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Short stories from the history of Britain's railways 

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The Friends were established in 1977 as a charity, with very broad and general objectives, to support the National Railway Museum. The anticipated source of most of the income was to be donations and they were authorised to have a strategically located Friends collection box near the museum’s exit. Initially the public were extremely generous but the government’s imposition of entrance charges halved visitor numbers and decimated donations. The Friends implemented more positive fundraising projects. Operating speculative trains using Duchess of Hamilton and then the Mallard88 programme was very successful both operationally and financially to the extent that income from trading threatened to breach the Charity Commission criteria.


So in 1989, on the recommendation of their auditors, FNRM Enterprises was incorporated as a company limited by guarantee with a separate and independent board of directors to operate commercially, and encompass all trading activities previously undertaken by the charity. Unfortunately policy changes by British Rail on the operation of steam trains and the Science Museum on the use of National Collection locomotives impacted adversely on the anticipated revenue from that source. However the freedom to trade has generated a wide range of Enterprise projects over the last 30 years, including a very well regarded series of books on steam locomotives in the National Collection. The profits covenanted to the charity from Enterprises have been a significant part of the Friends’ financial contribution to museum projects. Books have also been published to support specific exhibitions and events at the NRM and Shildon, the first of these being Mallard – the Record Breaker in 1988. Commemorating fifty years since its record breaking run in 1938, the Friends organised ticketing for the celebratory trips and also sold many hundreds of the book as a memento of the event.


Books have also been published to coincide with National Collection locomotives being restored to mainline running condition and used on steam charters; these have included City of Truro, Lord Nelson, Sir Lamiel, Oliver Cromwell and Duchess of Hamilton.

In the last ten years, five books have been published in connection with NRM events, the first being Mallard75, when the six remaining Gresley Class A4 locomotives were brought together for the ‘Great Gathering’. Bulleid’s pacifics were the subject of a book commemorating the exhibition of part of Churchill’s funeral train in 2015. Another very successful book was published for sales on Flying Scotsman-hauled excursions following its return to mainline running condition, followed by Trains Of Hope telling the story of Ambulance Trains. This supported the NRM’s Ambulance Coach exhibit and also the 100th anniversary of the end of the Great War. The latest FNRM book tells the story of Stephenson’s Rocket and celebrated the move of the original Rocket from London’s Science Museum to York.


All of these books are written and published by FNRM members, the only costs being for printing. The entire profits go into FNRM Enterprises accounts which are transferred from time to time into the FNRM Charity account for supporting more NRM projects.


By Frank Paterson


Find out more about Friends contributions here

Updated: 5 days ago

Railway signalling is perceived by many as a Cinderella subject but in the early 90's the National Railway Museum in York had a surfeit of signalling equipment creating serious storage problems. This came about largely because of John Howard Turner.


Professionally, a mechanical engineer working for the Ministry of Defence, he was also a highly respected railway historian with a particular interest in signalling. He was an adviser to the British Transport Commission and worked with John Scholes on the signalling collection of the Clapham Transport Museum in the 60's.

The 1968 Transport Act directed British Railways to work with the Science Museum to establish a national railway museum and Turner was one of the group of experts who would recommend which artefacts should be designated to be of sufficient interest to warrant preservation as part of the national collection when they were no longer required by British Railways.


The 60's and 70's was a period of major signalling projects in each of the five railway regions so there was a great deal of historic equipment being replaced throughout the country. Turner was a knowledgeable and enthusiastic collector but obviously did not accept that the resources available to the museum dictated that not everything designated could be accepted for interpretation and display. His personal system was to attach to each piece of equipment he considered had a unique history, a 'designated plate' directing that it should be sent to NRM York for preservation when no longer needed by BR. The result was a steady flow of signal posts, signal box frames, switches and crossings, points machines, relays and instruments arriving, often unannounced, from all parts of the country. The physical scale of the materials created increased storage space difficulties and the nature of the subject meant there was only justification for the exhibition of a small proportion of the growing collection. Sadly Turner died in 1990 before the discussions on priorities had been completed.


Because of the storage problem, the NRM Advisory Board suggested that a working group of members of the Institution of Signalling Engineers should consider the situation. This group recommended that the key elements of the historic development of railway signalling in the UK should be documented and used by the museum curators to determine the size and shape of the national collection.


This was the genesis of HADORS (History and Development of Railway Signalling) the series of five volumes commissioned and published by the Friends of the NRM

By Frank Paterson


Read about Friends contributions here

Updated: Jul 23

One of my happiest memories as a member of the NRM Locomotive Support Crew is of a trip with 4771 Green Arrow of the celebration of the Tay Bridge Centenary in June 1987. I should perhaps first point out that this was the anniversary of the opening of the second Tay Bridge, which still survives today and not its predecessor, which dramatically collapsed some eight years earlier.

The locomotive was prepared for an early start on Friday 19 July by the Support Crew, consisting of engineers Kim Malyon, Pete Pickering and Adrian Ashby, with a locomotive support crew of Rob Tibbits, Pete James, Helen Ashby and Mike Blakemore. The Responsible Officers for the weekend were John Bellwood, who was already rather unwell at that time, and Ray Towell.


It was an early start as we were off the shed at York, leaving at 06.00 with the Friends’ support coach in tow. We stopped for water at Newcastle, Berwick and Edinburgh Waverley and called in at Edinburgh Haymarket for coal, before heading off to Perth, where we were booked to arrive at 18.08 where we would turn and water ready for the next day’s shenanigans.


I’d like to say that the trip was without incident but that wouldn’t be quite true. Most of the details given above had slipped my mind, and were refreshed by Pete James, who had kept a detailed record of the trip including the original timing sheet. What I remember about that part of the trip was a feeling of gratitude that I had recently undergone fire safety training at the NRM and was able to operate the correct fire extinguishers when the locomotive set fire to oil soaked wooden sleepers at the coaling point in Haymarket Yard!


I also remember being set aside at Blackford for a long period, whilst other trains passed us, and standing in the support coach watching hundreds of rabbits playing on the embankment alongside.

‘Rabbit embankment’ at Blackford, just short of midway between Dunblane and Perth, with Green Arrow and our own Friends’ support coach (since sold).

Photo: Peter James


Our overnight stay was in the support coach in a bay platform on Perth Station. This was fine, there was no-one around but us, but unfortunately an 08 shunter had been left alongside with its engine running for most of the night, so there was little sleep to be had despite our long day.

Perth station with the noisy Class 08 shunter alongside. Photo: Peter James


Nevertheless, we were up bright and early on Saturday 20 July, for a breakfast ably cooked by Rob Tibbits and then to prepare the engine for the day’s festivities before leaving Perth for Dundee at 09.35. At Dundee we picked up a train for the commemorative run over the Tay Bridge. I can’t be sure, but I think it was at this point that two elderly ladies climbed aboard the support coach and made themselves comfortable. They were extremely surprised when we explained to them that this was not the normal service train and that they would have to leave the train and find the right platform for their train!

Green Arrow at Dundee where the two old ladies made themselves at home in the support coach. Photo: Peter James


We left Dundee tender first at 10.43, arriving at Tay Bridge South at 10.50, where the locomotive ran round before heading back across the bridge, arriving in Dundee at 11.20. The actual commemorative run was short and sweet, but we then stood on display in Dundee Esplanade Station for the rest of the day for visitors to enjoy, leaving Dundee at 17.40 and running south to Millerhill Depot, calling at Edinburgh Waverley to detach the train and to take water.

The Tay Bridge from Dundee looking south. Photo: Peter James

Green Arrow tender first on the Tay Bridge looking north towards Dundee with Dundee Law (174 metres, 571 ft) and the WW1 memorial erected in 1923 on top. Photo: Peter James


A much better night’s sleep was had in the quiet confines of Millerhill Yard.After an overcast and somewhat gloomy trip, the sun came out on Sunday 21 July and we had the whole of the morning to clean and prepare the locomotive for the run back to York.

The crew in Millerhill Yard, south east Edinburgh with Green Arrow in immaculate form ready for the run back to York. Photo: Helen Ashby


We were scheduled to leave Millerhill at 13.45 and booked to take coal at Haymarket and water at Berwick at Newcastle, arriving York at 21.30. We were also supposed to be scheduled into a couple of loops to allow HSTs to overtake us but once we were on our way this did not happen. The HSTs must have been running late and as a result we had an exhilarating trip with speeds well over the supposed 60mph limit.

It was the most enjoyable trip with a wonderful locomotive and gave us such happy memories that Adrian chose to wear his Tay Bridge Centenary tie for our wedding the following March!

By Helen Ashby


Find out about Friends contributions here



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