Ribblehead Viaduct – the real ‘Jericho’

The first episode of ITV’s new period drama Jericho having aired last night [Thursday 7 January 2016], concentrating on the building of the Ribblehead Viaduct in the 1870s – one of the last great Victorian railway construction projects. Dipping into the National Railway Museum’s archives, here an exploration of the historical background of the new primetime “British Wild West” drama, as it has been billed.

The Ribblehead Viaduct under construction – the settlement buildings can faintly be seen in the background to the right of the picture. National Railway Museum Collection.

The Ribblehead Viaduct under construction – the settlement buildings can faintly be seen in the background to the right of the picture. National Railway Museum Collection.

Designed by John Sydney Crossley the Ribblehead Viaduct carried the Settle and Carlisle Railway across the Batty Moss in North Yorkshire. On the edge of North Yorkshire, near the border with Cumbria, the line had its origins in the on-going battle between Midland Railway (who built it) and London and North Western Railway.

In the 1860s Midland’s route to Scotland relied on using LNWR (London and North Western Railway) lines from Ingleton into Carlisle. LNWR would not allow Midland trains to run on their lines, instead stipulating that Midland trains had to disembark their passengers at a station at the end of the Ingleton Viaduct and then make them walk about a mile to the next station to catch a LNWR train as depicted in the first episode of Jericho.

Unhappy with this arrangement, Midland decided to forge their own route to Carlisle and then on to Scotland, hence the Settle-Carlisle line and the need to lift the railway over the boggy terrain known as Batty Moss.

The Ribblehead Viaduct and Jericho Settlement as depicted in ITV’s drama

The Ribblehead Viaduct and Jericho Settlement as depicted in ITV’s drama

What was it like to live and work there?

Navvy work was hard – there was very little construction equipment beyond pickaxes and shovels in this period. The historian Terry Coleman argues that this was the “last great work in Britain executed by navvies” – after the 1870s early mechanical diggers began to be used to aid construction projects.

What equipment there was in 1870, particularly wooden cranes and gunpowder used in blasting, was unstable. Over one hundred men were killed in the construction of the viaduct – a not unusual number for the time. Building the famous Woodhead Tunnel in the 1840s involved 157 tonnes of gunpowder, the pumping out of 8 million tonnes of water, and 27 deaths. The blasting accident depicted in the first episode of Jericho was representative of the sort of incident in which men lost their lives. With very little of what we would recognise now as first aid or safety practices available, construction work was rough and dangerous in the period.

A memorial stone to workmen killed during the construction of the line (in the National Railway Museum Collection there is now a more modern monument at the viaduct)

A memorial stone to workmen killed during the construction of the line (in the National Railway Museum Collection there is now a more modern monument at the viaduct)

Between one and two thousand navvies, and their families, settled into the area in the five years it took to complete the work. The houses were largely made out of wood, with felt coverings to keep out the rain, but newspaper reports record a ‘hospital’ and a mission church.

Life at Jericho, like other navvy settlements, would have been hard. Henry Pomfret, Surgeon on the Sheffield and Manchester Railway in 1846 told a Parliamentary Select Committee that work on a similar moorland environment was hard for families:

I observed that the children seemed to suffer from the dampness of the moor; they enjoyed good health, considering the state of their homes and their habits, and the bleakness of the climate.

The men, as the pictures above show, would have lived in the shadow of the work they were accomplishing.

How much like the ‘Wild West’ was it?

Navvies in the Victorian period had a terrible reputation. As the Master, Mr Thornhill, observed, navvies were often thought to be “mostly villains and rough hands”. They were often a subject of concern for the public, and there were considerable enquiries into their behaviour.

In the 1860s, when St Pancras Churchyard was cleared for the railway the navvies were accused of breaking open the coffins and playing football with the skulls of the deceased as they made room for the railways. The local Vicar wrote to his MP and questions were asked in Parliament. The architect in charge of supervising these riotous navvies? None other than a young Thomas Hardy. Brawling and drinking in the work camps, with each other and with locals. Railway Policemen (the fore-runners of the British Transport Police) had their origins in the dual role of signalmen and navvy-supervisors.

In truth navvies were no more disorderly than many workers. Stories about them were inflated with each telling, exacerbated by stories of heavy drinking and brawling in the camps, and speak volumes about how uneasy Victorian society was with rootless workers.

Elizabeth Garnett, who ran the Navvy Mission which reached out to navvies up and down the country, wrote in 1885:

“They form a great nomadic tribe, numbering tens of thousands, yet so isolated are they in our midst that we see and know but little of them”.

With little entertainment in the camps violence and heavy drinking could occur. At other times, however, more calm pursuits were common. Many navvies taught themselves to read, and instructed their children and those of others, whilst others relied on older folk-song traditions to record their lives and works. We have a collection of these on our website.

How does Jericho compare to reality?

What Jericho does well is evoke the spirit of the camps and the scale of the project. Comparing the images of the real viaduct and camp above with the production shots prove how well the program catches the essence of railway construction in the period. It also captures the rough nature of work and life in the navvy camp and how, at the cutting edge of Victorian engineering and technology, raw manpower, crude huts, and hard lives continued to be vital.

Where it stumbles, and this is admittedly based on only one episode, is in persisting on viewing the Ribblehead Viaduct as a British Wild West. As the ITV Press Release puts it: “rough, rustic and remote, yet with a wild west, carnival atmosphere”. Rough, rustic and remote are well captured, representing the exposed nature of the settlements like the real Jericho, but to try and compare the community to the Wild West represents historical problems.

Navvies were drawn to the real Jericho for a specific purpose – construction work. Whilst many would have been hoping to start new lives, or simply raise money to escape the life of a wandering labourer, very few would have seen the area as a new long-term home. Unlike the pioneers of the West, navvies were not settlers but, as the historian Raphael Samuel put it, “Comers and Goers” and vanished as soon as the viaduct was completed almost without a trace.

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Developing Need for Speed

I am a part time Explainer and part time Learning Content Developer here at the National Railway Museum. As an Explainer I am out on the museum floor working with a wide variety of audiences delivering a wide variety of presentations and workshops. I am also involved in developing the school and family offer which the Explainers then deliver, the latest one being a brand new science show called ‘Need for Speed’. The show will be launched at the beginning of our upcoming Flying Scotsman season in late February 2016 and we’re well under way to make it an incredible show.

What’s it all about? Well, it is an interactive show all about speed and how we have always been obsessed with making things go faster. To explain this we take a look at lots of different locomotives (including Flying Scotsman) to see how we have been able to achieve such amazing speeds using trains. Like our other – incredibly popular – science show From Rocket To Bullet this show is being catered for families of all ages but will also be offered to school groups aged between 7 – 11.

In recent weeks I have been working hard with some help from fellow colleague and Explainer Developer Shaun Houldridge to come up with exciting demonstrations that will be an integral part of the show. This is a slightly unusual process as many of the demonstrations need to be built and tested first before we can be sure that they will work! Recently we have successfully tested our vacuum powered Hyperloop demonstration – a new and revolutionary form of transport which is still at the experimental stage. The fun side of doing this kind of thing is that Shaun and I have been firing lots of rockets using vacuum power across our stage area into a crash mat, an activity that never gets old!

Firing rockets with the help of a vacuum cleaner

Firing rockets with the help of a vacuum cleaner

We have also been experimenting with another demonstration which will use an audience member to show how streamlining can help to increase speed. Like many experiments though they don’t always work as the first picture below shows Shaun appearing to attack one of our Explainers (Phil) with a leaf blower.

Shaun with his leaf blower and Phil with a beta version of the 'kite'

Shaun with his leaf blower and Phil with an early version of the ‘kite’

This was our first test for this demonstration but you’ll be pleased to know that we have since invested in a huge industrial fan and attached a giant custom made wind sock to it. The volunteer has to wear an enormous kite strapped to their back as well. In the picture below Shaun models the finished kite harness this time with the help of fellow explainer Ian.

Shaun being the guinea pig at the mercy of the industrial fan

Shaun being the guinea pig at the mercy of the industrial fan

All in all things are moving forward well for the show. I have also been working with an animator who is providing us with some high-tech custom made animation to accompany the show and I have also just finished the script. Early in the New Year I aim to have the show complete and ready to begin training of our Explainer team in mid January.

So I hope you will come along from March and take part in our brand new show and help us find out why we all have such a ‘Need for Speed’.


‘Need for Speed’ is being developed as part of our Scotsman Season.


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Christmas on the railways

Christmas is always a busy time for our railways, as a significant portion of the population plan to visit friends, family, or use it to get away from all that festive stuff. But the extra pressure on the railways can push the service – and it’s passengers – to the limit.

We’re lucky enough to be in a rail renaissance at the moment, but it’s easy to forget the downside of all that work and investment: short-term disruption. The railway companies are often between a rock and a hard place in choosing when the biggest disruptions should occur. The holiday period when travellers are primarily using services for leisure? Or during January when everyone is back in commuting-mode again? Touch choice. This pressure on the service isn’t anything new, as this little festive archive selection demonstrates.

'Xmas - Your Ticket, Your Parcel, Your Gifts', Southern Railway poster, 1937. (Img ref: 10308353)

‘Xmas – Your Ticket, Your Parcel, Your Gifts’, Southern Railway poster, 1937. (Img ref: 10308353). The railway has always been crucial in shifting the massive amounts of festive post.

Railway Executive Committee poster. 'Your Christmas Parcels must reach your friends before Christmas Day' c 1940s. (Img ref: 10175039)

Railway Executive Committee poster. ‘Your Christmas Parcels must reach your friends before Christmas Day’ c 1940s. (Img ref: 10175039)

A station luggage handler surrounded by Christmas parcels and suitcases at Waterloo, December 1936. (Img ref: 10308463).

A station luggage handler surrounded by Christmas parcels and suitcases at Waterloo, December 1936. (Img ref: 10308463).

Poster produced for Great Western Railway (GWR), London, Midland & Scottish Railway (LMS), London & North Eastern Railway (LNER) and Southern Railway (SR) to remind customers that the transportation of weapons, munitions and servicemen had to take priority over the delivery of Christmas parcels. (Img ref: 10175007)

Poster produced for Great Western Railway (GWR), London, Midland & Scottish Railway (LMS), London & North Eastern Railway (LNER) and Southern Railway (SR) to remind customers that the transportation of weapons, munitions and servicemen had to take priority over the delivery of Christmas parcels. (Img ref: 10175007)

Railway workers in a control room on the Southern Railway, Christmas 1940. These workers booked freight onto certain trains, and recorded the items needed transporting to their destination when they were unloaded from the train. Control room workers also dealt with problems along the track, such as with signals or points. This photograph was taken during the Second World War and, as an official photograph, needed to be passed by a censor. (Img ref: 10451590)

Railway workers in a control room on the Southern Railway, Christmas 1940.
These workers booked freight onto certain trains, and recorded the items needed transporting to their destination when they were unloaded from the train. Control room workers also dealt with problems along the track, such as with signals or points. This photograph was taken during the Second World War and, as an official photograph, needed to be passed by a censor. (Img ref: 10451590)

Rail passengers eating Christmas dinner, 18 December 1936. Photograph by Edward G Malindine. (Img Ref:10318088)

Rail passengers eating Christmas dinner, 18 December 1936. Photograph by Edward G Malindine (Img Ref:10318088)

Christmas party on board a train, December 1985. (Img Ref: 10465805). Quite possibly after a little too much British Rail Claret.

Christmas party on board a train, December 1985. (Img Ref: 10465805). Quite possibly after a little too much British Rail Claret.

From all of us at the National Railway Museum, we wish our blog readers and visitors a very happy Christmas. And we also hope your trains deliver you on time and as planned.

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S W A Newton, the cycling photographer

Trying to capture the speeding train has long been the hobby of many, with the National Railway Museum even dedicating a recent exhibition to the topic of Trainspotting.

One photographer is particularly worthy of mention, both in terms of the scale of his work and also the scenes that he was able to capture, but he was more interested in civil engineering and construction than locomotives. Read on to discover more about the photographic genius of Sydney Walter Alfred Newton.

Newton was a professional photographer with a studio at 19 Belvoir Street, Leicester and followed the profession of his father, Alfred in his small photography business, Alfred Newton & Son. Sydney joined the family firm in the 1890s. As a keen photographer he began documenting the building of the Great Central Railway near his home in Leicester, a line that would connect Nottinghamshire with London. Newton’s photographs of the construction of the railway are somewhat different to what you might expect to find. They possess value not only in their recording of the construction of the railway network, but also give a rare insight into the workers – the ‘navvies’ – who built it.

footpath beneath the Great Central Railway at Bulwell, with the shadow of Newton and his camera

In many photographs that depict the construction of the railways, the navvy is either absent, or shown as a faceless speck in the distance. This is perhaps due to the railway company chiefs’ desire for the photographs to document engineering and construction, rather than the men at work. But their usual absence is also reflective of the social view of navvies that prevailed for much of the nineteenth century. The original railway builders were considered a dangerous underclass, with little concern given to their welfare, let alone their depiction in photographs. They were travelling workmen, camping by the side of their tracks, with families in tow and leaving a hard and demanding life, that often offered little in reward. By the 1890s and the construction of the Great Central Railway’s London extension, however, their lot had improved, with the provision of company housing, schools for their children, missions and churches.

Navvies laying a temporary track at Basford

Like the social reformers concerned for their welfare, Newton, with his photographs countered the trend of avoiding the navvies. He was described in one account as being “gripped by the making of the railways more than the finished artefact” and took a vast amount of images of both the human and mechanical scale of railway construction. But this passion for the making of the railways bordered almost to obsession, with Newton exposing over 1,000 glass plate negatives along the 94 mile construction line, a route he would travel by both train and his trusty bicycle. Railway historian Jack Simmons commented on this, stating how Newton “set himself to record as much as he could of the whole operation….with nothing less than the whole….satisfy[ing] him.”

By the 1890s some of the backbreaking work of the navvies had been taken over by steam powered mechanical shovels

Looking at the images they certainly inject railway construction with a more human face, showing the clothes, tools and hands that were used to complete the project. Although the names and identities of these workers are not given, the images at least allow for an understanding of the vast human labour that was needed to build the line. Newton’s determination to document the whole line and more gives us a thorough picture of the construction of a railway network, and also shows the often invisible network of men who played a key role in the railways that we ride on today.

The navvy mission room in Bulwell

The National Railway Museum has over 240 Newton photographs within its vast collection, featured in an album of his prints compiled in 1898 by Logan & Hemingway of Nottingham, contractors who built a section of line. His album forms part of a large collection of photographs of railway construction in the nineteenth century held in our archives.

The bulk of the S W A Newton collection, however, is in two archives, the Record Office for Leicestershire, Leicester & Rutland and the English Heritage: National Monuments Record in Swindon. Together they total about 5,000 images.

Our photographic collections can be seen in our library and archive centre, Search Engine, which is open four days a week.

 

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Early Victorian Railway Excursions: ‘The Million Go Forth’

I was at the York Railway Station, on Tuesday afternoon, when an excursion train was about to start for Newcastle. The train consisted of four first-class, two second-class, and three third-class open carriages or tubs, which are only a fit conveyance for pigs and sheep. Several of the passengers had tickets for covered carriages, but were forced into the open tubs by the officials, and were thus obliged to travel eighty-five miles on a wet night, exposed to all the inclemency of the weather. (York Herald, 27 September 1856)

Conditions such as those experienced above, riding in an open wagon on a wet night for three or four hours are unimaginable today, but these failed to deter the working classes from seizing the new opportunity to travel cheaply for leisure on the new railway excursions over long distances for the first time and return home.

Tickets from our archives - examples of excursion tickets

From our archives – examples of excursion hand bills

My new book on railway excursions was published in November 2015 by Pen and Sword Books Ltd. Based on my doctoral research with the Institute of Railway Studies at the University of York/National Railway Museum, it explores the way that ordinary people in Britain started to take advantage of the new railway excursions in the middle of the 19th century.

Using contemporary newspaper evidence from the British Library and excursion handbills from the National Railway Museum, the book looks at how these excursions were shaped and the experiences of working class travellers during this period, demolishing a number of clichés and myths endlessly reproduced in traditional railway histories. It highlights for example the very minor role played by Thomas Cook in mass mobility at the time, when compared to other agents (such as Henry Marcus), companies and organising groups. Two men, Charles Melly from Liverpool and a clergyman, Joseph Brown from London, also played an intriguing part.

A depiction of an excursion train (SSPL images)

A depiction of an excursion train – ‘The River Wall at Wylam Scars, Newcastle & Carlisle Railway, 1836’ by H Griffiths (SSPL image 10301481)

In the early days the sight of a ‘monster excursion’ train arriving was viewed as a huge spectacle. A press report on a Sheffield excursion to Leeds, in October 1840, described five engines and sixty-one carriages full of Sheffield mechanics, ‘the most extraordinary cargo that ever left the smoky region of Hallamshire’. It attracted a large audience with ‘exclamations of wonder and delight’ as it passed the assembled thousands’. The scene was remarkable, ‘on each side the line as far as Brightside, the fields were lined with spectators, who in spite of rain and mud, patiently awaited the magnificent sight’. This particular trip suffered a common failing, when the large number of passengers and carriages caused traction problems and the weary passengers didn’t return until one o’clock the following morning.

Surprisingly roof travel featured on some excursions, leading to awful accidents when heads collided with railway bridges. To add to the problems, excursionists complained bitterly that they were often treated like animals and there was a tendency for them to bleat or bellow when carried in open trucks, to demonstrate their feelings about these.

The book draws upon many intriguing reports in the press. At Whitsun in 1849, a young man on an excursion from Preston to Liverpool was reported to have equipped himself ‘from ‘top to toe’ with a splendid suit of clothes, which were stolen from him during the trip and as a result he travelled home (20-30 miles) ‘almost, if not entirely in a state of nudity’, arriving there around 3am.

An advertising campaign in 1855 caused a few unexpected problems. The Midland Railway complained to Sheffield Magistrates about tailor and clothier Moses and Son, which had branches in the North of England. Moses had distributed advertising material in the form of realistic looking Midland Railway excursion tickets, which some members of the public had successfully used for trips between Sheffield and Rotherham.

A promotional shot of me in the museum's Bodmin and Wadebridge open carriage

A promotional shot of me in the museum’s Bodmin and Wadebridge open carriage

With a foreword by Professor Colin Divall, the book is fully referenced and has an index and colour plates with maps and illustrations. I’ll be talking about it at an event at Clements Hall in York on Friday 5th February at 7.30pm – it would be great to see some blog readers there!

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How much of Flying Scotsman is original?

As the locomotive’s overhaul nears completion, this is a perennial question asked of us, and really, the answer is ‘not much’. Over the course of its 90 plus year history as a working locomotive, parts have been replaced at every overhaul – plus of course the locomotive was rebuilt from A1 to A3 specification. It is more of an assemblage of parts bearing the name and taking the familiar outline that is known and loved by so many.

Flying Scotsman just after refurbishment in April 1928 at Doncaster Works (Image from National Railway Museum Collection)

Flying Scotsman just after refurbishment in April 1928 at Doncaster Works
(Image from National Railway Museum Collection)

Working locomotives are often compared to Grandad’s hammer – which has had three new heads and two new handles – but it’s still Grandad’s hammer. Even locomotives which have been part of the museum for over a century are not original to how they came out of the works: our history files are full of recorded and some unrecorded alterations. For example in the 1950s and 60s when the National Collection was being drawn up, the policy was to ‘build back’ locos to the condition as close as was possible to when they were new. That is how some of the locos came to acquire wooden fittings and other compromises were made to try and fit the requirement of making the exhibit appear as it did on the day it came out of the works.

This is why the Midland Compound has a Somerset & Dorset Railway class 7F loco tender and its history file refers mystically to ‘numerous cosmetic changes’ without actually specifying what those changes were! Ironically, famously the former Highland Railway locomotive Ben Alder, set aside for preservation in the 1953 was sent for scrap in 1966 as it was felt to be insufficiently original to allow a sympathetic restoration to take place.

Scotsman looking quite different in wartime black in 2011at the museum

Scotsman looking quite different in wartime black in 2011 at the museum

Over Flying Scotsman’s working life, it has had several changes of boiler, wheels, cylinders and tenders. Many components were interchangeable, not just between the A3 class, but also the V2s such as Green Arrow and so it is with our two locomotives in the collection. There are A3 parts on the V2 certainly. In addition, when Alan Pegler bought Flying Scotsman for preservation in 1962, he had it overhauled and some parts were put on the engine from other A3s. In 1966 Pegler bought the boiler off sister engine Salmon Trout, and the latter’s cylinders were also acquired for spares and eventual use on Flying Scotsman. A photograph of a very sorry looking Salmon Trout exists showing it after stripping and it is basically wheels, frames and a tender – everything else was taken off it.

To make Flying Scotsman more useful for heritage use, Pegler also had the tender swapped for one from a sister A3 named Harvester, as this was one fitted with a corridor to allow for crew changes – and footplate guests on occasions. As initially preserved, the locomotive was already not as it had been when new in 1923 through a combination of use, overhaul and restoration. Changes of number and colour have followed the machine throughout its working life and are well documented in the history books.

Scotsman being worked on in Bury just last month.

Scotsman being worked on in Bury just last month.

In the ensuing 50 years of Flying Scotsman’s life as a heritage item, more pieces have been repaired or replaced and even the nameplates are not the ones it first carried when new. The story goes that when Alan Pegler hit financial difficulties during the locomotive’s sojourn in the USA, the nameplates were sold to provide much needed assistance in a difficult time.

The most recent overhaul is probably the most comprehensive ever undertaken on a steam locomotive outside British Railways service and more worn components found to need renewal, including the bufferbeam, which had not been off the engine in five decades.

So the question of much of Flying Scotsman is original? Well, it mainly consists of the rear two thirds of the frames, part of the cab sides and some parts of the motion and possibly the driving wheel splashers.

Perhaps most importantly there’s name itself. With the same basic outline and the associations that it has built up over nearly a century, and the history which it continues to write.


Scotsman is coming backfind out more about our 2016 season.

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Discovering the First World War through our archive

This post is written by Claire Marston, our Learning Partnership Co-ordinator.

In the last month, staff from the National Railway Museum learning team have had a fantastic time working with local schools on our First World War learning programme.

We were very kindly invited into Tadcaster Grammar School, Sherburn High School, York High School and Canon Lee School to work with their Year 9 students (aged 13-14) on some of our fantastic archive materials related to the First World War ambulance trains. The students warmly welcomed us and were a credit to their schools.

Tadcaster Grammar School students working with archive materials

Tadcaster Grammar School students working with archive materials

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Bullet train, Chinese locomotive and the rail renaissance

When George Osborne came to the National Railway Museum earlier this month to launch the National Infrastructure Commission he gave his speech in front of KF No.7 built for export to China and only a couple of steps away from the only ‘Shinkansen’ outside of Japan. Once again the National Railway Museum provided potent symbols for a ‘big idea’.

osborne-infrastructure-0595

George Osborne launching the National Infrastructure Commission in our Great Hall a fortnight ago. Evening Star is in the background and the KF-7 on the left.

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‘A high entertainment standard’ – films from our archive at the 2015 Aesthetica Short Film Festival

This post was written by Tim Procter and Angelique Bonamy of our Collections and Research Team.

We are dealing with a type of film that is in every respect far removed from the ‘feature’ film production of the Elstrees, Denhams and Hollywoods of this world.

So wrote William Brudenell of the London Midland & Scottish Railway’s Film Services in the company magazine in November 1936, hardly geeing the staff up for a thrilling cinematic experience. But he was perhaps being deliberately modest, as the film unit was still only two years old.

From the November 1936 edition of the LMS Magazine

From the November 1936 edition of the LMS Magazine

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Back to Irk Valley with the L&Y signalling school

Our Lancashire & Yorkshire (L&Y) signalling school, the world’s oldest operating model railway, returns to home territory this coming Saturday (7th November) with a look at the Irk Valley crash of the 15th August 1953.

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