Friday, 14 September 2012

Curatorial Corner - 14th September 2012

The Harry Collection

Items in store ready for cataloguing
In our last Events Blog we mentioned the Harry Collection - a fantastic new donation of objects and archive material that came to the Museum in late 2011.  The donation will displayed at this years Railway Festival, but for those of you who cannot make it to STEAM, here is a bit more information on the donation of a lifetime.

The Harry Collection was bequeathed to STEAM after the death of Mrs Janet Harry in September 2011.  The items had belonged to her husband, Brian Harry, who had died six years earlier.  It was clear that Mr Harry was a prolific collector and had an eye for historically important material.  Mr Harry had collected these pieces for many years and the wealth of the items that were transferred to STEAM was substantial.  Amongst the collection (that was collected on a snowy December morning!) are nine locomotive nameplates, 72 locomotive numberplates, over 150 cast iron signs, 15 locomotive tender plates, eight signal box nameboards, 40,000 photographs, and a vast range of archive material.  Other objects include silverware, signalling instruments, a clock, oil cans, lamps, a bench...and much much more!

Malmesbury Railway map from the 1870s
on display at the Festival
The nameplates and numberplates are from some iconic locomotive classes, including Castles and Kings, and Stars and Manors.  There are also some early numbers, such as Nos 15, 77, 90 and 96.  The majority of the nameplates in the Harry Collection have a corresponding numberplate, and in the case of Baydon Manor we have the smoke box plate a well.  This must be the envy of many railway collectors around the World!

The archive material that makes up the Harry Collection has also been surprisingly important.  Among the items are a number of large ledgers that detail the costs and components of locomotives and rolling stock built in the mid and late 1800s.  The ledgers are really quite insightful and are going to be of huge value to historians and railway enthusiasts.   Also included in the collection are several staff registers.  The majority are from Swindon Works and list the names of foremen and staff from the Drawing Office.  A Drawing Office staff register from the early 1900s lists the name of F.W Hawksworth who went on to become the GWR’s last Chief Mechanical Engineer in 1941.  

Volunteers working on some of the
40,000 photographs
The Curatorial department are currently sorting and cataloguing the items in the collection, and are still finding some surprises.  Whilst sorting some Rule Book appendices the Museum’s Collection Officer, Elaine Arthurs, found a folded up drawing.  When she unfolded it she instantly recognised a signature that was signed at the top of the drawing; it was that of Isambard Kingdom Brunel!  The drawing is a colour wash plan of the Birmingham Tunnel on the Birmingham and Oxford Junction Railway.  It is dated 1856, and would have been some of the last work Brunel took part in before his death three years later.

There is still a huge amount of work to do on the Harry Collection.  The Museum's staff and volunteers have been busy beavering away cleaning, sorting, identifying, cataloguing and storing the material.  The collection of the 40,000 photographs will keep the Library and Archive volunteers busy for many months to come, but once fully catalogued it will be a valuable resource.

For more information on the Harry Collection please contact the Curatorial Department on 01793 466607 / 466608 or email

Thursday, 16 August 2012

Events Diary - Railway Festival News

Swindon Railway Festival, 15th - 16th September 2012

Ian Surtees, Commercial Manager, gives an update on the forthcoming Railway Festival.
With only four weeks to go before STEAM’s Swindon Railway Festival, plans are shaping up nicely for the Hornby Magazine sponsored model railway show.

Twenty top notch model rail layouts are heading to the home of the GWR with a couple making their first public appearances. Only the best GWR / BR(W) layouts make it into the festival so visitors are guaranteed the finest railway modelling experience during visit! The Museum is also pleased to welcome back Pete Waterman and the fantastic traction engine display provided by Hatch Steam Heritage.

On top of all these wonderful displays the Museum will also be exhibiting a new and unseen collection of artefacts that have recently been donated.  The Harry Collection is STEAM's largest ever donation and is made up of names plates, numberplates, signalbox nameboards, signs and 100s of other GWR related objects.

Western View Layout - courtesy of Model Rail
The following traders and exhibitors have already confirmed they’ll be at this year’s show:

Hornby Magazine
Cheltenham Model Centre
Box Steam Brewery
Picture Pride Displays
Squires Model & Craft Tools
Just Like The Real Thing
Hornby Hobbies
Bachmann Europe
County Rolling Stock
Aster Hobbies (UK)
Oakwood Press and Visuals
Kernow Model Rail Centre
The Signal Box
Coate Water Miniature Railway
Severn Valley Railway
Avon Valley Railway
Swindon & Cricklade Railway
6024 Preservation Society
6880 Betton Grange Society
West Somerset Railway
Ffestiniog and Welsh Highland Railways
Rodbourne Community History Group
Friends of the Swindon Railway Museum

Enthusiasts admiring a model layout  at the Festival in 2011
Confirmed Layouts

O Gauge
  • Lelant Saltings (Historical Broad Gauge Layout)
  • Bleadon (Col. Stephens Light Railway)
  • Pystyll-Graig-Ddu (Taff Vale)
  • Western View (Great Western Engine Shed and Station)
  • Aber Emyln (Welsh Valleys Railway)
  • Test Track (Bring your models to run on this layout)
  • Graig Wen **NEW LAYOUT** (Great Western Collery Screens)
  • Working 'O' Gauge Cranes
  • Nancleare Harbour (Narrow Gauge)
00 Gauge / EM / Scale 4
  • Hungerford (Scale model of Hungerford Station GWR)
  • Wales Rails Rain and Steam **NEW LAYOUT** (Diesel era)
  • Yardley
  • Bluchel Street (Diesel era)
  • Denroyd (London North Western)
  • Llawryglyn (Cambrian)
  • Corris 1930 (Narrow Gauge)
S Scale
  • Grove Ferry Junction (Col. Stephens Light Railway)
2mm Fine Scale
  • Union Pass (American Modern Railways)
  • Bodmin (Great Western Station)
  • Tucking Mill **NEW LAYOUT** (2mm layout)
  • Traction Engines (Hatch Steam Heritage)
  • Bill Slaymaker (Display of Rail Motors)
  • Mike Little (M&SWJ, Southern + Others Models)
  • Dennis Feltham (Display of mainline running steam locos)
There will also be lots of demonstrations taking place over the weekend, including demos in soldering, locomotive building, painting and wagon building.

Swindon Railway Festival 2012 Demonstrations
  • Paul Jones - Wagon Kit Building
  • Waverney Group - Scratch Building + DCC Hand Soldering
  • Chris Baston - Transfers and Kit Building
  • Warren Shepherd - Boiler Rolling
  • Andy Duncan - White Metal Soldering
  • Mike Gough - G Scale Demos
  • Chris Dunn - 4mm Loco Construction
  • Dave Walker / Liz Marsden - Large Scale Modelling + Painting & Lining
  • John Coulter - S Scale Modelling
  • Roger Manton - Weathering
  • Bob Brown - 3mm Scale Modelling
  • Richard Brown - Scratch Building 7mm Wagons
  • Derek Mundy - Signalling
  • Dave Baverstock - N Gauge Modelling
  • Fred Lewis - 7mm Modelling
  • John Taylor - Patterns for Panto-graph Milling
  • David and Sylvia White - (Slaters Plastikard) Inside Motion Crank Axles
  • Brian Tole - 7mm Building
This Festival is not to be missed!

Admission: £8.50 for adults; Seniors and Concessions £5.50; Family tickets £20.00 (two adults, one child) £24.00 (two adults, two children) and £27.00 (two adults, three children). Under three go free. Swindon Card discounts available

Friday, 3 August 2012

Curatorial Corner - 2nd August 2012

Sporting History comes to STEAM

The gates arrive at STEAM
With the Olympics in full flow this week it was with great pride that STEAM took possession of a pair of gates that came from the old GWR Sports Ground in Swindon.  

The site has not been in use since 2005, and is currently undergoing development by David Wilson Homes.  Staff at the Museum were concerned that the gates would be lost forever, and put the wheels in motion to transfer them to STEAM.  David Wilson Homes couldn't have been more helpful and within a couple of weeks of correspondence the gates were being dismantled and on their way to the Museum.

The gates bear the initials BRWRAA, which stands for British Railways Western Region Athletics Association.  The were made in Swindon Works in the 1950s.

The Sports Ground in 1935
The sports ground that the gates come from dates back to the early 1930s.  It provided for athletics, cricket, tennis, hockey, bowls, putting and rifle shooting.  The opening of a pavilion in 1935 further provided a skittle alley, recreation and games rooms and changing facilities for both men and women.  It was a showcase for GWR sporting excellence.

The Museum is also showing an exhibition called Track and Field which looks at the sporting prowess of Great Western employees.  It displays some fantastic images of GWR sports teams, as well as memorabilia such a trophies and fixture cards.  The exhibition is free with normal entry to STEAM and runs until the end of the year.

The gates will now undergo some restoration before they are displayed on the Museum site.

If you want to find out a little more on the gates, and their unique history, check out the latest Swindon Web TV video at the link below.

Swindon Web TV - arrival of sports ground gates at STEAM

Thursday, 24 May 2012

Curatorial Corner - 24th May 2012

The King and Queen come to Swindon

In this celebratory year of the Queen's Diamond Jubilee is was a real treat to find some royal material in our archive.  Tucked away in a box, the Curatorial team unearthed a file of paperwork relating to the visit of King George V and Queen Mary to Swindon in April 1924.

Confirmation of the King and Queen's
visit to Swindon
Our present Queen is busy visiting  lots of different towns and cities as she prepares for the upcoming Jubilee celebrations in June.  The work that goes into each royal visit must be huge, and the paperwork from 1924 reveals that the same was also true 88 years ago.

Part of the King and Queen's visit in 1924 involved a tour around the Great Western Railway's Swindon Works.  The paperwork is a detailed timeline of the organisation required behind the visit. Letters were sent to and from different departments.  It appears that the visit was kept quiet at first, then the first dregs of information were issued to the press.  It must have been an exciting, but nerve-racking exercise for the Great Western Railway.  They had to make sure the day ran smoothly, but also that the King and Queen were equally impressed by the facilities at the Works.

One memo notes that Swindon Works had 48 Union Jack flags in their stores, as well as over 11,000 yards of bunting.  This would be used to decorate the Works, the station and the GWR Medical Fund buildings.

The paperwork also looks at how the royal party would travel from the railway station to the Works, as well as how many of the press would be allowed in.  It is clear from one letter that they wanted only the best press representatives at the Works, such as Pathe, The Daily Sketch, The Daily Mail, The Daily Mail and The Daily Express.  Special passes would also be issued accordingly.

Extract from the GWR Board of Directors
 meeting minutes
 The visit by the King and Queen was a huge success.  The King got the opportunity to drive the locomotive Windsor Castle from the Works to the Station.  A fantastic day all round.  

The correspondence doesn't end there either.  The letters and memos continue into May 1924 with praise and thanks to the various employees who took part in the event.  One of the locomotive firemen who was showcasing an engine received £1 for his work, which in today's money is approximately £30.

The Great Western Railway's connection with royalty was a really important one.  Find out more about these connections by visiting the Museum's Royal Road exhibition.  The exhibition is on now until the end of the year and is free with normal admission.  Children can take part in a Royal Road activity trail as well.  Trails can be purchased from the main ticket desk or downloaded for free from

Happy Diamond Jubilee!

King George V and Queen Mary on the footplate of Windsor Castle
during their visit to Swindon Works, 28th April 1924

Sunday, 4 March 2012

Curatorial Corner - 4th March 2012

Nine go mad at STEAM

The Nine HND students, with their course leader Greg
A new exhibition has just opened at STEAM.  'Nine' showcases the work of 9 Swindon College HND photography students who over the past year have been photographing the Museum and its collections.

The photographs are an array of abstract and unusual images that transform the Museum objects into a different form.  They show incredible detail that the average visitor to STEAM will not see, or experience.

The students have curated the exhibiton themselves; taking the photographs, printing and hanging the final prints.  The exhibition preview night on Thursday 23rd February was a huge success and has caused a lot of interest over the past week.  The exhibition is open for a month (ending on 22nd March 2012) and is free with a normal entry ticket to the Museum.

Some of the images on display

Anthony Porter and his photographs

STEAM has been working with Swindon College, School of Art since 2009 and hopes to carry this partnership on in the future.  Some of the students have already had their work featured in STEAM's guidebook and all are currently finalising images for an online published photographic book.  The work with the college has transformed some very traditional objects and archive material into modern pieces of art, bringing the history of the Great Western Railway into the 21st Century.

Lee Davis and his photographs

Joe Cowley talks through his images with a member of the public
Photo courtesy of Justin Shurmer -

Photo courtesy of Justin Shurmer -

Photo courtesy of Justin Shurmer -

Wednesday, 25 January 2012

Curatorial Corner - 25th January 2012


The Curatorial team headed up to Birmingham last week to spend three days at the West Midlands Fire Service Acadamy.  The team were attending an Emergency Salvage course run by English Heritage.  The course was designed to provide pratical skills in saving important historical objects from museums and historic houses in the event of a fire or flood.

Flooding at the mock Museum

Day 1 involved being kitted up in firefighter uniforms.  A mock museum was set up inside the training firehouse and the hoses were turned on to simulate a flood - in this case gallons of water pouring through the roof!  The members on the course were tasked with trying to divert the flood using tarpauling, ladders, ropes and mops.  It was a hard task, but lots of really useful tips were gained.  Making a water shoot from two ladders and a piece of tarpauling is a simple way of diverting a huge flow of water!

STEAMs Curator, Felicity, (centre) kitted
up and ready to enter the mock Museum

Next came the slightly scary part.  The breathing apparatus.  Putting on the masks and oxygen cylinders felt very claustrophobic and heavy, but the experience was eye-opening.  Entering a smoke filled building was scary, but it gave a real understanding of what firefighters are faced with when entering a burning building.  Everyone on the course found it a great experience, but were glad to de-kit and have a lovely hot shower!

STEAMs Collections Officer, Elaine, making
 an inventory of salvaged objects

Day 2 was the day a real emergency was scheduled to happen at the mock Museum.  In the morning specific roles were given out and the team were briefed on what would unfold.  STEAM's Curator, Felicity, was going to be on the salvage team (tasked to enter the Museum and salvage objects) and Elaine, STEAM's Collections Officer, was to be the Documentation Officer.  There was also a recovery team, Press Officer and Quartermaster.  As the emergency unfolded a fire crew from a local station attended.  A 'fire' at the mock Museum had taken hold and the crew were quickly inside to put it out.  The fire crew were then given a list of items held in the mock Museum that were a priority to save.  The inside of the Museum was wet, black and smokey.  It was very difficult for the fire crew and salvage team to see which items were which.  However all the priority items were salvaged, in fact ALL the items were salvaged.  Once out of the Museum they were passed to the recovery team who documented each item and assessed their condition.  Wet items were put to dry, and dry items were safely boxed and sent to store.  The whole exercise took three hours to complete.  Everyone was thoroughly exhausted by 5pm.

Day 3 was a day of reflection.  The debrief in the morning allowed everyone to reflect on the previous days activities.  What went right, what went wrong - it was a definate learning curve.  But all agreed that the skills that would be taken back to respective museums and historic houses would be invaluable.  It also provided extra confidence if a situation arose.

To sum up, the course was great.  It was fun, informative and certainly challenging.  The Curatorial team at STEAM came away with new confidence and new skills.  If an emergency arose the Museum would be prepared - but lets just keep our fingers crossed it doesn't.

More Pictures Below... 

The Fire Crew turn up

The Fire Crew set up their equipment

The course team prepare for action!

Boxing up the objects ready for storage

Drying 'archive' material on a washing line

Wednesday, 19 October 2011

Curatorial Corner - 19th October 2011

Football, Steeplechases and Regattas

The Curatorial department at STEAM have been working on a conservation and re-storage project for over 100 fragile and historically important handbills.  The handbills all date from 1909 and highlight the very interesting social history of the Edwardian period.

January 1909 handbill

The brightly coloured handbills advertise excursion trips to various destinations, including Wales, London, Cheltenham and Windsor.  The handbills are a buzz of information giving details of prices and timings for the excursion trains.  There are also adverts informing passengers of what they might see at their destination.  In June 1909 an excursion from Wolverhampton to London was arranged for passengers to go and see the Africa and the East Missionary Exhibition and in March of the same year local services were put on for the North Warwickshire Hunt Steeplechases.  Adverts on the reverse of the handbills provide information on trips to Brittany on the steamer RMS Antelope, via the GWR Docks at Plymouth, or to Ireland via Fishguard on turbine steamers.

Some of the most interesting handbills advertise excursion trips to top league football matches.  Famous named clubs such as Aston Villa, West Bromwich and Reading appear on the handbills, but other clubs such as Glossop and Clapton Orient (later renamed Leyton Orient) also appear playing against these top flight teams.  Even 100 years ago football played an important part in people's lives and the GWR was making it possible for the fans to travel to matches.

The handbills are a great find and definately make for an interesting read!

Reverse of February 1909 handbill showing football fixtures