27 December 2019
We asked the Senior Curator of Rail Vehicle Collections at the National Railway Museum, Anthony Coulls, to pick his 5 favourite exhibits. The only rule being that he wasn't allowed to pick the big, shiny locomotives.
1971 MK IID carriage
In service until 2010, this to me what the museum is about, just as much as it is about Mallard, Rocket and Flying Scotsman. It's not just the everyday railway, it's our shared experience.
For those 55 and under, this is the railway they remember.
We dressed the table with some Max-Pax coffee cups and Casey Jones burgers but otherwise, the coach is exactly as it came out of service on the railway.
Stratford upon Avon Tramway wagon
I'm a Warwickshire bloke and this is a Warwickshire wagon. Dating from 1826, it's from the period when railways were growing as a common carrier. The merchant will have paid to have his name on the side of it and this allowed him to use the railway companies track to transport his goods to market.
It's fabulous on various levels, not just because it's a rare survivor from the pioneering period of railways when mainline trains simply didn't exist. The wagon survived on a farm in Warwickshire for over a decade. It had a cover over it and they coated it with tar which preserved it. The lettering on it is still as good as when it was first done.
Channel Tunnel construction locomotive
The NRM isn't just about the big exciting or shiny exhibits, it's about the everyday. One of the largest and most impressive engineering projects of the 20th Century was the building of the Channel Tunnel. This wasn't just built by men and machines, it was built by railways.
Here we have an electric locomotive and muck car from the construction. It shows that railways still have a commercial place within engineering even now. Crossrail is also being built with railways, just like this one which is basically a rail-mounted dumper truck.
I'm pleased this is in the condition it came out of the site – not sanitised or polished. There's no brass or shiny green paint here. This is the look of a working machine.
The Kearney High-speed tube railway
By the 1920s we knew that the steam railway wasn't the greatest thing in the world, the acceleration isn't particularly rapid, electrification was the way forward. This is a model from the 1920s which was demonstrated in Westminster Hall by Elfric Kearney, inventor and promoter of the system. Sadly, despite his efforts, the project never made it past this experimental model, although there is film of it on Pathé.
This is something something we discovered in store about 12 months ago and the museum has all the track for in the collection. It's nuts but so futuristic at the same time. The car is in fully lined North Eastern Railway livery as it would have been at the time, it's even got toplights!
As someone who's been interested in steam railways all his life, you inevitably meet people along the way who influence you. In the 1970s I knew a guy who lived in Leamington Spa called Tom Charman. In his garage, he had a couple of instructional models from Leamington engine shed. These were built to teach apprentices how the mechanics of a locomotive work. This is the inside motion from a Great Western 4-cylinder locomotive and dates from somewhere in the 1920s. The enginemen would have joined mutual improvement classes and on a Sunday morning, have used this model.
Sadly, Tom died a few years ago, we were offered his instructional models for the national collection, and were glad to accept them.
Anthony was talking to us at the opening of the exhibition Brass, Steel and Fire exhibition which continues until 13 April 2020.