Do the Locomotion!

26th February 2023

Despite the promise of Spring, the weather had taken a slight turn for the worse and with me nursing a hopefully minor knee injury we decided to have a weekend ‘off’ and visit Shildon’s Locomotion Railway Museum – somewhere I’ve never been, have wanted to go for years but somehow never managed. It’s not that far from us in Durham either so there’s no excuse really. Despite a couple of diversions we were soon pulling into the extravagantly large car park that once would have overlooked huge sidings. The museum itself is a single, large, modern-looking building with a shallow arched roof located, for historical reasons, alongside the Darlington to Bishop Auckland Railway, by the station. Being a half-term Sunday we were sharing the experience with lots of young families to which the museum is heavily oriented though it didn’t hamper our enjoyment – it’s a good mix actually (though I’d sell them less sugar ;-)).

The first thing we noticed was the queue for the short train rides that the museum runs, the train itself being comprised of a shunter and guards wagon. On entering we found ourselves standing in another queue, this one for the tickets for the train ride. We soon realised that entry to the museum was free and that only donations are requested. Having in the past, worked in railway manufacturing facilities around the country, the smell instantly took me back there though I’m sure most people wouldn’t notice it. I was also struck by the space, another feature of these types of facilities with the exhibits drawn up on rails as though on a production line. A great vibe as far as I was concerned.

As a result of putting together this post it appears that we only visited one part of the site (there’s more a kilometre down the track at Timothy Hackworth’s original Soho site). Hackworth himself was the instigator and central character in Shildon’s development, a Methodist, so devout that he called his son ‘John Wesley’. He competed against George Stephenson at the 1829 Rainhill Trials with his engine ‘Sans Pareil’ against Stephenson’s ‘Rocket’ replicas of which – along with Stephenson’s ‘Locomotion’ – feature in the collection. Both engineers were born in Wylam, Northumberland with Stephenson being five years older and seemingly supportive of Hackworth throughout his career.

Speaking for myself, I was quite overwhelmed by the collection’s size and scale (and we didn’t we see all of it, as I’ve said). I was also impressed by how concisely the interpretation boards are written. They’re quick to read and informative enough (I often spend hours reading only a fraction of the information displayed in museums which I usually end up photographing). There are also video points of which we didn’t take advantage but which gives me one more reason for an additional visit. The photographs in the slideshow below show something of the experience but there’s much more, from Queen Alexandra’s (Edward VII’s missus) carriage, to specialist rolling stock like war flats, cranes and livestock carriages (the imitation cows and horses look great).

The museum makes a huge effort to communicate Shildon’s development as the world’s very first ‘railway town’ (on that point, wherever you come into contact with Shildon’s and Bishop Auckland’s historic railway network you’re usually looking at a ‘world’s first’). The loos are clean and well appointed, there’s a large coffee shop and an equally extensive gift shop where you can see just how much model railway enthusiasts will pay for their passion. With regard to donations, we elected to give online in order to gift-aid the donation. Even if railways aren’t you’re thing you should still go – you won’t regret it. It’s a very friendly and welcoming experience.

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