Probus Club hears from the Friends of the National Railway Museum

The Chairman of the South of England Group of the Friends of the National Railway Museum, Dr Ian Harrison, gave an illustrated talk to this club for retired professional and business managers at the first speaker meeting of their 37th Probus season.

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Ian Harrison and Alan Porter

“I didn’t work on the railways but always had a close affinity as my father was a signalman on the Carlisle to Settle railway”, Dr Harrison explained. “He moved to Leeds, where he continued as a signalman, as he recognised that his three children would have greater job opportunities in an industrial centre.”

Dr Harrison talked about the creation of the NRM in 1975 and the problems of running a museum where many of the exhibits are very large! The museum has gathered over a million objects from 300 years of railway history and now has 280 rail vehicles including all manner of locomotives and rolling stock. About a hundred are at York with the rest being shared between the Locomotion Museum at Shildon in County Durham and at many Heritage Railways around the country. In addition it houses an immense collection of railway ephemera including uniforms, trackside equipment, signs, engine nameplates and railway art. Dr Harrison brought several books produced by the Friends of the NRM on railway matters which were available to purchase as part of their fund raising activities.

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Winston Churchill & The FNRM South of England Group team

Our local heritage line, the Mid Hants Railway, perhaps more commonly known as the Watercress Line, that runs between Alton and Alresford, has a major repair centre at Ropley (and operates two NRM locomotives – Lord Nelson and Cheltenham). The Mid Hants has played an important role in many restorations over the years. The latest undertaking was the complete cosmetic restoration of the NRM’s locomotive Winston Churchill. This was one of 44 Battle of Britain class locomotives, named after Battle of Britain heroes, RAF stations and squadrons produced by the Southern Railway in 1946. It famously hauled the funeral train of Sir Winston Churchill on 30th January 1965 from Waterloo to Long Hanborough in Oxfordshire. It was taken into the National Collection in September 1965 on withdrawal from service and stored in various locations, suffering the ravages of time before the Friends decided that something needed to be done!

On behalf of the FNRM, Ian’s South of England Group has so far raised £39,000 of the £44,000 target; this allowed the restoration to be completed at Ropley in time for the 50th anniversary of Churchill’s funeral in January this year. The loco was taken back to York where it formed the centre-piece of the National Railway Museum’s exhibition marking this event – the last time a coffin was carried by train.

More details about the South of England Group of the Friends of the National Railway Museum can be seen on their web site and that of the Probus Club on or phone their secretary Paul Flint on 07770 886521.

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Winston Churchill on roll out at Ropley