Sunday, December 09, 2007

York of Suprises

Last weekend, my friend A and I took one of our occasional short breaks away together, this time to visit York. It was a truely wild and wet weekend and by the Sunday morning we were so fed up of being wet all the time that we decided all we could do was give in to the last big visitor attraction left to visit and hope it would take long enough to walk around that the rain might have stopped by the time we left.

I have to say that really, honestly, neither A nor I have the slightest interest in steam trains or railways in any way. Even as we were going through the shop and into the National Rail Museum itself we were saying to each other in muted voices that we weren't sure how long this was going to keep our attention. It was brilliant.

What we had failed to appreciate was that the hey-day of the railway was the nineteenth century and that any museum of rail has to be a Victorian museum by default. The display of ?Royal Trains, Victoria and Edwards trains both was simply sumptuous and to see the interior of those carriages was an object lesson in the changes between the Victorian and Edwardian age.

But the added suprise was the 'warehouse' room. Clearly the museum has vast amounts of signage, china, posters, ephemera, brass attactchments, gadgets and other bits of railway nonsense that it couldn't possibly display in a sensibly interpreted 'museum' layout. So, rather than store it all away in a warehouse where no one can see it, they store is all away in a warehouse where people can walk about. As we went into the huge, maze-like space I was already saying to A how it reminded me of The Room of Requirement in the Harry Potter novels and then blow me down if I don't see, hanging in a prominent position, a sign for platform 9 3/4.

Of course, on reflection it was clearly the sign for the 3-4 car stop on platform nine but the fact that it had been hung prominently, more prominently than other platform signs, made me sure that some curator had recognised what it looked like and placed it there with a certain knowingness.

If you dislike everything about trains, railways and steam engines... go to the National Rail Museum and York!

1 comment:

John C said...

I went there as a schoolboy and remember enjoying it even though I don't remember much about it.

More memorable was another York museum (although I forget the name) that featured a facsimile Victorian street with shops you could enter filled with antique merchandise. I like York, the Minster is rather splendid (I bought a paper model of it) and the Shambles is nice even if it is on the verge of being a facsimile itself.

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