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

No comments:

Post a Comment