NRM SEARCH ENGINE PROJECT GETS THE GO-AHEAD
> Thousands of previously unseen national treasures will be accessible for
> the first time as part of a new =A33.5 million project at the National
> Railway Museum (NRM) called Search Engine.
> With the help of a =A3995,000 grant from the Heritage Lottery Fund (HLF),
> the Museum plans to throw open its vast archive of the largest and richest
> collection of railway related library, archive and image collections in
> the world, which have previously been hidden away in locked basements
> underneath the world's largest railway museum in York.
> The project will create a new public archive centre on the NRM's Great
> Hall Balcony where anyone visiting the museum will be able to drop-in and
> have their questions answered directly from the museum's archives without
> making an appointment.
> Among the thousands of priceless items that will be made fully accessible
> for the first time is the key eyewitness account of the birth of the
> modern railways - the Rainhill Locomotive Trials of 1829, won by George
> Stephenson's Rocket.
> As one of three judges of the trials, John Rastrick, a locomotive builder
> and engineer himself, was the key expert witness at this landmark event.
> Rastrick was looking for the engineering "X-factor" that would set one
> locomotive above the others. The winner's reward would be to provide the
> engines that hauled the world's first inter-city train on the world's
> first mainline railway between Liverpool and Manchester, and the
> international fame and fortune that would follow.
> During the trials Rastrick kept a notebook, now held in the NRM's
> archives, containing his detailed observations on the competing
> locomotives. His notes are the only surviving expert account of the
> trials, and are vital to historians seeking to understand why Rocket was
> so revolutionary.
> Michael Bailey is a leading consultant on early locomotives and in 1999
> carried out, with his colleague, John Glithero, an archaeological survey
> on the original Rocket locomotive. He commented: "There are no component
> drawings for Rocket - engineers didn't prepare them at that time because
> steam engines were individually made by craftsmen and not mass-produced.
> The notebook is therefore crucial in enabling us to understand its design
> and performance at the Rainhill Trials and gain a very accurate picture of
> why the engine was so revolutionary, and why it successfully provided the
> missing link that made steam travel viable.
> "Without this notebook, we may never have known precisely how Rocket was
> made. When the locomotive was preserved, semi-derelict, in 1862 it had
> been heavily rebuilt. The notebook has since revealed the extent of the
> modifications and set the history books straight."
> Rastrick's notebook has previously been inaccessible to all but a tiny
> number of researchers. However, it is just one of the fascinating
> treasures the Museum will now be able to make accessible through Search > Engine.
> The NRM archive holds 1.5 million photographic negatives, 1 million
> engineering drawings, 9,000 railway posters, 350,000 railway tickets, 200
> works of art, 2,500 items of heraldry, 2000 oral history and sound
> recordings, and over 3 km of letters, reports and railway papers. >
> Richard Taylor, Collections Access Manager at the NRM, explained: "These
> collections not only explain the significance of the items that the Museum
> has on display, but they also record the thoughts, opinions and voices of
> hundreds of people connected with the railways, from engineers such as
> Rastrick to modern-day train crews, allowing you to see and "hear" the
> voices of the railway community, past and present. By opening these up to
> everyone through Search Engine we can add an extra human dimension to our
> displays and exhibitions."
> John Watson, Chair of the HLF Yorkshire and the Humber Committee, added:
> "We are delighted to be able to help the National Railway Museum open up
> its vast 'behind-the-scenes' collections to visitors. Not only will this
> have far-reaching consequences for the general public and future budding
> historians, but the funds will also allow the Museum's archives to be
> stored in much more suitable conditions, thus helping to preserve them for
> generations to come."
> Construction work for Search Engine will get underway in the New Year. As
> well as the new public archive centre, the project includes the
> refurbishment and expansion of the museum's library and also of the
> storage archive vaults which will be opened to the public on a regular
> basis. The project is expected to be completed by autumn 2007.