On Sunday 12th November we ventured out to do another one of those 40 things to do when you’ve been married forty years (12 down 28 to go before August 2018). So far none of the things we have done have been a hardship but here was one that I was particularly looking forward to. As a child I lived less than 100 yards from the East Coast mainline. I was an avid train spotter and saw many of the great engines of the 1950’s “up close and personal”.
On a good day York is 2 hours drive from my home, Sunday was a good day, made better by the fact that my nephew had taken on driving duties. The museum itself is located just outside the city centre and, on Sunday at least, has ample parking. £10 for all day parking, but entrance to the museum is free and I suppose it is one of the ways of raising revenue.
As I walked into the Great Hall I might as well have been 60 years younger, it is easy to forget just how imposing a steam locomotive can be. The engine at the entrance has been cut open to reveal the inner workings, extremely interesting if you like that sort of thing, again it brings home just what amazing feats of engineering these things are.
There is also in the Great Hall the largest engine in the collection, it was built in Britain at the Vulcan Foundry and was in service in China from the late 1930’s until 1981. While I was reading the information about this marvel the tannoy announce two minutes silence which the majority of people, apart from a couple of children, seemed more than happy to observe. I bowed my head but, on the steps up to the footplate four young oriental people (Japanese at a guess) were chattering and looking at their phones. I shushed them, pointing at my poppy. The young woman in the group cottoned on immediately and signalled her friends to be quiet, which they did. When they came down the steps I thanked her and she smiled and nodded, as did the others, restoring a bit of faith in the nature of the human, wherever he or she might come from. I then went up the steps to the footplate of this engine which was one of the few accessible on the day. One of the unusual features of this engine is that the coal was delivered via an under floor auger, I suppose because it would have been impossible for one man to keep up with the shovelling.
The Museum isn’t all about the engines and the trains though, there are a myriad of fantastic signs and pieces of ephemera that will immediately transport those of a certain age back in time. It is interesting to also note that children still appear to be fascinated by trains and also by steam engines. No sign of transgender nonsense here, but, I suppose, if we still used steam to any great extent and we still needed people to shovel the coal “wimmin” would have as much right as men to display their privilege by shovelling 1cwt of coal every 3 minutes for six hours or so.
There is so much to see that one visit will hardly do it justice. There is a gallery around the workshop where the Nigel Gresley is currently being rebuilt, a must for all the engineers amongst you. There is also a video of an engine being built, men in ties, waistcoats and flat caps working in harmony at often dangerous tasks, mostly with a smile on their faces. A couple of highlights for me were in the Station Hall, where access could be had into a mail train carriage, shades of The Great Train Robbery here but also evocative of a time when to work for The Royal Mail would, I suppose, been a thing of great pride.
I won’t go on (Hurrah I hear you collectively shout), don’t miss the Warehouse though, either as part of the tour with one of the knowledgeable explainers or just have a walk around. There are, literally, thousands of interesting objects, signs, models and pieces of furniture, some of which you may even recognise. Suffice to say I hope to go back but I’ll give it a year or so and hopefully see the Gresley restored to its former glory; just a little word of caution, if you’re on a budget take sandwiches and water with you, £16.90 for two rolls, a few tortilla chips and 2 cups of tea is “expensive” IMHO. Before we left we visited the ambulance train exhibit, particularly poignant on the day after Armistice. It is quite a simple exhibit which brings home the stark reality of what men and women went through, in both the world wars and other conflicts since, to ensure we can live as free people. Let’s make sure we never forget them.
© Coloniescross 2017