Age-old uniforms allow National Railway Museum to track history of train workers

By Culture24 Staff | 15 February 2010
A photo of a man holding up a green jacket in front of an old train in a museum

Clothing detectives have picked through cigarettes, dust and sew lines on 100-year-old uniforms in a bid to uncover the secret lives of the men who worked on British railways at the start of the 20th century.

Experts from the National Railway Museum and volunteers from the National Association of Decorative and Fine Arts Societies have traced the lives of local track staff by condition checking dozens of items of clothing.

Malcolm Dilworth (above), who gifted a 1914 train guard jacket worn by his grandfather to the Museum seven years ago, said the care and attention the team gave to the fragile rarities had justified his decision.

"When I first saw my grandfather's jacket it was covered in more than 70 years of dust, but now it looks fantastic," he admitted.

"I'm glad that more people will get the chance to access it and find out more about railway uniforms and the people like my grandfather who wore them."

A photo of women looking at a jacket on a table

Volunteers from the National Association of Decorative and Fine Arts Societies have worked with experts from the Museum

NADFAS group leader Alyne Ledger said the group had relished revealing the faces behind the fabrics.

"This is a very interesting project for us and everyone involved is really enjoying the stories that are emerging," she explained.

"We found some tobacco in one of the jacket pockets which helped us to visualise what the owner might be like.

"There was also a pair of trousers that made us laugh. They had a very wide waistband and had been taken up - probably by the wife of the owner - to make the legs very short. We immediately thought of the fat controller."

A photo of a jacket on a rod in front of an old train

The project will help decide which uniforms will be digitised first

The project aims to allow the Museum to decide which sections of their 4,800-item uniform collection should be digitized first.

"We are very grateful to all the volunteers who are giving up their time to assist with this project," said John McGoldrick, Curator of Railways at the NRM.

"Everyone is very dedicated and I think that we have all enjoyed learning from their findings."

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