The Friends of the
National Railway Museum

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

Last Update

Visit Report

7 January 2006

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Summer Outing
24th to 26nh June 2005

Thanks to the organising skill of Phil Brown, 23 members of the Group enjoyed a very pleasant summer outing to the north. The weekend started on 24th June when people made their way to Darlington to book into our rooms at the King's Head hotel. This hotel, like a lot of buildings in the town, has connections with the railway history of the area. It was here that the shareholders of the Stockton & Darlington Railway had their annual general meeting. We leant these facts when a few of us visited the town's tourist information centre and picked up a leaflet on the Darlington Railway Heritage Trail. This takes in such sights as the Quaker Meeting House (many of the proponents of the Railway were Quakers), the Chairman's residence, and Mechanics Institute. The town has made a real effort to promote its heritage, the main square having pedestrian crossings at its corners made from rails laid at the standard 4ft 8½ins, and hanging-basket supports featuring a model of Locomotion. Even the town's coat of arms features Locomotion's chimney. Pride of place in the centre of the High Street is a real sized replica of Locomotion which is used as a floral display.

Following our exercise walking round town, a number of us took the train for the 25 minute trip to York. Here we joined the annual barbecue dinner for volunteers, several of our number receiving recognition for our contributions to the Outreach activities. The idea to have the event the day before the AGM comes from Matt Thompson, and it is well worthwhile - it certainly allowed those of us who live some distance from the NRM to make best use of our time and travel costs. The barbecue was very enjoyable, albeit that it had to take place in the Station Hall because of the threatening weather.

Saturday dawned bright if a little chilly but the weather forecast for showers proved thankfully inaccurate. This pleased those of in our party who took the opportunity to wander round York while the rest of us attended the FNRM lunch and AGM. The evening event, our cruise down the River Ouse, also benefitted from the better weather . We were joined by several members of the York team, both FNRM and NRM, on our charted boat for the 3 hour trip, taking in the sight of the NRM (four times!), the Bishop's Palace and the old East Coast Main Line bridge. The latter, despite now being redundant, has been made into something of a focal point with a very large sculpture, in wire lattice, of a fisherman and his dog - just happening to catch a miniature Pacific loco! Food and drink were in plentiful supply and we all enjoyed the opportunity for some relaxed conversation. Our arrival back at Kings' Staith was on time at 10:30 where our chartered coach driver was waiting to take us back to Darlington. It was shortly after midnight before we retired to our rooms.

Sunday - and still no thunderstorms (unlike two years ago). Following our breakfast we were again met by our coach driver ready for the day's tour. Since we had a few minutes in hand, we persuaded him to take us to the "brick A4" on the outskirts of town, where we all assembled for the group photograph. Then back to the coach for the short trip to North Road Station - our driver giving us an informative commentary of the local railway sites. At North Road we were met by our two guides Bill Fergusson and Richard Wimbury. We were informed that we were in luck - it being the school holidays there was to be a childrens' event later in the day which we would miss (Thomas didn't feature in our plans). Seriously, though, our guides did us proud in packing so much into the 90 minutes we had available, including a special performance of the live-actor play featuring the ghost of North Road. With a quick tea and biscuits, we bade farewell to our hosts and rejoined the coach for our run north west to Shildon. Again, our knowledgeable driver pointed out the sites of interest - such as old railway embankments, signalboxes and closed stations.

Shortly after 11am we arrived at Shildon and disembarked from the coach to tour the Timothy Hackworth part of the Locomotion site. Here we were given a brief introduction to the site in the reception building - the ex Sunday School for the Methodist Chapel. Also within this building is Hackworth's Sans Pareil. The main exhibit here is Timothy Hackworth's house, which now provides a small number of displays showing the development of the town and the crafts its occupiers performed. This includes a very informative computer display which gives a graphic interactive map of how the town grew in size and complexity from the early 1800s to the modern day, and charts the rise and decline of the local railway industry. At the end of the road is the original Hackworth workshop housing, at the time of our visit, various wagons awaiting restoration. Across the road is the old goods yard with its weigh-bridge and goods shed. In the latter is the working replica of Sans Pareil and its train of replica period carriages.

A minibus connects to the main museum, although several of our party took the opportunity to stretch our legs by walking the 1km or so. Along the way we took in the coal drops, which still need to be restored, the original station buildings, and signal box with the contemporary station platforms. At each of these, there is an information point giving details of the building and its history. Arriving at the main site we were greeted with a demonstration of shunting by NER P3 No 2392 (on loan from North Yorks Moors Rly.) and Bagnall 0-4-0ST Matthew Murray (on loan from Middleton Rly), which were engaged in the yard rearranging the order of various goods vehicles including the boiler bogie - the largest vehicle in the national collection. We learnt later that this was a special, trial event which may be repeated at intervals.

At the main site, we were taken to the meeting room, which had been set out with a buffet lunch. It is quite clear from the decorations in the meeting room how new the museum is - there is absolutely nothing on the walls! I wonder how long that will continue?

When we had finished out meal, our guide, Jim joined us to start the tour. We were introduced to the state of the art building through a nearby display. This has nothing to do with railways, but shows the amount of electricity produced by the solar cells on the roof, and the wind turbine. The building also collects water from the roof, which is used for non-drinking purposes. Overall, the electricity and water produced from these arrangements services a good proportion of the museum's requirements. Little heat is needed to keep the building cool, as it is well insulated. We were told that even in these northern climes, it was still quite pleasant in the winter.

The tour took in a good proportion of the current museum's exhibits. One of the first locomotives we encountered was the GNR J52 No 1247, which or Vice President, Captain Bill Smith purchased direct from BR service. We took the opportunity for another group photograph by the engine.

We were also treated to a view inside the LNWR Corridor 1st Brake Royal support vehicle No 5154, when we were allowed access a few at a time inside the vehicle. Some of the exhibits are less presentable, though, there being a significant number of goods vehicles awaiting restoration. This was part of the objectives in creating Locomotion, since it means that the vehicles are no longer suffering the ravages of the weather while they wait their turn to move to the restoration area. At the time we were there, the restorers' attention was concentrated on a GWR 6 wheel coach, which was nearing completion. The LNER snow plough, which was the subject of a major restoration project a couple of years ago, and reported in the NRM Review, was displayed in the front centre of Locomotion, so visitors could appreciate the quality of the job.

A few new arrivals were tucked away at the rear of the hall. Two of these were track inspection vehicles just released from work on the main line. In time these will be prepared for exhibit but at present they were available for visitors to inspect close up - something which is quite difficult at normal times for these nocturnal vehicles. Another new arrival was a BR Standard 4MT on loan from the Severn Valley Railway. This shows that not only is the Museum maintaining its policy of rotating exhibits with preserved railways, but some return the favour.

After the tour we were given a hour to ourselves to wander round the hall and environs, before we congregated near the entrance for the mini-bus ride back to the Hackworth site. Here our coach and driver were waiting to take us on the journey back to Darlington. Again, we were entertained by old railway sites along the way. Our driver was certainly to be congratulated for his local knowledge.

Back at Darlington, we each made our way back by train to the South. Several of us had a while to wait, so the pub across the road from Top Bank station beckoned. Our final discovery of the weekend was finding real ale on offer at only £1.25 a pint - and it wasn't even "happy hour".

Our thanks go to Phil Brown for his work in making the weekend such a success. 

Darlington Council Logo

Floral "Locomotion" High Street

Group members in front of Joseph Pease statue

The wire fisherman

Boat trip and buffet refreshments

The brick "A4"

North Road Station, Group and Players

Approaching reception at Shildon

At the J52 tank

Examining the LNER snow plough

Members of the Group enjoying a privileged view inside the LNWR Royal support vehicle

Admiring the Bishop Auckland train dispatch indicator

Commemorative brass plaque for the world's first steam-hauled passenger train which left Shildon pn 27 September 1825