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