Port of Richborough and the birth of the cross channel train ferry.

How to keep an army in the field supplied with sufficient arms, ammunition, food and other essential supplies to keep it effective is a fundamental question asked by all military commanders. The difficulty of this undertaking is increased when that army is fighting overseas, and it was a question which had to be addressed in 1914.

Supplies manufactured all over the United Kingdom had to be transported to all theatres of war and therefore it is not surprising that the government sought control over the bulk carrying transport infrastructure such as railways and canals. Nor is it surprising that the military developed specialist units to build run and maintain such facilities in the war zones.

In December 1914 the Inland Waterways Transport Department of the Royal Engineers was formed, its purpose was to acquire, dispatch and man supply barges being sent from Dover to France. The barges were loaded with military stores and towed across the Channel; their crews would then pilot them along the French and Belgian waterways to stores depots close to the fighting front.

The use of barges was seen as advantageous to military logistics for several reasons; firstly it cut down on the need to double handle cargoes, once loaded the supplies could be delivered directly to the depot rather than being unloaded at a base port, loaded onto a train and then unloaded once again once they reached their destination. This in turn meant that the French ports and railways would be less congested with the materials of war and better able to move troops to where they were needed most. Thirdly because of their size and shallow draught barges were less likely to be sunk by torpedoes and therefore it was more likely that their cargoes would arrive safely at their destination and it spread the risk – if a cargo of ammunition is put aboard a ship and it is sunk the whole lot is lost, but put the same cargo on a barge convoy, even if they don’t all make it across, a percentage of the cargo will.

The barge operations began very quickly but IWTD was not particularly welcome in Dover and it became clear that they needed an operational base elsewhere. Richborough was chosen as it was close to SE&CR’s Minster Junction giving easy access to the rail network so that war materials could be easily transported to the new facility and allowing for direct dispatch to France. By 1916 Richborough Military Port had become a military stores depot not just for France but also for all other theatres of war. It also became the training centre for waterways operations sending men to Italy and the Middle East where they set up inland waterway operations to serve those fronts. By 1917 the port had its own engineering works and was building its own barges rather than just assembling them, they were also repairing railway wagons and operating their own railways. At the end of the war Port of Richborough covered some 2200 acres, had five railway yards, approximately 60 miles of track and could handle some 30000 tons of traffic per week.


Copyright National Railway Museum/Science and Society Picture Library. http://www.nrm.org.uk/ourcollection/photo?group=Horwich&objid=1997-7059_HOR_F_2535

Richborough also became the Eastern port for a brand new service. In 1916 the need to supply the army becoming urgent and it was suggested that a train ferry service be introduced. The value of the barge service was that materials could reach the forward supply depots without being constantly loaded and unloaded so why could you not do the same with a train – Shunt the wagons onto a ship, send it across The Channel, couple it to a locomotive on the other side and take it straight to where it was needed. Such a ship would also make it easier to transport, large guns, tanks, lorries and armoured cars, replacement locomotives and rolling stock, in short all the necessities for modern warfare. Given the support of Sir Guy Granet (Midland Railway), the railway representative on the Army Council and Director General of Movements and Railways at the War Office, and his successor Sir Sam Fay (Great Central Railway) In 1917 the plan was approved and army proceeded to order three Train Ferries. Two of which were to operate from Richborough and one from Southampton. Whilst the ships were being built their new facilities were constructed both at the English ports and the ports of Dunkirk, Calais and Cherbourg. The first Train Ferry left Richborough on February 10th 1918, the above image shows army lorries and an ambulance train loaded onto a train ferry at Southampton, 11th April 1918. The ferry accommodated both road and rail vehicles. The lorries and ambulance trains are heading for the Western Front in France or Belgium, where the German Army had just launched its spring offensive. The ambulance train had been manufactured by the Lancashire and Yorkshire Railway. They continued to sail on a daily basis until late 1919 when the ships were laid up.


1992-7780 The Train Ferry by Frank H Mason. Copyright National Railway Museum/SSPL

In 1922 the Great Eastern Railway approached the Army with a view to purchasing the three ships and the docking facilities both at Richborough and Southampton as they were planning to set up a new Train Ferry service between Harwich and Zeebrugge. Purchase was completed in 1923 and the dismantling of the Southampton facility began in earnest, unfortunately part of the link span was lost when the ship carrying it sank on its way across The Channel. The Richborough facility was also dismantled and sent to Harwich. The ships retained their rather functional military names Train Ferry 1, 2 & 3 and began their new service in 1924.

All three vessels were to serve again in World War 2 this time under The Admiralty. Train Ferry 1 was purchased in 1940 and converted into a Landing Ship under the name of HMS Iris (later Princess Iris). In 1944 she was converted back into a Train Ferry and at the end of the war was sold back to the London & North Eastern Railway, who named her Essex Ferry. Train Ferry 2 was requisitioned and used as a stores ship. In 1940 she was sent to St.Valery-en-Caux to assist in the evacuation of British Forces, she came under fire from enemy held shore batteries, which caused sufficient damage to force the crew to abandon her off Le Havre. Train Ferry 3 was also requisitioned as a stores vessel and in 1940 was sent to assist in the evacuation of Jersey and Guernsey. She was purchased by The Admiralty and renamed HMS Daffodil. In 1945 she struck a mine and sank off Dieppe.

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MOR Music: Music On Rails – Spotlight on Vinnie & the Stars

Last week we met up with Craig Whitehead (lead singer of Vinnie & the Stars) to discuss their upcoming performance at our Music On Rails festival. Here is what he said:

Vinnie & the Stars

© Flaming Pint Productions

What type of music do you perform and how did you all get into music? 

The Vinnie & The Stars genre is what we have come to call Hull-Hop, it’s Rock, Blues, and Funk with a Hip-Hop thread binding it all together. I started as a solo acoustic singer and the current line-up is really made up of friends who have seen me play that I knew where all great musicians that’d I’d asked to join the band. Andy Precious (Bass) has been in the band since pretty much the beginning. Tom Shillito (Drums) and Kath Perring (Keyboards) are newer additions. We all have a diverse taste in music and it’s fun to bring it all together to create our sound!

What have been the bands musical achievements to date?

Been play listed on BBC 6 Music on The Tom Robinson Show, Supporting Goldie Lookin Chain, my Solo Acoustic Tour of Louisiana. I’ll also be flying over to Canada to work with Paul Milner a producer who’s worked with Keith Richards, Sting and Eddy Grant on the next album.

What attracted you to want to perform at Music On Rails?

We love MOR Music, and everything they do for the local music scene, it was a pleasure to be asked to play! We can’t wait for the opportunity to play alongside some of our favourite local artists, have a great day, and share our music with lots of new people.

If you could describe the band in a sentence what would that sentence be?

“A boat filled with funk, punk, folk, blues sweetened with a sense of humour sailing out of hull harbour destined for the world!!!!!” – Grant Henderson (Music Producer/Loom Studio/Killer Computers)

Click here for more information on MOR Music: Music On Rails

Click here to find out more information on Vinnie & the Stars

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Recreating a First World War Ambulance Carriage

This is a post written by our Interpretation Developer Jane Sparkes

The role of the British railways in the First World War is almost too huge to begin to contemplate: from 10 to 17 August 1914 alone, 68,847 men, 21,523 horses, 166 guns, 2,446 vehicles, 1,368 bicycles and 2,550 tonnes of baggage and stores were moved from the UK to France by rail.  184,475 railway workers joined the forces, and many more stayed behind to build the vehicles required for the war effort and to keep the UK’s railways running.

“To all the officials, to all the men, and to the large number of women who are employed by the railways to-day, for their devotion to duty, for the immense amount of hard work which they are doing, and for the long hours in which they are engaged, we owe a real, genuine debt of gratitude.”
Sir Albert Stanley, President of the Board of Trade, 15 May 1918

Photograph from a Great Central Railway album (1914) showing one of five wards on a home ambulance train (Ref: 1996-7884)

To commemorate the 100 year anniversary of the First World War, we will focus on a wartime railway story which is perhaps less well-known.  From July 2016, our exhibition will tell the story of the ambulance trains used to transport sick and injured troops, both in theatres of war and in the UK.  The centrepiece of the exhibition will be a carriage of the type used in these trains, presented as an ambulance carriage Ambulance trains had been used in previous conflicts, but their use in the First World War was on a new scale.  If a soldier was injured or fell ill and was sent back to the UK, it was more than likely that he would travel on an ambulance train.  The mass evacuation of casualties which was called for simply could not have happened without them.

The ambulance carriage recreation will be based on research carried out into the museum’s incredibly rich, but as yet not fully explored, collection of ambulance train drawings and photographs, some of which have only recently been catalogued.  These cover the whole range of carriages, from wards and treatment rooms, to pharmacies and kitchens.  Recreated fittings from across these areas, along with first-hand accounts from passengers and staff, will create something of the experience of travelling by ambulance train.

The carriage which will be dressed as an ambulance carriage, and an ambulance train


built by the Midland Railway (Ref: 1997-7397_DY_10274)








This experience could vary greatly.  Some passengers were suffering from terrible injuries, infections and the psychological impact of war, whereas others may only have had minor ‘Blighty’ wounds, which would allow them a welcome return to the UK.  Medical staff coped with immense suffering under intense pressure, but they also spent long periods of time waiting for the next trainload of casualties.  This time could be spent creating magazines, playing football or staging plays.

“October 25 couldn’t write last night: the only thing was to try and forget it all. It has been an absolute hell of a journey – there is no other word for it. …They were bleeding faster than we could cope with it; and the agony of getting them off the stretchers on to the top bunks is a thing to forget.”

Anonymous Diary of a Nursing Sister on the Western Front (Edinburgh ; London : William Blackwood and Sons, 1915) (general books.net ISBN 978-1-153-60053-8, available to view in Search Engine ref B4-7/242).

Nurses on Number 18 Home Ambulance Train (Ref: NRM_1443_92)

Nurses on Number 18 Home Ambulance Train (Ref: NRM_1443_92)

We hope to uncover the personal stories of people who travelled and worked on ambulance trains, those who were associated with the station buffets which provided comforts for troops, and railway workers who played their part either as soldiers or back in the UK.  If a member of your family was one of these people, or if you have any related objects, photographs or stories, then we would love to hear from you – please contact me at jane.sparkes@nrm.org.uk.

Follow our progress with the transformation of the carriage on this blog, where over the coming months we will also share discoveries from our research, and explore the wider role of the railways in the First World War.

Read more about ambulance trains and the York Sailors’ and Soldiers’ Buffet:

View our list of fallen World War One railway workers.

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MOR Music: Music on Rails – Spotlight on The Rodeo Falls

We recently caught up with The Rodeo Falls, who will be performing at our MOR Music: Music On Rails festival on Saturday 6 September. Here’s what they had to say:

What is the band’s background and how did you form?

© Glossy Onions Photography

© Glossy Onions Photography

With York being fairly compact and full of those “it’s a small world” stories, we all met through friends of friends and loosely spoke of getting together for a jam. A text message was sent out by Marck (vocals and acoustic guitar) to Bob (bass guitar), Dave (lead guitar and vocals) and Mike (drums) with a time, date and place to meet in putting together the band. Everyone turned up, we exchanged vows and the rest will one day be available in an anthology.

Why did you choose the name ‘The Rodeo Falls’?

There are meanings behind the name, with all four of us relating a different explanation of it. Essentially in a broad stroke it is getting back on the ride when you get kicked off, never giving up and having a “life is tough and so am I” attitude.

What attracted you to want to perform at the National Railway Museum?

Marck had previously been to a gig there by The Buccaneers and The Blueprints and the museum was ideal for a show on a bigger scale, which this will be and we knew we had to play it. Being regulars at MOR Music, when it was announced on Facebook that there was a book available to sign for bands interested in playing, Dave got in there pronto and The Rodeo Falls was the first name to go into that book.

What have been the bands biggest achievements?

Our debut album has just been completed and is called Better Broken, which alongside a live EP we recorded in 2013, showcases a wide pallet of styles we have within a pop/rock/funk garage rather than pigeon-hole. The biggest achievements really are the calibre and potential of the songs and the band as a song-writing team for future releases. Live shows have garnered rave reviews and being on the bill and playing a knock-out show at the Music On Rails festival will no doubt be an answer to the next time we’re asked this question.

Describe the band in one sentence?

“When’s your next gig and where can I get hold of your music?”

Click here for more information on MOR Music: Music On Rails

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MOR Music: Music On Rails – Spotlight on Plumhall

We recently met up with Plumhall, who will be performing at our MOR Music: Music On Rails festival on Saturday 6 September. Here’s what they had to say:

What genre of music do you play and what/who inspires your songwriting?

© Mike Thrussell

© Mike Thrussell

There are layers of folk, Americana and pop in what we do. Our set is full of rootsy melodic acoustic guitar led big songs with pop sensibilities. Nick and I both take lead vocals at different points and provide vocal harmonies, so there’s always a fresh dynamic in our set. We both write songs separately and together, and one of our songs was written especially for us by Chumbawamba’s Boff Whalley.

Nick’s biggest songwriting influences have been Bob Dylan, Bruce Springsteen, Icicle Works, Neil Young and The Everly Brothers…and Michelle’s are Aimee Mann, Nanci Griffith, Kate Bush, Maria McKee, The Everly Brothers, Sarah McLaughlan and Annie Lennox…although the list is endless!

How long have you been performing as a duo for and what have been your biggest achievements to date?

We’re a real life married couple and met through the music scene, but were hesitant to perform together because we didn’t want to mix business and pleasure, but we couldn’t deny the musical chemistry we have together…and so far it’s been all pleasure!

We’ve had so many big achievements. Our first as Plumhall was being invited to

© David Crickmore

© Lee Walsh

perform Daydream Believer with Peter Tork of The Monkees. That was very special. We’re also proud to be Tanglewood Guitars endorsees alongside great artists like Paul Carrack, Imelda May, Billy Bragg and many others. We’re just about to release our debut album “Thundercloud” in the UK via SPLID Records and Proper Distribution. We’ve just had our very first national album review in R2 Magazine (4 stars! Very proud!) We’ve just discovered we’ve been shortlisted to the top 5 in two categories (Outstanding Band and Outstanding Songwriters) of the Yorkshire Gig Guide Grassroots Awards 2014. The results will be announced on 8 August!

What attracted you to want to come and perform on the Director’s saloon at the National Railway Museum?

We love unique gigs, and where else would we get the chance to perform on a moving train carriage at the world’s greatest railway museum? Plus, York itself holds a special place in both our hearts as we cut our musical teeth in York separately many moons ago, Michelle in a duo called The Accidental Tourists with Barcode Zebra’s Charlie Daykin, and Nick with his brother as The Hall Brothers. It’s so good to return to our old stomping ground and perform in such a great space. In addition to all that, MOR Music have been wonderful supporters of Plumhall since we began. We’re honoured to have been asked to perform.

Are they any musicians on the line-up which you are particularly excited about seeing perform?

Boss Caine – great songs, and a real rootsy delivery

Barcode Zebra – We know the band pretty well, and they always put on a funky show.

All the acts are fantastic though -we’re excited to see as many of them as we can!

Finally, describe your music in one sentence.

That’s hard! We’ll let Miles Hunt from The Wonder Stuff and R2 Magazine do that for us:

“Both Nick & Michelle possess voices that could easily be the focus of the duo, combined they deliver a mighty force” [with] “Articulate, penetrating lyrics…. captivating melodies and irresistible choruses”

Click here for more information on MOR Music: Music On Rails

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The Million Go Forth: Early Railway Excursions

This is a guest post written by Susan Major

PhD Excursion HandbillWhat was it really like for ordinary people? When I started exploring topics for my research degree I wanted to investigate what the new 19th century railways in Britain meant to the masses at the time, the working classes. I was studying with the Institute of Railway Studies at the National Railway Museum/University of York and keen to approach the subject with new eyes. People like Michael Portillo paint a picture of travellers sitting tidily in their railway carriages, consulting their Bradshaws, but was it really like that for most people?

After six years research on early railway excursions I can safely demolish a number of clichés and myths everlastingly reproduced in traditional railway histories. I was able to take advantage of the newly digitised British Library 19th Century Newspapers, an excellent resource for finding reports, accounts and advertisements across the country. I used this newspaper evidence to explore excursion crowds and their behaviour in the period from 1840 to 1860, when excursions were developing from an exceptional and dramatic experience into a routine occurrence. I also consulted the National Railway Museum’s unique collection of old excursion handbills in their Search Engine.

The new railway excursions of the 1840s made it possible for ordinary people in PhD Excursion HandbillsBritain to travel cheaply for leisure over long distances for the first time and return home. Their emergence caused great shocks to observers at the time. One of my most important findings has been the relatively minor role Thomas Cook played in mass mobility at the time, when compared to other agents, companies and organising groups. His market was mainly middle class, and mostly irrelevant to people who worked all week apart from Sundays and were subject to Sabbatarian forces preventing Sunday trips. Other excursion agents such as Liverpool-based Henry Marcus were much more important, carrying hundreds of thousands of people on ’cheap trips’.

There were frequent complaints about the level (or absence) of comfort. Many working class travellers were hanging on to the roof of a crowded carriage, endangering their lives, or enduring hours of travel in an open wagon in heavy rain, despite the recommendations of the 1844 Railways Act. The use of open carriages, supposedly to have disappeared after the 1840s, was frequent for many years after, although there were varying points of view as to whether it was preferable to travel in an open wagon, subject to weather concerns and jeering from spectators, or be cramped into a tight dark compartment with many others.

When large excursion crowds were expected at the station, the doors would be locked, leading to a dangerous chain of events. Stations were designed for small groups of middle class travellers to pass through in an orderly manner. This was often not suitable for the crowds on excursions and it was rare that railway companies made special changes to the physical space during this period to meet the needs of excursionists.

There was much evidence of a fear for personal safety, for understandable reasons. Railway companies and their workers were frequently unprepared and unskilled in crowd management and unwilling or unable to devote sufficient staffing or rolling stock resources. However despite the ensuing discomforts and danger, the masses clearly welcomed the incentive to travel away temporarily from their everyday lives into new spaces, at a cost that was affordable, by taking up these opportunities in their thousands.

I will be talking about some of these findings at the National Railway Museum conference ‘Making the Connection: Railway Records for Family History’ on Saturday 27 September 2014.

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The most dangerous job of all

Simon Batchelor, our Assistant Curator of Collections, continues to explore the impact of World War One on Britain’s railways.

Of all the tasks carried out by railway owned ships minesweeping was the most vital; it was tedious, it was relentless but most of all it was extremely dangerous and it had to be done every single day without fail, regardless of weather.

Even before the outset of World War One it was realised by all the powers that none had a navy large enough to maintain an effective campaign of marine blockade and that mine warfare would play an important role in any conflict. It was illegal to mine the national waters of neutral powers or international waters, so mines were laid off enemy ports in an attempt to prevent ships accessing their facilities thus starving them of necessary materials needed to continue to fight. No ship could leave port until the mine sweepers had done their job and declared it safe.

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