Getting up steam - 'Streaks' from across the Pond join the home team at York
National Railway Museum, York
Design excellence for their time...
National Railway Museum, York
- National Railway Museum
The National Railway Museum in York and Shildon is home to the UK's national rail collection. Includes museum visitor info, events, exhibitions and collections.
Across 175 years of the railways in Britain and abroad
Some of us here in 'Blighty' think tourists only come to Britain to see the past.
They might be right! We don't make much any more, aside from the Nissan factory at Sunderland, some scattered shipbuilding, a bit of engineering here and there, some steelmaking - less and less of that, with the Indian company Tata saying 'ta-ta' to Teesside and elsewhere - and open-cast mining or quarrying in the countryside you'd be forgiven for thinking we just get drunk and roll about in the streets at home or in Ibiza or Faliraki (Cyprus), or rob our grannies for dope money. Many of our industries are basically 'screw-driver' operations where cars and things made abroad are assembled here as they arrive in containers at Felixstowe or Tilbury. Hardly any of our industries are British-owned, and when the bosses overseas 'feel the pinch' or think themselves threatened by militant unions they just 'up-sticks' and plonk down somewhere else where the work-force is 'docile', i.e., China, Korea or Taiwan.
But hold on there. We have to ask ourselves why Britain with its memories is so attractive to overseas visitors. Is it value for money, or the comfort of the premises. They may be right on one count, about some of the premises like pubs and restaurants. Value for money? (In a way, yes, although some accommodation in London is a rip-off, as are the hot dog or burger stands! Think about some places in Europe then certainly there's comfort and value-for-money. Then again London has a tarnished reputation as the 'rip-off' capital of Europe, so we have to go further afield).
Where to? Stratford-upon-Avon? Chester? York?
Stratford-upon-Avon is linked with 'the Bard', it gets crowded too, just like 'the Globe' on the South Bank in London, reconstructed in honour of Sam Wanamaker who envisaged the New Globe Theatre (the old one burnt down long ago).
Chester? Walled city, quaint-looking half-timbered houses and Georgian mansions - just the same as Bath in some ways (see the ghosts of Romans in the baths?).
How about York? Well, pretty much like Chester, walled city, museums, quaint old buildings and ruins. There are a couple of castles, lots of Roman left-overs and the remains of an abbey near Lendal Bridge. There's the Shambles leading down to Stonegate. The Shambles, or Fleshammels, is where York's butchers laid out their wares on their window shelves. Don't forget the Jorvik Centre! (Travelling back through time in a dodgem car to the days of the Danes, a gift shop when you come out). And there's a massive railway museum near the main railway station, 17th most visited museum in Britain!
The National Railway Museum (NRM) www.nrm.org.uk/. phone 0870 421 4001. Coo-ee! Seriously, it has to be seen to be believed. Part of it is York North Locomotive Shed, with a viewing gallery and a large 70' (21.34m) turntable that's operated several times daily with a commentary. There's a library for reference, under the gallery is a gigantic 7mm scale model railway that attracts young an old alike and the main viewing floor is filled with static and animated exhibits, short film shows and the world record-holding steam locomotive.
'Mallard' is there in all her LNER garter blue livery with brass commemorative plaque and a viewing platform alongside for you to climb and inspect the spacious cab. Nearby are several historic locomotives, including a huge one built by North British for the Chinese Railway.The cab floor of this monster is big enough to hold a disco dance floor! Not far away is a carriage from the Japanese Shinkansen 'bullet' train. Although not built in Britain, this is a 'nod' toward the historic birthplace of the railway networks, George Hudson's York & North Midland Railway of the 1840s and early 1850s. Compare this high-speed tilting vehicle with one of the Victorian four-wheeled 1st Class carriages of the Liverpool & Manchester Railway and you'll understand just how far the railways have come since George Stephenson's inaugural train on the Stockton & Darlington Railway one hundred and eighty-seven years ago in September this year (2012).
Take the underpass to the other side of Leeman Road where the later addition to the NRM, the former goods depot is situated, known as the Peter Allen Building. The platforms still have track laid in, and at one side are carriages of Queen Victoria's royal train with a period locomotive sporting banners and plaque. Along the other platforms are other period railway company locomotives and respective passenger or goods vehicles. In the entrance hall is a motor-baggage car of a Southern Railway electric train in its shiny green livery.
Finally, right there in the lobby, on your way in/out is the larger gift and souvenir shop with a wide array of collectables, postcards, posters, books and smaller items like pencils, pens, rubbers, notepads etc.Just as you thought you were home and dry. A magnet for the kids (well the children in all of us)! I always stop off here to look for items I feel might be useful downstairs on 'Thoraldby'. Those of us with bulging wallets or healthy bank accounts need not fear here, but I warn you, let your kinds off the leash in here and you'll be sore-tried to get them out again. The NRM on this site (the former 50A, York Shed) was opened in 1975 by Prince Philip to coincide with the Shildon 150 Pageant, the inauguration of the S&DR. The previous, cramped site was next to the 1877 Thomas Prosser-designed York Station, with access for pedestrians by was of metal steps from the incline on the way from Micklegate. I remember visiting in October 1971 when I went to York on honeymoon with my first wife Karin.
What did I say about Britain being a big museum? It's fun, though, isn't it. It gets better! Travelling north of here, up the A1 and westward across the north of Chester-le-Street on the A693 to Beamish. What's so special about Beamish you ask? This is the open air museum with laid-out streets, trams, a store with pulleyways to transfer change to the counters, where you pay in pennies.
All right, what's so big about spending a penny, I hear you ask (go on then, ask)? Have you seen the size of pre-decimalisation pennies? Come to think of it, all pre-decimalisation coins were 'chunky'. Florins (two-shilling pieces, also known as 'Two Bob bits' now worth 10p), Half-crowns, (two shillings and six pence, 12.5p, or 'Two-and-a-kick'), Shillings (or 'Bobs', 5p now) and so on down to farthings with the image of a wren on the reverse side. The 'Thruppeny bit' had an interesting shape, with twelve sides dated from the early 20th Century. In Victorian times it was nickel silver.
Getting off coins, nose around the streets. There are several different locations reflecting different eras from Victorian times to later. There is a Sunderland trolleybus that dates back to the 1950s, still running probably until the 1970s when the trolleybus routes in the North-east were broadly withdrawn and replaced by diesel engined buses. You can dress up if you're that way minded, in Victorian garb. The kids enjoy the Victorian schoolroom - they didn't have to go to school in Victorian times, when teachers could cane a pupil for minor 'offences', and 'teacher's pet' would be promoted to ink monitor or whatever - where they go through the motions of learning the Alphabet by rote. You can buy old pre-decimalisation coins to use in the shops (harking back to money, it's never far from our thoughts).
Admission prices and other information on activities and events are available from www.beamish.org.uk, phone 0191 370 4000. A ticket entitles you to visit more than once over twelve months, concessionary prices applicable for the over-60's, students and under-16's. It needn't be just a once-in-a-lifetime's experience unless your visits are limited by distance (different continent/country outside the UK).
Beamish Open air Museum
A time for old-time, history re-lived
Beamish Open Air Museum
- Beamish, The Living Museum of the North
Beamish is a world famous museum telling the story of the people of North East England during the Georgian, Victorian, and Edwardian periods, Beamish, DH9 0RG, 0191 870 4000, open 10am-5pm daily.
On the nearest weekend to September 25th, 2025 all eyes will be on Darlington and Shildon...
Why? It will have been two centuries since George Stephenson stood on the 'footplate' of 'Locomotion No. 1' between Shildon and Stockton Quay for the inaugural run of the Stockton & Darlington Railway. The most recent celebrations occurred in 1975 for the S&DR 150, at which many preserved steam locomotives were presented to the public. Arrangements have been slowly gathering pace for the S&DR 200 with Darlington Council, the 'Head of Steam' exhibition centre at the S&DR's North Road station and at the National Railway Museum's Shildon railway heritage centre, 'Locomotion'. Several preservation societies and heritage railways will also be involved, including the well-known North Eastern Locomotive Preservation Group who own several locally built steam locomotives. Of course steam will feature, but more recent diesel and electric traction will be involved. Remember the 'Deltics'? There are many diesel classes that took over from steam on British Railways in the 1960s (some say too hastily), and electric traction paved the way for what is considered an environmentally more acceptable means of mass transport. Whatever your interpretation, the Shildon Cavalcade will represent all motive power previously and currently in use.
Age of Steam at 'Locomotion'
Alternatives to Steam at Locomotion, Shildon
Restoration - job well done
'Head of Steam'
The original North Road station of the Stockton & Darlington Railway was to the right of the Durham Turnpike, across the road from the present site. This building was opened not long after, the first purpose-built railway station in Darlington. There is history, ghosts dwell here, and Robert Stephenson's 'Locomotion No.1' as well as early S&DR passenger and mineral rolling stock - this station is steeped in history.
On weekends across the way there are the workshops of the A1 Locomotive Trust and the North Eastern Locomotive Preservation Group - whose other workshop is at Grosmont on the North Yorkshire Moors Railway - always worth a look for new developments.
Use the web link above to check opening hours. Stop off at the Cafe; coffee is also available in the entrance lobby if you're 'on the go'. One Saturday every month there's access to the NELPG and A1 Locomotive workshop across the road, where soon a new locomotive is to take shape. The Gresley P2 2-8-2 class used to perform north of the border on heavily loaded passenger workings.
The Old Timers, pioneers of the iron road at North Road, Darlington
Head of Steam Railway Museum
- Darlington Borough Council - Head of Steam
Head of Steam museum is devoted to the area formerly served by the North Eastern Railway and the railway industry of Darlington. North Road Station, Darlington, DL3 6ST ph: 01325 460532
In the booking hall at North Road
Head of Steam Railway Museum, North Road, Darlington, County Durham
Locomotive and wagon building in and around Darlington
Originally the North Eastern Railway (NER) had their engines built at Gateshead from the mid-1880s, occupying half the Gateshead Greenesfield Station (overlooking the 'coaly Tyne'). Production began also at North Road, Darlington in 1858 at its Stockton & Darlington (S&DR) site, taken over in 1863 by the NER near the S&DR carriage works (the building now occupied at one end by the A1 Locomotive Society - soon to embark on building a new engine of the Gresley P2 2-8-2 class - and at the other by the North Eastern Locomotive Preservation Group (NELPG), currently working on the NER P3/LNER-BR(NE) J27 0-6-0. Work on locomotives ended at Gateshead late in 1932. The S&DR Shildon 'Soho' locomotive works continued on repairs until 1871. From then until the mid-1980s Shildon concentrated on building wagons for British Rail. The wagon works was closed down around the same time, at the height of Margaret Thatcher's premiership.
Memories around North Road and Shildon Wagon Works
On the branches around Darlington
© 2012 Alan R Lancaster
Alan R Lancaster (author) from Forest Gate, London E7, U K (ex-pat Yorkshire) on June 21, 2012:
Hello again Nell!
Trouble is, we often get taken for granted. We've built half the world's railways and bridges as well. Again, trouble is they're taken for granted. Robert Stephenson (son of 'Geordie' George) built railways and bridges not only in North and South America but also in Europe, around the Alps - not a lot of people know that. Some of the best examples of British engineering are a long way away, but at least we can get to Beamish and York etc.
Hello also 'thranax', welcome to the 'museum islands'. You also have a lot in the US., maybe it's not effectively collected together for viewing.
Nell Rose from England on June 21, 2012:
Hi alan, I think that we do love the history and play on it for the tourists, but behind the scenes we haven't lost our skills, we just don't do them 'out there' any more. I think we have the best scientists, techno's and doctors, along with the phycicists and so on. We invented the internet, we are behind most of the buildings around the world, ever watch The worlds greatest buildings? on tv I think its on Quest, we go to the middle of the deserts and make a huge pyramid with moving walls for conferences! haha! everywhere there is construction, there is a brit. It never fails to amaze me how we are always the ones in charge even in countries where I have never even heard of! Did you see the building of the new inland river in one of the Arab countries? No? we did that too! you have got to watch Quest! haha! the funny thing was about the river one, was that when it was finished with all this hi tech stuff, the Sheik turned around and said thanks to the other arabs but forgot to mention us! We did it all! and thats the point, we do all the highly intelligent genius stuff, but then stand back and be modest, but believe me, we are the best! let me know if you watch them, they are amazing!
Andrew from Rep Boston MA on June 16, 2012:
Alancaster - wonderful hub! Plenty of pictures and details of a place I never really see the history of here in the US.
Alan R Lancaster (author) from Forest Gate, London E7, U K (ex-pat Yorkshire) on June 16, 2012:
Thanks Unnamed Harald. Much 'restructuring' is down to Henry VIII and Oliver Cromwell, but there are a lot of neglected buildings here as well. Beamish consists of buildings dismantled elsewhere and rebuilt with the last couple of decades, no more. There's a talent in 'planting' buildings to make them look as if they 'belong'. The NRM is a case of 'marrying' old, not so old and relatively new.
David Hunt from Cedar Rapids, Iowa on June 15, 2012:
Another nice hub, alancaster. I think a lot of Americans love the history and the countryside-- and the "authenticity" of the old places. Sure, there are reconstructions, especially in some castles, but when you figure the reconstructions happened hundreds of years ago, well, that's historic in its own right.