diamond geezer

 Sunday, January 22, 2017

The National Railway Museum comes in two parts, sixty miles apart, both refreshingly distant from London. The main collection (with the most stuff and the most visitors) is in York, immediately adjacent to the station. But the annexe is in Shildon, a small town ten miles north of Darlington, and consequentially less well known. The location may be out on a limb but it's historically faultless, slap bang on the route of the world's first passenger railway.

The Stockton and Darlington Railway opened in 1825, its purpose to link the collieries around Bishop Auckland to the estuary of the River Tees. A local enginewright called George Stephenson championed the use of steam-driven loco-motives on the line, the first named Locomotion No. 1, which duly left Shildon that inaugural day with around 500 passengers on board. They crowded into coal wagons fitted with seats and puffed intermittently towards Darlington, eventually reaching the heady speed of 15mph on the final run into Stockton. Along the way one wagon wheel fell off, and one passenger fell out and had his foot crushed, but the owners still deemed the day a great success and celebrated with a slap-up dinner.

Shildon became the place where engines were built and maintained, and most of the men in the town worked on the railways rather in the pits. A massive set of workshops and sidings grew up, with a few key buildings preserved to this day, and before long production switched to focus on wagon building and repairs. The freight business kept Shildon afloat until 1984, when British Rail closed the works down, and a small museum was maintained in the cottage home of a former chief engineer. Plans for a much larger building took root after the millennium, with an area of former sidings cleared for the construction of a vast silver shed, seven tracks wide. Tony Blair opened it in 2004, he being MP for the constituency nextdoor, and Locomotion: the National Railway Museum at Shildon was born.

The museum's unusual in that it's spread along a kilometre of old railway line, with the existing Shildon station roughly in the middle. All the heritage buildings are at the western end, adjacent to the edge of the town, and freely available to view from outside. These include a former Goods Shed, a Parcel Office, and a line of brick Coal Drops formerly used for refuelling. The 'Welcome' building used to be the Methodist Sunday School, and I thought this was where you were supposed to go first, except it was firmly closed. The interior, and that of the adjacent chief engineer's cottage, are only accessible on tours booked at the other end of the trail, and January isn't the best month to expect these to be running.

The Collection is where the action is, this in the aforementioned silver shed, which is home to over 70 vehicles of historical provenance. The oldest is Sans Pareil, the local entrant at the Rainhill Trials (the three-way 1829 competition which brought Stephenson's Rocket to prominence), which is normally kept in the Welcome building (but currently presumably not). Locomotion is also here, except that's a replica, lined up as part of a phalanx that impresses the moment you walk in.

Most of the engines on show are steam driven, from a variety of eras, great sleek shiny beasts with footplates you can peer into and marvel at the pre-digital interface. A number of old carriages have also been crammed in, including Edward VII's over-upholstered smoking saloon, a cross-Channel sleeper and the actual baggage van used to transport Winston Churchill's coffin on its last journey to Blenheim. Shildon's freight wagon tradition isn't ignored, although most visitors probably gloss past that. Up in the far corner a number of volunteers are working on restoring a Network South East carriage, because all eras deserve representation, and yes of course there's a model railway layout at the back staffed by old men who prefer things small.

The train that stirred me most was a unique creation from the 1970s, the Advanced Passenger Train. This tilting wonder was due to revolutionise high speed travel, but the technology didn't deliver, and British Rail rolled out the ubiquitous High Speed Train instead. The APT-E at Shildon is a glimpse into a future that never came, with a sharp silver snout and streamlined body, its unfulfilled status reflected in the serial numbers roughly hand-painted onto locomotive and carriage. Adjacent displays and videos reinforce the message that the APT concept was in fact brilliant, and most of the world's modern tilting trains can trace back their underlying technology to BR's engineers. But instead here she sits, severed and shortened - for your own safety, No Entry.

The museum's essentially four long sets of parallel tracks, with the focus very much on vehicles rather than other railway paraphernalia. Careful thought has been given to keeping children occupied, and also in keeping the local community involved, with space given over (at present) to a display about historic local non-league football teams. A cafe and a gift shop fill out two corners, the latter with a considerable model railway section, and yes admission's free, because that's how the NRM rolls.

Trains on the Bishop Auckland line run every two hours during the day, and I'd say this two hour gap is all you need to enjoy the contents of the Collection. Unless the other historic buildings are open there's not much else to see in Shildon, so you might want to nip back to Darlington where the actual 1825 Locomotion is on show in a smaller museum alongside North Road station. Alas that was closed when I passed by, so I can confirm there's not much else to do in Darlington either, except for staring at the Town Hall and wandering around the shops. Never mind - it left me half a day free to venture elsewhere...

» NRM Shildon website/Facebook/Twitter
» A walk around historic Shildon [8 photos]
» Visit Darlington [4 photos]

<< click for Newer posts

click for Older Posts >>

click to return to the main page

...or read more in my monthly archives
Jan21  Feb21  Mar21  Apr21  May21  Jun21  Jul21  Aug21  Sep21  Oct21
Jan20  Feb20  Mar20  Apr20  May20  Jun20  Jul20  Aug20  Sep20  Oct20  Nov20  Dec20
Jan19  Feb19  Mar19  Apr19  May19  Jun19  Jul19  Aug19  Sep19  Oct19  Nov19  Dec19
Jan18  Feb18  Mar18  Apr18  May18  Jun18  Jul18  Aug18  Sep18  Oct18  Nov18  Dec18
Jan17  Feb17  Mar17  Apr17  May17  Jun17  Jul17  Aug17  Sep17  Oct17  Nov17  Dec17
Jan16  Feb16  Mar16  Apr16  May16  Jun16  Jul16  Aug16  Sep16  Oct16  Nov16  Dec16
Jan15  Feb15  Mar15  Apr15  May15  Jun15  Jul15  Aug15  Sep15  Oct15  Nov15  Dec15
Jan14  Feb14  Mar14  Apr14  May14  Jun14  Jul14  Aug14  Sep14  Oct14  Nov14  Dec14
Jan13  Feb13  Mar13  Apr13  May13  Jun13  Jul13  Aug13  Sep13  Oct13  Nov13  Dec13
Jan12  Feb12  Mar12  Apr12  May12  Jun12  Jul12  Aug12  Sep12  Oct12  Nov12  Dec12
Jan11  Feb11  Mar11  Apr11  May11  Jun11  Jul11  Aug11  Sep11  Oct11  Nov11  Dec11
Jan10  Feb10  Mar10  Apr10  May10  Jun10  Jul10  Aug10  Sep10  Oct10  Nov10  Dec10 
Jan09  Feb09  Mar09  Apr09  May09  Jun09  Jul09  Aug09  Sep09  Oct09  Nov09  Dec09
Jan08  Feb08  Mar08  Apr08  May08  Jun08  Jul08  Aug08  Sep08  Oct08  Nov08  Dec08
Jan07  Feb07  Mar07  Apr07  May07  Jun07  Jul07  Aug07  Sep07  Oct07  Nov07  Dec07
Jan06  Feb06  Mar06  Apr06  May06  Jun06  Jul06  Aug06  Sep06  Oct06  Nov06  Dec06
Jan05  Feb05  Mar05  Apr05  May05  Jun05  Jul05  Aug05  Sep05  Oct05  Nov05  Dec05
Jan04  Feb04  Mar04  Apr04  May04  Jun04  Jul04  Aug04  Sep04  Oct04  Nov04  Dec04
Jan03  Feb03  Mar03  Apr03  May03  Jun03  Jul03  Aug03  Sep03  Oct03  Nov03  Dec03
 Jan02  Feb02  Mar02  Apr02  May02  Jun02  Jul02 Aug02  Sep02  Oct02  Nov02  Dec02 

eXTReMe Tracker
jack of diamonds
Life viewed from London E3

» email me
» follow me on twitter
» follow the blog on Twitter
» follow the blog on RSS

» my flickr photostream

twenty blogs
ian visits
blue witch
the great wen
edith's streets
spitalfields life
in the aquarium
round the island
wanstead meteo
christopher fowler
bus and train user
ruth's coastal walk
the ladies who bus
round the rails we go
london reconnections
dirty modern scoundrel
from the murky depths

quick reference features
Things to do in Outer London
Things to do outside London
Inner London toilet map
The DG Tour of Britain

read the archive
Oct21  Sep21
Aug21  Jul21  Jun21  May21
Apr21  Mar21  Feb21  Jan21
Dec20  Nov20  Oct20  Sep20
Aug20  Jul20  Jun20  May20
Apr20  Mar20  Feb20  Jan20
Dec19  Nov19  Oct19  Sep19
Aug19  Jul19  Jun19  May19
Apr19  Mar19  Feb19  Jan19
Dec18  Nov18  Oct18  Sep18
Aug18  Jul18  Jun18  May18
Apr18  Mar18  Feb18  Jan18
Dec17  Nov17  Oct17  Sep17
Aug17  Jul17  Jun17  May17
Apr17  Mar17  Feb17  Jan17
Dec16  Nov16  Oct16  Sep16
Aug16  Jul16  Jun16  May16
Apr16  Mar16  Feb16  Jan16
Dec15  Nov15  Oct15  Sep15
Aug15  Jul15  Jun15  May15
Apr15  Mar15  Feb15  Jan15
Dec14  Nov14  Oct14  Sep14
Aug14  Jul14  Jun14  May14
Apr14  Mar14  Feb14  Jan14
Dec13  Nov13  Oct13  Sep13
Aug13  Jul13  Jun13  May13
Apr13  Mar13  Feb13  Jan13
Dec12  Nov12  Oct12  Sep12
Aug12  Jul12  Jun12  May12
Apr12  Mar12  Feb12  Jan12
Dec11  Nov11  Oct11  Sep11
Aug11  Jul11  Jun11  May11
Apr11  Mar11  Feb11  Jan11
Dec10  Nov10  Oct10  Sep10
Aug10  Jul10  Jun10  May10
Apr10  Mar10  Feb10  Jan10
Dec09  Nov09  Oct09  Sep09
Aug09  Jul09  Jun09  May09
Apr09  Mar09  Feb09  Jan09
Dec08  Nov08  Oct08  Sep08
Aug08  Jul08  Jun08  May08
Apr08  Mar08  Feb08  Jan08
Dec07  Nov07  Oct07  Sep07
Aug07  Jul07  Jun07  May07
Apr07  Mar07  Feb07  Jan07
Dec06  Nov06  Oct06  Sep06
Aug06  Jul06  Jun06  May06
Apr06  Mar06  Feb06  Jan06
Dec05  Nov05  Oct05  Sep05
Aug05  Jul05  Jun05  May05
Apr05  Mar05  Feb05  Jan05
Dec04  Nov04  Oct04  Sep04
Aug04  Jul04  Jun04  May04
Apr04  Mar04  Feb04  Jan04
Dec03  Nov03  Oct03  Sep03
Aug03  Jul03  Jun03  May03
Apr03  Mar03  Feb03  Jan03
Dec02  Nov02  Oct02  Sep02
back to main page

the diamond geezer index
2020 2019 2018 2017 2016
2015 2014 2013 2012 2011
2010 2009 2008 2007 2006
2005 2004 2003 2002

my special London features
a-z of london museums
E3 - local history month
greenwich meridian (N)
greenwich meridian (S)
the real eastenders
london's lost rivers
olympic park 2007
great british roads
oranges & lemons
random boroughs
bow road station
high street 2012
river westbourne
trafalgar square
capital numbers
east london line
lea valley walk
olympics 2005
regent's canal
square routes
silver jubilee
unlost rivers
cube routes
Herbert Dip
capital ring
river fleet

ten of my favourite posts
the seven ages of blog
my new Z470xi mobile
five equations of blog
the dome of doom
chemical attraction
quality & risk
london 2102
single life
april fool

ten sets of lovely photos
my "most interesting" photos
london 2012 olympic zone
harris and the hebrides
betjeman's metro-land
marking the meridian
tracing the river fleet
london's lost rivers
inside the gherkin
seven sisters

just surfed in?
here's where to find...
diamond geezers
flash mob #1  #2  #3  #4
ben schott's miscellany
london underground
watch with mother
cigarette warnings
digital time delay
wheelie suitcases
war of the worlds
transit of venus
top of the pops
old buckenham
ladybird books
acorn antiques
digital watches
outer hebrides
olympics 2012
school dinners
pet shop boys
west wycombe
bletchley park
george orwell
big breakfast
clapton pond
san francisco
children's tv
east enders
trunk roads
little britain
credit cards
jury service
big brother
jubilee line
number 1s
titan arum
doctor who
blue peter
peter pan
feng shui
leap year
bbc three
vision on
ID cards