HomeGeneral InterestLocomotion opens New Hall

Locomotion opens New Hall

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A brand new £8 million collections building opened on 24 May at Locomotion in Shildon, County Durham, just in time for the late May Bank Holiday. This is the museum’s most significant regeneration project since it opened 20 years ago, and it is now the largest undercover collection of historic rail vehicles anywhere in Europe.

Over 100 vehicles are on display, some of which celebrate the role of Shildon as the world’s first railway town. The museum aims to attract 250,000 visitors a year to the region, and Locomotion is a partnership between the Science Museum Group and Durham County Council, with the latter having provided significant funding towards New Hall. 

New Hall is part of a wider £95 million masterplan project covering Locomotion and the National Railway Museum in York, regenerating both museums with new galleries, spaces, and vital conservation work to inspire future generations of engineers, creators and thinkers as described in Issue 207 (March/April 2024).

Inside New Hall. Credit: Mark Slater.

Historically significant

Highlights of New Hall’s collection include historically significant vehicles built at the Shildon works, two snowploughs, a tracked Bren Gun Carrier, two cranes, and the Hetton Colliery Lyon, built in 1851. The museum’s existing Main Hall has also been refreshed and redisplayed.    

Almost 1,000 vehicle moves were undertaken to achieve the new displays – the museum’s largest ever series of shunts, involving a team of in-house workshop and traction experts, conservators and specialist contractors. The two halls are not rail connected so transfers had to be carried out by road. Specialist haulier Allelys, of Train Truckers TV series fame, was involved in this work.
Inside New Hall, oral histories from former Shildon’s rail workers are used alongside historic film clips and graphics that bring the collection to life and highlight the significance of coal, industry, and freight transportation – and how the North East’s industry and innovation influenced the world.

The building is the centrepiece of a host of other improvements and additions to Locomotion’s site, including the return of the iconic Gaunless Bridge, designed by George Stephenson.

Originally spanning the River Gaunless from 1823 to its removal in 1901, Gaunless Bridge is one of the first railway bridges to be constructed of iron, and the very first to use an iron truss. The bridge was sympathetically restored and repainted to its original colour scheme in early 2024 and is now installed on the approach to New Hall.

A ‘Changing Places’ facility has also been installed at the museum. In April, Locomotion was given an award from the North East Autism Society in recognition of its improved approach to inclusion and accessibility.

Firsthand experience

One of the joys of a visit, rather than simply publishing a press release, is to hear the enthusiasm of the staff for the project and the museum. Your writer was escorted on a tour of the new building by Anthony Coulis and Kitty Bartlett whose expertise and knowledge brought the exhibits to life. A particular memory was how they had decided to retain a wagon where the body’s panelling had corroded away leaving only the frame, something that shows very clearly how the wagon was constructed.

Another was in a dirty shade of brown until a volunteer suggested pressure washing it which revealed the original grey paint in very good condition. The dirt comprising mostly brake dust had probably acted as a preservative! One line in New Hall tells the story of wagon manufacture at Shildon Works and includes the very first and the very last “merry go round” coal wagons manufactured there.
Locomotion employs around 48 people and is home to a vibrant community of volunteers, many of whom have long-standing connections with railways in the region. 

Peter Robinson, a volunteer at Locomotion said: “It has been my life’s ambition to see something like this in Shildon. I’ve been into New Hall to view the display and it’s a wonderful place.

“I entered the works in 1956 and I was there until 1984. The closure was a devastating blow to the community. My whole life has been built around railways – the museum provides me with a place to share that passion with other people.

“It’s a hugely positive asset for Shildon. I speak to people from all over the country, and even internationally, who have come to Shildon specifically to visit the museum.”   

Snow plough travelling to New Hall. Credit Charlotte Graham.

New Hall was designed by AOC Architecture and J+L Gibbons Landscape Architects. The building draws on the aesthetic of an engine shed, with vehicles displayed on reused tracks across six themed roads. Sustainability has been built in through passive design, high insulation, airtightness, and cost-effective construction. Low carbon air source heat pumps deliver heat to the building, reducing energy use.

Building contractors Nationwide Engineering constructed the building over 14 months, breaking ground in January 2023 and completing the work in March of this year.

Lead image credit: Charlotte Graham

Malcolm Dobell BTech CEng FIMechE
Malcolm Dobell BTech CEng FIMechEhttp://therailengineer.com
SPECIALIST AREAS Rolling stock, depots, systems integration, fleet operations. Malcolm Dobell worked for the whole of his 45-year career with London Underground. He entered the Apprentice Training Centre in Acton Works in 1969 as an engineering trainee, taking a thin sandwich course at Brunel University, graduating with an honours degree in 1973. He then worked as part of the team supervising the designs of all the various items of auxiliary equipment for new trains, which gave him experience in a broad range of disciplines. Later, he became project manager for the Jubilee Line’s first fleet of new trains (displaced when the extension came along), and then helped set up the train refurbishment programme of the 90s, before being appointed Professional Head of Rolling stock in 1997. Malcolm retired as Head of Train Systems Engineering in 2014 following a career during which he had a role in the design of all the passenger trains currently in service - even the oldest - and, particularly, bringing the upgraded Victoria line (rolling stock and signalling) into service. He is a non-executive director of CPC Systems, a systems engineering company that helps train operators improve their performance. A former IMechE Railway Division Chairman and a current board member, he also helps to organise and judge the annual Railway Challenge and is the chair of trustees for a multi academy trust in Milton Keynes.


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