York Central Consultation and the National Railway museum

When I arrived at the National Railway Museum at the end of 2012, my colleagues were still a little bruised from the recent collapse of plans to develop the land behind York Station. Along with many others in York, we had put a lot of time and effort into getting the huge swathe of brown field land around the museum into more productive use. There was an air of frustrated resignation about York Central’s missed opportunities.

I came to the museum and York as an outsider, and from London where I’ll now admit big investment happens a bit more easily. It seemed incredible to me that nothing was happening. One of the country’s best known interchange stations, with 1 hour 50 trains to London, was not meant to border a huge zone of surface car parking, warehouses, car washes and disused railway sidings. It is testament to the fundamental strength of the museum that 750,000 people a year come for a day out in such an unpromising location.

The current view of the National Railway Museum as from the walkway from the Station.

The current view of the National Railway Museum as from the walkway from the Station (above) and the type of space York Central can help make happen (below).

We started thinking about what we needed to do to realise the potential of world’s greatest historic railway collection and it became clear to me that there were three problems York Central could solve for us.

It allows us to make the building work for visitors. At the moment, it’s hard even to find the museum entrance and once inside, the museum is split in two by a road. I’ve met visitors who didn’t realise the other half of the museum even existed. Clearly, starting from scratch, no-one would have designed a museum like that. By moving Leeman Road, we can build an inspiring and welcoming entrance, that links together all of the museum, so people can find their way around without struggling with underpasses and things hidden from view.

We've already planned specific project to upgrade the museum - find our more about these seven areas.

We’ve already planned specific project to upgrade the museum – find our more about these seven areas.

It will put us in the City Centre. York is a great place to have a museum. There are 7 million tourist visits a year, but they only come to the National Railway Museum if they have made a very specific visit. Instead of being at the centre of the action, we are literally the wrong side of the tracks. York Central will make the museum the cultural heart of a new city centre district for York, and our surroundings will be the kind of streets, squares and parks people want to linger in – and then visit the museum as well.

It’s bold enough to happen. Lots of the things we want to do at the Museum don’t need York Central. But the development is already getting national and international attention. It can be a catalyst. When all our small and medium sized plans are part of a bigger vision for the museum, and for York, they are much more likely to happen.

So you can guess what I’ll be saying to the City of York Council’s consultation! Have your say too.

york-central-2

Re-routing Leeman road offers a rare opportunity to make the use of available space.

Posted in Museum news

Sir Nigel Gresley overhaul – introduction

Those recently visiting The Works at the museum will have noticed we’ve got a special guest staying with us for a while. Pacific A4 4498 / 60007 Sir Nigel Gresley is having its ten-year overhaul right here at York and will be available to view from the balcony for up to 3 years.

The locomotive is owned by the Sir Nigel Gresley Locomotive Trust and the overhaul is being co-ordinated by locomotive engineer Darrin Crone with the help of a number of passionate volunteers. Listen to John Wilkinson – Deputy Chairman of the Trust – as he gives a brief overview of the overhaul:

Despite being in the early stages the team report progress is very good and the Trust’s intention is that following the overhaul the locomotive will once again operate on mainline railtours and heritage railways throughout the UK.

We’ll publish regular updates of progress throughout the overhaul on this blog – feel free to post any of your own photos to our Facebook page if you notice the team doing anything interesting while you watch from the Works balcony.

Members of the SNGLT (Sir Nigel Gresley Locomotive Trust) in our works balcony the day the locomotive arrived in The Works.

Members of the SNGLT (Sir Nigel Gresley Locomotive Trust) on our works balcony the day the locomotive arrived.

John Wilkinson (left) and Darrin Crone stand proudly on The Works floor in front of the loco.

John Wilkinson (left) and Darrin Crone (engineer) stand proudly on The Works floor in front of the loco.

Did you know?

  • The loco has operated continually from August 1943 through to the present day. It is one of only six A4’s remaining in the world and the only one that is owned and operated by members of a charitable Trust. Find out more about the Sir Nigel Gresley Locomotive Trust (SNGLT).
  • Sir Nigel Gresley holds the post-war speed record for steam traction – it was clocked doing 112 mph in 1959.
  • Sir Nigel Gresley’s current tender was Flying Scotsman’s tender between 1929 and 1936.
  • When SNGLT bought the engine off British Railways in 1966, it had a full overhaul and obtained the wheels from sister A4 ‘Miles Beevor’ in addition to the boiler of 60016 ‘Silver King.
  • Read more about Sir Nigel Gresley the locomotive engineer.

See the overhaul as it happens by visiting The Works during your visit.

 

Posted in Museum news

Named locomotives in the First World War

The naming of railway locomotives has often been a practice heavy with symbolism and at no time more so than during the Great War.

Thanks in part to a sustained campaign in the press a wave of anti-German sentiment swept the country in late 1914. Individuals and businesses with German sounding names quickly changed them to avoid any suggestion of association with the enemy. The railways were by no means immune to such pressures.

In November 1914 the London and North Western 4-6-0 (‘Experiment’ Class) locomotive ‘Germanic’ had new nameplates with the name ‘Belgic’ fitted above the old nameplates on the driving-wheel splashers. Curiously the old plates were not removed but simply had red lines drawn through them!

L&NWR Locomotive No.372 pictured in the LNWR Gazette for January 1915

L&NWR Locomotive No.372 pictured in the LNWR Gazette for January 1915

About the same time GWR ‘Star’ class locomotive No.4017, originally put into service in 1908 as ‘Knight of the Black Eagle’, was re-christened ‘Knight of Liège’ as “a fitting tribute to the heroism of our Belgian allies”. The ‘Order of the Black Eagle’ was an ancient order of chivalry in Prussia and in 1914 Kaiser Wilhelm II was the Order’s Sovereign and Master.

GWR 4-6-0 locomotive Knight of Liège seen near Ruscombe (National Railway Museum archives)

GWR 4-6-0 locomotive Knight of Liège seen near Ruscombe (National Railway Museum archives)

Railway companies also attempted to do their patriotic duty in the naming of newly built locomotives. A series of ten ‘Prince of Wales’ class locomotives built by the L&NWR (London and North West Railway) in late 1915 all carried names of celebrated war figures, among them General Joffre, the Chief of the French General Staff, Sir John French, the commander of the British Expeditionary Force, and the British nurse Edith Cavell, shot by the Germans in October 1915 for helping Allied soldiers escape from occupied Belgium.

The named L&NWR locomotives parked outside Crewe Works. No.27 General Joffre is in the foreground. (L&NWR Gazette, April 1916)

The named L&NWR locomotives parked outside Crewe Works. No.27 General Joffre is in the foreground. (L&NWR Gazette, April 1916)

The first anniversary of Nurse Cavell’s death – which shocked the nation – was commemorated in 1916 when the locomotive bearing her name was at the Rugby Engine Shops for maintenance. Staff decorated it with flowers, flags, and a sign bearing the words “Lest we forget”. The loco was parked in a siding close to the road and a collection taken from passers-by which raised funds for the Rugby Prisoners of War Fund.

Locomotive No.2275 Edith Cavell decorated in 1916 (LNWR Gazette, December 1916)

Locomotive No.2275 ‘Edith Cavell’ decorated in 1916 (LNWR Gazette, December 1916)

A further sequence of ‘Prince of Wales’ class locomotives built in 1916 commemorated ships lost in the war including the Lusitania and two of the L&NWR’s own steamships, the Anglia (sunk by a mine in October 1915 while in use as a hospital ship) and the Tara (formerly the S.S.Hibernia). See this blog for the story of the Tara.

The year 1916 witnessed yet another outrage with the execution of Captain Fryatt, the master of the Great Eastern Railway steamer S.S Brussels whose story is told in this post. Fryatt was honoured in March 1917 with a Claughton Class 4-6-0 locomotive of the L&NWR named after him.

After the end of hostilities the railways continued to commemorate famous figures and events of the conflict. In 1919 the North British Railway gave names to 25 of their Class C 0-6-0 goods locomotives (later to become LNER Class J36) which had returned from service overseas. The names chosen included those of Allied commanders (French, Foch, Allenby, Petain, Haig) and of notable battles of the war (St Quentin, Ypres, Verdun, Arras, Somme). Some of the 25 survived well into the British Railways era.


Robert is one of our First World War archive volunteers, undertaking research around our database of fallen railway workers.

 

Posted in Railway History, Research and archive

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.

Posted in Railway History, Research and archive | Tagged

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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