National Railway Museum History

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National Railway Museum Collection

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The National Railway Museum is part of the Science Museum. The Science Museum in London was originally known as the Patent Office Museum and it acquired its first steam locomotive in 1862. This was Rocket which still resides there.

The London & North Eastern Railway opened a public museum in York in 1927. Amongst the early exhibits was the Great Western Railway locomotive City of Truro which arrived at the museum in 1931 and remained there until 1957 when it was removed and overhauled at Swindon in order to return to main line running. It is interesting to note that City of Truro was given to the museum because the GWR did not want to preserve it.

In 1951, a ‘curator of historical relics’ of the nationalised transport industries was appointed. A collecting policy was then implemented to increase the nation’s collection of railway artefacts: anything fitting the requirements of the policy – and more importantly being relevant to telling the story of the train – could be listed for the collection. As well as the existing York Railway Museum at Queen Street, British Railways opened the Museum of British Transport in Clapham, South London and worked with Swindon Council to open a museum there.

By 1963 steam locomotives were on display in a number of museums.

The British Transport Museum at Clapham housed in a former bus depot

I managed to visit the museum at Clapham and still have a 1963 guide but unfortunately I did not have a camera then.

British Transport Museum at York – Former LNER Museum

I visited this museum a number of times but without a camera. On a number of visits I then went on to tour the York motif power depot which now forms the base for the National Railway Museum.

British Transport Museum at Swindon


London Science Museum

I managed to visit this museum in the early 1960s when it housed a number of locomotives now on display elsewhere. 

The 1968 Transport Act encouraged British Railways to work with the Science Museum to develop a National Railway Museum to house the massive and ever expanding collection.

In 1975 the National Railway Museum was opened at Leeman Road in York on the site of the former steam depot. This museum was intended to house most of the National Collection and resulted in the closure of the Clapham and former LNER museums.  It was the first national museum outside London.

There are now Science Museums at Manchester and Birmingham which house preserved steam locomotives.

The Birmingham Museum of Science and Industry was built around Coronation or Duchess class locomotive 46235 City of Birmingham but when this museum closed the locomotive was transferred to the Thinktank Birmingham Science Museum. closed in 1997. It is interesting to note that the other two members of the class preserved (46229 Duchess of Hamilton and 46233 Duchess of Sutherland) only exist because they were bought to exhibit at Butlin Holiday Camps. The Duchess of Hamilton is now regarded as one of the iconic locomotives in the National Railway Museum at York.

The Manchester Museum of Science and Industry has a number of steam locomotives which have a local association because of where they were built or operated.

  • Planet replica– 2-2-0 Manchester & Liverpool Railway.
  • Agecroft No 1 – 0-6-0ST Agecroft Power Station
  • 2352 – 4-8-2+2-8-4 South African Railways
  • 3064 – 4-4-0 North Western India/Parkistan Railways

Since opening the National Railway Museum at York has been enlarged and a new museum called Locomotion opened at Shildon in 2004. There are plans to further extend the facilities at York and to build a new museum at Leicester in conjunction with the Great Central Railway. There had been plans many years earlier to build a museum at Leicester to house part of the National Collection but this plan never came to fruition.

There are a number of locomotive which are part of the National Railway Museum Collection which are located at heritage railways where they can be seen in as fully restored operating steam locomotives.

Details of all of the steam locomotives which are owned by the National Railway Museum are included in the National Railway Museum Collection. Details include where locomotives are based and which are operational on heritage railways.

National Railway Museum at York – Working Shed & Museum

Locomotion Museum at Shildon

National Railway Museum Collection

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