Rail museum acquires major transport collection

01 Jun 2009

The National Railway Museum (NRM) is celebrating the acquisition of one of the most comprehensive private collections of transport history in Britain.

The Forsythe Collection of Travel & Transport Publicity Ephemera focuses on transport publicity particularly that of the nationalised railway from 1948, but also covers bus, air and water transport in the second half of the 20th century.

This vast collection which consists of more than 125,000 items of railway and other transport ephemera is now housed in Search Engine, the NRM’s £4million research and archive centre where Museum staff are now busy working on making it available to the public.

The story of the railways, from the pre- Beeching era through to the current day is told through a variety of publicity materials including timetables, handbills and brochures. The collection includes gems such as the only booklet British Rail produced specifically for women which proves particularly amusing reading to modern eyes, and a large volume of GNER-related material.

Robert Forsythe, who has a lifelong interest in transport history, also gathered material from across the shipping and tourism industries including Stena Sealink timetables, London Transport Bus maps and catalogues from well-known coach tour operators such as Shearings and Wallace Arnold.

His wife, Fiona, has been key in sorting and organising the collection, which is now occupying 18 bays (around 108 metres) of shelving at the NRM. A chartered librarian from a Scottish railway family, she has been aware of the importance of the transport network to people’s lives from an early age and joined forces with Robert in the crusade to save the paper records that the public – and often the companies themselves – tended to throw away.

The couple met at Denny’s, the Dumbarton shipyard which made so many of the vessels depicted in the sea transport section of the collection, including the BR owned Caledonian Princess steam ship, a key part of the Scotland Ireland transport network from 1961.

The Forsythe collection is highly regarded as key resource by historians.
Helen Ashby, Head of Knowledge and Collections at the NRM explained::

‘This is a key collection for anyone interested in transport and we’re delighted that people will be able to access it at the National Railway Museum where it can be used to find the answer to questions such as ‘What do we mean by integrated public transport?’ Given the wide range of publicity material within the collection, it would also appeal to anyone with a fascination for graphic design or advertising.’

Tim Procter, Curator of Archive & Library Collections at the NRM added:

‘The Forsythes have been building this renowned collection for years - it has been a real labour of love. At one point they had upwards of 625 binders stored on shelves and in cupboards in their 3 bed Northumberland family home! Now this fantastic treasure trove of transport history can be accessed by the public, and in the year ahead we will be working hard to make the archive even easier to use.’

Ends

For more information please contact:

Catherine Farrell, Senior Press Officer, NRM. 01904 686281 catherine.farrell@nrm.org.uk

Notes to editors:

  • Robert Forsythe has worked freelance in this sector since 1990 as an author and consultant. Fiona Forsythe also now works freelance in the cultural sector having latterly been Head of Library Services at Newcastle College. Further information is at www.forsythe.demon.co.uk
  • Key items in the ‘Forsythe collection include handbills/leaflets relating to: The Caledonian Princess Steam Ship
    The 1966 World Cup
    The Funeral of Diana, Princess of Wales
    The 1953 Coronation
    The 1968 end of steam on British Railways
    The Start of Hovercraft services from the South Coast
    Classic Pullman trains like The Golden Arrow and the Brighton Belle
    The take up of Sealink vessels for the Falkland’s war
    Closure notices for the Waverley line
  • Search Engine is a groundbreaking library, archive and research centre at the NRM.
  • Search Engine is a £4million project funded by Heritage Lottery Fund (HLF), Higher Education Funding Council for England (HEFCE), Department of Culture, Media and Sport (DCMS) and Friends of the National Railway Museum.
  • Search Engine’s archives include ‘hidden treasures’ e.g. works of art, railway posters, film, photography and sound recordings, engineering drawings and archive documents such as letters and diaries.
  • The National Railway Museum in York is home to over 300 years of railway history including over 100 locomotives and a million other objects - from posters and tickets to rolling stock and silverware. Visitors can enjoy a free family day out with the kids including an action-packed annual programme of special events and exhibitions.

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