This is a guest post written by Associate Curator of Rail Vehicles Bob Gwynne.
Sir Kenneth Grange is an industrial designer whose work includes: the Kenwood Mixer, the Parker Pen, the Kodak Camera and the London taxi. All of his designs are examples of how he has worked to ensure that objects are good to look at as well as a pleasure to use. Out of all the items he has designed, his favourite project is the work he did on the High Speed Train, which he styled into a symbol of modernity that gave Britain’s railways a boost in the doldrums of the 1970s. He recalled to the BBC in 2006, that when it first came out in 1976:
“There wasn’t a sign of modernism in Paddington station. So I think the workforce – let alone the passengers – was mightily affected. This was a real symbol of hope for the future. I believe that most fervently. Porters, guards, everybody were themselves buying little badges of this train.”
The National Railway Museum is fortunate to have in its collection the prototype HST, the precursor to a train that looks set to go on to reach its 50th birthday in front line express passenger service in 2026. Thanks to Project Miller, the excellent volunteers of the 125 group and their friends in the rail industry (particularly East Midlands Trains) the prototype is back in working order, after a long and complex restoration.
On Saturday 15th November, Sir Kenneth was on the special train that launched the prototype HST back into service. He was clearly delighted to be a part of the celebration. If it was a gloomy foggy day in the Midlands weather-wise, it wasn’t for anyone fortunate enough to be on ‘The Screaming Valenta’ rail tour (the name being a bit of a railway in-joke, as it relates to the noise the power unit makes). The train, courtesy of East Midland Trains, took a short HST set onto the Great Central Railway (North) heritage line, to meet up with the HST (P) and take a run down the line. The BBC was there to record Sir Kenneth’s thrill at the occasion, as well as hundreds of enthusiasts for this most iconic train.
It is worth reflecting that without the HST Britain’s cross-country network might well not have survived the 1980s let alone those inter-city routes which are today being electrified. The train, with its solid engineering and startling styling really did give Britain’s railways a lift at a time when there was no appetite for railway electrification by the governments of the time.
So it was out with the champagne and cameras despite the mist and falling leaves for a celebration of a design icon and the volunteers who had brought it back to life, made all the sweeter because the industrial designer whose work with wind tunnel and sketch pad, which made something good into something great, was also there and clearly loving every minute.
If you would like to gain an insight into Sir Kenneth Grange’s process of designing the High Speed Train then come and visit our Kenneth Grange draws a train exhibition, which can be found in our Great Hall.