Locomotion, Shildon

Discussion in 'Railtours & Preservation' started by Journeyman, 9 Jul 2018.

  1. Journeyman

    Journeyman Member

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    Is it just me, or is the NRM Locomotion site at Shildon rather disappointing?

    I visited yesterday, and wasn't hugely impressed by what was on offer. Given that the NRM is very good and widely recognised as one of the best museums in the country, I thought Locomotion would be up to a similar standard, albeit on a smaller scale, but I found it much poorer.

    For a start, the Welcome building and Hackworth cottage were firmly locked, which seems really strange and not a good start. I don't know if they have more restricted hours than the rest of the site, or if yesterday's closure was down to a post-World Cup England victory hangover, but I only found out afterwards that the Welcome building has some significant exhibits in it, including a lot of stuff that puts the museum in its local context as the birthplace of modern railways.

    The grounds around the main building were fairly interesting, but I was in for another disappointment when I got inside.

    There's some great exhibits in here, including some really historic stuff like APT-E and the prototype Deltic, but far too little is done to really show them off to the public, and the only access possible to most exhibits is from floor level, so you can't see inside. A lot of things are bunched up too much, making photography and a proper view really tricky, and this is inexcusable given that there's actually a lot of space available in the building. I really wanted to look at the 2-BIL unit, as I'm a big fan of the Southern and grew up in the middle of Southern Electric territory, but it was boxed in at both ends by other things, and there was no viewing platform allowing the inside to be seen - probably just as well, given that vandalism was evident on the inside, that no-one has bothered to repair or cover over. Also, it was on its own in a corner surrounded by unrelated exhibits, when the museum also contains a 4-COR motor coach, the Class 71, a Bulleid Pacific and the Night Ferry sleeping car, all of which grouped together would have made an excellent Southern display. Hardly any of the exhibits had much information provided, which makes it very hard for non-enthusiasts to appreciate their value or historical relevance.

    Also, what went into deciding which exhibits were on display in Shildon? Surely the Deltic and APT-E belong with other high-speed icons like Mallard, the Eurostar power car and the Bullet Train car at York?

    It led me to think that it is simply an overspill storage site like the LT Museum Depot at Acton, but not actually promoted as such, and without the efforts made at Acton to provide lots of things to do and help people interpret the exhibits.

    Maybe I'm being harsh, but it's possible to do much better than this, and I left feeling it's a wasted opportunity and a poor use of resources.
     
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  3. DarloRich

    DarloRich Veteran Member

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    you are being harsh. I wont go into the usual NRM Spotter v family debate
     
  4. Journeyman

    Journeyman Member

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    I don't want to get into that debate, either. However, the NRM is very good for a wide range of visitors, and Shildon isn't, for the reasons I've described.
     
  5. DarloRich

    DarloRich Veteran Member

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    but it is a different facility. It is , essentially, covered storage for parts of the NRM collection that don't fit into the current display schedules at the main site. it is also set up to allow some conservation work on vehicles and retain/develop the kind of skills needed to restore historic vehicles. It also offers the opportunity to demonstrate vehicles "live" on the short demonstration track.

    I will agree it is very crowded and the exhibits lack information to allow visitors to understand the history and context of the vehicles. On the positive side it is free to get in and allowed the Hackworth museum to be saved when the council ran short of funding. it is also a big plus for the local area in what is not an affluent part of the country. Would you have gone to Shildon otherwise?

    PS you should also have tried to visit the head of steam in Darlington if it was open. That is a good little museum but is really struggling in the face of council cuts. It came very close to closure recently.
     
  6. Journeyman

    Journeyman Member

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    It's not really sold as such, though, and hence may not be doing a very good job of managing peoples' expectations.

    You're absolutely right, I wouldn't have done, and yes, any development like that in a town that has suffered so much industrial decline has to be welcomed. I was pleased to see the 2-HAP motor coach undergoing a thorough restoration, and yes, the free admission has to be a boon if you're taking a big group there. I just think even very minor changes could utterly transform the visitor experience and make it so much better. It wouldn't even need much money spent on it. I'm not talking about all-singing, all-dancing interactive displays or whatever, just a bit more thought into how the exhibits are displayed, and better access to them.

    I did visit, actually, and thought it was excellent - far better, in fact. Besides a good collection of rolling stock and other items, it did a much better job of putting the area's rail history in context and telling a story, and I was really impressed. I didn't even know it was there, I only discovered it by seeing it from the train on the way to Shildon, and visited on my way back.
     
  7. DarloRich

    DarloRich Veteran Member

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    Agreed. I don't think it knows what it is really, although it does a good job in attracting high visitor numbers to an ignored part of the country.

    I agree - it needs more information about the exhibits along with their historical context. On the plus side it is rail served on a quiet line but close to the main line for incoming exhibits, close to a station for public access and has a large display apron at the front which comes in useful for special events. I went to a fantastic Deltic event there some years ago.

    It is a real positive for the area even if the layout is imperfect.

    Fantastic - it is a great little museum ( biased - i lived round the corner for years) but one that is constantly under threat as the council is very short of money & it very nearly closed under a recent funding review. I would love to see both Locomotion and Head of Steam advertised with some kind of joint attraction rail ticket offer ( and in a fantasy world historic trains running between the two on a weekend) but I guess local politics always intervenes! (Dalrington is a unitary authority Shildon is in County Durham)
     
  8. Journeyman

    Journeyman Member

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    They're certainly close enough for a combined day out, and yes, some sort of joint promotion and financing would be perfect. I wonder how that might be brought about?
     
  9. DarloRich

    DarloRich Veteran Member

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    Local councils growing a brain! I don't know. It seems so obvious yet has not, sadly, been done.
     
  10. Journeyman

    Journeyman Member

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    I'd imagine the NRM would have to take the initiative, but it has problems enough of its own caused by cuts in funding.
     
  11. tbtc

    tbtc Veteran Member

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    There's an element of chicken and egg here.

    If you put all of the A-list stuff at York then the remaining odds-and-sods at Shildon won't be worth most people visiting.

    It's a bit like when Edinburgh Zoo ('s parent group) took over the Highland Wildlife Park and moved some of the A-list animals (polar bears etc) from the Zoo to the Wildlife Park, partly to encourage existing visitors to try out their "sister" place.
     
  12. Journeyman

    Journeyman Member

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    There is that, I suppose. I visited because of appealing items on the exhibit list. The amount of Southern-related stuff there was surprising, though, and I do think it would have been greatly improved by being properly grouped together and spaced better.
     
  13. tsr

    tsr Established Member

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    I quite enjoyed my trip to Shildon when I visited (last year I think) and have actually been recommending it to friends who are more interested in how railways and trains themselves have developed, as opposed to York, which (unless they have a special exhibition which you’re interested in) always strikes me at being aimed at looking at a famous train or two with kids in tow. Nothing wrong with that, at all - except if you want something a tad more substantial.

    NRM Shildon, I felt, was easily worth the extra journey time from “down south”. (Plus I purchased my ticket to Bishop Auckland so I could see the whole of the passenger branch service, which I did during the slightly more frequent peak service.)

    Some of the information boards were quite small but everything I read was pretty interesting. I do agree about things being clustered together and in a slightly odd order, but part of the fun for me was wandering around, finding gems which were really relevant to my patch. Certainly better than the London Transport Museum, where almost every explainer was riddled with technical errors or oversimplification.

    Although it was very quiet (a fairly cold day) and the Welcome centre was shut, which to be fair would have been visited by quite literally one man and his dog anyway, there were several people restoring stuff in the main shed, and a volunteer on the footplate of a locomotive whom I had a nice tour from.

    I might actually have a suitable day when I can try the Head of Steam place soon... shall bear it in mind!
     
  14. ainsworth74

    ainsworth74 Moderator Staff Member Moderator

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    Whilst it's not a ticket offer Darlington station do do their bit to promote the NRM at Shildon as you'll often see Bishop bound trains on the boards with "Via Railway Museum" appearing. It seems a bit hit and miss so I'm guessing it's one staff member at Darlington who is doing it but it's always good to see. I suppose it actually covers both as you can access Head of Steam from North Road and the NRM from Shildon but I've always assumed that they were trying to advertise the NRM.
     
  15. bramling

    bramling Established Member

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    It’s also worth remembering that there’s plenty of railway interest elsewhere in Shildon besides the museum itself.
     
  16. DarloRich

    DarloRich Veteran Member

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    that is good to hear! I don not think both museums are advertised enough, especially as they are both at stations on the same line.
     
  17. cuccir

    cuccir Established Member

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    Living in Durham I've been to Locomotion plenty of times, but to be honest non-railway enthusiast friends and family have tended to find it a bit dull. The material around Hackworth in the 'town end' is very good and engaging but the main building doesn't offer much for the broader public. A little bit of that is about its facilities - it'd benefit I think from having the cafe and gift shop in separate building from the trains, making a more welcoming space. Invest a bit in that and you'd get a return I think: it's not like South Durham is bursting at the seems with visitor facilities. As others have pointed out - maybe that's not what they're wanting to do, but it does seem a missed opportunity.

    There's lots going on in Bishop Auckland right now - if I were the NRM I'd be getting in touch with Jonathan Ruffer and seeing how I could tie into what he's doing there. An ambitious goal would be to get the Weardale Railway running to Shildon - add a heritage service to the site and suddenly it becomes a much more attractive family day out.

    Agree re: the Head of Steam, for its size and resources it's a better attraction than Locomotion.
     

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