. There is significantly less from the early 1960s and only a couple of drawings from after 1964. It is interesting to speculate about why the files stop at this time – they don’t in themselves give any answer. Perhaps it was thought that as nuclear weapons got ever more powerful, planning how to keep the railway network functioning after an attack was pointless – everything would be destroyed beyond repair in the first few minutes.[1] As it is, the collection stands as a grim reminder of what could have been.

The full list of  this archive collection can be found on our research and archive pages .  See these pages for information about visiting search engine including opening hours.

Tom Hercock

[1] Context: 1961 saw the detonation of the “Tsar Bomba”, a Soviet hydrogen bomb which remains the largest man-made explosion in human history. It produced a fireball 8 kilometres in diameter, and destroyed everything in a radius 35km across.

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Painting Dwight D. Eisenhower

Today’s guest blog was written by Ian and the fantastic team Heritage Painting who undertook the cosmetic restoration of both Mallard and Dwight D. Eisenhower. Their previous blog focused on painting the world’s fastest steam loco but today they talk about painting the Dwight D. Eisenhower. You can see all six A4s together for the last time at our sister museum in Shildon until 23 Feb for the Great Goodbye.

Dwight arrives at Liverpool Docks © National Railway Museum / Ant Clausen

Dwight arrives at Liverpool Docks
© National Railway Museum / Ant Clausen

We were fortunate enough to be present at Liverpool Docks on the day of the two North American engines’ unloading from the container carrier, Atlantic Conveyor. This gave us a first hand opportunity to view the task that was ahead of us. Initial impressions were not good as we were able to identify several key areas which would require serious attention. Primarily, the engine’s contours had to be rebuilt with filler as they had lost their edge during aggressive shotblasting while being prepared for repainting in the USA.

Dwight D. Eisenhower on display in America. National Railway Museum

Dwight D. Eisenhower on display in America

Our work actually began at Locomotion, The National Railway Museum at Shildon. We used the time there to prepare and paint the wheels up to the first gloss. After a week in Shildon, the team returned to their home base in Bury to await 60008′s move to York.

In early November the engine was moved by rail from Locomotion in Shildon to Holgate sidings and then on to the National Railway Museum, York in the early evening. We picked up the job the following morning in the prep bay of the museum yard. This would give us the chance to carry out the dirty and noisy elements of our work without disturbing the entire museum!

National Railway Museum

In the museum’s prep bay

Four hard weeks in the prep bay saw the loco completely stripped and filled, using 13 gallons of body filler in the process, frames needle gunned back to bare metal and everything primed. The tender was painted into first gloss; following the usual procedure of primer, two undercoats and two coats of Deep Bronze Green gloss prior to the move into the museum workshops at the start of December.

Luckily, this move came just as outside temperatures dropped rapidly to only a few degrees above freezing, not only making working conditions uncomfortable but also making it impossible to paint, as fluctuations in temperature can cause damage to the paintwork as it dries.

Work continued in the workshops. After the tender was in second gloss, the lining and crest were applied over two days allowing the final varnish to be applied.

National Railway Museum

The restoration continues in the museum’s workshop

The boiler barrel then had all attentions turned to it to bring this up to the same stage as the tender. Again, the same process of undercoating and glossing was applied to give a lovely deep shine. Boiler bands were then lined and the parabolic sweep at the front, denoting the change from black to green, was laid out by eye and checked against the sweep we applied on Mallard. Once the entire coachwork was completed in gloss, we applied the various elements of sign writing such as cabside numerals and nose end details. Everything then received the usual flat back and clean, prior to the first of two varnishes.

Mike O' Connor of Heritage Painting numbers Dwight D Eisenhower. National Railway Museum

Mike O’ Connor of Heritage Painting numbers Dwight D Eisenhower

The team actually finished the work on the 20th December, just in time for Christmas!

After the completion of the work, the museum staff removed the motion to allow this to be stripped of the aluminium paint which had been applied for protection in the USA.  This was returned to the engine looking immaculate prior to her move back in to the Great Hall to sit beside her sisters.

Museum staff strip back Dwight's motion.

Museum staff strip back Dwight’s motion.

The Heritage Painting team and I have been incredibly honoured to have carried out work on both Dwight D. Eisenhower and sister A4 Mallard. In addition to these two complete cosmetic restorations, we were also tasked with a boiler barrel repaint of 60009 Union Of South Africa and the hand painted heraldic crests for 60010 Dominion Of Canada. We guess that the last time anyone did this amount of work on A4′s was British Railways back in the 1960′s!

The Heritage Painting team in front of Dwight with a specially commissioned piece of art celebrating the A4s.

The Heritage Painting team in front of Dwight with a specially commissioned piece of art celebrating the A4s.

Ian Hewitt,

Heritage Painting

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