Researching at the Network Rail archives

One of the best things about researching exhibitions is getting to go to interesting places and see interesting things. Some times that involves lots of travel, but sometimes there’s brilliant stuff right on your doorstep. Like the Network Rail archive, which is just a stone’s throw from the Museum, at Clifton Moor in York.

I went to the Network Rail archive in search of drawings to include in our forthcoming exhibition Destination Stations, which opens in September. The exhibition is full of beautiful drawings, prints and paintings of stations from our collection, but the museum has very little in the way of original architectural drawings. Lots of these are held at Network Rail, in part because many of the station buildings and sites are still in use today, so their history is still very much relevant to the modern railway.

I was expecting to find some fascinating records of Britain’s stations and I wasn’t disappointed. I love technical drawing, so a morning pouring over intricate plans of railway stations makes me a bit giddy.

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The 19th and early 20th century drawings are breath-taking. Stand back from these hand-drawn, delicately coloured beauties and the drawings have real impact, but what I love best about them is the details. Once you get up close its clear how much thought went into making every detail of these stations perfectly elegant. Even small functional elements were given embellishments and decorations.

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The mid-twentieth century drawings are cleaner and starker. They have a boldness which is in keeping with a post-war vision of a bold, functional future. Alongside these though are some architects sketches, which create a softer impression and are obviously designed to sell these forceful, boxy buildings and make you love them. They show them being used and make them look like they belong in dynamic, futuristic cities.

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I went home wanting to take everything with me. We’ve made a selection of these drawings that work together with the objects from our own collection to show you how inspiring British station architecture can be.

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It’ll be the first time Network Rail have lent them to a museum, so it’ll be the first time the public can get up close to these beautiful drawings. Having been lucky enough to do just that I can tell you it’s pretty exciting.

You can see some of the original drawings in Destination Stations – which opens on 25 September – or explore the archive on the Network Rail website.

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