Vast transport archive unleashes history of 20th century travel

By Culture24 Staff | 18 June 2009
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A picture of a couple holding a train brochure in front of a 1970s train

(Above) Fiona and Robert Forsythe with an iconic prototype High Speed Train from the early 1970s. Picture: Lynn Patrick, © National Railway Museum

A 125,000-item "treasure trove" charting the history of travel by road, sea and air in the 20th century, including decades of timetables and handbills and the only booklet British Rail ever produced specifically for women, has been snapped up the National Railway Museum in York.

The Forsythe Collection of Travel and Transport Publicity Ephemera represents a lifetime's obsession with public transport by author and consultant Robert Forsythe and his wife Fiona, a chartered librarian. The dedicated couple rescued records which were destined to be dumped by companies including Stena Sealink, London Transport buses and prominent tour operators.

A picture of a couple holding a travel brochure in a library

The couple met at a Dumbarton shipyard which made many of the vessels depicted in the sea transport section of the collection. Picture © National Railway Museum

"The Forsythes have been building this renowned collection for years – it has been a real labour of love," said Tim Procter, Curator of Archive and Library Collections at the NRM. "At one point they had upwards of 625 binders stored on shelves and in cupboards in their three-bedroom Northumberland family home."

Staff are working feverishly to make the archive accessible to the public. It is currently taking up 108 metres of space at the Museum's £4 million Search Engine research centre with items concerning landmark events including the 1966 World Cup and the 1953 Coronation.

"This is a key collection for anyone interested in transport," added Helen Ashby, Head of Knowledge and Collections at the NRM. "Given the wide range of publicity material within the collection, it would also appeal to anyone with a fascination for graphic design or advertising."

Read Robert Forsythe's online blog.

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