The idea of a ma­jor mu­seum in Le­ices­ter hous­ing lo­co­mo­tives from the Na­tional Col­lec­tion isn’t a new one. RICHARD FOSTER delves into the ar­chives to re­dis­cover what might have been a ma­jor preser­va­tion out­post.

Steam Railway (UK) - - Contents -

Richard Foster ex­plores the his­tory of Le­ices­ter’s for­got­ten rail­way mu­seum

Drive into Le­ices­ter from the south on the A6 and just as you pass the brown tourist sign that wel­comes you to this his­toric city, you’ll pass a hand­some brick shed. It nes­tles in­con­gru­ously be­tween a Shell fill­ing sta­tion and 1930s de­tached houses, par­tially hid­den be­hind a brick out­build­ing and black wrought iron rail­ings. It’s clearly Vic­to­rian in ori­gin, de­spite its mod­ern steel roller shut­ter doors. This is Bri­tain’s for­got­ten rail­way mu­seum. Do you ever get the feel­ing that some things are just not meant to hap­pen? When the Her­itage Lot­tery Fund pulled £9.5 mil­lion of fund­ing from the Great Cen­tral Rail­way/Le­ices­ter City Coun­cil’s mul­ti­mil­lion pound mu­seum at Le­ices­ter North, it ob­vi­ously put the project in doubt (SR475). More than that, how­ever, it put a dent in a dream that’s been over 50 years in the mak­ing, a dream that now seems many more years away from be­com­ing a re­al­ity. It’s prob­a­bly fair to say that there was a cer­tain amount of crit­i­cism fly­ing around when the plan to build a new mu­seum at Le­ices­ter North was un­veiled. It was backed by the Na­tional Rail­way Mu­seum and, with space for up to 15 lo­co­mo­tives, some cor­ners of the preser­va­tion move­ment au­to­mat­i­cally as­sumed that 15 Na­tional Col­lec­tion lo­co­mo­tives would move to Le­ices­ter, leav­ing huge holes at York and Shildon. This feel­ing was not helped as it be­came clear that ever-pop­u­lar LNER ‘V2’ 2-6-2 No. 4771 Green Ar­row would be­come one of the mu­seum’s star at­trac­tions. The prob­lem with this way of think­ing was that, if his­tory had taken a dif­fer­ent path, Green Ar­row should have been al­ready on dis­play in Le­ices­ter, a cos­seted static ex­hibit for the last half a cen­tury. It was only a lack of avail­able space that meant that Green Ar­row moved to Nor­wich, and a re­turn to steam. The story starts when the British Trans­port Com­mis­sion, un­der the chair­man­ship of preser­va­tion-con­scious Lord Hur­comb, ap­pointed John Hornby Sc­holes as its Cu­ra­tor of His­tor­i­cal Relics in 1951. Sc­holes, pre­vi­ously cu­ra­tor of York’s Cas­tle Mu­seum, had no pre­vi­ous ex­pe­ri­ence in rail­way preser­va­tion, but he worked tire­lessly to save as much as pos­si­ble. It was a thank­less task and he fought an up­hill bat­tle, los­ing sev­eral im­por­tant po­ten­tial ex­hibits, but by the early 1960s Mr Sc­holes was re­spon­si­ble for 65 lo­co­mo­tives, from Stockton & Dar­ling­ton Rail­way Lo­co­mo­tion to BR’s fi­nal steam en­gine, ‘9F’ No. 92220 Evening Star. It was a di­verse col­lec­tion and it needed a per­ma­nent home. But a na­tional rail­way mu­seum was still just a pipe dream at this point. A short-term stop­gap so­lu­tion was the Mu­seum of British Trans­port in Lon­don, com­ple­mented by a num­ber of re­gional mu­se­ums. The old LNER mu­seum in York was one. This was joined by the Great West­ern Mu­seum in Swin­don and Glas­gow’s Trans­port Mu­seum.


Le­ices­ter was to join this list. The city was to build a Mu­seum of Tech­nol­ogy, to cel­e­brate the tech­ni­cal in­no­va­tions from the East Mid­lands. Rail­way tech­nol­ogy was a key part of the story that the new mu­seum wanted to tell. Un­like Swin­don, which cel­e­brated the work of just the Great West­ern Rail­way, Le­ices­ter’s Mu­seum of Tech­nol­ogy would re­flect the two rail­ways that dom­i­nated the city – the LMS and the LNER and their an­tecedents – as well as the area’s lo­co­mo­tive-build­ing in­dus­try. York, Clapham, Swin­don and Glas­gow dis­played Vic­to­rian and Ed­war­dian el­e­gance. In those four mu­se­ums, only two lo­co­mo­tives on dis­play were built af­ter the Group­ing – LNER ‘A4’ Mal­lard and GWR ‘94XX’ No. 9400. And aside from one or two notable ex­cep­tions, in­clud­ing GWR ‘Dean Goods’ No. 2516 and Stockton & Dar­ling­ton ‘1001’ 0-6-0 No. 1275, all the ten­der en­gines on dis­play were pas­sen­ger de­signs. Le­ices­ter Mu­seum of Tech­nol­ogy wanted to right some of those wrongs. Tucked away in­side the Le­ices­ter Mid­land shed (15C, later 15A) were GCR ‘8K’ (LNER ‘O4’) 2-8-0 No. 63601 and LNWR ‘G2a’ 0-8-0 No. 49395, later joined by pioneer LMS ‘4F’ No. 44027 and re­stored LNER ‘V2’ 2-6-2 No. 4771 Green Ar­row. In a fore­shad­ow­ing of events that would take place nearly 50 years later, Le­ices­ter’s Mu­seum of Tech­nol­ogy never got off the ground. To­day’s Le­ices­ter now boasts the Na­tional Space Cen­tre and Abbey Pump­ing Sta­tion, both ded­i­cated to sci­ence and in­dus­try. But the only city mu­seum with any rail­way ex­hibits of any note was Snib­ston Dis­cov­ery Cen­tre, which closed in 2016. Nos. 63601, 44027, 4771 and 49395 were never dis­played to­gether. The ‘O4’ went to Dint­ing Rail­way Cen­tre, whereas the ‘4F’ went to the Mid­land Rail­way Cen­tre at But­ter­ley in 1975. Green Ar­row was despatched to Nor­wich, where, un­der the care of Bill Har­vey and the Nor­folk Rail­way So­ci­ety, it was re­stored to steam. The ‘Super D’ led a peri­patetic ex­is­tence around the West Mid­lands un­til its over­haul fi­nally started at the Na­tional Rail­way Mu­seum in the 1990s. But Le­ices­ter did get a rail­way mu­seum of sorts. It just wasn’t the grand af­fair that the city coun­cil had en­vis­aged. That lit­tle shed by the A6 was built by Le­ices­ter Cor­po­ra­tion Tramways for its new elec­tri­fied tram net­work in 1904. Stoney­gate Tram De­pot could house six tram cars, three on each road. LCT de­cided to ex­pand its Cen­tral De­pot in Hum­ber­stone Gate, which left Stoney­gate and the other dis­trict de­pot at Nar­bor­ough Road re­dun­dant. It closed as a tram de­pot in 1922 and would be leased by a num­ber of busi­nesses un­til the mid-1960s.


The ex­act ori­gins of the plans to cre­ate a rail­way mu­seum in Le­ices­ter have been lost in the mists of time. How­ever, the min­utes of Le­ices­ter’s Mu­se­ums, Li­braries & Pub­lic­ity Com­mit­tee meet­ing on Septem­ber 15 1967 re­veal that, as far back as Novem­ber 5 1965, two Vic­to­rian Mid­land Rail­way lo­co­mo­tives were be­ing eyed up for dis­play in the city. In­trigu­ingly, Stoney­gate de­pot, at that time, was “filled with other spec­i­mens, in­clud­ing 22 re­stored ve­hi­cles which are now ready for ex­hi­bi­tion”. What those ‘spec­i­mens’ were was not recorded but the min­utes later state that “garage premises” at “23A Ox­ford Street are avail­able at a rental of £900 per an­num”. Things moved fast be­tween De­cem­ber 15 1967, when Le­ices­ter Town Coun­cil Plan­ning ap­proved the change of use to Stoney­gate Tram De­pot, and Fe­bru­ary 16 1968, when the track was laid – which BR had gra­ciously placed on ‘in­def­i­nite loan’. A few weeks later the first ex­hibits had ar­rived. Min­utes dated April 19 1968 con­firmed the new name: Le­ices­ter Rail­way Mu­seum. It also con­firmed open­ing times: ev­ery Satur­day, Sun­day, two week­day af­ter­noons (un­spec­i­fied), school hol­i­days and “other days in the week be left to the dis­cre­tion of the Di­rec­tor”. Adults would pay two shillings to in­spect the four lo­co­mo­tives and other ex­hibits; chil­dren would pay only one shilling. Did many en­thu­si­asts pay any at­ten­tion when Le­ices­ter Rail­way Mu­seum opened on July 27 1968? BR steam had just weeks to live and en­thu­si­asts’ at­ten­tions were fo­cused on ‘Black Fives’ and ‘8Fs’ ek­ing out their last days. How many would take time out from that to see four ‘stuffed and mounted’ ex­hibits in a small mu­seum, even if it was fa­mous en­gi­neer Ron Jarvis who cut the rib­bon? And what of those ex­hibits?


Vis­i­tors to Le­ices­ter Rail­way Mu­seum were greeted by the sight of two Mid­land Rail­way mas­ter­pieces. On the left was Kirt­ley 2-4-0 No. 158A. Built in 1866, this lo­co­mo­tive should not have sur­vived. Wil­liam Stanier had or­dered a cull of the old lo­co­mo­tives stored in Derby Works and pioneer ‘156’ 2-4-0 – No. 156 – was scrapped. Pres­sure from the Stephen­son Lo­co­mo­tive So­ci­ety forced the BTC’s hand and it saved No. 158A for pos­ter­ity in­stead, de­spite the fact that it sported a later boiler, which had been the kiss of death for some pre­served lo­co­mo­tives (such as Ben Alder). Mid­land Rail­way ‘Spin­ner’ No. 118, bet­ter known to­day by its later MR num­ber of 673, to the right of No. 158A, was one of the four en­gines that Stanier or­dered to be scrapped. It some­how sur­vived and both it and No. 158A had spent much of the 1950s and early 1960s in store at Derby Works, be­ing oc­ca­sion­ally brought out for spe­cial events. No. 118 had moved into Stoney­gate on Fe­bru­ary 28 1968. Le­ices­ter Rail­way Mu­seum was not the planned Mu­seum of Tech­nol­ogy, but it fol­lowed the same ethos and wanted to tell the story of lo­cal lo­co­mo­tive build­ing. Brush Trac­tion in Lough­bor­ough, best known in rail­way cir­cles for build­ing Class 31 and 47 diesel-electrics, emerged in 1889 as the Brush Elec­tri­cal En­gi­neer­ing Com­pany. It spe­cialised in tram­car equip­ment but it also built steam en­gines. One ex­hibit, 0-4-0ST No. 921, was a Brush prod­uct. It was or­dered by Powles­land & Ma­son. This was not a rail­way com­pany as such, but pro­vided lo­co­mo­tives and crews to shunt Swansea docks. Ab­sorbed by the GWR and ‘Swin­donised’, it was with­drawn in 1928 and spent the next 35 years slog­ging away in in­dus­try, firstly at a sugar beet fac­tory and then at an oil re­fin­ery in Kent. Donated for preser­va­tion, it was dis­played be­hind No. 118.

Tucked in be­hind No. 158A was North Eastern Rail­way steeple­cab elec­tric No. 1. Al­though built by British Thom­son Hous­ton, BTH had sub-con­tracted elec­tri­cal and me­chan­i­cal com­po­nents to Brush, which made the Ed­war­dian elec­tric a prime can­di­date for dis­play in the LRM.


Maybe it was the size, maybe it’s be­cause it was only sup­posed to be a stop­gap, or per­haps it’s be­cause it opened in a year when at­ten­tion was di­verted elsewhere – what­ever the rea­son, the Le­ices­ter Rail­way Mu­seum has slipped from the preser­va­tion move­ment’s col­lec­tive con­scious­ness. It was rarely pho­tographed and yet it re­mained open for seven years. 1975 was a mo­men­tous year for rail­way preser­va­tion, for in Septem­ber the Na­tional Rail­way Mu­seum opened. There was now no need for Sc­holes’ re­gional mu­se­ums – in the­ory at least – and so Le­ices­ter Rail­way Mu­seum closed on April 1. In re­al­ity, of course, the NRM only had space for lo­co­mo­tives that had been in York and Clapham mu­se­ums. Nos. 118 and 158A moved to the Mid­land Rail­way Cen­tre, which was backed by Derby Coun­cil, in June 1975. No. 921 re­mained in Le­ices­ter, go­ing to Abbey Pump­ing Sta­tion Mu­seum. It was some­what fit­ting, given the fact that Stoney­gate de­pot was built for elec­tric trams, that the last lo­co­mo­tive to re­main in store there was NER No. 1. The Bo-Bo elec­tric fi­nally de­parted for York on Septem­ber 16 1975 and a small chap­ter in British rail­way preser­va­tion his­tory was closed. But what of Stoney­gate tram de­pot to­day? Le­ices­ter Trans­port Her­itage Trust is a reg­is­tered char­ity with the aim of pre­serv­ing – as its name sug­gests – Le­ices­ter’s trans­port his­tory. Not only does it have a large archive of ma­te­rial but it also owns 13 his­toric and his­tor­i­cally rel­e­vant buses, as well as a 1956 Ford 300E van and a 1959 Kirby & West elec­tric milk float. Mike Green­wood, LTHT’s di­rec­tor of ar­chives and re­search, ex­plains more: “The trust leased Stoney­gate Tram De­pot from Le­ices­ter City Coun­cil in 2013,” he says, “and is cur­rently in the process of sub­mit­ting a grant ap­pli­ca­tion to the Her­itage Lot­tery Fund so that this rare ex­am­ple of an Ed­war­dian dis­trict tram de­pot can be trans­formed into an ex­cit­ing trans­port-re­lated at­trac­tion. “An in­te­gral part of the fund­ing ap­pli­ca­tion will be the restora­tion of a tra­di­tional Le­ices­ter dou­ble-deck bus, with a front en­gine and rear open plat­form, into a ‘Mo­bile Mu­seum Bus’, which will then be used to visit com­mu­nity events and schools to en­gage with the public and show­case Le­ices­ter’s rich trans­port her­itage. “This will be done in a care­fully man­aged way to en­sure that it also ful­fils an ed­u­ca­tional role in an in­ter­est­ing and in­no­va­tive way.”


A rare if some­what grainy shot of NER elec­tric No. 1, ex-GWR 0-4-0ST No. 921 and MR 4-2-2 No. 118 in­side the mu­seum, prior to its open­ing in July 1968. The fi­nal space was filled with MR 2-4-0 No. 158A. The cramped con­fines of Le­ices­ter Rail­way Mu­seum...


Mid­land Rail­way ‘Spin­ner’ No. 118, which now car­ries the num­ber 673, was trans­ferred from Le­ices­ter Beal Street de­pot to Stoney­gate Tram De­pot on Fe­bru­ary 28 1968.


Stoney­gate Tram De­pot as it is to­day. It’s hard to be­lieve that this was once home to Le­ices­ter’s equiv­a­lent of the Great West­ern Mu­seum in Swin­don, or the Rail­way Mu­seum in York.


Just imag­ine what a mu­seum con­tain­ing this lot – No. 4771 Green Ar­row, ‘Super D’ No. 49395 and ‘4F’ No. 44027 – pho­tographed out­side Le­ices­ter Mid­land in 1970 – would have been like, es­pe­cially when joined by Mid­land Rail­way Nos. 118 and 158A. Sadly,...


LNWR ‘Super D’ 0-8-0 No. 49395 is tucked away safely in­side Le­ices­ter Mid­land shed on Novem­ber 1 1969. The lo­co­mo­tive car­ries the num­ber of long-scrapped class­mate No. 49448. Just be­yond is ‘O4’ No. 63601.


Here’s what Stoney­gate Tram De­pot looks like on one of its reg­u­lar open days. LTHT has 15 his­toric ve­hi­cles of its own and its mem­bers own a fur­ther 14 buses and coaches be­tween them!

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