I’m not sure why we’ve never visited the Midland Railway @ Butterley before, it’s a friendly, welcoming, endearingly chaotic kind of place, bursting at the seams with all manner of railway-related stuff, and enthusiasts more than willing to share their knowledge, plus our visit coincided with the huge Midland Railex 14 model railway event too, so pretty much we were in boyish ‘heaven’.
If you’d like to know more about the Midland Railway Centre (MRC), you could do worse than visit Wikipedia where there’s pretty much all the information you could wish for, HERE.
This post is not so much about the history or goals of the MRC, or even too much about our visit, but more to share what seems to be a dilemma facing preservation societies of all kinds.
Time and again during our visit the saying, ‘So much to do and so little time.’ entered my head. Perhaps it was because the MRC seem to be suffering from what might be called donation overload. The place felt as if it were sinking, overwhelmed by so much ‘heritage’ material. Shed after shed was full of ‘that’ll be useful one day’ rusting tat/treasure standing cheek-by-jowl with gorgeous steam and diesel locos. And not just that, there were fork lift trucks and narrow gauge wagons, tarpaulin-clad carriages and corrugated iron churches, preserved canal basins and narrow gauge railways, BR shunters and Chesterfield buses it’s an enormous eclectic collection, and surely they’re without anywhere near the funds needed to preserve the vast majority of the collection never mind return it to some kind of running order? One volunteer guide in the Royal Saloon coach illustrated the challenge beautifully when he stated bluntly, whilst nodding in the direction of a gleaming Princess Royal Class loco polished and proud at the engine shed door, “She’s just a pretty shell, she’ll never steam again, it’d take a million pounds to get bring her back.”
Preservation societies (or even individuals committed to preserving a small part of our industrial heritage) whilst being desperate to save as much as they can, must ultimately address the following question: Do we continue to accept what comes our way or do we become more specialised, more focused, and consequently more rigorous (and ultimately more brutal) in what is preserved, what is restored, what is passed on to others and what is allowed to be recorded and lost?
Not that I’m in any way being critical of the MRC here – far from it – we had a wonderful day out and I wish them all the best for the future. It’s just that I’m anxious about that future. Can we continue to preserve our industrial heritage on the current scale? How can seemingly every carriage, every wagon, every loco be preserved? And if we stretch already limited (often charitable) resources too far, aren’t we risking losing still more of our precious shared heritage?
I found my walk around the MRC site both utterly inspiring, the volunteers for example were wonderful, and ultimately confusing, there was almost too much to see and too much to do. It left me feeling as if I’d eaten a particularly lavish meal, just a little bloated and in need of a lie down!
Maybe I’m being too pessimistic in feeling that urgent and serious thought needs to be given to how we continue to preserve our industrial heritage, not least surely investment in apprenticeships so that there’s a skilled generation to follow the current pool of ageing volunteers, people who’ll be able to carry the preservation torch forward?
Hopefully the photos below capture a little of what we experienced. As I said MRC is a wonderful place and well worth a visit or two or three!
Just above the Princess Royal Class Locomotive Trust workshops can be found one of the quiet highlights of the Swanwick complex in the form of the Butterley Park Miniature Railway which for £1 allows you a twice-round-the-circuit trip behind a loco. The Boys loved it!
And if that wasn’t enough on the way back to the station we met up with a bunch of WW2 enthusiasts more than eager to let the Boys have a go…
Grand times! And we picked blackberries on the way home and made a pie.
This will be the last of the ‘Derbyshire Dales Tales’ posts for now.