NRM - GIVING IT AWAY?
David Wilcock investigates NSR No. 2’s move to the Foxfield Railway, and the shrinking of the National Collection
In April this year, the National Railway Museum ‘gifted’ North Staffordshire Railway 0‑6‑2T No. 2 to the Foxfield Railway ‑ but made no announcement about the giveaway. Five months on, it is still listed by York as part of the National Collection. Over the last decade, the appointed keepers of our railway inheritance have disposed of, or ‘de‑accessioned’, almost 500 items, including many historically important examples of rolling stock. Is the NRM, under ever‑increasing budgetary pressures, playing fast and loose with our railway heritage, and ‘shrinking’ the compendium by stealth in order to cope with the growing financial demands of its management?
The revelation that ‘New L’ Class No. 2 was to move from Locomotion at Shildon to the Foxfield Railway for assessment, and a probable return to steam, was warmly welcomed throughout the preservation movement - and so it should have been. For the greater part of the last 51 years since it was retired from colliery service at the NCB Walkden system in north-west Manchester, this last surviving North Staffordshire Railway engine has been something of a spare part - a hobo without a ‘proper’ home, with little prospect of ever running again. In the late 1960s and through much of the 1970s, the ‘Knotty’ tank languished behind closed doors at Staffordshire’s Shugborough Hall County Museum. For most of the decade after 1984, it slumbered at Chatterley Whitfield Mining Museum (seven miles due north of Stoke), but rarely saw daylight. Hopes for a live steam reincarnation - and on the engine’s original North Staffs Railway stamping ground - flickered in November 1993, when, following the closure of the mining museum, it was transferred to the Churnet Valley Railway.
This last surviving North Staffordshire Railway engine has been something of a spare part - a hobo without a ‘proper’ home
But technical difficulties in removing its copper boiler tubes pushed it to the back of the restoration queue at Cheddleton, and with funding for overhauls in short supply, it slipped back into the shadows, keeping quiet acquaintance in the shed for most of the next decade with the only other surviving NSR locomotive, four-wheel battery-electric shunter No. 1. Even when No. 2 was taken back into National Railway Museum custody in 2004, it was to ‘Locomotion’ - the north eastern outpost at Shildon - that it was sent, more than 160 miles from its home turf, and without any ambition for restoration. The announcement six months ago by the Foxfield Railway, that No. 2 would be moving to its Blythe Bridge railhead to be assessed for a return to full working order and future operation with the Knotty Coach Trust’s vintage train of four-wheelers, was hailed from all sides as a hugely welcome development. The clear implication, and indeed the natural assumption widely made by those reading the Foxfield announcement, was that the move was a standard NRM fixed-term loan to a preservation-interest group, in the
We certainly weren’t consulted by the NRM, or invited to make a bid for it chuRNeT Valley Railway chaiRMaN ToNy haNcock
same way, for example, that Taff Vale Railway ‘O1’ 0‑6‑2T No. 28 is farmed out to the Gwili Railway, and LSWR Beattie 2‑4‑0 well tank No. 30587 is at the Bodmin & Wenford Railway. That broad understanding by the enthusiast fraternity was demonstrated in a discussion on the National Preservation online forum, when a contributor asked: “When was the last time the NRM chose to steam a new engine, as distinct from overhauling one that has been previously steamed?” Then came the first suggestion that the NRM’s ‘loan’ of No. 2 to Foxfield might not be a loan at all. As reported by another contributor to the discussion: “A trustee of the Foxfield Railway is saying on Facebook that ownership of the engine has passed to the Foxfield Railway Trust, and that it is no longer a public asset. “I’m not saying I don’t believe him, but it would be highly unusual for the NRM to do this, as such deals are usually long‑term loans, with the item remaining part of the national collection. Does anyone know any more?” Five days after NSR No. 2 had been delivered by low loader to Foxfield’s Caverswall Road headquarters, NRM Senior Curator Anthony Coulls was drawn to confirm: “Yes, we have transferred its ownership to the Foxfield Railway Trust.”
The revelation stunned not only those interested in the fortunes of the NSR 0‑6‑2T, but also the management team of the Churnet Valley Railway and its supporting charity, the North Staffordshire Railway Co. (1978) ‑ Foxfield’s neighbours at Cheddleton, just nine miles away. “I’m absolutely flabbergasted,” declared Churnet Valley Railway chairman Tony Hancock when I relayed to him the news that No. 2 had been given to the Foxfield Railway. “We read in the railway press and in local newspapers that the engine was moving to Foxfield ‑ but we all assumed, naturally, that it was a loan. We certainly weren’t consulted by the NRM, or invited to make a bid for it. “Before we were allowed to take custody of the engine in 1993, we had to undergo a rigorous examination by the NRM to ensure that the Churnet Valley Railway was a suitable and responsible organisation, and could provide fit and proper care. “A team of our volunteers even had to go to York, to receive ‘instruction’ on how to clean it. There was a lot of bureaucracy, and we had to jump through a lot of hoops just to borrow it.”
He continued: “I must stress that we don’t begrudge Foxfield this development, and we wish them good luck, but we think of Foxfield first and foremost as being heavily into industrial steam, and I wouldn’t have thought that a North Staffordshire Railway fleet engine was their bag at all. “We didn’t have the money to restore No. 2 all those years ago, so there were no sour grapes when the engine was taken back by York - but if that situation had arisen today, we would certainly have jumped at the chance of doing something with it. But we were never asked. It’s not a disaster for us, but it’s certainly a disappointment.” The CVR chairman’s shock is hardly surprising. The NRM’s mouthpiece, the press office under the leadership of nowdeparted Senior Press Officer Catherine Farrell, made no announcement about the movement of the engine, nor any attempt to make public that it had been ‘de-accessioned’ (ie: ‘discarded’) from the National Collection.
North Staffordshire Railway ‘New L’ 0‑6‑2T No. 2 is loaded at ‘Locomotion’ Shildon for its road movement to the Foxfield Railway on April 20. Restored to NSR livery during the latter days of its NCB service, No. 2 pilots a sister ‘New L’ with a train...
No. 2 on display with Dubs 0‑4‑0CT W/No. 4101 during the Foxfield Railway’s Summer Steam Gala on July 17. No. 2 on display at Cheddleton shed on the Churnet Valley Railway in 2004, along with the only other surviving NSR locomotive, battery‑electric...