The latest Underground Diagram: a fallen icon?

A new version of the Underground pocket diagram recently appeared, dated December 2018, and this incorporates another new feature which, whether good or not, adds further complexity to a diagram that is now overloaded with information. It is surely time to begin challenging the design of the pocket map and asking what it is for and whether this is the best solution. The present administration, incidentally, call it Tube Map, but it isn’t a map and not everyone recognizes the name ‘tube’, so I’m sticking with ‘Underground diagram’. Having said that, one of the reasons it has become overloaded is the dropping into it of the various other TfL services, so it is surely more than simply an Underground diagram?

My concerns, set out below, is that it fails on one level because it has become too complicated, and yet, at another level, it does not maximise the transport connectivity opportunities that exist and which would support the need to switch as many people as possible onto public transport.

First I examine some positives and then question, with examples, whether or not the map in its present form might be reaching the end of the road.

A 10-minute rule

In the latest diagram we see the introduction of a new interchange symbol that defines certain interchanges as ‘under a 10-minute walk between stations’. The stations concerned in these interchanges each have one (or more) interchange circles and these are connected by a broken black line, representing the walking portion. There are 23 of these, including interchanges with the cable car. Of these, perhaps a third had previously been shown as ordinary interchanges on earlier versions, while the rest are new. I will call this the 10-minute rule.

One can quite see the pressing need for such a device. The traditional Underground approach meant that sight of an interchange symbol implied a degree of simplicity. Overlooking notable exceptions (such as Green Park Piccadilly to Victoria Line) an interchange would be no more than a short walk, might sometimes involve an escalator, would be fully signed, in the dry and within the ticket barrier line. The incorporation of new ‘between stations’ interchanges, of a less convenient kind, somewhat undermines the idea of simplicity that the old type of symbol implied, yet this has been tolerated for some time.

Let us look at some examples. At West Hampstead (between Overground and Jubilee Lines) the stations are quite close and within sight, though separated by a busy road and an inadequate crossing. On the other hand, Upper Holloway to Archway is a 400m treck along Holloway Road, although the route is fairly direct. The interchange at Walthamstow between Central and Queens Road (300m) is more tortuous and involves an alley and part of a housing estate. You can see this might come as a surprise to people expecting a cross platform interchange such as that at Oxford Circus.


This shows the 10-minute rule interchange style at West Hampstead and Euston.  I can see why Finchley Road is included, but if you were on Jubilee you would want to know that the Finchley Road change is 450m whilst that at West Hampstead is only about 100m

I naturally look for some logic in the interchanges selected for this new 10-minute rule treatment but find only a succession of questions. My first, is ‘what is ten minutes’?

Inspection of the various new interchanges suggests, in distance terms, the longest interchange is about 740m (South Wimbledon and Morden Road). There may be a longer one but this will do. To walk this in no more than ten minutes, ignoring time waiting to cross the road, implies a walking speed of 1.23m/s, or 2.75mph. This seems feasible for most people and I would say 3mph would be reasonable (though I charge along at 4mph myself). It would seem that in round number terms a distance between stations of 750m would capture the spirit of ‘within ten minutes’ unless there are tortuous subways or road crossings to deal with. On that basis I can see that introducing this new class of interchange suggests (1) significant new transport connectivity and journey opportunities than previously, which is surely a good thing, and (2) a gradation in how interchange quality is shown, which is also a good thing. The 10-minute rule particularly favours the utility of the Overground where the old North London and Gospel Oak – Barking lines, in particular, failed to connect conveniently with anything much except at Highbury and Willesden Junction.

I have been quite unable to understand why at least some of these 10-minute rule interchanges have been identified, but not others. The Underground diagram is littered with places where connectivity appears to be completely absent, for example between the Piccadilly and Central Lines anywhere west of the central area. However, North Ealing to West Acton isn’t far: at 620m it is under ten minutes and might be felt more convenient than the awkward round-the-corner journey via Ealing Broadway, where one could easily wait ten minutes for the connecting District train. Equally, Park Royal to Hanger Lane is only 670m and makes for a handy round-the-corner journey. In east London, another useful link can be made between the Central Line and Gospel Oak to Barking Line, where today no interchange appears possible; this can be done at Leytonstone where the Central Line is about 750m from the High Road station. This is just within the ten minute rule and seems to make a connection that is difficult any other way.

Nearer central London some reflection is needed as many stations are within ten minutes of each other anyway. Even so there are some awkward journey possibilities that could be highlighted. The Central Line at Lancaster Gate is only 515m from Paddington, which compares favourably to having to change for the Circle at Notting Hill Gate. Hampstead Heath and Belsize Park is about 700m and would surely make a handy interchange with the Edgware branch, which is otherwise awkward for those coming from the west, or vice versa. Harringay Green Lanes and Turnpike Lane (720m) would appear to make a useful connection. I am sure there are other examples.

I  mention these out of puzzlement as to what the criteria are for including this class of interchange and because they seem as justifiable. However this does invite some other observations.

I would have thought the long-standing out-of-station interchange between Euston Square and Warren Street (200m) deserves including, since changing from the eastbound Circle route to southbound Northern (and vice versa) is awkward and doing it via Euston (425m) is perverse and very much a long way round. You might have noticed that someone has taken a drafting short cut by moving Euston Square station to the wrong side of Warren Street, which is not helpful to anyone changing line here. Professional draftsmen have generally attempted to keep geographical relationships correct at stations nearby where people might walk between them, even if this makes the drafting more of a challenge. This battle was probably lost in May 2001 when accuracy was sacrificed on the difficult Baker Street to Paddington section: we no longer seem to have designers who are able to handle this kind of finesse or who understand the local circumstances they are attempting to chart.

A puzzle attracts my attention at Heathrow 1,2 & 3 (or is it now officially just 2 & 3?). The interchange between TfL Rail and the Piccadilly Line is shown as a normal one. It isn’t. It is outside the barriers and a long walk through tedious airport subways and takes some minutes. This should surely be classed as a ‘10-minute rule’ type interchange. Moreover the diagram implies the only way to get from TfL rail to and from T5 is to use this awkward interchange and use the Piccadilly Line. The daggered note, however, invites those people to use the free rail transfer (in reality the Heathrow Express trains to T5 that also serve T2 & 3 TfL platforms). It might be me, but I think this is not at all clear and will at best confuse people (though I accept there are announcements on the train). What exactly is the objection to showing the free airport rail link on the map?

And what is going on at Southwark? This is a purpose-built interchange with Waterloo East and used to indicate it was the interchange for Waterloo East. Suddenly, from the September 2009 diagram, reference to the interchange disappeared and it lacks even the national rail symbol. Surely nobody would recommend changing to South Eastern via Waterloo main line, from which it is a right old treck, particularly if they were coming on the Jubilee Line anyway? If it was removed in error, a decade has passed during which nobody has apparently raised the matter.

Not an entirely new idea

It must be said that the Underground has wrestled for years about how to deal with the variable quality of interchanges on a map that is uncomfortable with anything other than the binary ‘there is’ or ‘there is not’ an interchange. Stingemore was grappling with this before Beck had a go and they showed interchanges at Hammersmith (two stations even now), Notting Hill Gate (then two stations opposite one another) and dear old Paddington (two stations not even very near each other); Paddington remains an interchange about which opinion as to how to deal with it has varied widely. See 1934 map shown later.

However, returning to the innovation of the 10-minute rule, that is not a new issue either and the restless minds at TfL had previously fiddled with something comparable and then given it up. The idea of promoting walking between nearby stations seems first to have insinuated its way into London Transport’s mind at Bow Church station on the Docklands Light Railway (DLR). This station first appeared when the DLR opened in 1987 and it was shown as an entirely separate station from any that pre-existed. From 1988 it was shown as an ordinary interchange station with Bow Road (District Line) station, even though it was 280m away. Something similar happened at Tower Gateway, also on the DLR. On opening, it, too, was shown as a quite independent station but in 1990 Tower Gateway also became shown as an ordinary interchange station with Tower Hill, even though the entrances are 100m apart and on opposite sides of a busy road. We thus have two early examples of stations where the lesser evil was to show nearby stations as full interchanges even though the interconnection was ‘low quality’ and involved a walk.


This shows how Tower Gateway and Bow Church were first dealt with, both shown as independent stations although they were within walking distance of pre-existing Underground stations.

A further change of policy occurred from the May 2001 edition of the diagram. This time the several notes relating to nearby main line stations were altered to give a specific walking distance (for example at Embankment where the ‘serves Charing Cross main line’ note was altered to show the distance instead, 100m in this instance). The opportunity was seized to treat the interchange at Bow Church the same way, a walking distance of 200m being added adjacent, though without altering the symbol. These distances were in very small type indeed and practically invisible. For some baffling reason the corresponding addition at Tower Gateway was not made. Whilst talking about the DLR, its display uniquely included the foot tunnel under the Thames to Greenwich (nothing then to do with LT), on the south bank, as a kind of hypothetical station, though it was marked as foot tunnel. Though a walk, no distance was offered.

For several years, therefore, we now only had the one form of interchange symbol, though some of them now included walking along the street. And so matters rested until the January 2008 map. For no obvious reason the interchanges at West Hampstead and Canary Wharf  (both out-of-station) were altered from ‘normal’ to a new type where the actual link between the two circles was formed by the distance between them in metres. The type size was impractically small and it must be doubted that anyone actually noticed it was a distance and not just a grey connecting line. The single interchange at Canary wharf, previously between the separate Jubilee and DLR stations of that name, now indicated interchange distance between Jubilee Line and Heron Quays as well as Canary Wharf (DLR). With masterful inconsistency the interchanges at Tower Gateway and Bow Church were not altered (though Bow Church was altered to conform in January 2009).

Very soon after this, the new stations at Wood Lane (H&C) and Shepherds Bush (Overground) came into use; these were both out-of-station and as at West Hampstead received the special interchange symbol including the walking distance (respectively 250m and 100m).


These extracts show (left) the style where distance is part of the connecting line and (right) the Bow Church treatment (and the Fenchurch Street distance). These distances are printed at 1.3 point size (under half a millimetre) and it defies believe anyone thought this was readable. The graphics quality on the left hand diagram is particularly hideous.

From September 2009 all of these ‘walking distance’ interchange symbols were dropped and they all became ordinary interchanges, just like the ordinary within-station ones. It is only now, as described at the beginning, that we see some of this revisited after many years of vacillation about how best to portray interchanges that are of secondary quality.

Why stop there?

If TfL is seriously interested in promoting public transport connectivity through more effective use of its existing services, there are other measures it might contemplate. Anyone looking at the Underground diagram can hardly fail to be struck by it being almost entirely focused around radial journeys, that is to say towards or away from central London. It is true we have the Circle Line forming an inner ring and London Overground’s old North, East, South and West London services, wholly in Zone 2, forming a kind of middle ring, and which the 10-minute rule interchanges will support. Beyond that the Underground has no apparent interest in connecting any of the separate branches and it doesn’t seem possible to make many through journeys without going towards London and then out again (or getting into the car).

I think we might do better than this. When, years ago, I was responsible for the Edgware branch I observed passengers whose whole knowledge of London was coloured by the Underground diagram and where other possible means of travel were either ‘difficult’, ‘non-existent’ or thought unsafe or unreliable. I have myself challenged someone wanting to go from Golders Green to Finchley Central by Underground and pointed out they could do the journey much faster and cheaper on a direct bus (there were lots along the Finchley Road and they would have been frequent, quick and not busy). I wonder, therefore, if one might consider a kind of virtual outer circle where obvious and potentially useful cross-branch bus links might be shown?

I have already suggested Golders Green to Finchley Central, but Edgware to Canons Park seems a reasonable connectivity option (or Queensbury to Burnt Oak). Mill Hill East to Edgware also beckons, and High Barnet with Oakwood would provide connectivity between these branches. Other possibilities suggesting themselves include Northwood Hills to Eastcote, West Ruislip to Ruislip, Uxbridge to West Drayton, Southall to Hounslow Central, Southfields to Richmond, Wimbledon to South Wimbledon, East Finchley to Bounds Green, Oakwood to Enfield Town and Southbury, Walthamstow Central to South Woodford, Gants Hill to Ilford, and Chadwell Heath to Becontree. I mention these only as connectional possibilities where the present diagram might work to discourage journeys between the various outer London branches because it looks hard (or time consuming) to make such journeys. There is no doubt plenty of scope for further debate about detail, it was the principle I am interested in.

Since the existing Underground diagram fails to mention the word ‘bus’ once, anywhere on the map itself or the accompanying blurb, I do not think it can be assumed anyone unfamiliar with London and using this diagram will quite grasp that journeys are possible that are not shown and that places a long way apart on the diagram might be quite close in real life. Uxbridge is quite close to Hayes, for example, and Wimbledon and South Wimbledon are well under a mile apart, but it looks a great deal more. In these circumstances perhaps it behoves TfL to do more to give potential passengers more visual clues about what is easy. It really is extraordinary that since TfL (and London Transport before it) began taking credit for ‘co-ordinating’ transport in London, the Underground diagram has studiously avoided mentioning the existence of the bus network.

And what about rail links?

In much the same vein, perhaps some key national rail lines should be included in our orbital aspirations. Clapham Junction to Richmond and to Wimbledon would seem likely candidates, providing ‘Metro’ type services and discouraging passengers from making silly circuitous journeys. Clapham Junction to Balham and Crystal Palace might avoid lengthy alternative journeys too. Sydenham (or Crystal Palace) to East Croydon would seem to integrate Tramlink more usefully with Overground. West Ealing to Greenford should be part of this.

Not an orbital example, but the Moorgate to Finsbury Park line would invite consideration. This had been an Underground line and when it transferred to British Rail in 1976 certain obligations were entered into to retain this section on the Underground map and to continue to portray it as part of the Underground system. I believe it was removed in error when the old North London line was removed in 1999 during a brief frenzy of decluttering. After an outcry, the North London line went back later in 1999 but the Moorgate to Finsbury Park line was not restored. For those in the City wanting Underground stations Highbury or north thereof the line from Moorgate is an attractive alternative to the awkward change via Kings Cross.

Existing diagram overloaded

These ideas for making London’s transport look a bit easier are open to obvious objection. There will be those who say ‘but it’s an Underground diagram’, or that ‘it would look complicated’, or that ‘there isn’t room’. Well, quite. However, I think those battles have been lost already, have they not?

It appears to me that after early experimentation based on the Beck design, the size was standardized as 9 inches by 3 inches in 1934 and is more or less the same today. To be more precise, the diagram area is actually 97.5% of that size today, a tad smaller. By my reckoning, the 1934 diagram incorporated 217 distinct stations whilst the 2018 version totals some 445. To be plain, there are more than double the stations on a map area a tad smaller. It is of course much more complicated as several flavours of TfL rail and tram services are now included but without inventing new colours they are portrayed differently in style and this contributes towards complexity. Incidentally, nowhere on the diagram is the significance of these modes explained—from passenger’s viewpont what is significance of the words Overground and TfL Rail and what differentiates these from Underground? National Rail is hinted at but not explained, and as already pointed out buses are just ignored. Riverboat ‘stations’ and services are mentioned but no further explanation is given.

The interchange issue alone has become very complicated. In 1934 there were 54 interchanges whilst in 2018 there were around 116. Interchanges have more than doubled, creating in their wake many extra design challenges to be faced. With all this overloading of material layout has inevitably suffered and with type sizes necessarily reduced by 14 per cent to fit everything in, the lettering is harder to read too. The current size is about 2.4 point, significantly less than that used by Beck on his designs, though his names were hand lettered. Beck lettered only in capitals whilst upper and lower case letters are used now. In practice this means that the lettering appears even smaller than the percentage reduction from Beck’s originals would indicate and I suggest the reality is that the type appears 30 per cent smaller. This is hardly calculated to make the diagram easy to read.

I should add that counting interchanges on the present map is problematic, particularly  at accessible stations. The decision to include two grades of accessibility with no difference between interchanges and ordinary stations makes one have to work harder to work out what is going on; it also makes interchanges look more complicated, for example both Victoria and Bond Street require two interchange blobs where in fact only one circle was hitherto thought necessary. There are places (Bank is one) where it is quite hard to work out what is going on. This arrangement is complicated and not really very satisfactory. These have an impact on overall geometry.

Without question the task required of today’s diagram is much more challenging than it was when the concept was invented: it is a challenge I am not sure is well met. Surely nobody really expects that trying to cram so much more information on a design format that hasn’t changed in 84 years could be expected to work well?


This design shows the 1934 version of the diagram after the card size had been fixed. The network was much smaller then, but even so, stations on lines projecting a long way beyond centre were shown in a box, avoiding the need either to reduce central area clarity or introduce excessive distortion. Although interchange symbols are also used at main line interchanges, nowhere is this explained.


This is today’s diagram, covering the same size of card. The only way to get everything on is to deploy considerable distortion so as to spread the material out as evenly as possible. The result does not seem to be entirely satisfactory. I fear Beck might not have been very happy with this approach

To me it seems that so much damage has already been inflicted on this once model of simplicity that maybe the time has come to rethink all this? I have already made suggestions about new features that might be included on a diagram serious about improving knowledge about transport connectivity.

Should the Underground diagram be reinvented to show just London Underground services, for example, whilst a more comprehensive map be produced showing other/all TfL rail (and core bus?) services, but on larger paper? I do think that a larger paper size would be helpful anyway: it is not simply about making the existing mess bigger (though larger type would help) but about allowing a more elegant design to be drawn, which would be possible if there was a bit of space in which it could breathe.

And what of the old London Connections diagram which shows all rail services in the Greater London area (ie including Underground, Tramlink and DLR as well as main line services). This map is still produced and maintained as a joint TfL/National Rail product (just called London’s Rail and Tube Services and it also incorporates the 10-minute rule interchanges) but I have never seen one on an Underground station and cannot honestly say I’ve noticed them at main line stations. What is it for? Who is it for? Why is it a secret? This diagram appears to fulfil the need for an all-systems map that most tickets can be used on, and if this were efficiently distributed I think it could plausibly be argued much of the clutter on the present Underground diagram could be removed, restoring its usability. Whatever the specific solution, the existing easily-available diagram is too small for what is now being asked of it and I think we should be asking even more. It needs to change. Whilst TfL constantly lauds Henry Beck and his map design (which we are told is an ‘icon’), it is nevertheless content (at least of late) to destroy Beck’s aim at simplicity at every opportunity.

I suspect TfL regards the diagram as a cost and it is only grudgingly produced at all in these financially challenging times. It is, of course, not free, but it is surely a cost of service in the same way as the electricity or the provision of escalators? Indeed if it were improved it would become an investment either because it generated travel by public transport or it contributed to some other transport initiative. I would be very interested to see what research TfL has done about the value of the pocket diagram. I hope I am wrong about TfL simply regarding the diagram as a cost, but having seen the demise of the bus map (which has directly impeded my use of buses) I am afraid that I do not entirely trust the organization to do things without external encouragement.

The addition of Crossrail to Reading will have to be undertaken in due course. That really will not aid legibility if this paper size is to be maintained. I attach the current artwork proposal (on grey rather than full colour base) that shows this and it seems to me that this has only been possible by yet further slight reduction to some of the other features.


Whether this is the final proposal for the diagram layout remains to be seen. It seems to have required moving the existing artwork to the right (making room for Reading) and a consequential tightening up of the space towards the right hand end. The Reading addition does seem to look like an afterthought (especially given how far away it is).

This poor old ‘icon’ is really quite full up. Surely we have reached the point where another solution is required? Perhaps the need to incorporate Crossrail might be an excellent opportunity to rethink all this?

Posted in London general interest, London Mayor, London Rail, London Underground | Tagged , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

Britain’s National Railway Museum: Part 5

Three Museums


Now (at last) I propose to say something about the NRM as it is today, following my first visit with this purpose in mind that I made last year. This proved difficult and gave me so much cause for reflection that I not only revisited York again this year but also visited two other transport museums so I could reflect on what I had seen at York with the benefit of having something to compare it with. It then became apparent that it would be better to offer my views of those museums as well, so sharing my comparisons with readers. I do not know whether I have quite achieved this but I trust this makes some kind of sense.

When I began I wanted to say something of the NRM’s aims and objectives and how it fits into today’s preservation scene but it was impossible to include any of that here and I will include it in a final wrap up essay.

I shall proceed by reviewing three transport museums and comparing and contrasting my findings, and then finish up with some observations about what has happened at York and why I believe it may have slightly lost its way. The three museums are ‘Steam’ at Swindon, the National Railway Museum at York, and the Riverside Museum (of Transport) in Glasgow. All three provide an opportunity for several hours of enjoyment, but I am interested more in what is preserved and displayed and how.


The layout of any museum inevitably affects the way visitors appreciate the exhibits. Of the three museums being reviewed, both York and Glasgow have unconstrained visitor flows whilst Swindon had only one entrance and (on the whole) a single route through the museum, though one did not feel ones movement was unduly regulated. Both York and Glasgow, on the other hand, extended the free flow of people to displays that were not tightly organized either, so defining any kind of fixed route would not be feasible.

Swindon is the smallest of the three museums under review. The whole museum is located within old railway workshop premises and this is made a major feature of the display. Swindon is really two museums. Firstly it is a museum paying homage to the vast railway workshops that once dominated the town and at one time employed 12,000 people on a site of 326 acres. This part exploits the atmosphere and some of the structural parts of the building to set out how the works developed and what it did. This is done by a series of cameo displays and workshop exhibits showing locomotive and carriage repairs and there is an area explaining the art of locomotive building which took place in the vast erecting shop. The displays with the exhibits (or replicas) are augmented with large photographs and background workshop sounds which work quite well to give the impression of space (and it would have been very easy to hash this up).


Once past the locomotive, one proceeds into what is effectively the second museum which is about the history and operation of the Great Western Railway. The visitor is less constrained in this section and having got past the history display one can wander about more or less at will for a while. There are quite a lot of exhibits relating to operation pre-1948 and relatively few steam locomotives, which were well-located and generally showed off in some kind of context. I particularly liked the signal cabin display where one could, under instruction from a video display, operate the full sized levers to shunt a train. There was a steam locomotive driving simulator (with sound effects and a shaking footplate) but the controls appeared to have no impact on the view ahead displayed through the cab window. There was a replica station building and platform with the inside of a proper booking office that could be inspected. On the way out there were further themed displays, with much space devoted to GWR publicity practices.


This view overlooks the station display at Swindon. Some attempt has been made to include most features found at a real station (though stopping short of a name board and plausible lighting). Some of the station rooms are used for displays about GWR publicity.

On the whole the displays were well thought out, substantially contextual, well lit (though a little more thought might have gone into spot light location) and the information panels were plentiful and well-located.

As observed in earlier articles, Swindon does not have very many locomotives, but from its own resources and those of the national collection it has a great deal of other material and this has been put to very good use. Perhaps, dare I say it, the lack of locomotives has been helpful, not only in requiring greater thought about what the museum tries to achieve but in not cluttering up the space with very large and awkward objects which as their numbers rise the additional information to be gleaned drops appreciably. I dare say space is never sufficient in museums of this kind and the amount of non rolling stock material is prodigious.

One can hardly describe every object, but describing themes is possible because of the way they are grouped. In the workshop section there are helpful descriptions of the growth of the works and these can be directly related to the building in which this is housed. The challenge does not arise at Glasgow where the building is new, and is hardly commented on at York following the reconstruction of the Grand Hall which stripped out most of the obvious railway features (except the surviving turntable). The displays then turn to what the works did and how it functioned and this provides the opportunity for several set pieces showing the bureaucracy at work using recovered materials set up as offices, stores and so on. I observed people stopping to look around and reading the display panels in areas that could have been any old industrial premises and not specifically railway premises. Of course, I can remember offices like this myself, but most youngsters may be surprised at all this stuff—and not a computer in sight (though there was a comptometer). How successful this is I cannot say, but the importance of a rigidly operated set of processes, paper based, was critical when the works alone held perhaps 100,000 components and was responsible for many thousands of locomotives and carriages. No railway could function without all this going on in the background and it seems to me that the attempt to hint at the scale of this is worthwhile.

The workshop areas I found interesting and a certain amount of the equipment with its belt drives has been saved. The carriage construction area was helpful, with a part constructed carriage visible and the loco repair area was shown during wartime which provided the opportunity to introduce women workers and wartime work. There were nice touches of unusual items shown in context such as the list of works hooter codes and times they were given.


Views of the various workshop spaces at Swindon

The final part of the ‘workshop’ section was occupied by the splendid apparition of Caerphilly Castle, as though the locomotive had just been completed and was about to be dispatched to its depot. It has virtually a gallery to itself. This was a significant decision given inevitable demands on space, but given what the museum is about it seems to me entirely justifiable. The space leaves plenty of room to drink in the view and take reasonable photographs. These days virtually everyone has a camera and wants to record what they have seen: this was not so important a point half a century ago.


Caerphilly Castle (like the other locos here) is actually part of the national collection and could once be viewed in the land transport gallery at the Science Museum in London. The underneath is accessible from steps at each end and is well lit. Unfortunately this requires guards around the access steps which slightly interferes with the splendid view one would otherwise get.

I took the view that even within the limitations of space and available exhibits, if I had gone in knowing virtually nothing about the workshops then I would have learnt a lot.

The first gallery in the main part of the museum effectively dealt with the company’s history. This is a huge challenge given the company’s size, long life and diverse interests and I wonder if this was a tad ambitious. One challenge (among several) is that railway exhibits usually have some particular function in time and do not on their own reveal much about a company history. The centrepiece is the North Star loco replica, but around the walls this zone was more heavily reliant on display boards than others. I would have liked to see more maps showing the growth of the company over time, and a family tree showing how all the companies that later became part of the GWR came together and when (apologies if it was there and I missed it).


This zone is called Building the Railway but includes something of its development too. There is some good material here but maybe it is not the most successful use of it.

Much of the rest of the museum was set out by theme and these are shown on the map at the beginning of this section. A welcome feature was the space given over to goods. It will be appreciated that much of the income earned from railways came from goods traffic but this is rarely given great prominence because many passengers are not so familiar with goods services (I would hazard a guess that there are railway users today who have never seen a goods train). In 1934, to choose a date I have to hand, the big four companies made £78m from goods traffic of all kinds compared with under £50m from passengers. Exhibits included several goods vehicles, a brake van, a goods truck being loaded and a goods delivery vehicle (I must point out that before ‘white van man’ appeared, the railways delivered most goods and parcels to people’s door or business and provided warehousing and delivery services for many companies. They were a crucial part of the economy.


The amount of space devoted to goods is entirely appropriate given its importance and diversity though I could see that perhaps even a little more was possible. Of course, the reduction and upheaval to goods services during 1960s and 1970s is omitted as this was long after the GWR ceased. The display above is one of several devoted to goods and descriptions do not confine themselves to the vehicles.

Of omissions there were glaring areas. Track was conspicuous by how little was said of it and how little was on show. It is a failing of all transport museums I have yet visited and seems perverse given that railways are ways upon which are laid rails: the hint is in the name. Perhaps they are not thought interesting by the great minds who run our museums, or perhaps they imagine the public isn’t interested. The point is that rails and the way they are laid are important, indeed crucial, to the operation of railways and it is up to museum curators to earn their money by finding a way to make them interesting — I do not ask for a track museum (though I would like to see one) but I would like transport museums to show a little more interest in showing off a few key technical developments and I know for a fact there is no shortage of the stuff to draw from. Railways were (and some think still are) at the cutting edge of technology. Why must this be kept a secret? (I echo what historian and academic Jack Simmons was saying in 1972, apparently without result.)

In conclusion I believe a visit to this museum by someone attentive, but without very much knowledge of railways, would get a good grounding about pre-WW2 railway work in general and the GWR in particular. It is not perfect (perfection is probably unachievable) but the museum sets out to tell a clear story and uses its exhibits to do most of the hard work. There is no shortage of background information boards and there are some video units and other electronic display equipment, if anyone feels the urge to use it, but it is not—as in some museums—intrusive. I thought it was all rather well done.


Upon entering the NRM from the station one is swept ahead into what is called Station Hall, a space into which the original museum expanded some years after opening. To give some idea of scale, Station Hall on its own is actually a little larger than the GWR museum at Swindon and accounts for about a third of the area of the NRM York site.


This map shows the general arrangement of the NRM, by far the largest of the three museums.  Since the museum is not rigorously divided into particular areas the internal labelling presumably reflects someone’s opinion about where supposed favourites are located, though the selection (for example ‘milk tank’) intrigues more than informs. Reference to the workshop and store are on a separate map in same leaflet.

The intent of the Station Hall layout, as I understand it, was to be able to display some of the locos and rolling stock in a realistic station environment by making use of the platforms in what had been a large goods transfer shed. I would describe this as a partial success in that the locos and rolling stock can be viewed from platform height enabling visitors to see into vehicles and generally view things as passengers would have viewed them. It was only on my second visit that I discovered against the wall on the west side of the hall another isle that was not very obvious or inviting; in here lurked a number of interesting goods trucks and road vehicles, but I felt the lighting in this isle was awful and the orange cast hardly showed items at their best and made photographing anything a serious challenge. The gloomy lighting did not serve to draw people into this area and I was completely undisturbed by other visitors whilst looking around this area.

Railway goods traffic provided a valuable sources of income and involved the use of hundreds of types of vehicle, sometimes of a specialist nature. In 1934 there were over 600,000 goods-carrying vehicles in use, excluding a similar number of privately-owned vehicles that became part of the British Railways fleet in 1948 (when wagons excluding brake vans totalled 1.1 million). The catalogue suggests the York collection amounts to 13 wagons and 3 brake vans. Eight of these are in a fairly remote part of Station Hall where they can be viewed from track level.


This part of the goods section is arranged to show typical small goods and typical handling plant and delivery vehicles. It is very unlikely different companies’ railway vehicles would be seen together like this and it might be better to arrange the display around one company’s asset and put the others together nearby with a generic explanation about what was going on (explanations about goods handling were a bit thin).

Not putting them in one of the platforms is perfectly understandable and enables some context to be added with piles of goods and several small road vehicles that would be meaningless if showed separately. The area is easy to miss and not especially signed as far as I  could see. Once in, however, the area probably had the most atmosphere of any part of the museum. There were odd pieces of interpretation but labelling was done in a rather quaint way with large tied-on tags unique to this particular section. The goods gallery, for want of another term, would have benefited from a more comprehensive introduction in the dead space to explain the general nature of goods traffic, how important it was and how it operated, particularly all the handling it got and the huge logistical operation that underpinned it.

This is the more important because it is not how things are done now. Once more I make the charge that so few vehicles are shown when so many were operated, compared to the comparative proportion of preserved locomotives. We should not forget that while young people today are used to ‘white van man’ delivering stuff to one’s door, there was a time before the 1970s when this service was substantially provided by British Rail road vehicles or those of its railway predecessors. This point is really not pressed.


A view of an apparent goods train, though a milk tank is an unlikely vehicle in a goods shed. The yellow cast is from the high pressure sodium lighting which is an interesting choice and rather gloomy (and not used in main part of shed). The purpose of the overhead signs is unexplained. They may have been left over from goods shed days.

There were some goods/parcels objects on display on the platform area. These felt rather contrived. Some (like cranes) had clearly been left from the building’s days as a transit shed but were usually unlabelled and visitors might have puzzled why such things would be on a passenger station. Other stuff was of the kind that went on passenger trains and labelling was very variable. Some objects were unlabelled and I began harbouring the uncharitable suspicion they were there for decoration whilst other items were copiously labelled, sometimes in odd places though findable by anyone interested.


This view (looking towards the restaurant) has me puzzled. Railways had been in the container business for many years and I was pleased to see these apparently fine examples. However, there are no explanatory labels (a huge missed opportunity) and  they are both decked out as small sitting rooms, with an invitation to sit. A furnished fish container: what is going on? Once more I began to wonder if these quite important elements of the railway story were just decorative and I was unable to find these items in the inventory, so I suppose they were. They might even be replicas as I note castors have been added. Surely we can make more educational use of them than this, even if they are used as an object of fun? It isn’t as though there is an actual container of this kind in the collection.

Despite thinking some small improvements could be made, I felt the goods display, though modest, was a good effort and one of the few areas of the museum where effort had been made to show off objects in a fairly realistic context.

Less successful, at platform level, was the attempt to recreate the impression of a station. It is true that the railings and platform ends were realistic enough and added some atmosphere, but no attempt had been made to provide or fit out the usual station facilities such as station offices, a booking office or anything like that (there was an implausibly located ticket booth but not contemporary with the vehicles). Many exhibits and associated displays were unlabelled.


An example of one of the station hall platforms. This particular view shows the huge potential of this substantial space but I fear it is only partly realized. I know it is mere detail but I would not myself have chosen British Railways post 1948 (North Eastern Region) signage as my standard here when virtually all the exhibits are half a century earlier.


Quite a lot of empty space.

There was quite a large amount of unused space which I suspect may pander to the needs of corporate hospitality, or perhaps school parties, but later reflection made me think more could be done with this display area, even allowing for the cafe area which was placed in the middle of it.

There is a lot of good stuff in Station Hall but I still felt that opportunities were being missed and despite the effort that had obviously gone into it more was and still is possible. Reconsidering how things might appear to (and be comprehended by) the visitors might induce some modest changes, including perhaps some kind of strategic introduction to what was being shown and why. And more context is possible by using material languishing a hundred yards away in store; there is enough for a proper ticket office at the very least.

Returning to the main entrance one discovers the subway under Leeman Road that leads to the Great Hall. I looked, but did not at first see on my way in, for any signs leading to this and wondered if any visitors might miss it (there was a large sign beyond the line of glass doors but one could easily miss it). The Great Hall is of course the location of the original 1975 museum which then comprised a converted engine shed and two turntables as already described. This original set of features at least provided the early museum with a railway-like character that might have rivalled Swindon, but the expensive roof problem resulted in what became in effect a modern building which has no particular character.


A general view of the Grand Hall giving some indication of its size (there is much more material out of view to the right, too). The high speed and overhead electric material is grouped together (though remote from other electric vehicles) but the layout makes it challenging to offer a coherent narrative about railway development from the plentiful exhibits present and I did not detect much attempt to do so. In background at first floor level are the library and research facilities. Here was once located a mass of small exhibits, many adding to the comprehension of the railway story, but this is now mostly in store and the paucity of small material is noticeable.

If I might start off with a general observation: the museum is dominated by locomotives and most of them are steam locomotives. According to the inventory there are 37 locomotives on site at York of which 27 are steam, 7 are diesel and 3 are electric. This includes the non-British material but excludes both Rocket replicas. This does seem rather a lot and I wonder how many locomotives are necessary in order to explain the basic working principles, the way they allowed railways to develop and important technical highlights.

One of the turntables has been retained and about half the large exhibits sit on the stub roads outwith the turntable. The turntable provides vehicle access with the outside world via the end glass doors. Having now seen a number of museums I have begun to dislike the turntable arrangement as it seems very wasteful of space. Apart from the substantial loss of space caused by the turntable itself the fan arrangement places the leading end of the exhibits a tad too close whilst the far ends are spaced some way apart. This makes it quite difficult to appreciate the vehicles fully, makes lighting (and photography) difficult and wastes a lot of space at the rear, not helped by the building being rectangular; the rears were also rather dingy.


The non-accessible turntable dominates, somewhat restricting the view. It sits, uncomfortably, in a rectangular building making the stub roads different lengths and allowing only quite short vehicles on some roads. This seriously impacts on ability to locate vehicles in any logical order. The museum lighting relies heavily on daylight flooding in from south end and central roof, illuminating vehicle fronts whilst sides and rear are comparatively gloomy. When the museum was opened, one turntable had a rotating wooden deck which the public had access to, so not so much space was wasted.


In order to make at least some productive use of the turntable a locomotive has been placed here. I cannot deny it looks splendid but of course this is partly because while it is on the turntable it is not surrounded by clutter. The down side, inevitably, it that it blocks the view of all the vehicles on the far side.


In these images one can see the compromises necessary. The fronts of the vehicles are hard to admire head on as they are so close to the turntable barrier, which is just in shot. On the other hand the slightly gloomy space at the rear is perhaps excessive and I thought more use might be made of it. The fanning makes it quite hard to appreciate some of the larger vehicles properly.

There was no route plan but as the exhibits seemed to be displayed almost randomly (from the visitor’s viewpoint) this may not have mattered much. The conjunction of displays seemed illogical with the early railway material freely mixed up with more modern material. Labelling was sporadic, with many smaller items unlabelled and even several of the large exhibits lacking any kind of description.

One of the most important exhibits was the sectioned Merchant Navy locomotive which provides a valuable insight into how steam locomotives worked (the sectioned Rocket replica makes an interesting contrast but was sufficiently far away to make comparison difficult). The display included a good description about how steam locomotives worked, but explanations of diesel and electric propulsion were, by contrast, lacking.


One of the most instructive exhibits at the museum. An information sheet with a photo and the key to the numbered parts would have been really helpful. I thought of doing one myself.


This sectioned replica of Rocket represents a very early steam loco whilst Ellerman Lines represents a very late one. Although the locos are quite close, the sectioned areas of neither are visible from the other and it would be much more instructive to place them adjacent so that the internal workings can both be seen and contrasted.

The labelling of the steam locomotives in the great hall appeared to follow completely different principles to labelling in the station hall. Labelling in the latter appeared more closely aimed at general visitors whilst many of those in the great hall seemed aimed at loco enthusiasts already imbued with knowledge which it cannot be assumed everyone will have. For example, an exhibit label for the Lancashire and Yorkshire tank loco described it as ‘the only 2-4-2 tank engine preserved’. Why is this in the least important and where is the explanation for why wheel arrangements vary and some are more suitable for particular purposes than others?  Indeed, is the Whyte wheel arrangement system described anywhere? There were several places where I felt the opportunity to provide explanation for why things were done was lacking. Although the displays are not solely devoted to rolling stock the other material is dotted about haphazardly and rarely in context with any of the exhibits.


Four examples of labelling. At top is what appears to be the oldest style of label which adopts a fairly technical approach. The second is typical of the style adopted in Station Hall where non-technical labels are the norm and an attempt is made to describe what the object is for and where it was used. The third, found in Great Hall, adopts the explanatory style but with some technical detail added (I query the suggestion that red and gold livery was ever used on the Coronation Scot when running 1937-39). The fourth style is another variant. I’m not sure this label is as accurate as it could be and it is surely a quarter century since boat trains last ran? I wonder how often labels are reviewed. Other labelling styles may be found too.

Some examples (above) are given of the various types of label in use within the museum. We can’t expect any museum to be constantly updating every label but the variety of styles and whole approach to labelling seems to have changed substantially and to have quite such a mixture seems most undesirable. Personally I find the labels that describe what the exhibits are and how they are used to be the most useful, but there is surely benefit to adding limited technical detail too (as some of the labels do). Is the vacillation about labelling policy symptomatic of  uncertainty about what the museum is trying to achieve?

Like Jack Simmons, I found very little track, or even much commentary about it. There is a small quantity of track amongst the early railways exhibits, themselves taking up a quite small area that was rather lost amongst the vast modern locomotives and carriages.


This area represents early railways (basically railways before the Liverpool & Manchester line opened in 1830); an early steam loco in included, just out of shot. Apart from the surprising juxtaposition with the locomotive behind, which dominates the view, this display is expected to pass muster as the story of about 150 years of railway development. Actually the display panels are interesting and informative, and seem to represent all the museum wants to say about the pre-history of Britain’s railways. But is this really all the space that is felt necessary to present this early story, and is it really felt adequate? To have any meaning to visitors (even if they can divert their gaze in this direction) it really needs to be presented to them before all the more recent stuff.


This is a closer view of left hand end of early railways area showing some early wooden and iron rails and the stone blocks on which they were carried. The explanation goes some way towards redeeming a display that looks as though it has been dumped there awaiting proper installation, and you cannot see stuff at rear without being tempted to step amongst the rails. This is really not adequate and it isn’t as though the museum lacks old trackwork; there was far more track on display in the old Queens Road museum. And what of modern track? Apart from odd photos elsewhere I cannot say I could see anything from the last 150 years (apart from what vehicles are standing on, about which no explanation is given). This is a railway museum, surely we can do better than this? The other two museums I am reviewing here do no better of course, but they are not claiming to be a national railway museum. The old truck, by the way, dates to 1797 and when the museum opened had its own display area showing it as part of a quarry and on its own plateway. What we have here is not an improvement!


By comparison, this is how the 1797 wagon used to be displayed at York. Other material was also displayed contextually, but isn’t now.

There is an upper floor with more detailed displays explaining some engineering and operating functions but exhibits are sparse by comparison with the number of display boards which tell an interesting enough story but left me wondering where the exhibits were. (I know where they were, they were in the store underneath.)

There are a number of display panels dealing with various aspects of railway operations, of which perhaps clocks (timekeeping) was the most successful set. Even so the complete domination of the museum by the steam locomotive dwarfs all this important stuff.


Here is part of the signalling display comprising (at left) an example of the ubiquitous mechanical signal frame. This is a good exhibit but only when staffed. There is not much by way of explanation when it isn’t. Compare with approach taken by GWR museum at Swindon. Why can’t we have some levers to pull, with something at the end of them? On the right is  much of the rest of the display comprising mainly display panels.

Although the main part of the signalling display explained the basics it did seem a bit mean given the amount of signalling equipment the museum holds and the comparative wealth of effort put into displaying locomotives. ‘Signalling’ is the lazy way of describing the basic safety systems by means of which it is possible for railways to function at all, and are therefore important (as well as being a technology in which the British led much of the world for many years).

In fairness I must compliment the museum for its display of real time operations on the east coast main line, in conjunction with some display panels. This certainly goes some way towards filling in a signalling gap (and the live train movements, also viewable through nearby window, will grab attention, though it is all modern stuff and doesn’t really use the objects from the museum’s formidable collection). Moreover, since the display was installed, we should bear in mind much of the information here can be called up on a fairly average smartphone.


Part of the live trains panel in the ‘East Coast’ display area.

I have hinted at various points that there seems to be no logical order to what is displayed. Whilst this objection is equally true of Glasgow, I should say that it was not always true at York. When the museum opened in 1975 there was not only an entire gallery at first floor level that showed off the relatively small exhibits, but it was called ‘The Story of the Railway’ and did just that. This gave you a feel for what the museum was trying to do and allowed you to work out where the larger exhibits fitted in when you came to them.

Moreover the exhibits were once arranged in a logical order with themed explanatory panels around the walls and (notwithstanding the turntables) the various rolling stock items were cunningly arranged into discrete zones. For example zones 7-9 were devoted to the development of carriages, with (say) zone 7 being all about the evolution of the 4-wheeled carriage, so you knew where stuff was. I find it interesting that that this was possible in a museum then smaller and more congested and do not see that what has been put in place instead has made interpretation of the collection easier. The loss of the ‘Story of The Railway’ gallery altogether seems regrettable and makes the visitor now have to work quite hard to glean a coherent story of the railway from the haphazard arrangement that is now found. Indeed I wonder if a meaningful ‘story’ can actually be determined from the displays provided (I will return in part 6 to what that story might be). I can’t help thinking that the museum might have lost its way.

To one side of the great hall is the museum store which is open to the public and in which many thousands of exhibits lurk on shelves and pallets to surprise and amaze visitors. The exhibits are largely batched together in discrete areas but are generally not labelled or interpreted in any way, which adds to the fun. There were the tied-on object identification labels that could usually be read if you were really interested.


A view of the store from an overhead gallery. This can do no more than give a general feel for the vast quantity of stuff in the museum’s holding and making it available this way seems to me an act of enlightenment to be heartily applauded.

To me the accessible store is by far and away the most interesting part of the museum and would have justified going to York for the day without seeing any of the large exhibits at all! Basically it is where all the stuff is. One can meander about till one’s heart is content amongst the thousands upon thousands of exhibits here and for the first time discover that British railway history is about so much more than the steam engine. Railways were vast businesses, involved in so many things, and frankly this is not obvious to younger people today who see only the very narrow railway businesses we have now and who would hardly guess how vast these concerns had been from the exhibits in the main halls.

One of the things that struck me in the warehouse involved training on a vast scale, and the wonderful signal training school layout is well worth spending time examining. There was then the multitude of ticket issuing equipment, automatic machines and so forth, much of the nature of which is quite unknown to anyone under the age of 30 and little known to those under 50!


This model railway ship, not easy to photograph through perspex, is sublime.

The involvement in hotels is probably little known to many (BR ran the largest hotel business in the world), but there are items here (but only in here) that hint at this substantial business. Shipping is well represented, particularly by some of the largest and best models I have ever seen, perhaps even better than those at Glasgow (see later). I managed to take a photo of one and you would not know it wasn’t a real ship.

All the clutter one sees on stations can be found here aplenty. Every conceivable type of sign can be found, some only by carefully peering through the racks. Signalling equipment is here in quantity, some of which really ought to be on display. Trackforms – it is all here, and it is important (it is after all a railway museum as I have said several times). I can’t begin to tell you how many clocks there were, railway timekeeping was crucial. There was perhaps the largest collection of chairs (of the sit-upon type) outside the V&A museum, and benches and stools, and desks and other railway furniture. Uniforms, badges and buttons so distinctive of the pre-grouping railways. In the main hall, staff are virtually forgotten.


One of the larger items in the warehouse is the model railway and other relics from the Lancashire & Yorkshire Railway. In this view you can also see some other material stored and displayed in this small corner.

This could have been overwhelming but as an avid people-watcher I noticed a continuous stream of people trickling through. Most were not rushing, but stopping to inspect things that caught their fancy and I heard more than once ‘here, have a look at this’. OK, the items are not specially laid out for viewing, the lighting was adequate (just) but avoided the harsh contrasts in the main hall and photography was possible. The exhibits were generally not obviously labelled unless they had been on display but if you really wanted to know then the card label attached to it could be handy. Perhaps the place played to my own prejudices but I really felt that this was what a museum should be like. It provoked the imagination.


There are more signs stored here than you can shake a stick at.


And here are some more, with a couple of fine lamp posts.


And one of these. However it survived long enough to be decimalized I cannot imagine

The collections store (till recently called ‘The Warehouse’) is not only a real eye-opener but allows the NRM to fulfil its statutory role of placing its material on display. I think, from visits to other relatively new museums, the opening up of the inevitable museum  store is becoming the fashion and I believe it cannot happen fast enough.

I have already hinted elsewhere, only after I left this area did I begin thinking about why it was that some of this material was actually being stored at all rather than being on display. There seemed to me plenty of room in Station Hall for more of the station material, and enough to have a proper booking office of the kind one could once see in the Science Museum’s land transport gallery. There is also plenty of stuff to populate other small themed area in a number of other underfilled spaces.



One of the Rocket replicas undergoing some fairly comprehensive maintenance in the museum’s fully-equipped workshop. No explanation appeared to be available about this or most of the other items receiving attention, though there was a notice about the Gresley pacific restoration a few yards away.

Finally there is the museum workshop where repairs small and large are carried out. This is viewable from an overhead gallery, though I felt more effort could be given to explaining what was going on by means of some updatable display.  There was a board explaining what was going on with Sir Nigel Gresley but that is all I could see. I would have been interested in knowing more about the capabilities of the workshop and what some of the other visible activity was.

Before moving on I must just say a few words about the rolling stock (or carriages, in the language of railway users).

At first sight there are quite a lot of carriages, but closer scrutiny reveals all is not at it seems. The catalogue throws up a respectable 25 items when plausible search terms for carriage are entered. However five are royal vehicles, two are post office vehicles, four are dining / sleeping / Pullman vehicles, nine are very early or specialist or novel vehicles or replicas or not passenger carrying vehicles whilst only five are bona fide carriages of the kind you or I would actually have travelled in, and, of these, three of them are late Victorian and the remaining two are 1937 and 1971. This hardly seems representative, and the 1971 carriage is confusingly liveried externally in 1959-60 Pullman colours (colours reserved for the Blue Pullmans and never carried by Mk II carriages). This hardly seems a satisfactory way to demonstrate how passengers travelled over the last century or more and is in striking contrast to the number of locomotives.


These are the only two ordinary loco-hauled coaches on display that were built after 1905 and neither is painted as passengers would have seen them when in service. The LMS one on the left never appeared in this premium livery and most of the inside cannot be seen (I believe this particular red livery was never seen in the UK). The one on the right, a 1971 Mk IID coach, is in pre-British Rail Nanking Blue (Blue Pullman) livery which loco-hauled Pullmans never carried and nor did this coach. The inside is a good example of ordinary 1970s travel and visitors have full access to one end, which is useful. It is not helpful that visitors might confuse it with Pullman travel or think these were the usual British Rail colours (Rail Blue was quite different). The coach came from a private charter operator who painted it like this but I could not see this explained anywhere. Hopefully it will be correctly repainted in due course. The LMS coach is right under the central skylight and is very difficult to photograph because of excessive reflections (this also affects other vehicles on sunny days).

Most of the carriages are in the Station Hall which is suited to being able to see into them. The LMS 1937 carriage is in the Grand Hall coupled to the LMS streamlined loco and liveried to suit (although in this period, the go-faster livery was blue and this type of carriage never appeared in these colours). I can well understand the compelling temptation to show Duchess of Hamilton with a liveried carriage, but shunning the platform level that would have been available in Station Hall means you cannot see into much of it (you can, of course, see into the loco footplate). As it is, visitors cannot appreciate the inside of an ordinary carriage between 1905 and 1971. At least, not at York.

Meanwhile, rusting away outside in the yard, is an entirely representative type of suburban carriage of late 1950s origin which the museum is attempting to get rid of.


This poor carriage (awaiting disposal by NRM) is typical of the type of suburban stock used in the London area for 25 years and was in service when the museum opened. There is nothing remotely like it on display inside. I found myself expostulating that this ought to be one of the museum’s more important exhibits (more important than some it is stuck with) but instead it is outside rusting away until it can find a loving home. I find this very odd.

In my comments about York I have sought to confine my remarks to what I have actually seen, and my immediate reaction, in order to keep the narrative broadly comparable to those for the other two museums. I appreciate it is somewhat longer, but that is largely because the NRM on its York site alone is 50 per cent larger than the other two museums put together.

I have not particularly commented on the actual selection of exhibits that are displayed and how (and to what extent) the result fulfils the museum’s aspirations or the public need. I have some observations to make about this, together with some suggestions, but that will have to wait until the final part of this series of essays about the NRM where I try and pull the various strands of this story together and place the conclusions in some kind of national context.

Riverside Museum – Glasgow

The Glasgow Riverside Museum (described as its transport and travel museum) resides in a large and very modern architectural statement about which opinions differ. Irrespective of the architectural merit, one might expect a brand new building to have superb visitor facilities and to show off the exhibits at their best and in a controlled atmosphere of which the conservators will approve. I felt this aspiration was only partly met and that it was almost as though the building and the displays had been worked up by different teams who had met only rarely, or perhaps not at all. Internally the objects were well illuminated (a definite plus) but the building felt a little congested. I am all for museums having objects in them, and despair when faced with serried ranks of object-light but expensive and dubious interpretation panels that is sometimes presented as a museum. Even so, when there is so much stuff that it is hard to appreciate the objects then there might be a problem.


This floorplan leaflet of the Riverside Museum Glasgow is a bit grim and gives neither an impression of its size (it is quite big) or what is actually in the museum. It is curious in other aspects, for example it appears one locomotive exclusively occupies the whole of the west wing, which is certainly not the case. This curious type of map presents some of the same arbitrary features the NRM map does. This really needs another approach.

I had entered the museum at the river end after visiting the very excellent sailing ship in which I was shocked to discover I had been absorbed for nearly two hours. My treck through the museum itself was delayed by trying to work out whether there was a route plan and how best to tackle it; hints were not provided and the vast South African locomotive dominates the entrance and hides what is behind it. One can really only plod round and keep checking one hadn’t missed anything.


This is a view I had not expected in a brand new museum.  In essence these important objects can be viewed only from one side because of the density of display. I thought the objects themselves were superb examples of a city’s transport system and are very happy they are on display at all rather than in store. But what was the brief? Was the building designed in complete isolation to the job it had to do? The building has won awards. For what? The visitor wants to see the objects and this visitor is asking the question whether this could have been done in a more mundane (but slightly bigger) structure.

There is some good stuff in the Riverside Museum and I thought it a very interesting and informative display. The layout, though, I did find problematic in that material of similar type was often spread about and some areas were very congested.


Three transport modes and an ambulance. Great exhibits but an unexpected combination. Interpretation is greatly aided by context and most of the layouts lack this.


Glasgow certainly knows how to pack stuff in. It does make some of the material (and I do mean ‘some’ for many exhibits are superbly presented) rather hard to view though. I must add that the upper loco can be viewed properly from upper gallery, but not so for some of these high level adventures. I wonder if the floor area could have been slightly bigger rather than having to use the building’s perhaps excessive height.

A feature of the Riverside Museum I thought rather well done was the street scene. I like these because (whilst to a degree artificial) the exhibits are shown off in some kind of context, a context that also allows some of the smaller exhibits to be displayed meaningfully, or at all. The street scene purports to cover the historical period 1895-1930 while the area to the west covers 1930-1980.


A street scene at Riverside which I guess is considered its centre-piece. It is possible to go inside the shop creations. Like anything else it is perfectly possible to pick holes in recreations like this but I think if done well it provides an atmosphere within which it is possible more readily to make sense of things. I thought this well worth the effort.

The general arrangements at Glasgow have just been described but I need to say that the exhibits selected for display are intended to reflect Glasgow’s maritime and manufacturing history as well as its transport system. For this reason the museum includes quite a bit of shipping material including a substantial number of large ship models (at least a hundred). This number might be found overwhelming and there are far too many to have the slightest hope of studying in any detail more than a few samples. The number comes about because of Glasgow’s shipbuilding past where every new ship is modelled first; it seems every last one of them has ended up here and must have given the curators having to display them something of a challenge.

The city’s industrial manufacturing capacity also extended to railway locomotives and the five locomotives on display were all Glasgow-built. Four of them are representative of locomotives operating on the various Scottish railways but the fifth is representative of one of many thousands made in Glasgow for export, and this 180 ton beast was in service in South Africa for 43 years. It suffers from the same obvious disadvantage as the Chinese loco at York, except that space is even more confined. Actually it is so big it is quite hard to appreciate because you cannot get far enough away from it to view it properly (this is the loco I referred to by the entrance). The native railway locomotives were gifted by British Rail in 1966 and it is clear they are there to represent local engineering and not main line rail transport around the Glasgow area about which little is said. Moreover I found no carriages or other railway paraphernalia in the museum. This seems a serious omission given the dense railway network in the region and its importance in supporting the wider engineering industry.

Glasgow’s transport system was known for its trams and there are several in the collection, though not all together. I think it would have been more meaningful to have put the stuff together, perhaps with some ancillary equipment, of which I saw none (though there are decaying switch-boxes still to be found in the street which could usefully be recovered). No overhead wire either, which is a shame as it would once have been familiar. I did not notice any summary of the history of the tram system, though I might have missed it.

The other Glasgow transport feature is the subway and it was nice to see a subway station entrance built into the street scene. On entering, one is in a recreated station not long after the subway opened and in which there is a (then) cable-hauled car in appropriate livery and where one can partly board to see inside. There is a description of the Hallidie system by which these cars were drawn. Strange to say that in the post 1930 section of the museum there is another subway station recreated to show a later period with another of the cars, this time arranged for electric operation. Although this split-by-date arrangement might suit some conceptual ideal I am not sure it aids a rapid understanding of the subway and its contribution to transport.


This shows a subway cable-driven car in one of the museum displays, and the interior of an electrically-driven subway car in a different display area. Both areas are intended to be redolent of the tiled stations, and access to each car is possible. Though not mentioned, the resemblance with the City & South London Railway car at Covent Garden is striking.

I can do no more than recommend the Riverside Museum and advise visitors to leave plenty of time. Although many of the displays are a bit crowded I find myself increasingly of the view that it is a primary duty of museums to acquire representative objects and display them to the public. Whether Riverside’s exhibits are representative given my observation about the railway material is a question for another day, but it is patently obvious that within the limitations of the building heroic efforts have been made to show off the objects albeit some of them are not shown off at their best. I think it just about works and on balance is better than just hoarding material out of sight.


Most of my observations I have made on the way through the descriptive part already, but there is an opportunity here to compare and contrast a number of features.

First we have three very different buildings. Glasgow is new and on a relatively unconstrained site. The NRM is part new but heavily constrained by site conditions and a troubled history. Swindon (I struggle with using the museum’s chosen name) is a very old building that has been heavily modified. I think Glasgow and Swindon play to their respective strengths, the former having a large floor area relatively free of columns and the latter providing a great atmosphere for what the museum purports to cover; indeed the building is really a part of the whole experience. The NRM is a mixed bag and I very much suspect that the shortcomings I can identify in the not-very-interesting buildings are but nothing to those who have to run the place. However, Swindon (and lots of other museums) demonstrate that it is perfectly possible to install essential displays in re-purposed buildings and to be very ingenious in how one uses the space.

I think part of the display problem at York is the very large number of full size exhibits that are put on display in an area with a turntable arrangement, variable length stub roads and access at one end. This might not matter much except that for policy reasons the grand hall is used as a kind of engine shed because of the constant changing over and moving round of engines so they can be steamed or exchanged with one of the outposts. This seems to me a huge self-imposed constraint on having any remotely efficient layout or the provision of dedicated display areas as they would get in the way of the access route. It also makes it difficult to show stuff off in context and make better use of all the other railway paraphernalia that the museum owns but keeps in its store.

The quality of display varied to a degree between the three museums. Clearly I was impressed by Swindon and my criticisms are small. At Glasgow I have no particular comments beyond those about some areas being overcrowded. The actual quality of display and labelling seemed satisfactory but I lament there was so little about the railway network.

For now I shall leave it that from my review of three museums my conclusion is that the GWR Museum at Swindon has made by far the most successful attempt to make best use of its limited space and limited number of exhibits, in a very old building, and it works very well.  I will confess that it opened my eyes to what can be done in a confined space and to an extent provides something of a benchmark by which I found myself considering the other two. I must stress that I thoroughly enjoyed my visits to all three museums and am very aware of all the work that has gone into them. The question is, to what extent do they contribute to our understanding of their chosen subject area.

I will seek to answer this question in the final part, and in doing so will be reviewing other channels through which the history of our railways might be learned about. In coming to a conclusion I hope to indicate three things. First, does the NRM meet its own objectives? Secondly, does it meet visitor needs and aspirations and the country’s desire to educate and inform (it presumably has such a desire as it pays for it)? Thirdly, what could be done better? The latter does not presuppose ‘failure’, merely that I have not found anything, anywhere, that cannot in some way be done better. In this I am attempting to carry on where Jack Simmons left off.

Posted in British Transport, Heritage Transport, Main Line Rail | Tagged , , , , , | 1 Comment

Britain’s National Railway Museum: Part 4

The Science Museum and The Battle of York

The Science Museum and the national science collection

Before going into the transfer of the British Rail transport collection to the Science Museum, I had better say a few words about the Science Museum’s own involvement with the collection of railway material, which pre-dates the formation of the museum in its current form.


There are of course many collections of scientific interest around the UK but the origins of a national (by which I mean ‘owned by the nation’) science collection came about following the Great Exhibition of 1851, which was held in London’s Hyde Park. Described as the ‘Great Exhibition of The Works of Industry of All Nations’ it was hoped to showcase the manufacturing and technical ability that Britain and its empire had to offer the world and was heavily supported by Prince Albert, Queen Victoria’s consort.

The exhibition generated a substantial cash surplus, which the commissioners responsible for the event directed should be used for educational purposes. This was achieved in part by buying a large quantity of land in the vicinity, on the north side of Cromwell Road, some of which was used to create a new museum of the arts and sciences (which is why the several famous national museums are located here today). Part of the money was used to obtain material to be displayed, some coming from the 1851 exhibition and some from elsewhere. Displays were quickly augmented by material subsequently donated and by loans from other museums or other sources. The new museum became known as the South Kensington Museum. It opened on its present site on the east side of Exhibition Road on 22 June 1857, absorbing the collection of its initial incarnation (known as the Museum of Manufactures) that opened at Marlborough House in 1852 but moved shortly afterwards to Somerset House. The museum focused on the applied arts but from 1867, by direction of the Council on Education, a science collection was slowly built up:

with the view of affording in the best possible manner information and instruction on the immense variety of machinery in use in the manufactures of this country, and by the employment of which the commerce of the nation has been rapidly extended for many years past.

From 1876 the science collection began occupying space on the west side of Exhibition Road, using the southern and western galleries of buildings surrounding the Horticultural Gardens, a move required by the more rapidly expanding arts material on the original site. A separate science director was appointed in 1893 for what was at first known as the Science Division of the museum, itself renamed the Victoria & Albert Museum in 1899 when Queen Victoria laid the foundation stone for the completion of the present building on the east side of Exhibition Road. The Science Division became a fully independent museum in 1909, when the name ‘Science Museum’ was adopted, the whole of the collection being housed in the rambling range of buildings on the west side of the road (leaving the V&A where it is now on the east side of Exhibition Road). After separation, plans were drawn up for larger and more modern buildings for the Science Museum, not finished until the 1920s and subsequently added to. This created the frontage of the Science Museum as we see it today.

Organizationally the museum was funded by the Board of Education which employed the staff and appointed the director (all of whom were civil servants). The Board was replaced by the Ministry of Education in 1944 and became part of the Department of Education and Science in 1964. It is with this latter department that the issue of the new railway museum became lodged.

This is not the whole story for we have to say something of the Patent Office Museum which was absorbed by the South Kensington Museum in 1883; the objects of which it comprised eventually made their way into the Science Museum collection. The Patent Office Museum was created in 1857 and is important as it included the locomotives Puffing Billy and Rocket, acquired in 1862, and Sans Pareil, two years later. Puffing Billy was built for the Wylam colliery and dates to 1814, making it very important as the earliest surviving railway locomotive in the national collection. The Rocket won the Rainhill locomotive trials in 1829 and brought together most of the important features of locomotive design which allowed steam power to make railways the success they became for the next 100 years or more. The Sans Pareil was by no means an unsuccessful machine although it was beaten by Rocket at Rainhill, and was only retired in 1863. The Agenoria originated in 1828 and after eventual breakdown spent many years deteriorating quietly in a field, to be discovered and privately restored in 1884. After local display, it was presented to the nation later that year and also arrived at South Kensington.

The Railway Collection

By the start of its independent life the new Science Museum already possessed much railway material. It was not all displayed together (or at all). Nevertheless it was, even before the Great War, probably the largest amount of railway material all in one place. In no way did it attempt to portray the railway as a system, for the material was was diluted by many other engineering artefacts and to an extent distributed around the engineering disciplines.

In 1924 the new building at last opened, which enabled a new gallery devoted to the development of the steam engine to be provided. The largest exhibits were stationary engines but a whole display area was devoted to the development of the steam locomotive. The display included Puffing Billy and the Rocket, with other important early machines represented by models. There were also models of very early railway carriages and other vehicles representative of what the locomotives hauled. This was an excellent contribution, but even so, it was still impossible to display all the railway material in one place. In the early 1930s the museum found it expedient to have built for it a replica of Rocket in its original form as the remains of the original machine were incomplete and were so mucked about by successive rebuilds and poor early restoration that it was difficult to understand its important original features. The replica machine was also partly sectioned to see important internal parts. Though this was hardly a large machine, space was so tight that Agenoria was withdrawn to make room, the latter exhibiting less important developments; it was this exchange that allowed the Agenoria to be lent on long term loan to the York Railway Museum in 1936.


One of the railway galleries at the Science Museum (c 1924-36) showing the early locomotives and a large number of models of locomotives or apparatus.

The Science Museum has always had a challenging job portraying scientific progress. Science is generally at its most productive when scientific knowledge is utilized in instruments and machines that have some useful function in people’s lives, if only indirectly. But machines very rarely employ only a single scientific principle and railway technology uses many scientific principles, virtually all shared with many other technologies too. The only technology that is perhaps fairly specific to railways is that affecting the wheel-rail interface, and perhaps some aspects of railway track. I think everything else from electrical systems, steam and diesel engines, mechanical engineering and construction, lighting, civil engineering and so on will be found widely shared with many other industries. A museum catalogue of 1907 observes:

It is not the object of the Collection to attempt, nor is space available, to indicate the present state of the arts in any one particular branch of engineering, but rather to illustrate broadly the steps by which advances have been made up to the present day; to show students and others at the same time the general principles which underlie all its branches and to offer to the engineer suggestions or ideas from other branches of his profession for improvements in the work on which he may be engaged.

The railway collection became quite wide, but its origin in the early locomotives remained obvious. The locomotives were there not because they were representative of railways but because of their importance in the early use and development of high pressure steam engines at the point where they were powerful (and safe) enough to haul themselves and a useful load. That having been achieved, and with railways now released from the confines of animal power and stationary engines, further development of steam engines was not confined to railway locomotives and could better be shown in displays elsewhere. The collection did hold quite a few models of locomotives and railway equipment which supplemented the display as a whole.

A word might be said about railway track in the collection (picking up from the point I made that track and its interface with the wheel is probably the main area of engineering that relates particularly to railways). It is noteworthy that when the curator of this section of the Museum constructed a series of articles for the Railway Magazine in 1910 he placed track before the locomotive. He gave a good description of the museum’s holding, explain the importance of each of the items described and it is clear that he felt that in a railway system the form and arrangement of track is of crucial importance (a view later echoed by Simmons). I don’t know what effort the museum put into deliberately seeking out important track components to illustrate development, but it was fortunate to know the redoubtable Clement Stretton. Stretton was keenly interested in early railway track and from about 1890 obtained and offered to a grateful museum quite a lot of track material and other early items. He also furnished a large display for the Leicester museum which after some years in store made its way to York in 1949, greatly adding to a lot of track material it had already amassed.

During the 1960s a large extension was built at the west end of the building and in here was installed a new gallery devoted to land transport. Included within were motor vehicles of various types and at the far end was a railway section containing (amongst various other things) a number of locomotives, a complete signal box and some working signals, a fully-stocked booking office and an Underground railway tube-stock motor car. The locomotives included our old friends Rocket and Puffing Billy as well as the spectacular GWR locomotive Caerphilly Castle and the rather modern Deltic diesel locomotive prototype (the Science Museum has long been content to display contemporary technology where useful). So far as I know this was the first time the museum had been able to display its railway material in one place as a railway collection rather than divided into its technological areas. This represented a new way of displaying and interpreting the history of technology and hinted at the wider operation of the railway as a complete system.

I loved this gallery and it made a great impression on me during my schooldays, notwithstanding the existence of the Clapham Museum. Of course, the Science Museum was free! Simmons seems to have liked it and applauded the inclusion of the massive Great Western locomotive Caerphilly Castle as representing the pinnacle of achievement of steam traction (the class had a particularly long and successful life). The loco was lent by British Rail and was felt a good choice by most who had an opinion about the gallery. The 1928 tube car, recently withdrawn by London Transport, was a popular exhibit and was intended to show the way electric multiple unit trains operated. It was a good choice as the equipment (above the floor) could be explained and studied and transparent panels were substituted for some of the steel ones to make viewing easier. It contrasted with the City & South London loco that had been in the collection for some years.

This was not just a railway gallery though: it represented all land transport and space was devoted to bicycles, the development of the motor car and other road vehicles and road engineering. There was even a tram. Simmons wondered why we needed to display yet another Glasgow tram (there were quite a few in preservation) but from the technical point of view Glasgow was as good as anywhere else and they were available—you couldn’t just go out and buy your tram of choice from a shop. As a transport museum (or perhaps a transport sub-museum) it did a pretty fair job. From a transport point of view the exclusion of shipping and air was highly artificial. For historical reasons shipping was well represented nearby in the museum, by an interestingly large quantity of models; from a practical and technical point of view this probably justified keeping it quite separate (even though the railways ran ships). A new aeronautical gallery did what was feasible for aeronautics at (appropriately) the top of the building but realistically a central London museum was going to find displaying the technical development of flight challenging in a confined central London building.

Gallery-small copy

The Land Transport Gallery at the Science Museum at around the time of opening. The recently-withdrawn steam and diesel locos make in interesting contrast with the much older locomotives.


Another view of the gallery, contrasts apparent.

Though the Land Transport Gallery had much to commend it, I’m not sure it succeeded in drawing attention to the similarities and differences between the transport modes, the advantages of one mode over another or how they were (or might have been) coordinated. But then this is not the job of a technical museum. It was, perhaps, more a job for the one at Clapham, about to be closed and to which we must now return.

The Battle of York

The position in July 1967, when the decision to create a single railway museum in York became public, was that British Rail was told it could be relieved of its museum ‘problem’ if they built a new museum at a cost to be covered by selling the old buildings. This rather constrained the possibilities available and meant conversion of an existing building at a location outside London and probably outside the south-east. The DES (through the Science Museum) would run the new museum once complete. The Science Museum was not greatly bothered by where the new building would be though a popular location with rail access would be helpful. The government departments found themselves landed with having to make a decision about a museum from a small number of options, and in a hurry because of the need to get its Transport Act through. British Rail’s suggestion of York seemed so simple an answer.

So far as I can see, the outcry was unexpected. There will always be some group or other that is convinced almost any government decision is wrong, but the depth of the outcry, one might almost say outrage, caused surprise and as hinted in the last part caused some rapid back-tracking. Ministers conceded that the selection of York had been hurried and the process had lacked rigour and there had been no meaningful consultation. As government only rarely concedes imperfections unless they can be discovered some other way, it must have been obvious there was a real problem. An MP involved in a protest group that included the Transport Trust reported the decision to Sir Edmund Compton, the parliamentary commissioner (or ombudsman), who criticized the DES for maladministration in reaching its decision to break up the Clapham collection and move the material to York. In particular there were questions about how the attendance figures had been used and the way a conference to debate the issue had been arranged in 1968, with very little notice. Though critical, Compton stopped short of saying that the DES case to close Clapham and build a new museum elsewhere was not strong enough.

There was no single campaign to change the decision, nor was it obvious what those who opposed it objected to, as different groups had different concerns. One concern, for example, was that York would not big enough and this required dispersal or disposal of exhibits. British Rail’s assurances were not trusted. Several large items were in store and had never been on view and it was not at all apparent what would happen to them; scrapping seemed at least a possibility. British Rail was clearly disposing of large amounts of old material already, the process of disposing of ‘surplus’ relics having begun at Clapham. Collector’s Corner (a British Rail ‘shop’ for old and redundant material) opened at Euston in 1969 and was very popular and some of the material there was very old and in ‘museum-worthy’ condition—in later years some York records office material found its way here. In October 1968 the Scottish Region was found holding a sale of transport relics at St Enoch station which in August raised £1359 from a wide range of material ranging from clocks to handlamps. In April 1969 the London Midland Region announced it was to sell a number of very old plans, causing outrage in the press. The law allowed disposal of ‘surplus’ relics and records. Whether misplaced or not, the concerns were genuine.

Another major concern to some was that quite arbitrarily York was to be a railway museum. Even the irascible Merrill in making his only plea to the Scholes/Follett review was that whatever replaced Clapham should be a transport museum. Buses Illustrated magazine observed that there had been a great deal of transport material in the British Transport collection that was neither railway nor London Transport material and much had already been dispersed for want of space. There was virtually no representation of road freight transport at all. Together this was (or should have been) a matter of importance and it was not apparent why a rail-only museum was considered so vital, apart, of course, from the constraints of space (a proxy for money). Buses actually felt there was so much transport material that there was enough for four or five regional museums (an idea echoing the initial BTC model).

We then have the location issue at York. Those in York and desperate not to lose the new museum opportunity (which would have meant loss of the old museum too) were not slow to accuse London of being selfish and wanting everything to the exclusion of the provinces and some of what was said got heated. Down south the matter was less confrontational and the issue, as it was usually ventilated, was not that York should not have a railway museum, but that London as the capital City deserved something. There was more than sufficient material for both cities, perhaps even retaining Clapham for smaller material, where movement would not be needed. The feeling might not have been so trenchant had not Clapham only recently been opened—to take all this material 200 miles away, so soon after a new London museum had opened in the first place, was to some unbearable. It appeared that the real constraint was the quite artificial Treasury diktat that sale of the old premises must fund the new. The Treasury was very quiet during this furore.

MPs were concerned and an all-party group was established. There was much argument in the press, notably the Guardian. Lambeth Council (in whose area the Clapham museum was located) was horrified by the loss and was moved to try and find another location in Lambeth. At that time, Lambeth had on its plate the problem was what to do with the recently retired (and huge) locomotive depot at Nine Elms together with the adjacent decaying goods yards, no longer needed as railway goods traffic containerized. Would this not make an eminently fine site for a museum—and it was rail connected? It is doubtful if Lambeth knew that in 1950 the BTC had wanted to put their museum there in the first place! Even the GLC was supportive, but not so supportive they could at then put any money on the table. To have built a brand new museum on the derelict site, even as part of a regeneration project, would have been very expensive and the idea withered —it became the new fruit and vegetable market.

Public interest was such that a Pathe newsreel covering ‘possible’ closure of Clapham was produced, issued in January 1970, and may be seen HERE.

The government, with British Rail, was now obliged to examine a wider range of options, several put forward by outside parties with an opinion. These included St Pancras station, which at about that time was under consideration for closure, astonishing though that may seem to anyone who has been there recently. Long distance trains were to be diverted to Kings Cross or Euston whilst medium and local services would go to Moorgate via what today we would call the Thameslink tunnel. What to do with this vast place was a major problem, the more so as it had been Grade 1 listed in 1967. Some thought it would make a splendid museum and was sufficiently large to enable full-sized track, station and equipment layouts to be installed under its enormous roof. Alas, the building was not yet closed and any closure might be years away. Moreover the conversion and running costs would be enormous, and that makes no allowance for the lost opportunity cost compared with some commercial use. Nor could it be assumed that those who had later to run the museum would be content with such a building on conservation grounds (though I don’t think matters got that far). Although its proponents persisted in their cause, the St Pancras possibility was never really going to fly.

An equally implausible location was Greenwich. Although a very fine town for a museum, and very much on the tourist trail, the desired location was the turbine hall at London Transport’s old power station there (which had been built to serve the London County Council tramways). LT had modernized its electricity supply during the 1960s and built a small peak load and emergency power plant in the old boiler house, leaving the disused (and very big) turbine hall virtually empty. It made (and still makes) an eerie site with its vast concrete plinths lurking in this huge empty space. The location was awful as it was situated in side streets near the river and conversion costs would have been immense even if the property were granted free (it was very difficult to find a use for it which is why half a century later it is still empty).  Nor was it really big enough. That idea went nowhere either.

Greenwich PS 2

The old turbine hall at Greenwich power station. It is hard to gauge scale here but probably the best clues are the staircases and railings. Though a vast empty space, I have estimated this area as about 45,000 sq ft (if all useable), very much smaller than Clapham. Photo: John Liffen

The Transport Trust in conjunction with the Clapham Society and others was energetic in trying to find a London location and felt that the near derelict low level station at Crystal Palace might be suitable; it would by its nature be rail-connected. The services of the civil engineers Sir Robert McAlpine and Sons were obtained for the technical development of the scheme (the company was very supportive of the railway preservation movement). The idea was to divert the through train service from the main station to the Beckenham platforms, thus leaving this very substantial and historic building wholly available for a museum. It had lost its roof but as it was largely in cutting replacement was straightforward. A great deal of work went into this scheme.


This detailed model of the proposed Crystal Palace transport museum is viewed looking roughly north and shows the new roof design with original station entrance. The area in question is now the terminus of the London Overground service.

Throughout all this, there was a suspicion that government was just going through the motions and was doing no more than finding evidence to justify a decision already taken. In March 1970, Mr John Brown, director of Tourism in York, said there was ‘not the slightest doubt that the move to York will take place’. He also mentioned he had been involved in discussion about the possibility of running steam trains between York and Scarborough. Eric Merrill had been wholly dismissive of such a thing and said the matter was ‘not even worth discussing’, in consequence of which the Lord Mayor appealed to Henry Johnson (BR chairman) who said he would send some officials to discuss it. There is other evidence that Merrill was firmly of the view only York would proceed and was making his own plans even before the Transport Act received the Royal Assent.

In June 1970 a new government was formed, this time of a conservative flavour, and Lord Eccles became minister for the arts, discovering (according to the Guardian) that he had found “a very hot potato” on his desk. This change provided hope to those who felt an opportunity had arisen to revisit the decision with a fresh mind but after acquainting himself with the position gave the parliamentary action group and its supporters (and by implication anyone else with a suggestion) until 15 March 1971 to come up with new proposals for a rail connected, costed museum in London, along with ways of bridging the gap between the cost of any new museum and the sale value of the Clapham site. As virtually any scheme in London would leave a large funding gap, the challenge proved impossible.

Lord Eccles announced on 11 May 1971 that BT Museum Clapham would close 12 months hence and the railway exhibits would be transferred to York where a National Railway Museum was going to be established. The government would consult the GLC and Science Museum about arrangements for storing the London exhibits. The Crystal Palace idea had several snags, he explained, including diversion of the BR line through the old (Beckenham line) station which could not be done for four years and would have cost £1m against £500,000 for York (descriptions of this scheme suggest the cost of BR even releasing the site might exceed £650,000).

Sceptics became firmly convinced that the government had at no point been serious about altering its view and those who have been into the matter have found no evidence that during this second round of examining sites for a museum any serious attempt was made to find an alternative to York (the London options were virtually self-excluding because of the Treasury obsession with the scheme being self-funding). With more time to examine a shared cost option, perhaps an alternative could have been found.

The decision was not entirely unexpected and this time the opponents more or less went away quietly. There was no more to be done. The Railway Magazine sounded off intemperately about ‘the north’ congratulating itself about the decision as were those resentful of the Clapham museum outshining the new Land Transport Gallery at the Science Museum—a preposterous comment in the sense that they were never in competition and the authorities understood the purposes of the museums were different. The issue about ‘the north’ in some way ‘winning’ is interesting since as far as I can see none of this tortuous process involved consideration of ‘the north’ being a strategic objective. As far as I can see the decision rested almost entirely on Clapham having (it was said) to close, no money being available beyond its sale price, and there being a spare engine shed at York which for entirely practical reasons was considered as an acceptable place to have a museum (and York didn’t want to lose the one it had). It is true that in an earlier speech by Jenny Lee she said that the provinces wanted a share of the arts (in its widest sense) and it was not the exclusive preserve of London, but this was after the decision had been made public the first time around and the uproar started, requiring post hoc justification. It is also true that when museum sites in London were being considered in 1966 there was concern about whether planning permission might be granted owing to decentralization policies, but this was never tested as plans were overtaken by events.

Lord Eccles had much on his plate as the Heath government was determined to drive through the policy of charging for admission to national institutions, causing much annoyance to many of them as they were not consulted. After a great deal of confusion and debate these charges were introduced at the beginning of 1973 but did not last long (the Science Museum under direct departmental control was one of these). Admission charges were later reintroduced, and will be mentioned in due course. For our purposes it is sufficient to note that entry to the NRM would now have to be free as a matter of policy (the case for moving to York was based in part on entry charges being continued).

I should add that the irritation being caused by the needless proposal to co-locate the British Transport Historical Records at York did eventually penetrate the government mind and announced by Eccles at the same time as the York museum decision was that the records would be retained at Porchester Road and eventually transferred to the Public Record Office. This was probably because it would be a tad cheaper, but it was regarded at least as a partial victory. PRO control began quite quickly but it was some years before they were moved to the new building at Kew and in 1984 the whole lot were formally designated as public records, giving them a level of protection they had never had before.

The fate of Swindon

In all this worry about Clapham and York the issue of Swindon was resolved and needs a mention. The Science Museum was consistent in its view that it did not want to get involved with running the museum at Swindon. It was already perfectly obvious that the building was too small, especially with the influx of new material coming forth as British Rail modernized. British Rail would not finance any improvement, given it was trying so hard to disengage from museums, yet Swindon Borough Council felt unable to provide any capital for enlargement.

Following the suggestion in 1967 that the museum be transferred to Swindon Borough Council (and with other possibilities discounted), British Rail began discussions with the council during 1969. The problem was that British Rail had a 30-year lease from the Council, guaranteeing a rental income to the latter, and the council wanted neither to lose this nor be saddled with the cost of making improvements. Clearly this was a position that could be solved only by British Rail buying itself out of the agreement. These tedious discussions dragged on for three years and it was not until 1972 that agreement was reached. By this agreement British Rail was absolved of any responsibility for running the building which reverted to Swindon Borough Council to operate and develop as it pleased.

The Science Museum became involved in these discussions as the question arose about the future of the objects in the museum, which were then owned by British Rail. Follett’s view was that while they had a regional bias they were an important contribution to British railway history and should remain in what, by now, was being referred to as the national collection. He was perfectly happy for them to remain at Swindon permanently on a loan basis but in due course ownership of the British Rail objects should transfer to the DES and their safety and security should by administered from the NRM at York, like all the other items in the national railway collection. This is indeed what happened and arrangements were made for occasional transfers of suitable material between the museums, particularly suitable locomotives. Since the transfer of control, Swindon, not unnaturally, obtained new material on its own account through purchase, donations, bequests and so on and these were owned by the Swindon authorities and are nothing to do with the NRM. I don’t know what practical complication this creates but the arrangement seems to have endured for over forty years and I understand there is a good relationship between the museums. The town of Swindon was absorbed in 1974 by a new local authority with the unloved name of ‘Thamesdown District Council’, to whom the museum devolved. The name appeared everywhere, virtually eliminating the official use of the name Swindon, but nobody outside knew where Thamesdown was. Swindon managed to extract itself from this aberration on 1 April 1997 and became a unitary authority entirely accountable for its own destiny and one of the first measures it took was to restore the name Swindon, from 24 April. Swindon wanted to proclaim its heritage.

More importantly Swindon Railway Works had closed in 1986 and a major development of the historic site was wanted. As part of this, the opportunity arose for an enlarged railway museum within the new development using  some of the Grade II listed disused workshop buildings, the earliest part dating to 1846. The new Museum (called Steam) opened in June 2001, superseding the old museum building which closed in 1999. A great deal larger than the old building it enables some rather more interesting displays to be offered. Notwithstanding the number of new acquisitions made, more than half of the objects in the museum are still part of the national collection. The museum makes an entry charge.

Getting the National Railway Museum Completed

The basic structure to comprise the new museum was the surviving part of the old York North engine maintenance facility, consisting of Nos 3 and 4 sheds (the other two being demolished in 1957/8 and replaced by a straight shed subsequently comprising the diesel depot). The site dates to 1875 when the NER built sheds on the site to hold 60 locomotives, three being erected at that time. A fourth shed (No 4) was added in 1915 after which both Nos 3 and 4 had 60ft electrically driven electric turntables. One of these was subsequently replaced by a 70ft machine. When the first two sheds were demolished in the 1950s the two remaining sheds were remodelled and a new roof was built, more or less converting the space into a single building with two turntables, each with tracks radiating off them.


York North shed shortly before building work began to convert the building into the National Railway Museum.  Image Roger Cornfoot and used subject to Creative Commons Licence (Geograph)

After detailed planning work was completed a contract was let in 1972 for the conversion of the building into a museum. The total area for display at York was 83,625 sq ft though 6675 sq ft comprised turntable space, so perhaps only about 78,000 sq ft of the area was ‘useful’. The contract price was  £984,000 and when one contemplates that this did not include any notional cost for transfer of the land, the move and arrangement of the exhibits and (probably) some final tailoring to the needs of the new staff we can safely estimate the whole cost exceeded £1 million. This was far more than the expected sale value of the Clapham site and demolished at a stroke the credibility of any meaningful business case for moving from Clapham, though, as we shall see, worse was to follow. By the way, Clapham was sold back to London Transport in 1976 as a bus store (and later a bus garage, the use it had before becoming a museum). It would not seem that BR was remunerated by any redevelopment premium. Although the sale to LT brought in £750,000, if one allows for the rampant inflation at that time the equivalent value in 1971, when the business case was being constructed, was only around £350,000, which was vastly below expectations being claimed at the time. It is doubtful that disposal or reuse of the land at Queen Street (York) made much of a contribution. One can see that the transfer of the principal museum from Clapham to York was actually very costly and hardly represents the ‘savings’ alleged to have justify the move.

Work began on the new York site early in 1973. The main activity was the complete renovation of the old shed and adaptation for its new role as the main public display area. In addition it was necessary to construct some new buildings at one side of the depot to provide an entrance hall with street access, refreshment room, offices, shop and a small exhibits gallery. In March it was announced that the British Transport Museum at Clapham would close to the public on 31 December 1973 to allow plenty of time for the material to be prepared for safe transmission to York or to be removed as part of the dispersal programme (creating more space within which the large objects could be moved around). In the meantime Sir David (as he now was) Follett was succeeded on 11 January by Margaret Weston as the director of the Science Museum. During the various interviews that inevitably accompanied such handovers in those days, Follett spoke approvingly of the 1000ft of track, the two turntables and rail access that would allow the large exhibits to be changed around, making it a ‘living’ museum. It was hoped that the building would be handed over for installation of the museum in July the following year. It was also a good sign that visitor numbers to the existing railway museum at York during 1972 had hit 215,000 which would be a good base upon which the new museum could build (the much larger Clapham museum attracted only 130,000). Intriguingly Follett also referred to the ongoing possibility that the museum’s steam locomotives might be used to haul trains along the Scarborough line (and despite Merrill’s earlier opinions, some trains did).


One of the locos being withdrawn from the old museum at York on temporary tracks connected to the main line south of York station.


The easiest way of moving material from the old museum at York to the new one  was by rail through the station. Here we see Aerolite being shifted early in 1975.


A more interesting transfer occurred on 12 April 1975 when this unusual train passed along the Midland main line. Exhibits were being moved from Clapham to York. Those that were capable of moving on their own wheels did so whilst others were on well wagons. [Photo David Eatwell]

In July 1974 the Science Museum sought a keeper to run the new museum at York and in September Dr John A Coiley was formally appointed Keeper of National Railway Museum, though based in London until such time as the new offices in York could be used. He had previously been an assistant keeper at the Science Museum having joined only in January 1973 and was by profession a metallurgist. The main hall was not in fact ready for handing over the SM’s fit-out team until 31 October 1974. At this ceremony Margaret Weston graciously accepted responsibility for the building and its subsequent fitout from the British Rail, who supplied (of all people) Eric Merrill, who must have felt more than satisfied that he was at last getting shot of this unwanted responsibility.


One should not underestimate the challenge facing Coiley and his team for the opening date had already been set by the time he entered his post, and he had just eleven months to turn this shell into a public museum. An opening on 27 September 1975 had been selected as coinciding with the 150th anniversary of the opening of the Stockton & Darlington Railway, for which the local celebrations were to be coordinated with the museum’s opening celebrations. Coiley had to finish a job where the building (over which he had no say in the design) was handed over late and where the exhibits (which were mainly not his or of his choosing) had to be moved, made fit for and arranged for display substantially to a plan he had also not hitherto had any say in. Even so, the job was done!

The opening ceremony was conducted by HRH Duke of Edinburgh but from BRB’s point of view by far the most important moment was that of the formal handover by its chairman, Richard Marsh, to Mr Hugh Jenkins, the latest Minister for the Arts, on behalf of the Secretary of State for Education and Science. Marsh made an amusing speech in which he explained his delight at handing over ‘this excellent museum’ to the DES, ‘who will now have the pleasure of paying for its upkeep’, rather than the BRB. Dr John Coiley graciously acted as host for the event.

The royal ceremony was attended by a large party from London brought up by special train, the prototype HST set being made available for the occasion. I was part of that party and all went well until an engine fire in the rear power car brought us to a halt in the middle of nowhere in particular. We got going again before some braking problem caused another delay. Fortunately we were able to proceed using only the front power car and limped into York 50-minutes late and only just before the ceremony was due to start; I recall we were ushered into the museum with great vigour. All was well. HRH had come by royal train which had run in front of us, so he was on time. HRH was also a guest at the Stockton & Darlington event, so after lunch with the Lord Mayor of York he went off to Eaglescliffe for a banquet (we assume he has a good appetite). For this trip BR conveyed him by our now-repaired HST set which behaved itself. It later collected home-going guests from York to London again where it managed to lose 40-minutes causing havoc on the East Coast main line. All in a good cause!

Museum Layout and Subsequent Development

The arrangement of the museum when it opened will not be apparent to anyone visiting today (42 years after the event) so a map might be helpful.

Old-Maps - the online repository of historic maps - Map 459500 4

This plan clearly indicates the boundary between the former Nos 3 and 4 sheds (marked Railway Museum, No 4 shed having been the block at the north end) and the reconstructed depot retained by British Rail on the right (on the site of the old Nos 1 and 2 sheds). The original museum entrance off Leeman Road is at north end of museum.

The most important point to note is that the museum did not then include the space occupied by the BR-retained diesel depot and that some new construction had been erected in the area around the entrance, forming (amongst other things) the administration and service block that is seen here as the protrusion of the main hall running parallel with Leeman Road immediately south of the entrance. It also included a workshop.

In his first guide book to the museum Coiley was complimentary of the British Rail architects who he thought had skilfully retained much of the atmosphere of the old steam engine shed … while conveying a light and spacious feeling to the main exhibition hall.


This (not brilliant) image gives good impression of the main hall shortly after it opened and it still really looks like an engine shed. More recently this ‘atmosphere’ has somewhat been lost.

Since that happy day the museum has grown somewhat. Unfortunately the concrete roof of the main display area (the former motive power depot) was found to need replacement in the late 1980s, notwithstanding that it was not all that old. This was a hugely expensive blow to the overall Science Museum budget (notwithstanding some extra government assistance) and had not been foreseen. It meant temporary closure of the NRM exhibition hall as it was impossible to contemplate doing anything with this massive roof while the building was occupied. It raises yet another question about the selection of the building by British Rail in the first place, since the extra money spend on commissioning it, and expensive subsequent works, would (with hindsight) have probably paid for a completely purpose-built facility or even covered the costs of the Crystal Palace proposal.

Fortunately the covered goods depot on the other side of Leeman Road had been vacated and the museum had obtained possession, using it as a store. This is the building marked ‘Transit Shed’ on the map above. It was sufficiently large to use as a reduced temporary museum while the main work was carried out between 1989 and 1991 and was retained afterwards as extra gallery space. It is today know as the Station Hall as the goods loading platforms have been adapted to make it look more like a station. A temporary entrance was necessary for its use as the museum building and this was subsequently retained, becoming the main, or ‘City’ entrance. The old transit shed was not itself large enough to house the displaced objects and to make the best of the crisis the NRM acquired space in the now empty works at Swindon to create ‘The Great Railway Show’, which I suppose in modern language might be called a pop-up museum. It was reasonably successful in making the best of the situation but moving all this material to Swindon, and back, was a huge distraction and expense. The Science Museum contributed Puffing Billy for the duration.

The work on the main building was completed in 1992 and it reopened on 16 April. It was linked to the south building and new entrance by an internal subway under Leeman Road. An important change to the layout happened at the same time involving removal of the 60ft turntable at the west end and the laying in of some straight track instead. This allowed more efficient use of space and resulted in several rail exhibits having now to be arranged on short sections of display track and less easy to move than before.

York diesel depot closed in January 1982. At some point it became a museum store but following the refurbishment required by the new roof it was convenient to reconstruct this block to form extra gallery space upstairs and a modern new heavy duty workshop and conservation facility whilst at the same reconstructing the 27,000 sq ft store so that about 7500 items could be viewed by the public. This all opened in July 1999 vastly increasing access to the collection and increasing the museum’s ability to engage in rolling stock repair and overhaul. In 2012 further improvements were made to the museum including a much-improved museum entrance that replaced the ‘City’ entrance that had not been intended to be permanent. A more detailed description of what is presently on site will be given in the next part.

Government policy towards whether national museums ought to be able to charge an admission fee has been inconsistent. The Science Museum was required to make a charge during 1973/4 but after policy change these were removed; in consequence the National Railway Museum was also free when opened in 1975. Later policy changes resulted in fees again being introduced at national museums, the Science Museum introducing charges in 1988 (including the NRM) and this hugely depressed numbers visiting. Another change of policy saw a promise to remove them being made in 1999 but this had to be done in stages because (of all things) VAT laws had to be amended and charges for ordinary visitors were withdrawn only from 1st December 2001. I have not bothered to track how the charges varied but the NRM entry charge in 1999 was £6.50. Corrected to today’s prices this would be about £10.50. Just to give a flavour, the three shilling charge being made at Clapham around 1970 would be of the order of £2.50. Today, Steam at Swindon charges £8.90. Make of this what you will, but in the four years after fees were withdrawn at York, the footfall doubled.

The initial display

Before signing off from this episode, I just need to say something about the original displays. The design of the building, dominated by its two turntables, meant that there was curiously little latitude about how material could be displayed. Basically anything on rails had to be on one of the 44 stub roads springing from one or other of the turntables. Even this was fraught with complication as these stub roads were of  widely varying length and the larger vehicles would not fit on the shorter roads. This precluded some of the more logical layouts that might have been considered. Most vehicles faced towards the turntables (which I will comment on next time), with locos surrounding one turntable and miscellaneous rolling stock the other. Although an early brochure described exactly how the locomotives were deployed, Dr Coiley explained that it was impossible to display many of the total collection and that those on display would be rotated (in both senses of the word) with those in reserve or lent elsewhere. The museum soon overcame the ongoing presentational challenge by merely listing its holdings without committing itself to where they might be found, or whether they were in the museum at all. With so many objects and so little space, he could do nothing else. The combined useful area of Clapham and the old museum at York was virtually 100,000 sq ft whilst at the NRM the useable floor area I estimate (as noted earlier) at 78,000 sq foot and despite the earlier culling of locomotives more had since been acquired.

Some small material, selected from the vast stock accumulated by the BTC, was displayed along a first floor gallery and from descriptions at the time probably did more to explain railway history than the rolling stock downstairs.


This (above) represents the arrangement of the 44 stub roads for the rolling stock and locomotives but the plan also shows the locations of the various other displays, rather at the back of things. The actual material is given on the chart below.



This part has sought to describe the fall from grace of the BTC Museums, the government’s involvement and the tortuous process by which the decision was made to establish a National Railway Museum at York, partly, at least, because it appeared to be the cheapest way of dealing with what had become ‘a problem’. That it cost vastly more than the sale price of the former museum sites and required subsequent expensive remedial work, all wholly at the public expense, is regrettable given that there was no great urgency apparent! Nevertheless, once the decision was made, great effort was put into making the best of it and when the NRM opened it was very favourably received. Moreover the collections policy (the museum could demand redundant material from British Rail) was very active, perhaps too active in some areas, and important material was recovered for posterity.

In London, meanwhile, the Land Transport Gallery at the Science Museum was closed at 6pm on Sunday 30 June 1996. Many who knew it missed it and transport, a major contribution to Britain’s industrial history, no longer gets the prominence it had enjoyed. Many objects went to York, some were stored and (to the great surprise of at least a few) some material was disposed of to outside organizations. I dare say it could be argued that the technologies are still on show in that museum, just not as applied to railways, buses, trams and so on. Whether anyone remembered the ministerial promise made in 1968—well, who can say.

Of course, there is the London Transport Museum, an unintended consequence of closing Clapham. Quite understandably London Transport did not want its exhibits to leave London. This tale is for another day, but for our purposes this eventually led to the establishment of a London Transport museum at Covent Garden, opened in 1980 and still with us. Presumably it was also a further public sector cost resulting directly from closing Clapham. I am by no means averse to these museums being built and run at public expense (quite the opposite!) but the more I look into the background to the NRM, the more nonsensical the original financial case for dismembering the BTC transport museums appears to be. Perhaps a kinder word is ‘naive’.

In the next part I will review the museum as it is today when I had a good nose around in summer. I hope to be able to make some observations about how the museum has developed over the last forty years and whether (and if so how) it has sought to overcome the early constraints placed upon it. I will also have some objective observations about the extent to which it succeeds in its mission, and subjective thoughts about alternative approaches.








Posted in British Transport, Heritage Transport, London general interest, Main Line Rail, Our Government, Road Transport | Tagged , , , | 1 Comment

Britain’s National Railway Museum: Part 3

The Government Gets Involved

Trouble on the Line

I had hoped to cover what I wanted in four parts but owing to new material I thought worth including it will now be five. This part deals with the crisis facing the new British Transport museums, opened 1961-63, and the almost immediate chain of events that led to the decision to replace them and give the responsibility to another body, authorized by the Transport Act 1968.

In Part 2 the origins of the various British Transport Museums were explained. In short, this envisaged a central British Transport Museum established in London, at Clapham, and regional museums at York, Swindon, Glasgow and (hopefully) elsewhere. This part of the programme was more or less completed between 1962 and 1964. Through no fault of the BTC’s museum staff, the timing was appalling and almost at once the plans and aspirations began to unravel.

The Arrival of British Rail

I imagine everyone reading this will have heard of Dr Beeching. The vast BTC had been unable to control railway finances and had embarked upon a very expensive railway modernization programme that had not gone very well. Confidence was lost and Dr Beeching (an industrialist) was put in charge in the hope that he could put the industry on a sound financial footing. The railway business, in particular, was performing very badly and the government felt it demanded the most drastic action. Even before Beeching had completed his own analysis of the problems, the government decided to break up the BTC and transfer the railways to a new British Railways Board (BRB), with Beeching in charge. Other functional parts of the BTC (like waterways) were transferred to other boards but a problem arose with the various central services that the BTC had established, the museums being one of them and historical archives another.


Each museum made souvenir tickets available from old pull-bar type ticket machines at a penny a go, the reverse advertised the other museums. These were probably printed centrally by proper ticket printing machines, a nice touch. The tickets issued on entry to the museums were standard types from a printed roll, such as were issued at many venues in those days.

In its wisdom, the government decided that most of the central services would be wished upon the BRB. To say this was an unwelcome development hardly describes matters. The new BRB, and in particular its chairman, had been put in place to put the railways on a businesslike footing and Beeching was about to explain, in his famous report, how thousands of miles of railway were to be closed to reduce losses. He was not pleased to find that the new board was being saddled with these ‘extra’ costs and responsibilities that harked on about the past, also covered activities that were not railway related and were inherently loss-making. Protests to the minister fell on deaf ears: this was detail and the government actually wasn’t very interested. Nevertheless, the BRB, whilst showing a degree of courtesy to Scholes and his museum staff, maintained an active campaign at the highest levels to rid itself of museums.


These badges were another idea to give the three museums a common identity and promote the visiting of all three.

The British Railways Board took command of the railways on 1 January 1963, more or less coinciding with the opening of the new British Transport Museums (the main exhibits at Clapham opened after the BRB takeover). At first it was business as usual, with the only obvious change some rebranding of printed material as British Railways. This position was to change.

The British Transport Museums

It should not be thought from anything I set out in Part 2 that the British Transport Museums were perfect, for they were not. Nevertheless, the achievements and shortfalls are worth quickly noting as a prelude to what then happened.

On the plus side a great deal of material was saved for the nation, catalogued, conserved as necessary, displayed where possible in surroundings which (if not ideal) were generally satisfactory in the short term and safe, which had not been the position previously. At the time the museums opened the catalogue ran to about a million objects: the museums were, or could be, a major cultural enterprise. Acquisition continued as more historic material came to light and the railway modernized. In addition it is clear from descriptions of the museums at the time that the education side of the museum function was very active. Appealing very much to my own opinions in the matter the museum maintained publication of the booklets, already noted, that had been produced for its earlier exhibitions at Euston, but had then been adapted as inexpensive stand-alone documents. Indeed, new ones were produced too. The historian and transport journalist Charles E. Lee wrote The Horse Bus as a Vehicle and The Early Motor Bus in 1962 for the Clapham museum and these also remained in print for many years, publication being taken over later by London Transport.


Produced by the BTC in 1962 for the Clapham museum these were extensively reprinted by British Railways (and later by London Transport).  The London Transport Museum does not favour their continued availability (the NRM never reprinted the other booklets, though they were less suitable).

There was not actually a guide book for any of the museums and this was deliberate policy as it was felt that displays would constantly change and it was doubtful if people actually used them as guides. For each museum there was a more general publication which visitors could buy for digestion later, to provide some context for what they had seen and to expand their knowledge. The York and Swindon booklets by Tom Rolt have already been referred to. At Clapham a booklet called Transport Preserved was written for the museum by technical author Bryan Morgan. This well-composed distillation of information canters through the key points of British transport history and gives some background to the museum at Clapham and the challenges it presented. Morgan explained what the museum was hoping to achieve through making the book available (an invitation to visit as well as a keepsake) and he thought the conventional museum guide book was in any case dying, which appears to have been correct.


This booklet first appeared in 1963 and fresh printings were made until as late as 1972.

So far as I can ascertain from photographs and descriptions, the displays were entirely contemporary and represented the practice of the time. The limitations on space have already noted, though it was hoped visibility of the objects had not been compromised. There was some criticism about what was being displayed although I can really only be guided by Jack Simmons’s opinions in his book Transport Museums, where he  attempts an objective review of the leading transport museums against a background where pretty much everyone is likely to harbour an opinion based on heaven knows what. Simmons was a noted transport author and historian and some of his observations are noted shortly as each museum is mentioned.

The museums at Swindon and (more particularly) Clapham were established in something of a rush and in adverse circumstances where it was hoped that improvements would be made over time. But we will never know how the museums would have evolved as a learning resource or how conservation practice, acquisition or display policies would have evolved, or more space acquired, or interpretation improved, since virtually from the day they opened whatever hopes and aspirations there might have been were quickly dashed. We must now see why.

The Museum ‘Problem’

Buried in Schedule 6 of the Transport Act 1962 was a requirement for the BRB to set out its policy towards transport relics and records and the government required the production of a preservation policy. This was eventually presented as the British Transport Historical Relics Scheme at the end of 1963, coming into force in June 1965. It required, and received, government blessing and had statutory status. Key points were:

  • It committed BR to displaying relics publicly or privately.
  • BRB could levy an entry charge, if it felt fit.
  • BRB could enter into agreement with others to loan or transfer material to ‘fit and proper persons’.
  • BRB could solicit contributions from others to defray costs.
  • BRB could dispose of relics by gift or sale where they were not required for preservation.
  • No non-main line railway item could be disposed of without first offering it (free) to whichever of the other boards the item related to.
  • The BRB’s preservation expenses were to be apportioned amongst the BTC successor boards by agreement (or by the Minister if no agreement can be reached).

One outcome was that London Transport was invited to contribute to the cost of running the museum and £15,000 a year was agreed, representing the approximate proportion of London Transport exhibits. In turn it was decided to establish a small management committee on which London Transport would be represented and this was set up in 1964 to administer the requirements of the BTHR Scheme. The committee comprised the BRB’s controller of public relations (Eric Merrill), who chaired it, John Scholes (curator), and Frank Wilkins (LT Public Relations Officer). Under the BTC, Scholes had been a relatively free agent coming under the ultimate control of the BTC’s publicity department but in the new order he found himself within a year or so working for Merrill as part of the public relations regime; this took a closer interest in the museums owing to the Board’s inclination to be rid of them and the public relations issues that raised.

The publication of the BTHR scheme caused some public alarm given the apparent hostility towards running the museums. The fifth point, noted above, caused particular concern. Buses illustrated in June 1964 was already carrying a headline ‘Museum in Danger’, referring to Clapham. The theme was taken up in the Guardian on 11 August 1964 where the apparent ability to dispose of relics set out in the scheme was becoming a real concern to those interested in transport preservation and there was a suspicion that the scheme was a means of going about it. Ministers soon found themselves answering questions about the future of the museums indicating that the BRB had no plans to close them, but this did not make the concern go away. This worry about the security of the exhibits was a factor in the creation of the Transport Trust in June 1964, as there was no confidence in the government’s continued support for the existing museums. The trust briefly considered how it might set up its own museum. Meanwhile the museums were required to carry on but to attempt to keep costs down.

The problem of funding was becoming very public and in an article in the Guardian on 30 October 1964 the BRB spokesman said that the museums should be financed by the Treasury like other museums. The board was not averse to the existence of the three museums but wanted to avoid the responsibility of running them. The issue of being associated with the past became more acute in 1965 when the British Rail brand was launched and all had to be modern and forward-looking. Regional branding was abolished and, with it, efforts were made to suppress any form of regional identity or association with the former companies. The GWR Museum at Swindon perhaps fared worse than the other two in that respect.

The decrepit face of York

Jack Simmons, in his review of the museum at York during the late 1960s, was fairly positive but singles out track and signalling as falling short. The actual collection of track exhibits he regarded as first rate but ‘they lie about in any order; scarcely any of them are labelled—even in the simplest form—to indicate where they came from’. He continues to describe what his gimlet eye has detected. ‘Displayed like this, to anyone but an expert they form no more than a collection of scrap metal of diverting variety. To put it bluntly, these important exhibits might as well not be here. For they are important’. He carries on explaining just how important the material is before his final flourish: ‘it must regretfully be added that what is done poorly at York is not done at Clapham or Swindon at all’. In contrast he is positively enthused by the museum’s coverage of bridge building about which he says no other museum he has covered has any original exhibits in this field. Signalling is again criticized because of the quality of display rather than its content. ‘Unhappily it is not very well displayed and the description of it is lamentably inadequate’. The poor display he observes is explained because there is ‘simply no room to show these tall and awkward objects satisfactorily. It is none the less unfortunate: for this is a vitally important branch of railway working that receives insufficient attention elsewhere’. He ends his review by praising the museum above all others he has seen in being able to lead the visitor back continuously, stage by stage, over the whole history of railways in Britain to the pre-passenger age where it all began.

Trying to read his mind half a century after the event is perilous, but we might reasonably infer that, despite the shortcomings he draws attention to, he respects the place for succeeding better than some others he had visited in its job of educating visitors about the history of railways, particularly those in the north east. Perversely, it was the museum at York which, of the three, found itself most at risk of closure.

Perhaps the first evidence of the looming transport museum crisis began to emerge during 1964 and 1965 when it became apparent how run down the York museum was. It was already crammed full of exhibits and was not realistically capable of expansion, at least without a great deal of money being spent which, in the prevailing climate, was not possible. The museums committee explored long term options, one possibility being closure and dispersal of exhibits to Clapham and Swindon (neither of which had significant spare space themselves). Such an option would also reduce running costs. Although no definite proposal had been made, the press and public got wind of possible full or part closure towards the end of 1965 and a furore resulted.

The publicity apparently resulted from a ‘leak’ to the Yorkshire Post by Bob Hunter the museum’s curator (whose actual employer was the North Eastern Region). He had seen it as part of his role to make the York museum very much part of the wider York community and was clearly rattled that his professional superiors in London might even be contemplating the possibility of closure (about which he felt he was not being consulted). Merrill was furious with him as the public relations fall out was damaging. In fact what happened was that the extensive small exhibits section closed on 17 December 1966 with part of the collection (I know not how much) moved to the large exhibits building in Queen Street which was slightly enlarged by taking over a former road motor store which had taken up part of the structure previously. Jack Simmons thought this part closure ‘thoroughly deplorable, a grave disservice to one of the major educational museums in the North of England’.

Scholes was desperately unhappy with the proposal to close York and this gave impetus to another option which was to transfer the museum to York City Council. Discussions took place and became quite advanced. On the plus side it dealt with the extensive press criticism about York (in particular) losing a very well-established museum, and the north-east (in general) losing yet another industrial museum, the more significant as the north-east was regarded as the cradle of the railway system. The stumbling block was the potential cost of either providing a more modern building or refurbishing the existing one, both of which were likely to be expensive. Discussions rumbled on until they were overtaken by events. Significantly, the museum at York actually attracted the most visitors of all three museums and in both 1965 and 1966 covered its costs and made a small surplus.

The Challenges of Clapham and Swindon

Meanwhile concern was also becoming apparent about Clapham and Swindon. At the latter it was already obvious that the building was too small. With the decision of British Rail to speed up the withdrawal of steam having been made, subsequent to the museum’s establishment, new material was quickly coming forward for which there was no space. The locomotives King George V and Evening Star were considered suitable for the GWR museum but with no display area they were going to have to be stored. There was no money to remedy the situation.

It was a similar story at Clapham where a small amount of extra space had been found but further expansion was impossible. Although there was certainly no urgency to make change there were some concerns. Firstly it was (now) thought that it was in the ‘wrong’ location, even though one could travel to the museum from Charing Cross in under half an hour, including the short walk from the station. Then the issue of rail access cropped up again. The costs of moving rail vehicles in and out was very high without rail access and this was regarded as more of a problem than had been expected in the late 1950s. One might plausibly argue that once the museum had been set up the need for constant shifting of vehicles in and out should have been minimal, but in practice there were more movements than expected and with so much change on the railways it was felt that in the future there would need to be further changes, and not a diminishing number.

Examples include Metropolitan Railway locomotive No 23 which had been installed in the Museum when it was being set up in 1961 but had to be withdrawn during Spring 1963 for the Metropolitan’s centenary celebrations. It was returned on 11 January 1964. The old Met milk van (which had been used as a tool van) was sent to Clapham the following week, creating further disruption. The arrival of Mallard on 29 February 1964 was very expensive and disruptive, Pickfords using three tractor units to move the heavy loco from Nine Elms on a Saturday night. These moves appear to have caused some consequential moves of the existing locomotives, which must have been very awkward in a relatively full museum.

There are some film rushes HERE showing (in apparently random order) loco 23 being installed and then removed from Clapham (or perhaps the other way around)

In addition, the Clapham building, whilst superb as a bus garage, was more challenging as a museum where temperature and humidity had preferably to be kept within certain limits. If British Rail was to remain in charge then, in the long term, the least worst option appeared to be a larger purpose-built building on a better location and holding the best of the exhibits from the existing three museums.

How did Clapham fare in terms of a public museum? Simmons devotes 24 pages to Clapham, ignoring photographic pages and numerous other references. His critique is probably proportionate to the size of the museum, which was far larger than any of the other transport collections in the country. When he visited, the locomotives at Clapham numbered 16, including the Rocket replica. He describes each but unfortunately passes no comment about their selection. Of the coaches, Simmons noted 13 in the collection of which no less than 5 were LNWR royal saloons: he doesn’t specifically comment on this over-representation of luxury but does say: ‘it is rather a pity that room has not been found here for a vehicle of more normal type dating from the last quarter of the century, to demonstrate how the private traveller was catered for’. He is talking of the nineteenth century but goes on: ‘again, from the twentieth century the Museum lacks ordinary vehicles (apart from a mock-up of sections of British Railways standard stock of 1951)’. He praises the vehicles that are on display though. He also spends time praising the collection of small exhibits that displayed so obviously the huge range of activities with which railways were involved. On the whole his review of the museum is positive, even where he is mildly critical (for example the layout of the locomotives is unordered by date or company because it is the most efficient way of occupying the space). He is complimentary about labelling, noting it had recently improved as some small exhibits had previously escaped the process.

About Swindon he had rather less to say and I have already noted in Part 2 that Simmons rather liked the displays and the building. His description of the galleries is all very positive. Criticism is confined to fairly small points such as querying the need for a model of a particular locomotive to be displayed when the real thing is downstairs. He did note the lack of labelling of the signalling exhibits and appears by this point in his narrative to be getting exasperated: ‘This is an important branch of railway engineering in which, it is only too evident, the staff neither of this museum nor its parent at Clapham has any interest at all’. Simmons draws attention to the prevailing drabness of the town as it then was and how proud it should be to have this new museum.


One of the upstairs galleries at Swindon as it would have appeared to Simmons when he was reviewing the transport museums

Ideological Victory for British Rail

The issue of museum funding did not go away with Beeching’s departure in June 1965. His successor was Stanley Raymond (he who had been at Swindon Museum’s opening), who continued to apply pressure either for some kind of financial support or for being relieved of museums altogether. On the face of it, this seemed reasonable but given the goodwill they created (of which they might have created more), and the scale of the railway losses, the determination to get rid of them seems disproportionate. We must remember at this time British Rail also ran the world’s largest hotel chain, one of the world’s largest shipping lines, innumerable golf courses, a mail order wine service, travel agencies in many countries, house removal firms, a parcels delivery service at least the equal of the post office, and so on. In 1966 the net losses of all the museums was £65,000 of which a proportion, arguably, was a necessary cost which if stopped would have to be carried out elsewhere (for example responding to public queries about railway history, facilitating historical film shoots and so on). Moreover the operation of the museums probably had some positive public relations value, or could have done. So the real net cost was probably a little lower and we have to take into account that the warding staff at Clapham were London Transport staff redeployed for medical reasons and their wage costs would continue irrespective of what happened to the museums. On the other hand the reported losses of British Rail in 1966 were £134.7 million, of which the museum losses accounted for less than 0.05%. Whatever the problems that British Rail had, the mounting issue about museums, and the priority it was receiving, seems extraordinarily disproportionate and was creating bad publicity.

The mounting and apparently uncontrollable British Rail losses greatly exercised the new Labour government. Not only was there suspicion that the cut-and-slash policy promoted by Beeching might not reduce costs faster than the diminishing revenue from passengers and goods but many closures were found politically unacceptable. In this climate new policy papers were produced (the first appearing in 1966) which led to a joint review between British Rail and government about future restructuring of the industry. During this process the government began to show some sympathy towards British Rail’s open distaste for having to operate museums and the 1967 paper ‘Railway Policy’, which was based on the review, incorporated the conclusions.

The Government Gets Involved

The Department of Transport was most reluctant to entertain the idea of giving British Rail a specific grant to operate museums, notwithstanding that the British Rail losses were a direct charge upon public funds already (so was London Transport’s contribution of £15,000 as it, too, was in deficit). There was some sympathy with the idea that if the museums were necessary at all then perhaps they might be run by the Department of Education and Science (DES). Although the DES museums were also wholly publicly funded there was a belief that they could run the transport collection more cheaply, reducing the cost to the taxpayer. To give an example of the evidence looked at from which this opinion derived, it was observed that the transport museum warders were members of the National Union of Railwaymen and were paid more than their civil service counterparts in the national museums.

The Ministry of Transport had numerous groups looking at how best to develop future transport policy and although the matter of the museums was utterly trivial in all this a museums steering group was nevertheless established in order to go into all the issues and make recommendations. The group included Scholes and R.H. Lascelles (assistant secretary to British Rail) and Dr David Follett (director of the Science Museum, knighted in 1967). In addition were R.A. Channing (MoT), who acted as secretary, A Flexman (MoT), A.R. Maxwell-Hyslop (DES), Miss K Whalley  (Treasury) and R.F. Monger (Public Record Office). An early decision was made to identify whether or not the existing museums served any useful purpose and if so what might be done by way of development. To determine the answer to this, Scholes and Follett were asked on 22 July 1966 to produce a joint report.

In short, their report explains that the collection is of the greatest historical value in terms of technical and social interest. The material on display was imbalanced in not showing very much after 1920, but there was a growing amount of material in store that was later and would partly bring the story up to date. If the whole collection were categorized as ‘must be kept’, ‘worth keeping if possible’ and the balance ‘may be disposed of’, Scholes felt half fell into the first category and a quarter in the second. Follett thought the proportions were more like a third in each category. As to what was actually disposed of the matter rested on how much space there would be, railway exhibits being particularly large and heavy.

In the background was the observation that the Science Museum already housed railway objects but it was immediately recognized the museums were complementary. The Science Museum was concerned with technology and its railway exhibits occupied part (and a relatively small part) of a much greater technical story. The transport museums added intermediate technical detail relating to transport development and also had a much wider social story to tell. This situation should remain, they suggested, though there was no reason not to merge the administration if it would be more efficient.

The aim should be to keep the collection up to date and to put it all on display, they thought. During the unavoidable major upheaval while any change were implemented, a large new storage facility would be required for storage and sorting, and the old Pullman works at Preston Park near Brighton would serve. This was already earmarked for use by the museums department and could probably be released about five years after the task had begun.

Options for the future included bringing all the material together under one roof and, at the other extreme, dispersing the whole of the material. The existing position was in between, as there were three museums with much material dispersed to local museums. Total dispersal was not favoured as educational value would be minimal and practical control of exhibits lost. There was something to be said for keeping all the ‘must be kept’ together and dispersing the balance for which there was not room. The retention of York and Swindon (with their local associations) was recommended ‘if possible’, and discussions with York City Council ought to be pursued.

The disadvantages of Clapham were noted and so was the high value of the land. Because of the difficulties referred to earlier, Follett and Scholes concluded it might be better to close it and move it out of London, given that the Science Museum was about to open its new land transport gallery which included many railway exhibits. The thinking was inconclusive but a museum somewhere cheaper, with good rail connections and attractive to visitors seemed preferable. Follett indicated the DES expected cooperation of the railways board in finding a site and Scholes observed that this undertaking had already been given. Perhaps a disused station would be suitable. Significantly the report ends with a note that the savings to be achieved by combining administration would appear to be quite small, especially in the short term. In the longer term they might be greater if unnecessary duplication were avoided.

Follett noted that the national museums followed the government policy of no entry charge and observed that if the DES took control of the railway museums the matter of entry charges could be troublesome as it would hugely increase the net cost to the exchequer if for policy reasons the charges were dropped (charges were 2/6 at Clapham, 1/- at Swindon and 1/6 at York).

The report from Scholes and Follett was broadly accepted by the joint committee but some new factors now emerged. In particular the Treasury made it known that whatever was done the capital costs would have to be paid entirely from the proceeds of the sale of the existing museums (wildly large figures were bandied about for Clapham but after proper evaluation the expected realization was just over £500,000). Moreover the government officials were extremely reluctant to seek any money from the Treasury and wanted BR to fund whatever was done and reimburse the costs later from the sale of Clapham, thereby carrying the risk. The government museum development programme had been agreed in 1964 and there was no desire to alter it, so there was no funding there. As things stood, the DES had no extra money either. The only way anything was going to happen was to get out of Clapham and for BR to manage the process of finding and preparing a new museum.

The BT records were also discussed and the committee observed that they were valuable but perhaps could be put in one place with some savings. The PRO representative indicated that they were unsuitable for inclusion in the public records and the committee pondered whether if a new building was needed for relics than it might also accommodate the records. If this could not be done then they should be left with BR, probably in the existing office at Porchester Road. The possibility of a grant was mooted, though it was such a small part of the overall deficit it was hardly worth it.

The Plan

The scale of the challenge was substantial. One might add that there is little evidence to suggest that much deep thought was being applied to the question of what the transport museums were for and how the material might best be displayed. There was no discussion about comparatively small exhibits—by far the majority of exhibits were small—the time was almost entirely spent on how the large and heavy material might be thinned out to match the size of building likely to be affordable at any new location.

The BTC (and subsequently British Rail) had planned to preserve 74 locomotives of which 20 were scheduled and 25 loaned to local museums. Of the remaining 29 locomotives, 13 were at Clapham, 11 at York and 5 at Swindon. York had 9 items of rolling stock and Clapham had 20, together with sections of 7 carriages. 6 more pieces were on loan and 20 items were in store. The Science Museum had eight locomotives (mainly early and quite small, but with two very large exceptions) and an Underground coach. The transport museum totals varied slightly from one year to another against a rapidly changing background.

There were 26 road vehicles at Clapham, mainly buses, trams or railway-associated road vehicles. A further 19 vehicles had already been dispersed (by the end of 1966) and the decision taken to store four more (all LT vehicles). It was proposed to dispose of 12 further vehicles. Various other heavy equipment was already in process of dispersal, including three beam engines to Manchester Museum.

Clapham occupied four-fifths of the total floor area of all the museums. Swindon was leased from the local authority by BRB on a 30-year lease with no break clause. The corporation was paid £3620 annually as a contribution towards running it on behalf of the joint management committee. If a new museum were built not only would there be extra DES costs but the maintenance, undertaken by Ministry of Public Buildings and Works, would create extra costs which would have to be met.

The committee concluded that the issue of possible transfer to the DES ‘was a matter of considerable urgency’, at least in part because of the forthcoming transport bill to deal with reorganizing the railways and the fact that legislation would be required to effect transfer of the museums; the transport bill was scheduled for completing the parliamentary process in the 1968 Session. British Rail had already been asked to look for sites and the hint had been dropped that this might be outside London, might be a disused station or workshop and might be in a scenic area. The priority was to replace Clapham and more thought needed to be given to the future of the other two sites.

The level of priority was not at first evident to the BR Regions and the only practical location volunteered was at Crewe, which was viewed as a very suitable place to have a railway museum even if it failed the test of being ‘scenic’. In the end the following locations were identified for further review. These were:

Eastern Region

  • East Smithfield Depot (high value site)
  • Commercial Road Goods Depot (high value site)

London Midland Region

  • Southport MPD (MPD means motive power depot)
  • Llandudno Junction MPD
  • Stafford MPD
  • Nuneaton MPD
  • Chester MPD

North Eastern Region

  • York MPD (roundhouse and adjoining buildings)

Southern Region

  • Ore Carriage Shed
  • Tunbridge Wells West station (assuming closed)
  • Site at Eastbourne
  • Ashford Kimberley Works
  • Eastleigh Carriage and Wagon Works


  • Annesley MPD (Earmarked for sale to coal board and difficult to get to)
  • New Basford Carriage Cleaning Shed (Sale process already in hand)
  • Swinton Town Station Site
  • Crewe, near Queens Park (poor access)
  • Wolverhampton workshops at Stafford Road
  • Goods Yard site at Harrow on the Hill (London Transport). Good rail access.

Harrow, or York?

The joint committee went through all these sites and selected two about which detailed studies would be undertaken. These were York and Harrow-on-the-Hill. York was hardly a surprise since this would enable the existing museum to be closed with no awkward local repercussions and of the various places on the list the building appeared suitable, was rail connected for the purpose of the exhibits and had good access for visitors. Harrow-on-the-Hill was selected as the only feasible London site, but one which was also sizeable, had rail access and excellent train service to central London. It would also, of course, accommodate the London exhibits whilst London Transport would not have allowed them to go to York and at that time had not planned to have its own museum.

London Transport was asked for a valuation. We are talking here about prime Middlesex building land near to a station and in an area with high quality public facilities. The valuation was accordingly very high, far higher than the land value of Clapham and York without even including the construction and fitting out. At this point it became clear that if the Treasury held its line about the Clapham proceeds having to meet all costs then it was going to be impossible to locate a new museum anywhere near London irrespective of site quality and longer term benefits. When the review was completed York was the only show in town.

The observation has already been made that all this was done in a tearing rush and none of this activity was in the public domain, though inevitably rumours began to spread. All was revealed in November 1967 when the white paper ‘Railway Policy’ was published. This said it was proposed to transfer responsibility for running a transport museum to the DES and that a new museum would be provided by the BRB out of proceeds of the sale of Clapham and York. It was impossible to provide a purpose built museum from the £517,000 that was thought would be raised by the sales but BRB had offered the York (North) former steam motive power depot and would carry out the conversion work. This arrangement would reduce the annual cost to the exchequer by £15,000 a year assuming entry charges were still levied (it would only be £5000 a year if there was no charge). It was separately proposed to transfer the historical records to the same location where purpose-built accommodation might be provided for a mere £60,000, described as ‘a relatively small sum’ and that it would not matter if this brought the cost over budget. Interestingly it was not stated in whom the records would be vested, except it was not going to be the public record office (later parliamentary debates indicate it was expected to be the DES).


Upon publication of the white paper the predictable outrage erupted (except in York). What happened next, which I call the Battle of York, will be left for the next episode but of course nothing could be done until the transport bill was enacted on 25 October 1968. This had an interesting passage as the bill was very complex and the government was short of time and decided to use that highly controversial tool called the guillotine. As the records and relics matters were dealt with towards the end of the bill the guillotine fell before those sections were reached and they were not debated at all by the House of Commons.

It was therefore in the Lords that vent was given to the several points of controversy. In the matter of shifting the records to York, to keep them with the relics, a number of peers spoke and it was perfectly clear that the government minister was quite unable to give any satisfactory answer to why this fatuous proposal was being made, apparently against advice of people who had some knowledge of the contents (the Master of the Rolls, the Society of Archivists and British Records Association were just some of them). Both Lords Hurcomb and Robertson (former BTC chairmen) knew exactly what they contained and saw no point in the move and extra cost, and no advantage in keeping relics and records together, an entirely new, novel and unasked for initiative. Since ministers in the House feel quite unable to back down no matter how much the facts suggest that they ought to, the matter was let drop but we shall see later that another course was taken.


The decision about York being the proposed location for the replacement museum was given a good airing in the Lords and it became very obvious that not very much effort had been gone to in order to arrive at this profound decision which was getting a lot of people very excited. It was acknowledged that the Science Museum’s new Land Transport Gallery, which contained several interesting locomotives and quite a lot of educational railway material, meant there was going to remain a reliable source of historical and educational railway material in London and this went some way towards mollifying the opposition towards closing Clapham (which had only been fully open five years). The minister (Lord Hughes), during the debate, said eventually (and after much pressure) that that ‘the decision to move to York is not a firm one’. He then indicated that Clapham would remain open until such time that ‘unless and until York is got ready for the move, Clapham will continue to be the Railway Museum’. It is unknown whether he was initially going to volunteer this.

The other matter worth mentioning here is that during the debate on 8 October 1968 in the House of Lords, Lord Hurcomb, uneasy that London would be denuded of transport relics, obtained the following statement from the minister, Lord Hughes:

On the matter of the relics, on which in any case he had not had the same strength of feeling, that he would be completely content [about the move to York] provided it was possible to give an assurance that there would be an adequate number of relics in London for mechanical engineers and for London boys and girls to see. Noble Lords who were present at that meeting will remember that in fact my honourable friend the Minister of State said that such an undertaking could be given, and it is desirable that I should repeat that undertaking here so that it is on the Record.

The undertaking was given in the knowledge that the new Land Transport Gallery at the Science Museum had just opened. Indeed the gallery was a very fine gallery and whilst it was there it was hard to argue that London would be left entirely without a transport museum.

Next Time

In the next blog I shall look very briefly at the Science Museum’s contribution to the preservation of transport items and describe the Battle of York where annoyance about an an apparently arbitrary location for a museum was revisited and matters moved on to the establishment of the National Railway Museum.


Posted in British Transport, Heritage Transport, Main Line Rail, Our Government | Tagged , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Britain’s National Railway Museum: Part 2

The British Transport Museums


In Part 1, I described the origin of the LNER’s railway museum in York. Until well after World War 2 this was the only railway museum in the UK, although there were several other museums that included railway exhibits and a great deal of smaller material in private hands.

This article describes how railway collections were expanded and managed following railway nationalization in 1948 and takes us to the point where circumstances changed and British Railways lobbied strongly to divest itself of the responsibility.

Please note that some additions have been made to Part 1 since it was originally posted.

Preservation Policy

In 1948, inland transport was nationalized and the railways, canals, London Transport and numerous interests in bus and freight companies passed to the British Transport Commission (BTC). The best that might be said of the BTC is that it was well-intentioned. Even before it took office in 1948 it acknowledged it had inherited a great number of old documents and physical artefacts and that there should be some mechanism for looking after them. Of course, the existing material would inevitably be supplemented by retiring locomotives, rolling stock and equipment that would also deserved a place in history. This would add to the bulk of the material and early action was suggested to establish some kind of framework to identify and retain whatever was appropriate.

The matter was gone into by the former secretary of the LMSR, Mr G.R. Smith, in 1949. Already the BTC was speaking about a possible museum, for which Smith was initially tipped as curator, anticipating the need for such an establishment before any of the background work had been done. Curiously, Smith was never actually transferred to the staff of the BTC and remained associated with the LMSR which, for technical reasons, could not quickly be wound up. This was not entirely without good fortunate as there was rapid retraction from the idea of appointing a museum curator in the absence of any kind of plan and he was simply asked to review the matter of preserving existing and additional transport relics and records and to report. It was agreed he would do this in his personal capacity given his knowledge of the industry and to pay him 1000 guineas (which was quite a lot of money in those days). Unfortunately when the report appeared, several of those asking for it felt that it was not of a very high quality. In fact one senior member of the BTC described Smith as ‘an unimaginative bureaucrat, quite out of his depth once away from the detail in which his life had presumably been immersed.’ For the BTC to accuse someone as ‘bureaucratic’ was damnation itself! It was in fact slightly unfair as some good points had been raised, nevertheless it was convenient to avoid further detaining his departure from the scene. Instead, a committee of senior officers and staff was established to produce some kind of policy, and this appeared in 1951.

The BTC committee was headed by Sidney Taylor (Deputy Secretary BTC), assisted by Christian Barman (BTC Publicity Officer, an ex GWR man with an interest in architecture and railway history). From the executives were J.R. Hind (Railways), H.F. Hutchison (London Transport), S.C. Howard (Docks and Inland Waterways), and T.H. Baker (Hotels). Smith gets a brief mention and is congratulated for his index of all the relics he had been able to find, suggesting the BTC’s thousand guineas had not been entirely wasted, though his activities were not referred to again.

BTC-DocBroadly the report confirmed that the existing railway museum in York would be retained by the BTC, together with another collection in Edinburgh. Additionally, the emerging collection of small exhibits identified by the BTC would be brought together in the shareholders’ room at Euston (and perhaps elsewhere) where they could be viewed. The whole mass of material needed to be catalogued, the larger exhibits preferably brought together for safe keeping and a curator for them needed to be appointed.

In the longer term it was felt that a British Transport Museum in the London area should be provided, preferably in former railway premises, and the idea of using Nine Elms goods depot was floated. This had been built by Sir William Tite (of Royal Exchange fame) as the terminus of the London & Southampton Railway. The station went out of passenger use in 1848 but the frontage was intact and the old platform area and train shed remained largely unscathed as goods shed ‘B’. Immediate progress was impossible in the economic climate. I should add that when the matter was later reviewed, the Southern Region refused to release the site, which was still in use, and when it eventually became redundant the main block was demolished almost immediately in 1963 and the shed behind shortly afterwards. Those days were not good for the preservation of important buildings.


The inside of the shed at Nine Elms that was suggested for use as a museum

The report also referred to the great inventory of historic buildings. Many had survived in a meaningful form, but largely as a result of a combination of accident, fine construction and a continuation of their original purpose. Any building unhappily failing even one of these tests, if not already lost or mutilated beyond recovery, was an endangered species that could be lost without reference to anyone as soon as circumstances invited removal, or simply decay through neglect. It was felt that a preservation policy ought to apply equally to buildings. In fact this was not pursued as part of the quest to sort out non-property relics and building preservation was only recognized as important some decades later (by which time, of course, further buildings had been lost).

Implementing a Policy

At the time of the 1951 report there was mounting pressure from specialist transport societies for the BTC (a public corporation) to preserve important items for the nation. The idea of a British Transport Museum, ‘near London’, was therefore welcomed for presenting a coherent history of ‘British Transport’ using objects not better suited for display ‘in their respective localities’ (in other words the regional railway museums such as York). In 1951 the commission retained the services of professional specialists to take responsibility for records and for relics and Mr John Scholes was appointed curator of relics. Scholes had first become involved with museums in Southport and became curator of Southport’s Churchtown Botanic Gardens museum before WW2, and for a short while afterwards. He was then appointed curator of York’s Castle Museum, whose improvement and expansion he was responsible for. His task at the BTC was more demanding as there was no museum but there were vast numbers of relics. With few staff, no real idea of what had already been put on one side (or where) and no clear vision of what was expected, the task was somewhat daunting.

It will be seen from what had already been said that the BTC had inherited a great deal of historical material already. Scholes, its new curator, was assisted by ‘a small staff’, but progress was difficult against the BTC’s mounting financial losses and the absence of any specific legislation requiring the organization to maintain, and make available to the public, historic records and relics. Effort went into identifying and cataloguing the existing material. By the end of 1952 some 10,000 objects had been catalogued and donations of new material accepted from private individuals. The BTC knew it had a problem with display space but supported a policy whereby high-quality models of locomotives and other items might be made by apprentice engineers as part of their training, as these could be displayed a great deal more easily than a full-scale machine. The Commission already had quite a few exquisite models and the continued desire to accept representative models is one reason why the national collection now has so many of them (though the Science Museum, for similar reasons, also acquired many models for display).


One of the (seemingly) hundreds of railway models now held in the national collection. They are almost all superb models: surely they must be harder to make than the real thing because the work is so fiddly. They are an under-used resource now but when made were a practical alternative to full-sized objects for which there was no space.

In the meantime Scholes established an office initially at Euston and then at Fielden House in Westminster, a building used by the wartime railway executive and close to 55 Broadway, then the BTC’s headquarters. It was a couple of miles distant from the beating heart of practical activity at 222 Marylebone Road, where several BTC executives were based, including the Railway Executive (or ‘British Railways’, as it called itself). An early move was to begin assembling the smaller relics together in London and made arrangements to display them in a series of exhibitions in the shareholders room. The first was ‘London on Wheels’, in May 1953, in which year a mobile exhibition was arranged called ‘Royal Journey’, which comprised a number of royal vehicles that were displayed first in London and then visited a number of other towns and cities, attracting 154,143 visitors during the 80 exhibition days.

Two further London exhibitions were held at Euston; ‘Popular Carriage’ in 1954 and ‘Steam Locomotive: A Valedictory Exhibition’ in 1955. In each case a small charge was made for entry and the exhibition documentation was used as the basis for booklets of the same name that were available for several years. ‘London on Wheels’, was written by C Hamilton Ellis with a forward by Lord Hurcomb and a short section about the shareholder’s room itself which is unattributed but probably written by Scholes, who was responsible for its restoration. ‘Royal Trains’ and the ‘Popular Carriage’ were by C Hamilton Ellis and O.S. Nock wrote the ‘Steam Locomotive’ (this was subtitled ‘A Retrospective of the Work of Eight Great Locomotive Engineers’). The books were at least in part anchored to the material being accumulated in the BTC collection and even today are a readable contribution to the general knowledge about transport and were a useful addition to transport knowledge at that time.


The special exhibition train used for the Royal Journey mobile exhibition

In November 1956 a more general exhibition was opened at Euston, called ‘Transport Treasures’. This was a long term exhibition and it was regularly refreshed by changing some of the objects as only a small proportion could be displayed at any one time. It was arguably London’s first transport museum, though was confined to relatively small exhibits, including models. After great obstacles had been overcome, a mobile (train-borne) version was created and first opened its doors at Belgrave Road station in Leicester in June 1957 in conjunction with Leicester’s railway centenary exhibition. It was possible sometimes to include restored vehicles and locomotives, not previously having been on display, and at Leicester two locomotives and a dining car were included. The train visited many parts of England before heavy maintenance costs made continuance impossible.


Part of the London on Wheels exhibition in the shareholders room at Euston station in 1953. The showcases and other display apparatus were purchased with eventual use in a permanent museum in mind.

Against this increasingly challenging background the objective of establishing a Museum of British Transport somewhere in London (and regional museums elsewhere) had not altered. Arguably the regional museum at York already existed, even if it needed overhaul. A GWR Museum was sought at Swindon and a Welsh museum was mooted for Cardiff. A certain amount of Scottish material was already stored in Edinburgh, some of it on display. There was little manpower, little money and an awkward relationship with government as railway losses mounted and the modernization programme was not going well. Meanwhile the exhibits were piling up and desperately needed safe and secure storage facilities reducing risk of theft, accident and atmospheric deterioration. Scholes and his staff were collecting, restoring, conserving and displaying items and found themselves also providing advice to a huge range of bodies from Universities to local authorities, personal researchers, television and film companies and the BTC itself.

BTC books V2

Examples of the exhibition booklets originally produced in 1953-6  for Scholes’s temporary exhibitions and remaining in print (with updated covers) until the late 1960s.  They are published (top L-R) 1953, 1953 and 1954 (below L-R) 1955 and 1956.

BTC books-1955-6

The Clapham Museum

Towards the end of 1958 a disused bus garage at Clapham (formerly a tram depot) became available and Scholes felt that it could probably be made suitable at modest cost for conversion into the London museum. The decision weighed up cost of adapting the building, the imperative for finding homes for vehicles and other material already acquired, which had become urgent, and the probability of another site appearing that would be both better and remain affordable. He appreciated from the start that lack of rail connection was a hindrance but we should not overlook the fact that the BTC at that time owned heavy haulage contractors such as Pickfords and the railway depot at Nine Elms was not far away. The display space was 55,000 sq ft which, in the light of prevailing knowledge, was thought sufficient and there was also space for a reserve collection and 25,000 sq ft for offices, workshops and display galleries. Most importantly it had a vast roof with no supporting columns. It was mooted at the time that a large exhibit really needed 1000 sq ft of space to be able to view it properly, if that gives a feel for where things were heading. We might reasonably surmise the total floor area at Clapham (some on more than one level) did not exceed 125,000 sq ft but Scholes knew that if one included car parks, cafes, workshops and stored materials, lecture theatres and so on for the whole of the existing British collection, as well as sufficient room for expansion, then perhaps 60 acres might be needed, say 2.5 million sq ft. One has to include the regional museums in all this and even if there were six of them the same size as Clapham then there was going to be less than half the space available compared with that ideally needed. Fortunately the Clapham site hardly needed a car park (it had a very small one) but it was awkward for (say) coach parties. But it was a start, and for the reasons given the decision was made and matters unfolded accordingly.

Clapham Setup

The main hall at Clapham Museum early in 1961 whilst still being arranged. It is clear from the photo how useful it was to have no roof columns, which would have greatly constrained the layout.

The small exhibits were made available to the public from 29 March 1961 and this was fairly straightforward as it was an enlargement of the existing Transport Treasures displays. The larger exhibits in the main part of the building were at first available by appointment only and were only opened to the public from 28 May 1963. During that year 100,000 people visited Clapham (not fully open for six months), about 200,000 visited York and 250,000 visited the Swindon museum, which opened in June 1962. One might observe that all three museums now levied an entrance charge and I draw attention to the irony (noted at the time) of the facilities having been free under private ownership and charged for under public control!!


The flyer designed to encourage people to visit the new museum when only the small exhibits section was open and access was from the rear of the building.


The small exhibits section at Clapham, opened in 1961. The showcases appear to be those previously employed in the Shareholders room at Euston.

The museum at Clapham was well received and the large hall contained a number of main line locomotives, carriages and other equipment and buses, trams, railway rolling stock and other material that London Transport had been storing for some years. There were a few exhibits from the BTC’s wider activities too. There were extensive displays of small exhibits, posters and publicity as well as the large material. I visited frequently as a schoolboy and found the place captivating. Scholes explained when the museum opened that he had managed to include over a hundred (mainly) rail and road vehicles covering 125 years of history. Mostly vehicles were in ‘original’ livery (I’m not going to debate that) but the purpose was to show off the wealth of craftsmanship and the story of an industry which was famous throughout the world. It should not be thought there were only vehicles and the small exhibits for there was also a good deal of other railway paraphernalia to be seen. Most people who saw the museum at the time were very complimentary about it. Ian Nairn, who was not the most easily pleased of critics of social architecture, covered it in his 1966 book, Nairn’s London, a sought-after work recently reprinted. He was positively enthusiastic about it, or more particularly its contents. The historian Jack Simmons had studied transport museums and he too had much good to say about Clapham. Something had gone right!


The main entrance to the Museum of British Transport in Clapham High Street in 1963-4, the culmination of nearly 70 years of agitation for a national transport museum. I do not think the Rocket display outside was there on opening day, though it appeared shortly afterwards. It is a replica (one of nine!) and the original is in the Science Museum.  The replica appears to have been one made by the London & North Western Railway in 1881 (or 1886) as a static display. After Clapham closed the woodwork was found rotten but the frames and some other parts were recovered and used to make a steaming replica (built 1975-79), now kept at York. The building extended all the way back to Triangle Place (which was the staff entrance and postal address, and used to access the small exhibits before the main hall opened).    © National Railway Museum and SSPL

Clapham at first included a number of waterways exhibits, some of which were problematical when not displayed in the context of water. When at about the time of Clapham’s full opening the British Waterways Board developed its own museum at Stoke Bruern, Scholes was pleased to pass across the waterways exhibits. It was better they be all in one place (which was also on a canalside) than try to do the job badly in Clapham, and it released a small amount of additional space.

The opening of the new museum was a big event in London, and British Pathé covered it in one of their newsreels, which you can see HERE.


John Scholes entertaining some visitors


A representative view of part of the main hall at Clapham shortly after opening. To have all the exhibits finally on display like this was a triumph. The displays were hardly contextually arranged, though, and in many ways are comparable to those at the NRM York today. in that one has to fight for the story.


Another view of part of the Clapham display. On the right is another replica of the Rocket whilst in the foreground is an 1846 Furness Railway locomotive for many years displayed at Barrow and bearing the scars of a WW2 air raid.

Although the curatorial staff were BTC (and, later, British Railways) staff under Scholes’s control the security and ancillary staff were from London Transport, mainly staff medically retired from (typically) driving a train or a bus but otherwise fit. Once the main exhibits had been opened to the public the entry charge was increased to 2 shillings and 6 pence (weekdays only, though Sunday openings occasionally took place later and were popular).

The Swindon Museum

The Swindon museum had always been developed with the support and involvement of Swindon Corporation, which supplied the building. This had been designed and constructed by Brunel in the early 1850s for the GWR as a set of model lodgings for railway staff but not found popular. Subsequent conversion to self-contained flats proved equally problematic and around 1869 the company disposed of the building which became a Wesleyan chapel. The last service was held in September 1959. By happy coincidence the BTC was by then looking for a site for its GWR museum and the building was judged very suitable. With such use in mind, it was conveyed to Swindon Corporation in 1960. Use as a museum benefited both the corporation and the BTC, which was responsible for providing and arranging the exhibits and operating the facility, which, as already noted, opened on 28 June 1962. The ceremony was performed by R.F. Hanks, chairman of the BTC’s Western Region board in the presence of the Mayor of Swindon and the General Manger of the Western Region, Mr S.E. Raymond, who was soon to become BR chairman. In Hanks’s speech he mentioned he was an incurable railway sentimentalist. I don’t think we could say the same of Raymond, as we will see in due course, or of Beeching, who was Hank’s boss when he disclosed his inclinations!

The arrangements for management of the museum were perhaps over-complicated. During the setting up process the practical impetus was left in the hands of British Railways’ Western Region which at first carried the cost of restoring and preparing for exhibition many of the large exhibits at the nearby Swindon works; it also conducted the negotiations with Swindon Corporation. The actual selection of exhibits was made probably before the work on the museum began (and I think in London by Scholes, after the consultation process). The fitting out was undertaken by a team in Swindon led by R.H.N. Bryant, the staff assistant to the Chief Mechanical Engineer of the Western Region and included staff familiar with moving large railway objects, including Pickfords. The actual movement of exhibits began on 18 March 1962. This position reflected the practical position that the railway regions had been given formal responsibility for preserving items of interest in 1958 and had the commercial and legal expertise in house. To an intriguing extent the railway regions carried on the practices and attitudes of the pre-1948 main line railways, the Western Region, in particular, regarded itself as a slightly updated GWR. In any event, the museum at Swindon was going to be a GWR museum of which the Western Region would be proud.


City of Truro being manoeuvred into the new museum at Swindon. This was not a simple job.

Regrettably the cost of leasing the building exceeded the estimates and the cost of preparing the exhibits exceeded estimates by three times the £7000 expected, the Western Region managing to pass these to BTC headquarters via Scholes’s office. After that, Western Region interest began worrying about more urgent matters and the museum management found itself in the hands of a ‘Great Western Railway Museum Swindon Joint Management Committee’. Upon this vital body sat two Swindon borough council members (with other staff in attendance), and four BTC (later British Rail) staff, including Scholes. Day to day management was in the hands of the borough librarian and curator, Mr Harold Jolliffe, and amongst the museum staff was one Neil Cossons who took up his duties on 3 December 1962 and who many years later found himself director of the Science Museum, to which we will turn in due course.


The entrance to the Swindon Museum, shortly after opening


This nice little booklet was produced to commemorate the opening event and the contents clearly show the complexity of installing a railway museum in the building.

As the prototype for the BTC’s regional museums, Swindon was probably as good as it gets. The theme was almost exclusively devoted to the Great Western Railway whose activities not only dominated the town but most of western England and Wales. A combination of impressive locomotives and a wide range of supporting exhibits (such as track) and what we would call small exhibits, was put together in a thoughtful way in an interesting building. It was a good way of getting stuff on display that would be harder to justify in a national collection and was relevant to the area, The famous railway author and preservation activist Tom Rolt was prevailed upon to write a rather nice introductory book about the GWR and the museum, published in 1963, and it explains the importance of the material contained therein. I treasure my copy! The historian Jack Simmons liked Swindon and, like me, was struck on entering an interesting building by the atmosphere which reeked ‘Great Western’ more than any book or photograph could do, or ten minutes on the draughty and run down station. There were only five main line locos at first but they were splendidly arranged. One of the locos was City of Truro which Hanks had first seen, looking a little out of place, in the York museum and which had now been repatriated ‘as she rested among her own kith and kin’. He hoped the museum would not only present something of the past glories of the GWR but also demonstrate the huge task today’s managers had in modernizing the system.


The Churchward Gallery at the Swindon Museum. Left image is the chapel as it had been. Right image is the same space after installation of track and locomotive exhibits.

It was not a large museum but was unable to cover its costs. Unusually this museum opened on Sunday afternoons as well as weekdays. The adult admission charge was one shilling and at some point (perhaps later) included admission to the nearby Railwayman’s Cottages. Swindon may be a good place for a company museum and for expressing the might of local industry but in those days it was hardly on the tourist trail. Despite valiant efforts from the Swindon staff it was impossible to improve visitor numbers. This will become important shortly.

The York Museum

Upon the formation of British Railways, when transport was nationalized in 1948, the museum at York was operated by the Chief Regional Officer of the North Eastern Region and a museum committee. Day-to-day management was still in the hands of curator, E.M. Bywell, who had been in post since 1922 (notwithstanding his other duties) but who had actually now retired and who still did the curating job voluntarily and without pay. I note that in the 1933 catalogue, LNER Chairman (William Whitelaw) thanks him for ten year’s work. Heaven knows how old he was when the BTC inherited him. At this time, admission was still free and the only source of income was from sale of the catalogues, at sixpence each (eightpence from 1951), some of the proceeds of which were used to acquire new material. The catalogue had been kept up to date and new editions appeared in 1947, 1950 and 1956, each reprinted as required. It appears that sometime after the appointment of Scholes the old regime was quietly eased out and evidence of a more modern approach began to appear. This coincided with the introduction of a small entry charge from April 1957 to help defray costs, which does not seem to have been anticipated when the 1956 catalogue was produced as a special slip had to be printed for insertion.

York Railway Museum notice of charges April 1957

During 1958 the small exhibits section was temporarily closed for reorganization, reopening on 19 May. To commemorate this two royal vehicles were displayed next to the main section of the museum as an added attraction. These were normal stored at Wolverton, to where they returned when the exhibition closed on 27 May. Shortly afterwards some more persuasive publicity began to appear in order to increase the number of visitors, and a nice little brochure, entitled ‘The background story of the exhibits’ was written by historian and preservation champion Tom Rolt, which appeared in 1958.


On the left is the cover of Tom Rolt’s 1958 booklet about the York Museum. It is very much a narrative rather than a guide book. On the right is a contemporary leaflet (possibly slightly later). This is a rather nice promotional piece opening out into eight pictorial pages, then foldable vertically to make it pocket size.

During 1959 the York Railway Museum obtained the services of Bob Hunter as its own curator, though subordinate to Scholes in London. Hunter’s origins such as equipped him to take local responsibility at York are not known to the author but he was a leading light in the Festiniog railway society in his spare time and clearly had a deep interest in preserving past glories. We shall hear more of him in Part 3.

Although the general atmosphere at York remained substantially unchanged throughout the period of the BTC, there were changes to the displays. To the surprise of some, Great Northern loco Henry Oakley was borrowed from York in September 1953 to double-head with another loco stored at Doncaster two special trains from Kings Cross to Doncaster and Kings Cross to Leeds for commemorative trips organized by Alan Peglar (later to buy Flying Scotsman). Since Henry Oakley hadn’t steamed since 1937 and was very difficult to extricate from the museum because of the constricted layout, this was a major event. The loco was returned unscathed, with the upheaval repeated to get it back. In 1957 the even more difficult job was undertaken of extracting City of Truro. The immediate need was for it to haul a trainload of Festiniog Railway members on a special from Wolverhampton to Ruabon, requiring a great deal of preparation as this loco last steamed in 1931. This was not to return to York as it was foreign to those parts and was earmarked in due course for Swindon (as noted earlier). The space was quickly occupied by two more appropriate locos. I mention these lest the impression be given that the York museum was left untouched during the BTC period, for it was not. The emphasis was perhaps more closely focused on the north east, though curiously the City & South London coach remained at York even after Clapham opened, though the latter would have been far more appropriate as the coach once rumbled through the tunnels right in front of the museum.


Two 1950s leaflets for the York museum. On the left, while museum is under North Eastern Region control, it is branded British Railways. On the right, the 1956 version is branded British Transport Commission, perhaps reflecting the more intimate supervision from John Scholes’s department.

The museum maintained close links with the North Eastern Region although Scholes was firmly in charge of the exhibits and arrangements for display. At no time did the local council become involved in any way with the museum, unlike Swindon.


The entrance to the large exhibits section at York, probably about 1960.

I should add here that in parallel with the worries about relics, others were worrying about records. A BTC archives office had quickly been established near Paddington to which all redundant pre-1948 records were sent for indexing and safe-keeping but the monumental task was eased a few years later by setting up a branch office at York, in the basement of the former North Eastern Railway headquarters; this also included a small search room for researchers. At some point, I have not established a date, some of the York Museum paperwork that appeared more appropriately classed as an archive was transferred to the BTC archives at York. When, some years later, the BTC archives were transferred to the Public Record Office the York Archives were closed and the records were broken down, with duplicate material disposed of and unique material transferred to London. Certainly part of the Briggs collection followed this path and split what had been a coherent collection. Though this may not have mattered too much in this case I doubt if it was what the donor had expected. These Briggs documents can now be viewed in the national archives at Kew and it is very likely that other York Museum material came the same way.

EPSON scanner image

The Railway Museum at York in 1958. On the whole it may fairly be said that little space in this 250ft long building was wasted.

The Glasgow Museum

I have mentioned the Edinburgh collection of material, which was also assembled by the LNER in respect of Scottish railways and which after 1948 fell into the Scottish Region, which also inherited the Scottish lines of the LMSR. The Edinburgh collection had been assembled gradually since 1938 by Lieut Col Murray (of the LNER), who was supportive in the 1951 discussions of there being a national museum in London but did not want to lose items of particular Scottish local interest. When inventory preparation was required it was found some items had gone missing (almost certainly a problem elsewhere, too). Nevertheless there was a desire for a Scottish regional museum.

With support from Scholes the Scottish Region cast about for a permanent home for its Scottish transport material. It so happened that in 1958 the City of Glasgow announced it was to close its extensive tramway system and wanted to preserve and display a selection of representative vehicles and equipment. Glasgow’s existing Art Gallery and Museum at Kelvingrove already held transport material (including some large railway material) and it appeared sensible to establish a single transport museum. Fittingly the site selected for this was the redundant Coplawhill tram depot (in Glagow’s Pollockshields district). This appeared to be just the location the BTC was looking for as a home for the Scottish railway and associated relics and discussions led to an agreement to display between the two parties. Glasgow was felt particularly appropriate since the Scottish locomotives to be displayed were made there.


Glasgow was a general transport museum inspired by loss of the City’s tram system of which a number were preserved for display. Supported by the BTC as part of its regional railway museum policy, railway material relevant to Scotland was displayed and this shows part of he railway section.

The Glasgow Transport Museum was opened in part by the Queen Mother on 14 April 1964 when the tramway exhibits predominated. It was much-extended on 8 March 1967 when the railway locomotives went on display. It was a substantial transport collection, heavily reflecting local industry, and included six locomotives of local interest, one of them privately owned (and later withdrawn so that it could be put into working order). It is true that pride of place was given to the tramway vehicles, but at least the railway material was now displayed and was reasonably secure. The arrangement was much more heavily focused around the local authority than was Swindon or York and in 1966 the five BR locomotives (and I suppose all the other rail material) was transferred to Glasgow City ownership and was never part of what later became the national collection.

Glasgow3 copy

The Glasgow Museum of Transport in Pollockshields not long after it was established and before many public buildings were cleaned. It was actually quite near the City centre.   Scottish Daily Record.

The museum moved to the exhibition building at Kelvin Hall in 1987 (this should not be confused with the nearby Kelvingrove museum—Kelvin Hall was a large exhibition space that had functioned rather like London’s Olympia or Earls Court but was looking for a more stable use). The problem with the old transport museum was that it was wholly unsuited for use as a long term museum, particularly on conservation grounds. Kelvin Hall provided a more stable atmosphere and had good facilities for moving large objects in and out. The vast collection of models of ships associated with Glasgow had already been amalgamated with the transport exhibits at Coplawhill in 1976 having previously been in the west wing of Kelvingrove and the unsuitability of its new surroundings quickly became evident.

Although Kelvin Hall was a much better location for a transport museum, the enthusiasm created by Glasgow’s selection as European City of Culture in 1994, coupled with the massive redevelopment of the Clyde waterfront, created a desire within Glasgow City Council for a purpose-built museum focused on Clyde industries and transport in particular. And so was born the Riverside Museum. The transport museum at Kelvin Hall was closed in April 2010, the collection being subsumed by the new museum which opened in 2011. The Riverside Museum has not been entirely without controversy but shows off a very wide range of exhibits in a more stable environment and with better facilities for visitors. However, it now drops away from our story, though it does one day deserve a review as there are presentational difficulties. The only point I want to make here is that one notes that in Scotland there was a feeling that ‘transport’ was a single entity worthy of a museum whilst in England matters were to go in a different direction with public displays divided by mode. Can both be right?

Image result for riverside museum

Two of the railway exhibits at Riverside, just to give a flavour. Much of the museum has a very high roof whilst floor area is still limited. The effect is mitigated by stacking objects above each other, even quite large objects. This is an interesting solution but can make viewing very difficult. In this image all is not as it seems as the upper loco is actually part of a display on the first floor!

The Other Regions

The North East Region, Western and Scottish regions were all on track for their own museums but there was less enthusiasm from the vast London Midland Region which eventually hinted that a roundhouse at Derby might be able to take the retained LMSR locomotives. The Eastern grasped the principle and was prepared to share a museum with another region but did not want to proceed on its own. This did not quite answer the directive which the BTC chairman (Sir Brian Robertson) had given for establishing regional museums but was accepted as a temporary position. (It wasn’t suggested they went in with the North Eastern but that would have been logical if extra space were found in York; the two regions were later merged anyway). The Southern seems to have had fewer relics and suggested their large exhibits would not form a museum by themselves (though it was pointedly observed by headquarters that there was already difficulty storing its existing retained locomotives). Without great enthusiasm from south of the River the matter seems to have been put to one side and was subsequently overtaken by events.

A Confusion of Activity

Even in the early days of the BTC its labyrinthine organization defeated the simplest of requests that items of historical importance should be retained. The contents of the royal waiting room at Windsor were auctioned off by the Western Region in September 1950 but the BTC itself only discovered this in July 1953; the chairman, Lord Hurcomb, was furious and wanted to know why the BTC had not been consulted. In 1952 a coach was destroyed at York after becoming infested with woodworm. By then Scholes was in place but had not been consulted; he felt that it could have been saved if he had been notified of the problem as soon as it was discovered. There was much the BTC had to learn. I must stress that the BTC in some form or another employed nearly 900,000 staff in 1951 and that getting even simple things done or changed was challenging.

As that decade progressed, John Scholes became increasingly involved in the day to day problems presented by the collections he had immediate control over, his temporary exhibitions and the massive job of finding a new museum site and then getting it up and running. By the late 1950s the total number of objects on inventory was approaching a million whilst the large exhibits were strewn around the country, sometimes in unsuitable conditions, with some being repaired or restored. This was quite a big job not made any easier by the BTC’s structure. The small BTC headquarters staff (now at Marylebone Road, and of which Scholes, still in Westminster, was a part) had policy control over the functional committees that controlled the various activities, by far the largest of which was British Railways. This truly vast organization was broken down into the six railway regions, with headquarters spread around the country. These were also vast and were broken down into smaller districts, and so on, which is was where all the knowledge was. The actual preserved exhibits were spread about in odd sheds where there was space, together with other redundant equipment and a very long way down the chain of command from those controlling preservation policy. The historical relics section was outside the railway organization altogether and had great difficulty exerting its will, let alone a policy, across the diverse and varyingly cooperative regions.

You will not be surprised that mistakes were made. In 1957 three exhibits stored at Stratford works were scrapped in error. They were a Wisbech & Upwell tramcar, a GER tram locomotive and an LTSR bogie third carriage, all irreplaceable. The tram engine was of the type that inspired the Rev W. Awdry’s tram ‘Toby’ whilst the tramcar (really a carriage) had been put on one side and survived long enough to appear in the film ‘The Titfield Thunderbolt’. The uproar this caused reached the desk of the BTC chairman, Sir Brian Robertson, and in consequence the processes were, at least in part, improved for identifying, scheduling and storing equipment and relics safely. As much part of the problem had been establishing whose job it was to identify what needed to be preserved in the first place, about which there were many differing points of view.

Another consequence of the scrapping was that the BTC’s chairman received a deputation from several specialist transport societies who were in some respects better acquainted than the BTC itself about the historical significance of material already stored or about to be retired. I say ‘in some respects’ because of course if one has a society devoted to one type of thing then it is unlikely to propose items for preservation that fall outside its remit. Certainly neither Sir Brian Robertson (nor probably Scholes) was desperately keen to arbitrate over some of the finer issues and it was suggested the societies themselves form a committee to go into all this and come up with a single set of recommendations about items for preservation that could be discussed with the BTC, and in particular with Scholes. So far as I can tell Scholes was always very supportive of this since it actually gave him better arguing power when dealing with the regions. And so was born the Consultative Panel for the Preservation of British Transport Relics.

The panel reviewed the whole of the existing collection, what was likely to become available shortly and where there appeared to be gaps. Scholes was always invited to Panel meetings and various approaches were discussed prior to the final recommendations being made. The Panel’s views did not necessarily accord with the transport press, who made various criticisms, nor were all the recommendations accepted by Scholes and the railway regions, but on the whole the consultative approach worked reasonably well and the final list of scheduled locomotives could be justified on various grounds. The story with carriages is I think rather less of a success story as effort was put (perhaps necessarily) into quite old material without much thought being given to the commonplace items inter-war, post war, or even current (given the modernization plan being rolled out and vast numbers of vehicles likely to be disposed of). Goods vehicles were rarely mentioned. Only after the locomotive saga had been put to bed did effort really turn to signalling, permanent way and other items. This was a bit patchy and really reflected the interests of the representative societies. There was a need for advice though, as by the mid-1960s vast amounts of equipment were coming out. The Panel continued to do useful work for a little longer but we shall see in the next part that with the museums fighting for their very survival, and uncertainty about what might replace them, discussions about some unusual signal rodding at (say) Loampit-on-the-Marsh was of interest to no-one!

What we do see during this period are the first ominous signs of troubles to come. The reasons are not new—to some, they were already very familiar—but they were new to the BTC. I offer below some of the ‘matters that weighed on the minds of those intimately involved, just to give flavour.

  • Not everything can be kept.
  • What subset of ‘everything’ should be kept, and why?
  • —Who decides?
  • What happens if more is kept than can be displayed?
  • What subset of  all that is kept should be displayed, and why?
  • Who are expected to view the displays and why do we think this?
  • Where is material to be displayed?
  • Should it be operative or static?
  • What weight is given to ‘what people want to see’, irrespective of an object’s historical significance?
  • —Who decides?
  • Who pays (and why)?
  • Since there is little possibility that any group of rational people involved in these processes would all agree on all the points, how does one get a working long-term consensus?
  • What counts as ‘success’?
  • What measures are necessary to ensure all of this is done satisfactorily (or at all)?

I shall leave all these questions hanging because it is a theme I shall return to later. Suffice to say that the BTC had to work much of this out for itself whilst at the same time having inherited an existing museum and a great number of objects (with more on the way) and so was not entirely free to make decisions from first principles anyway! I have already noted that there were weaknesses in the ‘who decides’ and ‘how do you know it is being done’ areas. I shall merely hint here that of the rudimentary list of points above, I think the last point (possibly the last two) are the most important providing it is done in a supportive and professional way and does not degenerate into a tick-box culture operated by people entirely ignorant of the issues involved. I rather think that much of this had to be done by Scholes himself, without a great deal of support from an organization about to self-implode.


This section has examined the way the three (arguably four) British transport museums emerged from the hiatus of transport nationalization in 1948. For fifteen years there was a consistency of policy for a national ‘transport’ museum and regional museums where practicalities meant they would inevitably tend to focus on railways. Swindon was most blatantly a railway museum but Glasgow embraced with enthusiasm various other modes, though mainly from that locality. The policy was carried out not entirely from scratch, but those involved had a huge amount to learn along the way. By all accounts the resulting museums, from the view of those visiting them, were a very creditable achievement, the more so given the financial and other constraints that had to be contended with.

This did not last.

In the next part, I will explain what factors conspired to frustrate this direction of travel and how, after the battle of York, we ended up with a national railway museum. In the final (fourth) part I will make some observations (I hope objectively) about how that museum is doing nearly half a century later.

Posted in British Transport, Heritage Transport, London Underground, Main Line Rail, Road Transport | Tagged , , , , | 2 Comments

Britain’s National Railway Museum: Part 1

The LNER Museum At York


A very warm day in London recently caused me to seek the cooler atmosphere of York, home of the National Railway Museum (NRM). I have maintained an interest in that museum having been present at the opening ceremony on 27th September 1975.

My visit gave me much cause for reflection. I have no criticism of the hard-working and dedicated staff, or of the curatorial standards upheld (with some reservations about the exhibits maintained in working order, which I will come to in due course). I did find I had some very serious questions about what the museum was seeking to achieve, how well it was doing that, and the direction in which it might go. These views are entirely those of an ‘interested visitor’ who happens to think our railway industry has a terrific story to tell and who also attempts from time to time to help tell some of that story and knows what a challenge it can be.

It then occurred to me that many people might not know why the NRM at York is there in the first place. Perhaps there was a bit of a story to tell about the museum’s background, to which I might append some appropriate, and hopefully constructive, suggestions. I started work but about 25 pages later, after much research, thinking, checking, editing and the like, it was obvious even to me that broadcasting this as a blog item would be a little on the long side and lack clarity. However there was a story to be told. What I have done is to rework it as (probably) four separate blogs each dealing with a different topic. This also buys a bit of time for further reflection about the museum as it is today.

The parts I propose are:

  1. The LNER Museum at York
  2. The British Transport Museums
  3. The Battle of York
  4. Some reflections upon a National Railway Museum


Although I will cover this properly in due course it is probably helpful to explain here that the NRM at York is run by the Science Museum, to which the core of the collection (and the main building) was transferred in 1975 from British Rail (BR). BR previously ran several railway museums, including one in York on a different site. The purpose of this particular blog is to describe the history of that first museum at York, which was the country’s first museum dedicated entirely to the collection and display to the public of railway exhibits.

York Railway Museum of the London & North Eastern Railway

The Stockton & Darlington Celebrations

The idea of a railway museum in York originated with the North Eastern Railway in 1922 as a means of displaying numerous important railway items it had been squirrelling away for decades. Little could be achieved in the prevailing and all-consuming climate of the 1923 railway grouping and the consequent upheaval and distraction of the enormous reorganization. A few examples of historic material were shown with modern equipment at the Wembley Exhibition in 1924, and that might easily have been the end of the initiative had not an important anniversary been looming.

At that time it was accepted that the opening of the Stockton & Darlington Railway in 1825 signified the beginning of the modern railway era. This line was engineered by George Stephenson, assisted by his son Robert, and was the first of the Stephenson railways. Today I fancy we prefer to acknowledge the Liverpool & Manchester Railway, which opened five years later, as the first ‘modern’ railway and was also a Stephenson line. How it came that our preference apparently changed is really beyond the scope of this brief history. Suffice to say that they were both public railways authorized by Act of Parliament. The distinction, and it is a subtle one, is that the Stockton line was built as a public highway where its railway track was available on payment of a toll whilst the Liverpool line (though envisaged as something similar) was in practice a railway where the operator always ran the trains. Moreover the Liverpool line always used one form of traction (the steam locomotive) whilst the Stockton line used horses and stationary engines as well as steam (its most famous locomotive, Locomotion, was driven by George Stephenson himself at the opening ceremony, his brothers acting as firemen).

The Stockton line’s first steam locomotive was delivered in September 1825: designed by George, it was built by Robert Stephenson & Co and took the number ‘1’, though it was soon named Locomotion.  It was the first steam locomotive to operate on a public railway and although it did not distinguish itself in July 1828 when its boiler exploded (killing the driver) this was put down to improper interference with the safety valve. The locomotive gained a reputation for poor steaming but subsequent rebuilding improved the situation after which, from a technical point of view, the machine operated successfully. It was retired in 1841, mainly because much more advanced designs had come along, and was used for a while as a stationary engine before being sold in 1850. Historically it was soon regarded as a very important part of railway history and in 1857 the company placed it on a plinth at Darlington North Road station. This was probably the first historic locomotive to be ‘preserved’ and placed on public view, though a single locomotive hardly constitutes a museum. There had been a companion locomotive, the Hope (No 2), but this had been destroyed. Locomotion was occasionally uprooted for display elsewhere and found a new permanent home at Bank Top station in 1892 alongside the Derwent.


The Locomotion on its plinth at Darlington as The Engineer portrayed it in 1875

The Stockton line became part of the North Eastern Railway (NER) in 1863, though for a decade retained virtual independence. We have noted already that the NER had an inclination to accumulate historic railway artefacts and initiated the process for setting up a railway museum, but an appreciation of the significance of railway history came about quite early. The NER quite understood the importance of the Stockton line and became an enthusiast for celebrating the jubilee of the line in 1875, making £5000 available for the purpose. Darlington Corporation contributed a further £1000, for that town also understood the importance of its railways. These were enormous sums of money at that time. Wide-ranging celebrations took place over two days, 27 and 28 September 1875. The Locomotion was perhaps the star of the show but No 10 Auckland (by Timothy Hackworth in 1838) was present, on loan from Weardale Water Co to which it had been sold. There were several other former Stockton locos present, some recovered from the scrapheap, together with some more modern NER machines and modern locomotives from a number of other British railway companies wanting to show off their equipment, for the theme (toasted at the banquet) was ‘the Jubilee of Railways’.

Amongst the displays was the venerable Canterbury & Whitstable locomotive Invicta  (built by Stephenson in 1829) and a surviving dandy-cart from the Stockton line, which was used as part of a display of horse-power (which was regarded as a highlight of the show). The dandy-cart was a vehicle designed to carry a horse that could be used to haul a train over some sections of line and onto which it could be loaded, to keep it with the train, when not needed for haulage. These went out of use in 1841 so the one in the display must have been kept back or converted to some other use and then restored. There is a Stockton dandy-cart in the national collection today but it is described as ‘constructed as replica, or restored at the Shildon Works of the NER,’ probably about 1920. I venture to suggest the present exhibit is based on and may well use parts of the vehicle in the 1875 display. Invicta was an unpromising design that was unable to haul the required loads reliably and was effectively retired in 1836, but retained under cover and was made available for the 1875 celebrations (it is today on display in Canterbury).

The actual exhibition of locomotives took place in the North Road engine works and although all the early Stockton locomotives (except Locomotion) had been destroyed others on display were recovered, or were still serviceable. These were the Shildon (1846), the Dart (1840), the Meteor (1843), the Woodlands (1848), the Southend (1849), the Priam (1847), the Duke (1854), the Hawthorn (1854) and the Albert (1854). I list these to show the effort made to display the Stockton’s developing locomotive history, but all of them were later destroyed. Including the later NER locos, and those from other lines, Reports state that 27 locos were assembled in all. In addition were displays of drawings and photographs of early locomotives, examples of early pointwork and signal lamps. Some current material was exhibited including apparatus connected with the operation of the block system, and Harper’s patent block telegraph system. There were also a number of models. One could almost describe all this as a prototype railway museum were it not for the fact is was only open for two days.


Print from Illustrated London News representing the railway display in Darlington in 1875

The NER became part of the London & North Eastern Railway in 1923, shortly before the Stockton’s centenary. Once more it was felt the event should be commemorated and it was a chance to promote the whole industry, not just the LNER. Since the 1875 celebrations the NER had been actively collecting historical relics and records and probably had by some way the largest collection of railway material of all the main line railways. To celebrate the Stockton line in a big way was very appropriate for the LNER, which was also supportive of the idea of some kind of permanent display.


H.N. Gresley (of the LNER) and H.R.H. Duke of York discussing the display arranged at Darlington in connection with the 1925 centenary celebrations. Some correspondence might be noted between the display here and that later on show at York. Although this was a public display of historic railway material it was of course only intended as temporary so does not really constitute a museum.

Although the Stockton & Darlington Railway had actually opened on 27 September 1825 the main celebrations were held 1-3 July 1925. There was a substantial exhibition of railway material located in the new Faverdale works, just west of Darlington, and this was opened by the Duke and Duchess of York on the first day. A large display of railway relics and models was available and were put together so their significance could be appreciated (this exhibition remained open until 18 July). On the second day was a massive procession of vehicles that proceeded from Stockton to a grandstand erected between Eaglescliffe and Darlington from which the good and the great (as well as the public) could view the items. There were 53 separate displays, some single vehicles and some whole trains. These included some of the oldest locomotives and rolling stock in the country and some of the latest, including the most prestigious new vehicles from each of the main lines. The first ‘train’ comprised the Hetton colliery locomotive of 1822 whilst the final train comprised the Stockton & Darlington’s Locomotion, for which a number of replica vehicles had been constructed. The loco was substantially unmodernized and it was not felt wise to run it in steam, so a small petrol engine was installed discretely in the tender whilst the fireman burnt oily rags in the firebox to make smoke (a ruse that apparently fooled most people).


Another view of the 1925 display. In the foreground is a replica of Rocket.


This is a copy of the catalogue available to visitor to the 1925 celebrations. The temporary exhibition was of substantial proportions. About 635 exhibits are listed in the inventory ranging from paperwork, tickets, models, track, pieces of equipment and full sized locomotives and vehicles. This is quite apart from the vehicles forming part of the procession.

I should add that this was not the first cavalcade in which the North Eastern Railway had been involved for there had been a previous one in Newcastle on 9 June 1881 as part of the celebrations to mark the centenary of George Stephenson’s birth. This was a big event (Geordies are very proud of their industrial history) and the house in Wylam in which George Stephenson was born still existed as did the old waggonway outside his later house (though the later house had by then gone). The crowds arrived early as the first event was a procession of modern engines from Central station to Street House (his birthplace) at 8am. Sixteen locomotives were provided, all coupled together, six by the North Eastern. The procession continued on to Wylam. A special train followed an hour later conveying the Mayor of Newcastle and many dignitaries from surrounding areas and many other guests. It was thought the largest event thus far held in Newcastle and ended with a firework display that followed a grand banquet. Locomotive No 1 (Locomotion) was not in that display but was borrowed from its home in Darlington and parked adjacent to Central station where it could be admired.


This is a representation from The Graphic of the procession of locomotives, and the best that might be said of it is that it gives a vague impression of an unusual train passing a building. It is more than possible the engraver had seen none of the event and was working from the vaguest of  descriptions. The details ‘LNW’ visible on collar is interesting and might have been taken from another image engraver had handy. I should add that the single-track tramway of Stephenson’s youth had been replaced by a double-track main line railway (1872-76) which used the old formation along the Tyne bank where the cottage was located. It closed in 1968.

Although there was no particular celebration for the jubilee of the Liverpool & Manchester Railway, Liverpool did host an International Exhibition in 1886 and the London & North Western Railway had a significant presence. A full-sized model of the locomotive Rocket was constructed at Crewe Works by F.W. Webb, its locomotive engineer, in 1885-6, presumably for this exhibition. He went to some trouble to get the details correct but in fact some important points were not quite right, though only discovered many years later. Also on display was a recently-recovered Trevithick locomotive of c.1804 which Webb found in scrap condition and did his best to restore some of the missing features. Some Wylam wagonway cogged wheels and rack rail were supplied by Spencer’s of Newburn, together with patterns used for making cast iron rails. The Lancashire & Yorkshire Railway supplied early models and drawing from the Manchester & Leeds Railway and a model of a stage coach body mounted on a frame on railway wheels. This display brought together once more a mass of historic railway material but I have not sought to trace what happened after dispersal. It hints once more that there was important material around that ought to have found its way into a museum. At this exhibition there was also much modern material such as the LNWR’s new steel-sleepered track, a water trough, a new compound locomotive, but this is not relevant to this historical summary.

Background to York

The idea of collecting historical material and displaying it permanently in one place was given effect in 1922. The NER had been keeping important stuff back for many years and when railway amalgamation loomed some of the senior officers were concerned the material might get lost and should be displayed while the NER could exercise control. There was also the looming railway centenary in 1925 where, it was felt, there would be a need to have access to historical material for display and the process of bringing it together needed to begin in good time.

The assistant general manager, Robert Bell, convened a meeting on 29 March 1922 where the prospect of a formal collection was considered. Prominent among those present was H.J. Rudgard, the assistant engineer, and J.B. Harper, assistant superintendent. Rudgard had made it his business to retain a collection of civil engineering and track components which had been gathered together in a shed. Harper had been collecting as long previously as 1880 and had assembled a collection of small material in his office in the hope that one day it might become part of a museum. It was agreed to find basement accommodation in the head office building at York for the small material while more suitable space would be sought for the larger items. A number of historic locomotives had been saved from destruction as far back as 1907 where they were noted as being looked after locally in workshops at York, Darlington and Newcastle; for the moment they would be left where they were.

A committee was formed under the direction of Harper, charged with bringing into effect the proposal for a museum. The committee of six included a Mr E.M. Bywell from the general manager’s office. Bywell was editor of the company’s staff magazine and was appointed Secretary to the committee and curator. Using the staff magazine he was quickly able to canvass for identification of further historical material that would be suitable for the museum, with positive results. Another early task was to create an inventory of all the items collected so far, as it appeared none existed.

Basement room B at headquarters was appropriated for the display of the small exhibits and this was fitted out with display cases and facilities for hanging material conveniently. Material was moved in here during early 1923. Meanwhile space was sought for the larger exhibits. One location examined was the plumbers shop adjacent to York station, but this was found unsuitable. A better proposition was one of the former repair shops that had been used for munitions work during the Great War . This former workshop building was still rail connected in 1922 and was a historic building in its own right. With access from Queen Street, the shops had been opened in 1839 by the York & North Midland Railway and expanded somewhat. With further amalgamations, which brought forth the North Eastern Railway, they became less important as maintenance premises and for many years this area of the sheds was used for servicing foreign locomotives bringing trains to and from York from other railways.  It was located along what is now the south-west edge of the station car park, just east of Lowther Terrace, and adjoined other railway buildings, still standing. Sadly the building has now been lost. Although it had not been intended to move the locos to Queen Street, additional locos were actively sought and obtained and the building provided convenient storage.

The LNER was created in 1923 and was by no means antagonistic to the idea of a permanent museum and, as we have seen in a previous section, enthusiastically supported the 1925 railway centenary celebrations. Once these were out of the way thoughts returned to the idea of opening a public railway museum. At first (to the horror of the committee) Darlington was the favoured location. Here it was hoped everything could be displayed in one place and (probably more importantly) Darlington borough council was very keen to host a museum, offering to make a substantial financial contribution and even to operate it. This aspiration failed to mature so Queen Street was settled upon for the locomotives, rolling stock and all the large exhibits and all the material was brought here and gradually arranged for display. By this time the policy had slightly altered as the centenary celebrations had illuminated some historical material held by other railways (and parts of the LNER which had not formed part of the old North Eastern Railway) and suitable additional display items were now thought desirable. The committee later actively sought such material.


The large exhibit section of the York museum may be seen towards bottom left corner. York station is off the map at the top.

The small exhibits section was in a less happy position as the donation of a significant amount of new material, including complete private collections, meant that the selected basement room was no longer suitable. Larger space for the small material was identified a few yards from the head office, opposite the North Eastern Railway War Memorial. This comprised four large rooms each holding a range of displays. The building in which these were housed had once been the first class refreshment room on the arrival side of the terminal station at York, when it was located within the City walls. The whole of this old station area remained in railway hands until a few years ago (though trackless since the 1980s) but appears now to have been flogged off, I believe to the local council. Part of the old station is listed and still intact though. The move had certainly taken place by 1928, and probably by early 1927, but I have not seen a date.


This is the main room of the small exhibits section of the former British Transport Museum at York

To identify a public opening date for the York Railway Museum poses a problem. There is evidence that the collection of large exhibits was largely in position as early as 1926 but the first entry in the visitor’s book is 28 April 1927; we know there were several formal visits to the large exhibit collection that year. What is less clear is when the public first obtained free access to the collection, which was only possible after staff were available. The museum was certainly open to the public during 3-9 June 1928 (York Civic Week) between 10am and 5pm, and it was also open at the end of the month as part of other celebrations; the latter (certainly) and the former (probably) included the small exhibits section in another building. On both occasions there were large queues. The first ‘attendant’ was employed in August 1928 and from then on the museum opened on a seasonal basis. At first it was on weekdays during spring-autumn and Wednesdays and Saturdays in winter. At some time in 1930 former LNER police Sergeant Horn was appointed on a permanent basis allowing daily opening, creating a substantial increase in numbers. So far as I can see this museum never ordinarily opened on Sundays. Admission was free and a guide was available from 1931.

Almost from the first, the museum accepted donations of material that had been collected privately for want of any national collection felt suitable. An early donor called Isaac Briggs, for example, had a high regard for what the LNER was trying to achieve and on his death bequeathed a large collections of railway engineering drawings, books and engravings relating to railway construction in the 1820-50 period. Briggs was the son of an engineering contractor and had formed the view that far too much attention was given to locomotives when dealing with railway history and his donation was intended to try and redress the balance. Briggs’s view about locomotives is one with which I do have some sympathy.


The building in the centre of photo was part of the railway museum York housing the small exhibits. The former York terminal station was behind this range of buildings, so we are actually looking at the rear. The public entrance to what in the 1840s were refreshment rooms would have been from the platforms.  The war memorial is on the right

Donations quickly arrived from a number of other quarters, including some material from other railways. Perhaps the most obvious ‘foreign’ locomotive was the Great Western’s City of Truro, which in 1904 reached a record-breaking 102mph. The LBSCR locomotive Gladstone, was unusual in being saved for preservation privately, by the Stephenson Locomotive Society, which bought it from the Southern Railway in 1927 and made arrangements for it to be displayed at York.


Although the locomotive displays were important the museum acquired, preserved and displayed much other material and here we see its impressive collection of track parts, viewed (I think) in 1934-5. Some of this early track was historically important. I shall return to track in a later part. I believe this part of the building was called the annexe and looks to be at least 100ft long; the post-war drawing suggests this area was later reduced to make way for other exhibits.

During 1934, the 89-year old London & North Western Railway locomotive Columbine was moved to York for display after languishing since 1902 at Crewe Works (it had been the first locomotive made there complete). Its value was known since it was displayed to the public at Wembley in 1924, the Railway Centenary celebrations in 1925 and the Liverpool & Manchester centenary in 1930, but the LMSR had nowhere to display it. It arrived at York on 1st June, at the same time as Aerolite, a much rebuilt tank locomotive of NER origin, which retired the previous year. Then there was the City & South London’s restored padded cell car, which was accepted in January 1938. London Transport presented it after concluding it was unable to set up a museum of its own, notwithstanding having stored some important railway vehicles for some years (some were then broken up). At the same time Great Northern Railway 4-4-2 locomotive Henry Oakley, built at Doncaster in 1898, was accepted. I should also mention the ancient locomotive Agenoria, built for the Shutt End colliery in 1829, which had long been in the collection of the Science Museum and which was sent to York on loan late in 1936 (to make space for something else). I don’t think this ever went back to London. You will grasp immediately that if the museum had opened in 1928 and had received all these large objects since (and I think other new material besides), then by the end of 1938 it was quite full.


The Agenoria after being loaned to York Railway Museum in 1936. It was moved inside at some point, which must have involved removing the immense chimney.

In fact all the main line companies had retained some historic material, to varying degrees, though only the LNER actually maintained a public museum. The LMS keenly retained small items but also kept back two locomotives in the early 1930s. One of its vice presidents, Sir Harold Hartley, acknowledged that there needed to be a British railway museum at some time but it was impossible to justify the expense in the recession of the early 1930s and the best that could be done was to put material on one side. The LNER museum at York was already quite full and could not easily take any further large material.


The old LNER Museum at Queens Road York in 1927. The 1822 Hetton Colliery locomotive sits alongside the LBSCR ‘Gladstone’ locomotive. This gives a feel for the constraints of layout in the old building.

The York museum closed during the war when the exhibits were dispersed to less bomb-prone locations. After some renovations the small exhibits returned in early 1946 and the locos and coaches in June 1947. There were a few changes but the old layout was largely maintained. Sir Ronald Matthews, the LNER chairman, reopened the premises on 18 July 1947. It was still free.


This is the layout of the York Railway Museum at the point it was handed over from the LNER to the British Transport Commission (Railway Magazine)

How the material was labelled and looked after I have no idea, but as early as 1933 there was a catalogue listing all of the large and easily separable items but grouping some of the more expansive material together. I can’t say whether internally every item was recorded separately but the main catalogue was available to be public, price threepence, and was arranged in the order that visitors might see them. Significantly, the 1951 catalogue particularly notes the museum was founded in 1922.


The first publicly available museum catalogue, issued 1933

We shall deal with the nationalization of transport in 1948, and how this affected railway preservation, in the next episode.

Posted in British Transport, Heritage Transport, Main Line Rail | Tagged , , | Leave a comment

Railways, and the ‘N’ word…

I found myself becoming irritated about the often ill-informed comments being made in run up to election about possible railway ‘re-nationalization’. It is hard to puzzle out, from the muddled promises and assertions, either what exactly is going to be more ‘nationalized’ than our existing government-run system or what, precisely, the benefits will be. This prompted me to make a few jottings, together with a few facts, which might be helpful.

The Nationalization of Transport in 1948

When transport was nationalized in 1948, no deep thought had been given about how to do it, so it was done in a rush and planned by people who knew little about transport (in a real sense this bears similarity with 1994 ‘privatization’). At the point of nationalization it was both ‘free’ from any burden upon the taxpayer and was intended ultimately to be paid for by transport users. There was never any suggestion that the taxpayer would ever fork out a penny (bear with me, I shall explain what actually happened).

The plan was this. About £1.2 billion of shares and debentures held by the shareholders and stockholders of the railway companies was exchanged for new British Transport Stock. The amount of stock swapped was based approximately on the market value of the stock given up and the new stock uniformly paid a 3% guaranteed return on the face value of the certificates. The British Transport stock was issued free of charge and was a form of IOU whose liability was held by the British Transport Commission, not the government. The interest had, of course, to come from the fares revenue. In the fantasy world created by the civil servants and government of the day it was imagined that nationalization would save the previously impoverished railways from financial ruin and the railways would thenceforth pay their way and become successful and generate a surplus (I must not use the word profitable as profits would be kept in the business). This isn’t my opinion, it is what the 1947 Act required.

A sinking fund was created into which hefty payments were made each year by the Commission from fares revenue. The fund was invested and generated investment income which, with the addition of the annual payments, was expected to be sufficient to repay the British Transport stock holders, in full, during or after the 1970s. It will be seen from this description that the cunning plan was for nationalization to avoid any taxpayer involvement, with the costs of reimbursing the former railway owners falling wholly on fare-payers using this magnificent, modern and fully integrated transport network.

Modernization was going to cost money and there was, in 1948, no inclination for any government to make the slightest contribution. Money would therefore be borrowed by issuing new Transport Stock which would pay for whatever investment was required; this stock, too, would require a sinking fund to enable eventual repayment, the extra money generated by betterment being plentiful, so it was thought, on the basis of ordinary investment economics. Significantly, it was expected all debt would be repaid 25 years or so after it was borrowed, so total debts would be limited (unlike the Network Rail model, until recent nationalization). All would be wonderful and the whole British transport system would be completely self-supporting and capable of attracting all the investment needed.

What could possibly go wrong?

Well, we know what went wrong. The post war railway was absolutely worn out, materials were in scarce supply, investment was difficult anyway but the government exerted influence to keep railway investment unrealistically low, and the interest on the Transport stock was too burdensome. In addition costs rose faster than income and in no year after 1953 did the railways cover their legitimate costs. From 1956 they never again even covered their day-to-day expenses, ever.

The financial model was, in short, disastrous. Attempts to fix it on no occasion did more than reduce the rate at which losses were rising. From 1960 the government is found giving large grants to match the book losses. From 1963 a major restructuring (forming the British Railways Board) saw the Transport Stock exchanged for an equivalent amount of government debt: over half was freed of interest, but the 3% stock was swapped for 6% interest so it made little difference. From 1968 much debt was written off and grants began to be paid in an attempt to target socially required but loss-making services. In addition some very unprofitable work was hived off to the National Freight Corporation. This hugely, but only briefly, reduced losses but as market share reduced the losses came back and by 1975 (at today’s prices) hit £3 billion annually. After a huge fight, day-to-day losses towards the end in the early ’90s  were down to only £1 billion!

It was not all bad news as losses now included repayment of debt, an expensive charge postponed for many years, and by the early ’90s was only about £1.25 billion. This appears quite good compared with results a decade earlier but the apparent good news masks the fact that in the run up to privatization there were huge ‘fire-sales’ of subsidiaries and physical assets, which instead of being regarded as capital reserves were simply thrown into the day-to-day income, somewhat distorting the picture. Some of these subsidiary businesses were disposed of rather cheaply, it has been suggested (and see my blog on BT Hotels). Even so the loss-making trend was arguably downwards as the BR sectorization programme began to deliver results, though it is doubtful if breaking even after capital was paid off would have been achievable. Nevertheless, revenue grants in the early ’90s were in the £600-£700m order and that would probably have been regarded as broadly OK on an ongoing basis. Capital grants and loans were also provided by government, further distorting the illusion that the railways could ever provide for itself, though. The point I am trying to make is that at no time thus far could the railways actually make money. Traffic was tending to disappear and huge effort was required to keep it or get more. Whether privatization was the answer I’m not getting into, but I’m not convinced the way it was done shows the government at its most intelligent.

I have put a couple of graphs here to support the points I have just made.

The first shows at today’s prices the magnitude of the day-to-day operational losses. This purely represents the difference between fares income and legitimate day-to-day costs and entirely omits financing costs, grants and other like matters. It is broadly accurate (I hope) given the constant fiddling with the accounting methods and the complexity of the Transport Commission organization. Important to note is that the profound change in 1969 is not a result of improved methods so much as the transfer of loss-making parts to other parties.


The second chart, again at today’s prices, represents the total annual loss, as well as government revenue subsidy, compared with BR net revenue including reasonable repayment towards capital costs. It basically represents the organization’s shortfall to pay its own way. The shortfall is not trivial and the trend towards the end is again helped by the ‘fire sales’. Because this series includes interest on capital it is worth pointing out that some of the high costs in the early 1980s were because of the punitive interest rates being paid for capital borrowed in the inflationary explosion in the 1970s. Stupidly, through modern eyes, BR was at one point required to repay capital on which 5-6% interest was being paid only to borrow the same money to fill the hole at up to 12% from the minister. I have used Bank of England annual inflation rates to correct to today’s prices.


So, in a nutshell, BR had many merits and produced some wonderful rounded managers as well as running a railway on a shoestring. Financially, though, it was a basket case and was never free to borrow and invest on the scale required. It was to have been nationalized for free but the whole structure was created by well-meaning fantasists that simply did not understand the state of the railways in 1947 and produced a kind of money-eating monster that only good railwaymen somehow managed to keep alive! I don’t quite see why we’d want to do that again.

Now, there is that great imponderable. For decades until the 1990s railway modal share consistently fell and this had many adverse effects, not least morale. It was financially problematic as the asset base was hard to reduce, or, at least, hard to reduce at the same rate, so overheads went up. Suddenly from the mid ’90s, traffic began to rise and has continued to do so at unprecedented rates. The political weasels would have us believe this was because of privatization but this seems very unlikely, especially as the model was designed for decline, at least at first. A large number of external factors seem to have more basis in fact, both economic improvement and because road space was not expanding much, constraining road traffic growth. There are other subtle reasons and maybe the small and better TOCs were slightly nimbler than BR in exploiting the potential when it was noticed. We should remember these early franchises were less prescriptive and the capacity was available. However we will never know what BR would have done in this situation. It would be quite interesting to hear from BR managers at that time what they think would have happened.  My suspicion is that the DfT would not have believed the upward trend was sustainable and would have failed to allow BR to respond effectively. By complete accident of timing it may be that BR had had its day.

The Nationalization of Transport 70 years on

The situation now is rather different from 1994 as passenger traffic has doubled with only modest improvements to the infrastructure. Moreover it could scarcely be more different from 1948. The challenge today is mainly about capacity but I would add that increasing population suggests improving railway’s connectivity and reach should feature somewhere. By this I mean a wider range of destinations (through services were much culled half a century ago) and putting some places back on the railway map that with the benefit of hindsight should not have come off it. Operating costs could perhaps be reduced through organizational simplification but I doubt if there is much to be had from the operating side once the issue of guards has been resolved one way or the other.

Whatever the plan, just bringing back BR has very little to commend it; though that is not apparently ‘the plan’ being broached now I think any tendency to lurch in that direction should be resisted. Vested interests might support such a thing.

Whilst agreeing that today’s structure is rather eccentric, and, again, is somehow made to work by good railway people despite the obstacles, I would be cautious about changing it without having a very clear idea about what the objectives might be, preferably evidence-based.

My observations are:

  1. Many of the so called ‘difficulties’ experienced by passengers are a direct result of existing government control, rarely admitted to. The fares structure and fares levels is one of these and another is the government even getting to design the trains, rather than railway people who have to live with the consequences. I would be very, very wary about asking for more of this.
  2. We must recall that many of the problems BR had were not of its making. Inherited obsolescence and debt were one intractable problem. Another was the government’s arcane accounting requirements and annualized funding, which made planning difficult and investment expensive. Another was politically variable and unpredictable funding levels which made investment problems worse because it wasted both money and opportunity. The only certainty was that investment wasn’t matching asset decay. Who wants that again?
  3. The generally accepted contribution to shareholders from each passenger pound is about 3p though this excludes the rolling stock leasing companies which I estimate might raise this to about 4p. It will be appreciated by most people that dividend payments are a return on investment made by shareholders. Organizations need money to function, even government-funded ones. If shareholders are not providing the capital at their own personal risk then it has to be borrowed. This isn’t free and I note that our government is currently paying 4% on its debt so I think it reasonable to observe that if shareholder funding were replaced by government funding then actually the existing arrangement could be seen as reasonably fair. So long as there are shareholders they will need paying or they will seek to withdraw their money anyway. Paying them off would require public cash unless some device as that used in 1948 were used. Even if non-shareholder finance were a tad cheaper I doubt if this would justify the upheaval required. By the way, government debt pays guaranteed interest to the same sorts of people who comprise railway shareholders…. I am uninterested in ideological claptrap I just don’t see the 4p in the pound issue as the main problem facing the railways.
  4. Reorganizations in the railway industry are enormously disruptive and usually hit service performance and put up a load of hidden costs. Moreover experience of previous nationalizations (eg London Transport and the railways) clearly show that staff on previously varying rates of pay usually end up with the new organization having to level up to the highest and the unions will push hard for this. Irrespective of whether this is good or not on ideological grounds it won’t make things cheaper and never has.
  5. There are also some benefits in keeping organizations fairly small and close to customers. Some franchises have been very successful and are popular so it may be worth examining what makes the better ones work before throwing out a load of experience. I’d be wary of even thinking about the entirely illusory economy of scale of any large organization if we want to improve customer service standards and not destroy them.
  6. If the plan is to allow franchises to expire and replace them with some kind of directly operated railway oversight (as was the case with East Coast until recently) then I do not see where the savings come from. There are few savings to be had from existing operations, I suggest.
  7. One might expect savings to be achievable from dismantling the contractual frameworks in place now as (arguably) one could get rid of contract managers, delay attribution staff and legal teams. Whether this could actually be done in the term of a Parliament, whether savings would be material, or whether whatever replaces it is cheaper, I doubt if anyone knows. I am fairly sure those promoting nationalization don’t know.
  8. There are other areas of long term saving that might be achievable if there were a single controlling mind. For example a knowledgeable team looking at rolling stock cascades (something BR did well) could plan stock usage over whole life reducing the hefty payments made now to the leasing companies to cover risk of stock having to be stored as it gets older. You don’t imagine these companies aim to lose money when plans don’t work out!

These are only random thoughts to suggest that renationalization concept is based on dogma with little factual information to justify it and some cogent reasons for not rushing into it.

The 2017 Labour manifesto idea for the railways

Specific proposals are:

  • Bring private franchises into public ownership as they expire and also use break clauses to accelerate this process when this is in the interests of passengers and taxpayers.

Observation – superficially attractive and cost-free and would save some franchising costs. Not stated what benefits are and cannot actually see where profound benefits arise in short term. Would appear to cut off the private sector funding obtained when franchises renew. Brings whole of operating and reputational risk back to public sector which could be problematic. Would take a long time to achieve with benefits unclear and cut off the TOCs from wider private sector experience and support. At best, marginal.

  • Create a new dynamic public operator where profits currently being made by private operators would be reinvested into cutting fares and infrastructure under Labour.

Observation – This appears to be the tool by which previous point achieved and is not a separate item. For reasons already pointed out, suspect savings illusory and fares are already a government function.

  • Keep Network Rail in public hands.

Observation – This means ‘do nothing’. Network rail is the largest unit of spend though.

  • Labour will cap regulated fair rises at the Consumer Price Index (CPI), using the money saved through bringing rail franchises back into public ownership. As more services come into public ownership, greater amounts of savings become available, and Labour will aim to introduce further fare caps or reductions.
  • A separate note states: passengers will on average save £1,014 on their rail season tickets over the next parliament, compared to the potential cost under a Tory Government.

Observation – Note on fares already made. Do not believe ‘nationalizing’ will actually save much or at all. If the desire is to cut fares but not costs it amounts to a revenue subsidy. This is a political choice but look what happened under BR. Subsidies can rapidly become extremely burdensome and where would it come from?

In reference to the note. If an average season were (say) £2500-£3000 then at today’s prices avoiding a 1% rise above CPI over five years saves of the order of £150 and for the life of me I can’t see how you can claim a £1000 saving. With no sight of the workings I think this is fantasy-land.

  • We will continue with investment in HS2 and build a Crossrail for the North, Crossrail 2, extend HS2 to Scotland and expand our rail network by re-opening disused lines where there is a social and economic case to do so.

Observation. Fair enough.

  • We will invest to upgrade major and local train stations. We will also work to improve the accessibility and access for disabled passengers in around our stations.

Observation. This is virtually existing policy but the statement is so woolly as to be meaningless by itself. To be credible we need to know how much, when and to what standard.

  • We will halt the expansion of Driver Only Operation and stop cuts to staff which jeopardise safety on our railway network and remove the independence of disabled passengers.

Observation. There is absolutely no stated justification for this. Presumably it is here to keep RMT happy but the costs come out of the same pot as everything else.

  • We will ensure passenger groups and staff are included in the governance structure of a publicly owned railway, ensuring the passengers voice is heard and ensuring good industrial relations.

Observation. Whether or not this in any way adds anything meaningful depends on detail that is simply not given. AS the railway is presently run by the minister, I’m not sure I believe introducing anything that will interfere with absolute supremacy will have any teeth (it has been promised before and teeth were always extracted very quickly).

I can’t honestly say this is all bad but it smacks of dogma rather than any plan informed by the facts or the needs and will be very disruptive without delivering any benefit and, quite possibly, make matters more challenging rather than less.

Final Observations

I think a lot could be done to improve the existing system (especially the franchising process) and why not have one or two TOCs run by a UK plc, as it were, in order to have a good means of benchmarking everything else. This was done by London Transport in order better to understand the bids coming in from bus route bidding, for example. However larger scale change without a searching enquiry into a better way of doing things will produce poor value. Please read ‘the Blunders of Our Government’ before you rush off to implement a half-baked policy with experts you do not have if you want evidence of such folly.

More important is strong and stable [sorry about that] leadership in the industry, or somebody in charge. For my money I’d bring back something like the Strategic Rail Authority and get as much out of the Transport Secretary’s hands as I could. We need detailed planning being done by the industry not by government generalists. The SRA was politically troublesome because it fought government dogma with facts and perhaps some TOCs thought it had too much power, but actually stuff like that can be fixed in the light of experience.

Returning to where I started, it can be seen perfectly well that one could sort of nationalize the already mostly-nationalized railways ‘free’. It has been done before but of course that was before it was realized that railways as a whole don’t generate much, if any, profit. It didn’t work out well then and I just can’t see what the need is now. It is politically very risky as it is all too easy to make what vaguely works now a great deal worse. I can see no possibility of it reducing fares, at least not of its own accord. Why would it? If the government wishes to subsidize season tickets (they already are, by the way) then be honest and just do it. It can do that now without throwing everything else up in the air. I don’t recommend it, but if that is the aim it can do so. The pragmatist in me asks whether, if peak trains are already heaving at the seams and the railway is full, why rational people feel the need to reduce fares and make the crowding problem worse. Is it not right that it is commuters (who insist all on travelling at the same time) who are putting impossible demands on the system?

Perhaps we need a bit more imagination and experience in deciding how best to steer the railway network, if change we must have. Returning to the 1970s, let alone the 1940s, would not be helpful.


Posted in British Transport, Main Line Rail, Our Government | Tagged | Leave a comment