Gulbenkian Prize 2005 Readers' Poll: Locomotion: National Railway Museum at Shildon

By Caroline Lewis | 08 March 2005
Shows a photo of the interior of the museum, with engines and carriages on show.

Locomotion is housing vehicles from the national collection that were previously at risk. © 24 Hour Museum. Photo: Jon Pratty.

**Voting for the readers' poll has now closed**

Since January, judges have been visiting the museums shortlisted for the UK’s largest arts prize, the third Gulbenkian Prize for Museum of the Year.

Here at the 24 Hour Museum, we want to know who you think should win the prize. Click here to see the full shortlist and vote for the museum you think should receive the £100,000, or read on to find out how Locomotion came to be on the shortlist.

Locomotion: The National Railway Museum at Shildon has outstripped all expectations by pulling in 94,000 visitors in its first six months. That’s nearly four times what was forecast – an indicator of how the first national museum in the North East has got it right.

Shows a photo of a group of children in Victorian working clothes. They have blackened faces.

Locomotion is not just for rail enthusiasts, by any means. Courtesy Locomotion.

“It had its genesis in the fact that the NRM had more vehicles than we could house undercover,” says Janice Murray, Deputy Head of the National Railway Museum and Head of Operations.

“There was an impetus to find adequate storage for these vehicles,” she continued, “which gave us an opportunity to expand outside of York.”

Shildon, in County Durham, was the ideal site – where could be more appropriate than at the birthplace of passenger rail travel? The first steam-hauled passenger train left off from Shildon, on the first public railway — the Stockton and Darlington. The year was 1825, the train was Timothy Hackworth and George Stephenson's Locomotion. The new museum is built on what was the Hackworth Victorian and Railway Museum.

Locomotion has proved another first in that it is the first fifty-fifty partnership between a national museum and a local authority (Sedgefield Borough Council). “The partnership has been everything,” says Janice. “It took the museum and changed it into a community resource.”

Shows a photo of the front of a diesel locomotive.

The prototype Deltic diesel. © 24 Hour Museum. Photo: Jon Pratty.

The local community has a special link to Locomotion – it was a blow to its identity when the railway town’s wagon works closed in 1984. Janice says that the museum has had a real impact: “It allows local people to say ‘We’re an important community. This is the recognition of it.’”

Being shortlisted for the Gulbenkian has been “a tremendous vote of confidence”, she says. “It’s meant a lot to people locally – to get national recognition.”

The museum is not just about looking at an important past: “We’ve put a very contemporary feel to it,” she explains. “It’s very family oriented. It’s about looking forward and it’s about now.”

Shows a photo of a locomotive with people on it, running along the track.

The replica of Sans Pareil, which means without parallel, steaming along. © 24 Hour Museum. Photo: Jon Pratty.

Responding to research carried out in the area, there is a lot more to the museum than a national collection of locomotions. More than half of the visitors are not rail enthusiasts, which is reflected in what’s on offer.

The £11million the museum cost bought a host of interactive exhibits and a brilliant eco-friendly building with a solar panel roof and a wind turbine and a bio-diesel bus to take visitors to different parts of the site. “I call it the chip fat bus!” says Janice.

Alongside the wonderful new resources is an extensive collection of 70 vehicles, previously at risk because of inadequate storage. The highlights include the original Sans Pareil (built for the Rainhill Trials) and a working replica of it, the ‘Advanced Passenger Train’ Experimental and a magnificent NER Snow Plough. Some famous visitors to Locomotion include the Flying Scotsman and City of Truro – oh, and the local MP Tony Blair.

Shows a photo of a boy using an interactive.

An interactive exhibit attracts a youngster. Courtesy Locomotion.

There’s no doubt that winning the Gulbenkian Prize would mean a lot to the community of Shildon, who are proud of their history. The theme of working people and industrial history runs through much of 2005’s Gulbenkian shortlist, from the smallest to the largest institution.

On what the money would be spent, Janice has several thoughts. “It isn’t complete,” she says. “There’s a commitment to a second phase, whether it be a kilometre of fun or restoring the Soho Shed – we’ve got ideas!”

“We’re going to go out and look for funding," Janice continues. "The £100,000 would be our seed corn funding.”

The 24 Hour Museum is conducting a poll to find out who our readers want to win the Gulbenkian Prize 2005.

To vote for Locomotion, click here.

We have run features on each of the shortlisted museums, so if you haven’t decided who to vote for yet, make sure to read all about it on the 24 Hour Museum.

To find out more about the Gulbenkian Prize, click on this link to visit the website.

**Voting for the readers' poll has now closed**

More on the venues and organisations we've mentioned:
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