Armoured trains in the First World War

Fearing invasion in 1914, the government of the United Kingdom sought ways in which to protect our shores.  One of the measures mooted was the use of an armoured train based somewhere on the East Coast. The idea was that an armoured train would be able to reach a possible invasion point with speed, be armed and sufficiently manned to deploy an infantry force with artillery support, and capable of slowing down the enemy advance until some further support arrived.

In December 1914, Great Northern Railway 0-6-2 tank engine (1587) was purchased and two 30 ton boiler-trolleys were acquired from the Caledonian Railway, along with two 40 ton coal wagons from the Great Western Railway. These vehicles were sent to the London and North Western Railway (LNWR) works at Crewe to be made into the armoured train.

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Six degrees of separation and the ‘Chinese Engine’

Today Bob Gwynne (our Associate Curator of Railway Vehicles) celebrates Chinese New Year with a look at how we came to acquire the mighty KF-7 locomotive.

When looking at an object in a museum I like to ask ‘why is this here?’ How did this particular object end up here, as opposed to some village in Sumatra or buried in a field? The ‘why’ of some objects may seem obvious –  you might expect Brunel’s walking stick to have ended up at the National Railway Museum, and the same for railway posters. Presumably at some stage in the past these were given to the museum, or acquired because the museum had (in the past) direct links with the state railway?

However with the locomotive collection, the ‘why’ is sometimes not obvious. These are not the kind of things that can sit around the back of an office for 40 years. Our locomotive collection, unlike that of preserved railways, is the result of an ‘official’ approach to preservation for well over 100 years. Each loco has a history of why and how it came to be preserved that is separate to that of its working life, but often just as interesting.

When you encounter the 196 tons of the ‘Chinese Engine’ it gets even more complicated. The locomotive never ran in the UK, is well outside the British loading gauge, and came to the National Railway Museum just at the point when China was moving away from the  Mao years and becoming the  modern, capitalist hybrid it currently is. (Economic note: when the locomotive was donated to us in 1981, China had a trade deficit of around $1200 million, today it has a trade surplus of $544,760 million).

4-8-4 KF7 Class No 607, built in 1935, arriving at the museum in 1983.

4-8-4 KF7 Class No 607, built in 1935, arriving at the museum in 1983.

The Chinese government decided to present it to the National Railway Museum ‘as a gift from the people of China to people of Britain’ in 1979. But this locomotive was built in Newton le Willows in 1935. So why didn’t they donate a bona-fide Chinese built example? Part of the answer for that lies in its designer, Lt. Col Kenneth Cantlie. His father was Sir James Cantlie who was friends with the founding father of the Republic of China Dr Sun Yat Sen.

In 1896 James Cantlie had led a media campaign to rescue Dr Sun when he had been abducted by the Chinese Imperial Secret Service in London and was due to be squirreled out of the country back to China, where he was likely to have been executed. What better way to mark fraternal relations than to give the UK a locomotive associated with such an auspicious family, especially given that the designer of the locomotive Kenneth Cantlie had Sun Yat Sen as his godfather!

So whilst it is a brilliant example of a locomotive built for export, and technically quite sophisticated, it sits in our Great Hall for reasons that aren’t immediately obvious!

The 'Chinese locomotive' having undergone a programme of restoration after it's arrival in 1983

The ‘Chinese locomotive’ having undergone a programme of restoration.

Reading though the files in our Search Engine, you can also play the game ‘six degrees of separation’ with the history surrounding the locomotive. In this case you can go from the founding father of the Chinese Republic to an American contemporary opera. It goes like this…

First is Dr Sun Yat Sen (1866 -1925) – Chinese nationalist and first president of China after the end of the Qing dynasty, and godfather of the locomotive’s designer, Lt. Col. Kenneth Cantlie.

Second is the ‘Boxer rebellion’- an anti-imperialist revolt that eventually led to the end of the Qing dynasty which had ruled China for over two thousand years. It was put down by an eight nation alliance in 1901 and the Imperial Chinese government was forced to pay reparations to the eight nations – UK, USA, Germany, France, Japan, Russia, Italy and Austria-Hungary. In the UK this money was held by the Boxer Indemnity fund and one of the fund’s trustees was Kenneth Cantlie. He was also (from 1929) the technical advisor to the Chinese Ministry of Railway and had a big influence in the railways of China in the inter-war period.

Third is the fact that the order for the locomotive was funded by the Boxer Indemnity fund. KF no.7 was one of a class of 24 built with funding from this source.

Fourth is the visit of US President Richard Nixon to China in 1972 which surprised the world and showed China was prepared to open up to the west after years of isolation. This would eventually (after Mao’s death in 1976) lead to the economic policy that has transformed China.

Fifth is the fact that the last time one of these locomotives was seen in service was on newsreels that accompanied Nixon’s visit to China.

Sixth is the acclaimed contemporary opera by the John Adams ‘Nixon in China’ first performed in 1987, by which time the ‘Chinese Engine’ had been on display at York for four years.

So once again railways are the thread that link different lives together. It all seems straightforward in hindsight!

The KF-7 is part of our Great Hall – find out what else you can see in our Great Hall.

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Women at Work in the First World War: Central to the Railway and the War Effort

This blog is written by Harriet Steers, one of our archive volunteers who is researching railways and the First World War.

We have recently started a project to enhance the National Railway Museum’s list of railwaymen who died in the First World War. We are regularly adding information to the list of 20,000 men and will keep you up to date on the project with blogs and regular updates to the list as we find new information.

We have started by looking at the Great Central Railway (GCR), specifically their journals that were printed during the period of the conflict. In the course of our research we have found some wonderful information about the work of the women of the GCR during the war.

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Railway libraries and the culture of self-betterment

Saturday 7 February is National Libraries Day and we thought it would be the ideal time to show the important historical role railway libraries have made to the rail industry, its workers and society at large.

Libraries often formed part of the Mechanics Institute, which was a social and and self-improvement body affiliated to large railway works such as Crewe, Derby and Swindon. During spare time workers were encouraged to make use of the library as companies wanted employees to be engaged and literate plus, if in the library, they could not be down the pub! (punishment for intoxication was immediate dismissal due to safety implications).

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Conserving Hubert Herkomer’s portrait of William Cawkwell

Today’s post comes from Ed Bartholomew, Senior Curator of our image and sound Collection.

The National Railway Museum has an art collection containing over a thousand paintings.  Many of them are depictions of locomotives and original artwork for railway posters, but few people, perhaps, will realise that we also preserve an excellent collection of railway portraits.

One of these is a portrait of William Cawkwell, who was General Manager of the London & North Western Railway (LNWR) between 1858 and 1874.

The portrait before conservation

The portrait before conservation

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How a dolls house inspired a train set

This is a guest post written by our Associate Curator of Railways, Russell Hollowood.

Toy trains have existed almost as long as the first railway building boom of the 1840’s. From live steam models, known as dribblers to push along toys made for the play room floor, toy makers from around the world turned out an ever increasing variety.

Wooden toy locomotive made for railway promoter Sir Edward Watkin for his son Alfred in 1866 by the South Eastern Railway Workshops. Such push along toys were the staple of the toy train world until the 1890's.  NRM Image No. 10446189

Wooden toy locomotive made for railway promoter Sir Edward Watkin for his son Alfred in 1866 by the South Eastern Railway Workshops. Such push along toys were the staple of the toy train world until the 1890’s.
NRM Image No. 10446189

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A weed or not a weed? That is the question.

Today’s post is by Chris Mossop, Design Manager at the National Railway Museum.

Keeping the tracks clear of vegetation is a constant problem for the railways. The most effective way of doing this has been the use of chemical weed-killer sprayed across the track from slow moving trains. This photograph from 1955 shows a steam-hauled train with six tankers of weed-killer:

Weed killing train, 1955 (NRM archive - 1995-7233_LIVST_EH_51)

Weed killing train, 1955 (NRM archive – 1995-7233_LIVST_EH_51)

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