The second in our blog post ‘poster papers’ for the Who Cares Conference (Science Museum 6th November 2015) from Mark Lambert, a PhD student at the school of Geography, University of Nottingham.
My PhD research, which looks at railway preservation between 1948 (the year in which British railways were nationalised) and 1975 (when the National Railway Museum (NRM) was opened in York) has brought me into contact with ‘unloved’ objects relating to and once owned by John Scholes, the Curator of Historical Relics at the British Transport Commission (later the British Railways Board) between 1951 and 1974. The objects in question are an engraved cigarette box and a series of photographs depicting John Scholes within the Museum of British Transport at Clapham (which he ran between 1961 and 1973) which were given to him by members of the Consultative Panel for the Preservation of British Transport Relics (a group of representatives of transport enthusiast societies) at the organisations’ tenth anniversary dinner in 1968. Whilst the objects are immaculately preserved, they are not displayed- yet the story which can be teased out of them about the NRM’s pre-history, and particularly about the ways in which the NRM’s collections were first amassed and displayed- is a fascinating one. This story is particularly important now, as this year marks the fortieth anniversary of the NRM’s opening.
The Consultative Panel for the Preservation of British Transport Relics was formed in 1958 as an advisory body to the nationalised British Transport Commission (BTC). The Panel met regularly (at least every quarter), working with the BTC- and thus with Scholes- to select items for preservation and assist them in the establishment of the British Transport Museum in Clapham, South West London, which opened fully in 1963. Perhaps the most significant activity conducted by the Panel was the listing in 1961 of 19 steam locomotive types for preservation (to which 8 were added by the BTC itself); many of these, such as No. 4468 Mallard and No. 92220 Evening Star, went on to become part of today’s national collection. Some of these locomotives, including Mallard, were first displayed at Clapham.
The personally inscribed cigarette box and photographs presented to John Scholes at the 10th anniversary dinner- held at the Great Western Hotel, Paddington on 18th October 1968- illustrate the close personal and professional relationship between him and the enthusiasts of the Consultative Panel. The gifts were funded through contributions from Panel members in order to recognize Scholes’ “superlative achievements as Curator of Historical Relics”. The cigarette box was described as “a tribute of esteem and affection by the societies represented on the Panel”. It is inscribed with Scholes’ initials- JHS- and the following dedication:
“Presented to John Scholes
At the 10th Anniversary Dinner of the Consultative Panel for the Preservation of British Transport Relics
By Associate Societies
In appreciation of his services to transport preservation
18th October 1968”
The “album of photographs of Mr Scholes, taken against various backgrounds of the collection at Clapham”- which has now been broken up into separate photographs – was presented to him “as a souvenir of the occasion” *. The photographs depict a smartly dressed Scholes in a series of different poses within the Clapham museum, each of which places him in a position of authority, whether talking to a group of schoolchildren, relaxing with his arms crossed staring thoughtfully at an unseen object, or simply striding across the space between exhibits. In these photographs, Scholes’ persona takes on an air of almost effortless control- the museum is his domain, and a space which he is comfortable in and knowledgeable about. The photographs evoke the ghostly space of this now long closed and demolished museum, which had a strong connection both to Scholes and to the Panel (which continued to meet there even after it closed in April 1973).
Today the cigarette box and photographs are part of, respectively, the Miscellanea and Curiosities and Photographic Collections at the NRM. The story which these objects can tell us about railway preservation in the 1960s is not as prominent as the stories told in museum space- such as the tale of Mallard’s speed record-breaking run on 3rd July 1938- which we know and love. However, I would suggest that these objects have an important role to play in illustrating the close bonds between enthusiasts and professionals which underpinned the designation and display of railway objects in this formative era of preservation, with the personal relationships of care, love and devotion between Scholes and the Panel mirroring the care, love and devotion which the enthusiasts felt for the locomotives and other transport artefacts which they were responsible for preserving.
* We have asked for permission for photographs to be reproduced on this blog and will update accordingly if permission is granted.