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Crème de la Crème

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One of our fantastic volunteers, Tania, looks at the extraordinary measures British Railways took to test their ice cream. 

British Railway poster using summer imagery to promote rail travel.  © National Railway Museum / SSPL.

British Railway poster using summer imagery to promote rail travel.
© National Railway Museum / SSPL.

You would think that British Railways’ scientific and chemical analysis departments would be concerned solely with the technical side of railway operations. However whilst myself and another volunteer were surveying and repackaging this collection in the stores we were surprised to come across documents detailing the extraordinary lengths that British Railways went to test and analyse the ice cream that was served in their hotels.

Bradford Midland Hotel is one of many mentioned in the documents.  © National Railway Museum / SSPL.

Bradford Midland Hotel is one of many mentioned in the documents.
© National Railway Museum / SSPL.

These papers document the whole process of collecting and analysing samples. A lab assistant was given this slip from his superior so that hotel knew he was collecting samples for analysis, and wasn’t just trying to blag a free ice cream!

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Scientific Papers I. Cotter Donation ALS2/28/C/6

The weather and culinary tradition seems to have hindered the quest for ice cream excellence:

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Scientific Papers I. Cotter Donation ALS2/28/C/6

Once the sample had been taken, it was sent back to the lab for analysis, undergoing rigorous testing:

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Scientific Papers I. Cotter Donation ALS2/28/C/6

Ice cream was a serious business, not only did British Railways want to ensure a quality product, but they also had to adhere to legislation:

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Scientific Papers I. Cotter Donation ALS2/28/C/6

Although the stereotypical image of British Railways’ catering in its later years was the soggy sandwich, these papers show that in earlier times British Railways paid close care and attention to the quality of something as trivial as ice cream.

Written by Tania Parker

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