It is fair to say that disposals is an area of museum practice that has been a prominent issue for preservation in recent times.
We’ve had the National Railway Museum’s de‑accessioned steam locomotives – extensively reported and debated in these pages, as well as Parliament. Indeed, yet more items of stock are again to come under the disposal spotlight as part of the Science Museum Group’s latest collection review which, as our sister title RAIL reported last month, has meant the cessation of work on its operational diesel fleet, at least while that fleet is audited.
Elsewhere, the Danish Railway Museum made even deeper inroads into its collection, including scrapping some objects.
Anger ensued – there were even threats made to museum directors over the course of controversial action, as tensions boiled over.
Now, Canada’s own national museum is about to embark on its own collections review – one that might well result in the disposal and, therefore, potential permanent repatriation of LNER ‘A4’ No. 4489 Dominion of Canada, as well as LBSCR ‘A1’ 0‑6‑0T No. 54 Waddon.
The Canadian Railway Historical Association, which resides at the snappily titled Exporail, says that much of its collection represents a “liability”, especially those that retain hazardous asbestos lagging. Indeed, it has specifically identified non‑Canadian exhibits as potential disposals.
The decree coincides with the Gresley ‘Pacific’ being taken off a prime display spot at Exporail and put back into ‘Building 5’, where it infamously suffered noticeable corrosion prior to restoration in the UK, joining fellow ‘ex‑pat’ Waddon in the process.
One of the British volunteers responsible for the upkeep of ‘Terrier’ No. 54, explained on social media how “over the winter, the engine becomes a 130‑ton lump of ice which, even in May, and being in the shade, retains that cold, while the spring humidity causes condensation to build up all over the engine.
“This has a corrosive effect that is wickedly destructive as it is external as well as internal, where you can’t see the damage being done.”
Clearly, there is concern for the future
wellbeing of these machines and while Exporail hasn’t yet made a firm decision, its rhetoric will undoubtedly pique the interest of enthusiasts on this side of the pond. Readers may recall the rebuffed bid to acquire ‘Dominion’s’ North American sister, Dwight D. Eisenhower, in 2013.
Nothing will be decided for a while yet, but because Exporail demonstrably no longer considers the ‘A4’ to be a key exhibit, it makes sense, in theory, to explore options for a more secure future for No. 4489 – and the ‘Terrier’.
That could mean a homecoming… leading to the inevitable question, ‘where could they go that befits their historical importance?’
Further, there remains the huge obstacle of asbestos which, in the case of the
‘A4’, had its ‘white stuff’ insulated with expanded foam for customs clearance ahead of its two-year trip to the UK in 2012-14. Were it to return, such a temporary arrangement would almost certainly not be countenanced.
It’s another prime example of the delicate nature of museum disposals – a subject that shows no sign of fading into the background any time soon.
A stunning vision of the LMS in the 1930s, Stanier ‘Pacific’ No. 6233 Duchess of Sutherlandglides past Little Rock, between Eardington and Hampton Loade. The ‘Duchess’ was given top billing at the Severn Valley Railway’s September 20-23 enthusiasts’ gala.