COM­MENT

Steam Railway (UK) - - News - Nick Bro­drick, Edi­tor

In writ­ing this leader col­umn just hours af­ter Bri­tish steam rock­eted to the magic 100mph for the first time in half a cen­tury, one might have imag­ined I’d be tak­ing the op­por­tu­nity to wax lyri­cal about this mo­men­tous preser­va­tion achieve­ment. Sadly not. For there is some­thing far more pro­found and which has po­ten­tially far-reach­ing con­se­quences for the move­ment. It sur­rounds the dis­posal of a Bri­tish main line steam lo­co­mo­tive from the Na­tional Col­lec­tion for only the sec­ond time in the in­sti­tu­tion’s his­tory. In­deed, it’s the sec­ond time in less than a year. The lo­co­mo­tive in ques­tion is a unique sur­vivor: Wil­liam Adams’ ele­gant ‘T3’ 4-4-0 No. 563, which has been gifted to the Swanage Rail­way. It has been a na­tion­ally owned trea­sure ever since 1948. On March 30, we found out that it no longer was. Few people, if any­body, knew of the NRM’s in­ten­tions for the ‘T3’ out­side of the Sci­ence Mu­seum Group and the Swanage Rail­way. That was un­til a news re­lease, is­sued by the Swanage Rail­way, that re­vealed its new ad­di­tion. That No. 563 has been pre­sented to Swanage isn’t the issue at hand. The ‘Purbeck Line’ is a truly fit­ting venue for the 1893-built machine and it has pledged to trea­sure it with the care and attention that this unique sur­vivor de­serves. What is an issue, how­ever, is the man­ner in which own­er­ship of this na­tional asset was trans­ferred to an out­side or­gan­i­sa­tion. The issue of trans­parency in ob­ject dis­posal from na­tional mu­se­ums is steered by es­tab­lished pro­ce­dure, which the NRM ex­plic­itly signs up to. The SMG states that its dis­pos­als are “guided by the Mu­se­ums As­so­ci­a­tion’s Code of Ethics and Dis­posal Toolkit.” This toolkit, a 31-page set of guide­lines, is pub­licly ac­ces­si­ble. It states that: “Mu­se­ums should adopt an open and hon­est ap­proach that ex­plains the con­text and po­ten­tial ben­e­fit of the planned course of ac­tion. It is im­por­tant to set out pub­licly the mu­seum’s over­all pol­icy on dis­posal against which in­di­vid­ual cases can be ex­plained.” Note two of the key words in that state­ment: ‘planned’ and ‘po­ten­tial’. Nei­ther are ap­pli­ca­ble to a pub­lic asset that has al­ready been given away. It goes on… “Base de­ci­sions to dis­pose on clear, pub­lished cri­te­ria as part of the in­sti­tu­tion’s long-term col­lec­tions pol­icy, ap­proved by the gov­ern­ing body. En­sure trans­parency and carry out any dis­posal openly, ac­cord­ing to un­am­bigu­ous, gen­er­ally ac­cepted pro­ce­dures. Man­age the process with care and sensitivity to pub­lic per­cep­tions… “Mu­se­ums are trusted in­sti­tu­tions and it is im­por­tant that this legacy is not dam­aged. They must en­sure trans­parency and open­ness around the dis­posal of items from col­lec­tions.” It adds: “It is im­por­tant to keep the pub­lic in­formed of plans re­lat­ing to the dis­posal of items through press and me­dia. Good proac­tive com­mu­ni­ca­tion can do much to in­crease the pub­lic’s un­der­stand­ing and aware­ness of this area of mu­seum practice.” So why did the NRM con­duct the dis­posal of No. 563 - and the ‘North Staffs’ 0-6-2T in 2016 - with­out in­form­ing the pub­lic be­fore­hand? Steam Rail­way has asked why this wasn’t done, but York’s re­sponse didn’t clar­ify why the gift­ing of the ‘T3’ seem­ingly didn’t follow the mu­seum’s own guide­lines or, al­ter­na­tively, pre­sent a counter-ar­gu­ment to the ef­fect that it did. This is im­por­tant stuff: while you may or may not feel pos­i­tive to­wards the ‘T3’s’ dis­posal, what might go next? The ‘V2’, ‘Stanier tank’, ‘KGV’ or the Mid­land ‘Com­pound’? The ‘Duchess’? Im­pos­si­ble? You might think so, but the NRM has not com­mented on whether or not there will be any more give­aways. In our opin­ion, this raises the spectre of a sig­nif­i­cant re­duc­tion of NRM-owned lo­co­mo­tives - un­less two in the last year was mere co­in­ci­dence. The dis­pos­als of the na­tion’s ‘Knotty tank’ and the ‘T3’ set a con­cern­ing prece­dent. And if there are to be more in the fu­ture, wouldn’t you like to have your say first? The NRM can do much to re­as­sure the pub­lic that a clear-out of clas­sics isn’t on the cards if it takes a more open ap­proach. Even if there is, it’s our view that the mu­seum should be confident enough to open its plans to pub­lic scru­tiny. The col­lec­tion, built up by the na­tion over decades, de­serves no less.

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