The Friends of the
National Railway Museum

South of England Group
Vice Presidents: Richard Hardy; Sir William McAlpine Bt, FRSE, FCIT, FRSA

Last Update

Talk Synopsis

7 January 2006

The Railway Heritage Committee
Mr. T. Neil Butters,
Strategic Rail Authority
11 April 2005

Last month, Helen Ashby explained the collection policy used by the NRM. However, the NRM is not the only body involved in preserving our national railway heritage and this month we had Neil Butters from the SRA explain the work done by the Railway Heritage Committee to identify important artefacts and records, and ensure their retention for posterity.

Neil's interest in railway heritage began early, attending school in Brackley enabled him to take the last train out of Marylebone calling at Brackley, changing at Leicester for the last scheduled passenger train north of Aylesbury on the former GCR line. Later, he worked at 222 Marylebone Road with its splendid heritage toilet seats inherited from the former hotel.

The development of railways in Britain were an essential part of the industrial revolution. They introduced the concept of a national time standard (later Neil was to show us the plaque on Church Stretton station which gave the difference between local time and railway time). In their time the railway companies were the largest corporations in Britain and were in the forefront of the development of company law. Too ensure that this heritage was not lost, the Railway Heritage Committee had been set up to designate railway records and artefacts for preservation and to agree the disposal of these when they were no longer required for operational use - in a manner similar to the "Listed Building" concept. Their responsibility covered only movable artefacts - the preservation of stations and other structures was the responsibility of the Railway Heritage Trust. The RHC remit covered all the former BR organisation. However, following privatization, some of the former railway organisation had been absorbed within organisations without a railway background, eg the track maintenance companies and the railway research laboratories (now part of AEA Technologies). Work was in hand to extend the scope of the RHC to cover the new private rail companies which had been set up following privatization. The former LT railways were not within scope either, being covered by their own museum.

As rail enthusiasts we are keen to retain the artefacts, but from a historical point of view, the company records were of equal importance. Annual reports and board meeting minutes have always been a useful source of information along with engineering drawings, but the RHC extended its remit to include such things as organisation charts, staff newsletters and magazines (will our own "Briefing" get designated status?). Some problems were encountered. The original Brunel signed copies of some civil engineering drawings were still in use! New, or replacement, documents were held only in electronic form and the archiving technique for these is still in its infancy. With privatization, the Public Record Office is no longer was available for the archiving of these records so an alternative was being sought. The NRM's proposed Search Engine project was a possible solution. (It is hoped that we can have a talk on that project in our 2006/7 season.)
The designation of artefacts could be seen to be "overkill" as, for instance, all the HST fleet was designated. However, as Neil explained these units had many years of work ahead of them. By this means the most suitable could be retained at the time of withdrawal. To designate a particular unit now would be inviting it to be the one involved in an accident! Not only rolling stock is covered - we were shown examples of Eurostar uniforms which are set for preservation, and the the plaque on Church Stretton station has been designated.

Neil finished his talk with some pictures of artefacts which have been designated by the RHC. Inevitably these included some of the 11 Cuneo pictures in the national collection, but in contrast was the embossing stamp used originally by the GWR board, and the box containing the company stamp (this produced some interesting comments on the interpretation of the letters S and D beside the two locks. We concluded that both the company secretary and a director had to be present to gain access to the company seal.

At the end of the meeting, Neil invited those who wanted more information on the Railway Heritage Committee to take copies of its 2003 annual report, or to look at its web-site www.rhc.gov.uk.

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