History & Heritage

History of Steam

The National Railway Museum is a unique and unrivalled look-back at the world of steam.

MAY 4th, 2020

Photogrpahy supplied by © Reed Gallery

The National Railway Museum - © Reed Gallery


or nearly 200 years they have shaped how we traverse the world. They have been used in World Wars, become a staple of the Industrial revolution and been the example of opulent Royal luxury. The Train has been an ideological symbol for the evolution of transportation, and in the City of York you can see its timeline for yourself.

The National Railway Museum boasts an impressive collection of steam, diesel and electric trains, as well as over one million artefacts. Created in 1975, the museum has been vitally important in preserving some of the UK’s most iconic locomotives, including the Mallard, the Nigel Gresley and arguably the world’s most famous train, The Flying Scotsman.

The Main Hall - © Reed Gallery

It is a physical history book of Britain’s Industrial evolution and how our remarkable inventorship influenced the furthest reaches of the globe. Yet instead of pages, there are numerous beautifully preserved trains exhibited in the Great Hall. From the largest locomotive in the Museum’s collection, the American ‘KF7’, to the replica of one of the oldest, ‘The Rocket’; the National Railway Museum has something for all, and for free!

The Museum itself is split into different ‘areas’; the Great Hall, Station Hall, South Yard, Learning Place and North Shed. Each section offers a unique glimpse into all thing’s railway. The North Shed and South Yard showcase the hard work achieved by the Museum to bring these wonderful machines back to life. As of present, the Museum is in the midst of rehabilitating ‘Sir Nigel Gresley’, which you can observe from the public viewing gallery overlooking the workshop. Also dotted around the warehouse in the North Shed are an extensive collection of artefacts, from model trains to station signs.

Away from the workstations, the Great Hall and Station Hall display some of the most famous trains to grace the railways. Arguably, the Electric blue ‘Mallard’ is one of the biggest attractions and has been beautifully preserved. To date it still holds the world record for the fastest Steam train ever, reaching a top speed of 126mph. Also, the replica of Robert Stevenson’s iconic ‘The Rocket’ sits as a reminder of where aspects of our steam train journey began. But the Museum doesn’t just look to the past, they showcase our present-day creations, including the Bullet Train and the Euro-Star.

Away from the Great Hall is the Royal collection of carriages situated in the Station Hall. It is here where the crown jewel of the Museum’s collection is placed, the Royal Carriage of Queen Victoria. Other attractions which are on display is the Postal Service Carriage, famously rumoured to be haunted.

George Stephenson's Rocket - © Reed Gallery

The Station Hall is the most recent addition to the Museum and is part of a £50 million upgrade, which will see the tourist attraction look to increase visitor numbers from 750,000 to 1.2 million.

Unfortunately, the Museum’s most popular attraction, The Flying Scotsman, is venturing on a nation-wide tour, but will return to the North Shed in April. This will allow visitors the closest look yet at the iconic steam train, which famously became the first to reach 100mph. And whilst the Scotsman may be absent, there are plenty of other things for visitors to see and do. The Model Railway can hold children’s interests, as well as the miniature railway outside in the South Yard.

The exhibitions of the National Railway Museum speak for themselves, but the importance of displaying them is vital. The Museum perfectly encapsulates a time when Britain’s engineering industry was fearless, both in manufacturing and imagination. These locomotives are symbolic of a time when British inventors didn’t care about what they shouldn’t do but prioritised the dedication to discovering what they could. How fast can we go? How big can we build? How grand and opulent can the railway become? These are attitudes we, at times, no longer see today.

The National Railway Museum highlights a celebration of creating for imagination instead of practicality. It harkens back to a simpler time that demonstrated the unrivalled initiative of Britain and our ever-evolving railways. But within these simplistic tones is the main reason for this Museum’s appeal.

Queen Victoria's Royal Train - © Reed Gallery

For children, there has always been a fascination for locomotives. With pop-culture references like ‘Thomas The Tank Engine’, children look at these trains with awe, wonderment and excitement at their immense size. And so, do adults. Ultimately, this is where the Museum’s success lies. It is a place where all generations can celebrate an industry which has long been an important element of brand Britain, so how wonderful that a place like the National Railway Museum exists so we can all appreciate it too.

Thanks to the National Railway Museum and all their wonderful staff for their help!

If you want to experience National Railway Museum, you can book tickets on their Website here.

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