Heritage railways - museums or railways?

Discussion in 'Railtours & Preservation' started by eldomtom2, 20 Mar 2020.

  1. eldomtom2

    eldomtom2 Member

    Messages:
    49
    Joined:
    6 Oct 2018
    I recently dug up this highly critical article on heritage railways written in 2002 from an academic viewpoint - railway enthuisasts seem to be rather unaware of their bad reputation in academia. Its basic thesis is that they should change heavily to become worthy museums. Some selected quotes, which should give an idea of the tone of its argument and the nature of its recommendations:

    These are (mostly) not arguments solely exclusive to academia - often you find some enthusiast complaining about heritage railways being "Disneyfied". To me the argument strikes at the fact that most volunteers on heritage railways are not really interested in running a museum - they want to run a railway. It also gives insight into the sort of mindset that is probably behind such controversial decisions as the deaccessioning of the T3. Any thoughts?
     
  2. Registered users do not see these banners - join or log in today!

    Rail Forums

     
  3. 43096

    43096 Established Member

    Messages:
    6,457
    Joined:
    23 Nov 2015
    There is undoubtedly some truth to it, to a greater or lesser degree (take your pick!). But the irony of academics and bad reputations - you only have to read those quotes to see just how pretentious they can be.
     
  4. eldomtom2

    eldomtom2 Member

    Messages:
    49
    Joined:
    6 Oct 2018
    Oh, I have read far worse on the academic spectrum, including from the article itself - I left out all the stuff about "mimesis", for instance.
     
  5. Flying Phil

    Flying Phil Established Member

    Messages:
    1,198
    Joined:
    18 Apr 2016
    Very interesting......but of course the need for such attractions to have to sully their hands in the search for money to actually exist, I suspect, does not figure highly in such academic research.
    I think there would be a very useful research project that could be done, to show the importance of Heritage Railways in providing the social setting, to enhance the mental and physical well being of the volunteers......The savings to the NHS/social care system would probably fund many Railways!
     
  6. Cowley

    Cowley Established Member Associate Staff General Discussion

    Messages:
    7,441
    Joined:
    15 Apr 2016
    Location:
    Devon
    That’s very true, and I’d also add that these railways have evolved to have their own history (many having been around longer than the BR era that they’ve tried to recreate).
    It’s up to them to make enough money to survive as a business, and also to keep the volunteers who run it interested/engaged enough to want to give up their time week after week year after year so that it keeps going and creating yet more history (imagine some of these lines hitting the 100 year mark as a preserved, private railway one day?).
    What a dry Academic thinks about it all is at the end of the day a bit erm, academic...
     
    Last edited: 21 Mar 2020
  7. EbbwJunction1

    EbbwJunction1 Member

    Messages:
    973
    Joined:
    25 Mar 2010
    I may have misunderstood the article, but it's ironic that it seems to be having a go at heritage railways for raising "filthy lucre" (money to you and me) when Academia is always on the search for money to fund their own research!
     
  8. John Webb

    John Webb Established Member

    Messages:
    1,668
    Joined:
    5 Jun 2010
    Location:
    St Albans
    This article appeared several years before my local preservation project started. As the trustee who liaises with other local museums, some run by professionals, the majority by volunteers, I am aware that that the majority of museum professionals have exactly the same problem as the volunteers in getting the right balance between conservation/preservation/presentation. Many volunteers, not only on railways but in other industrial museums, are aware they have a responsibility to set the context of their work within the social 'landscape' of the appropriate time, and attempt to do so.

    A number of railways and railway museums are 'accredited', which means they have been tested against national standards on a regular basis. Funding too from the Lottery has carried weight in improving presentation.

    It would be interesting to know if the author(s) of the article would write in the same vein today and about professionally run museums as well as preserved railways......
     
  9. Worf

    Worf Member

    Messages:
    118
    Joined:
    12 Aug 2017
    The majority of academics are totally out of touch with the "real world" and are theorising about stuff they have no first hand experience of. Just think of the sort of "preserved railway" they would create, if they had time to do it between arguing which of Marx or Lenin were right. I know at least one "tourist attraction" created by academics and a district council when they set up "Celtica" with fat salaries and index linked pensions for a lot of them. Once the initial grants had run out, it failed miserably and closed within a few years. In the meantime they sucked some of the public away from smaller enterprises that had to pay their own way to survive. I am sure there are plenty of other similar "virility projects" run on the same basis that have fallen by the wayside.

    Best just to ignore them and leave them to their ivory towers and magic money trees.
     
  10. Yorkshire222

    Yorkshire222 Member

    Messages:
    22
    Joined:
    19 Nov 2019
    Location:
    Yorkshire
    "Part of what is needed is a reworking of the experience of the journey so that greater emphasis is given to the wider landscape and places served by the line, and less to the element of transport and the physical features of the railway itself."

    Don't the more successful/longer lines do this anyway [these days]? I'm most familiar with the KWVR being not far from where I live and certainly these are very much highlighted at stations and on trains. I have myself used the railway to take some very pleasant walks up and down the Worth valley. I doubt there are any preserved lines which still exist in the form the quoted article talks about - they would long since have gone bust.
     
  11. eldomtom2

    eldomtom2 Member

    Messages:
    49
    Joined:
    6 Oct 2018
    The article is rather critical of the Worth Valley - there is quite a bit on how railways, being creatures of the Industrial Revolution, should not be seen as part of the rural lanscape.
     
  12. theblackwatch

    theblackwatch Emeritus Moderator

    Messages:
    10,253
    Joined:
    15 Feb 2006
    I'm not sure if this academic actually considers what the aims and objectives of such railways are. Take the KWVR for example, given that it has been mentioned on this thread a few times, taken from the Charity Commission's website:

     
  13. John Webb

    John Webb Established Member

    Messages:
    1,668
    Joined:
    5 Jun 2010
    Location:
    St Albans
    I wonder if the authors failed to realise just how much of the industrial context of the Worth valley has disappeared since the railway was preserved. There have been some spectacular mill fires, those that remain are being used in very different ways to their original purpose, the use of 'smokeless' fuels or other sources of power has removed the smogs that could lurk around industrial areas. In these circumstances the KWVR serves as a good reminder of the valley's industrial heritage.

    The preservation project I'm most involved with has the following objects:
    "The objects of the Charity are to secure for the benefit of the public, the preservation, restoration,
    use and maintenance of the building known as St Albans signal box and the equipment contained
    therein. To use the signal box and equipment as a working museum, exhibiting items and
    demonstrations of railway signalling history and practice, and other general railway interest."

    We don't specifically mention 'education' but most of our visitors happily admit that they've learnt something from visiting us. And this has been done not by formal academic lectures, but simply explaining what we have on show, which gives an overview of signalling from the present day back to the 1890s, hopefully within its historical context.
     
  14. Flying Phil

    Flying Phil Established Member

    Messages:
    1,198
    Joined:
    18 Apr 2016
    On re reading this thread I realised that I didn't know what "Mimesis" was so....
    Mimesis - Wikipedia
    https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Mimesis

    Mimesis is a term used in literary criticism and philosophy that carries a wide range of meanings which include imitatio, imitation, nonsensuous similarity, receptivity, representation, mimicry, the act of expression, the act of resembling, and the presentation of the self.

    ......now I must confess that the thought of "Nonsensuous similarity" is probably appropriate when scraping the clag of ages off a rusty steel wagon underframe!:rolleyes:
     
    Last edited: 22 Mar 2020
  15. Calthrop

    Calthrop Established Member

    Messages:
    1,703
    Joined:
    6 Dec 2015
    "Nonsensuous" in more senses than one, it is felt. These professorial types do seem deficient in a sense of humour...
     
  16. 30907

    30907 Established Member

    Messages:
    8,297
    Joined:
    30 Sep 2012
    Location:
    Airedale
    I would never describe the KWVR landscape as "rural" - it has that typical Pennine mix of rural valley and industrial/postindustrial mill town even at Damems and Oakworth (Oxenhope less so, because the station wasn't well sited).
    BTW I can't find a link to the source article, only quotes, have I missed it?
     
  17. 43096

    43096 Established Member

    Messages:
    6,457
    Joined:
    23 Nov 2015
    Deficient in self-awareness and real world experience, too.
     
  18. gimmea50anyday

    gimmea50anyday Established Member

    Messages:
    2,724
    Joined:
    8 Jan 2013
    Location:
    Back Cab
    Could the same academia arguments therefore be used against Beamish or Black Country museums?
     
  19. xotGD

    xotGD Established Member

    Messages:
    2,631
    Joined:
    4 Feb 2017
    I doubt whether any of these academics have ever stood at the front droplight behind a loco working hard.

    Perhaps if they did, they might discover the purpose of heritage railways.
     
  20. pdeaves

    pdeaves Established Member

    Messages:
    2,940
    Joined:
    14 Sep 2014
    Location:
    Gateway to the South West
    The whole academic thing seems to be based on assuming that something should be something else, then laying into it for not being the something else.

    Perhaps someone could commission an academic to study why universities are rubbish places to learn about the conditions inside a traditional blacksmith, for example.
     
  21. eldomtom2

    eldomtom2 Member

    Messages:
    49
    Joined:
    6 Oct 2018
    Don't actually remember the title, but a search for Colin Divall on Google Scholar should bring it up.
     
  22. Flying Phil

    Flying Phil Established Member

    Messages:
    1,198
    Joined:
    18 Apr 2016
    He is a well known figure (Picture on Google) and, I suspect, quite a supporter of heritage railways. I think the article was produced early in his career and he has a wider appreciation now.....hopefully!
     
  23. GlitterUnicorn

    GlitterUnicorn Member

    Messages:
    37
    Joined:
    31 Jan 2020
    Location:
    Inverness
    As an academic-y type I find this pretty interesting.

    I don't think that he's wrong entirely, more that he's maybe looking at heritage railways from the wrong perspective, although it's always difficult to get a true sense of the article's intent from soundbites. Scanning through the whole article I don't think he's necessarily overly critical either.

    A lot of heritage railways market themselves as a kind of living history experience. For those who aren't train enthusiasts themselves this is a good selling point but while they offer a stylised "historical" feel that's enjoyable, very few heritage railways offer an authentic experience of a railway at any particular time period. Maybe a few places like the railway at Beamish come closer, but that's hardly likely to excite many enthusiasts. Similarly, if historical interest was the only thing we were concerned about then it'd be far better to leave trains in as original condition as possible, and avoid replacing original parts or doing anything that risks authenticity. Running them would be out of the question.

    I think on most preserved railways the aim is to operate a railway more than anything else. It's to operate old trains and rolling stock rather than to be a museum. The intention is to preserve trains in a way that allows them to be operated, and to provide an experience of seeing them in action that wouldn't otherwise be possible. The trains themselves (in operating condition) are what's of primary historical interest, while in many ways the line, stations and infrastructure are a backdrop or stage for them. There's merit to that too, you learn a lot more from seeing a Deltic or a large steam engine hauling a train than you do from seeing one in a shed, it's a living being rather than just another chunk of iron, even if the setting and the coaches it's hauling are totally inauthentic.

    With a lot of preserved railways struggling these days I wonder whether there's anything they could learn from this? As the article notes there's a lot of aspects of history heritage railways leave untapped. They tend to miss out on local history, and how the railways interact with the people in the local area. To give an example the Scotrail waiting room in Aviemore has an interesting information board about the Jellicoe Express, which is a really interesting bit of history. The Strathspey Railway waiting room in Aviemore is full of copies of Rail Magazine from the late 90s (also historical I suppose...). While maybe going down the pure living history route isn't a viable idea they could certainly think a lot more about being better museums sometimes.
     
  24. John Webb

    John Webb Established Member

    Messages:
    1,668
    Joined:
    5 Jun 2010
    Location:
    St Albans
    Interesting comment. In 2018 the Elstree and Borehamwood Museum set up a wonderful exhibition about the 150th anniversary of the construction of the Midland Railway's "London Extension" in 1868. They not only gave details of the railway, but showed how its presence changed a rural agricultural village into, particularly, Britain's "Hollywood".
    After the fairly recent formation of the Bedford-St Albans Community rail partnership, the St Albans Signal Box Preservation Trust was asked if we could produce a history of St Albans City station for display in their waiting room. This is what we came up with:

    [​IMG]
     
  25. Flying Phil

    Flying Phil Established Member

    Messages:
    1,198
    Joined:
    18 Apr 2016
    GlitterUnicorn does indeed make good points, as does John W. I think many railways are now putting more of an effort into educating/informing their audience, not only about their railway and its surroundings/use, when it was "active," but also, how it has evolved over the past, up to 50+ years in preservation.
     
  26. jmh59

    jmh59 Member

    Messages:
    50
    Joined:
    7 May 2018
    Location:
    Leeds
  27. billio

    billio Member

    Messages:
    305
    Joined:
    9 Feb 2012
    The ELR has a close link with the Bury Transport Museum. I think it would be nice if there was a shuttle service between Bolton Street and a short platform at Castlefields.
     
  28. E759

    E759 Member

    Messages:
    570
    Joined:
    7 Dec 2017
    Location:
    Sussex
    What and where is "Castlefields"?
     
  29. 30907

    30907 Established Member

    Messages:
    8,297
    Joined:
    30 Sep 2012
    Location:
    Airedale
    The museum address is Castlecroft Goods Warehouse, so I imagine that's where billio means. Not sure you could build a platform any nearer to it than the ELR station entrance on Bolton St though!

    Back on topic - Heritage Lottery Fund grants certainly come with conditions about explaining the heritage aspects of a building; I don't know whether grants made to preserved lines come from that pot, but I would expect similar conditions. Heritage panels at stations are becoming common, too - certainly the NR East Lancs route has some.
     

Share This Page