The National Railway Museum recently announced the redevelopment of the permanent exhibition in Station Hall—one of the largest and most popular gallery spaces at the museum—with generous support from the Friends of the National Railway Museum. As the exhibition begins to develop, this post will explore some of the themes, stories and objects forming our research and give an idea of what the renewed exhibition in Station Hall may include.
The new exhibition will feature a renewed rail vehicle layout, alongside films and oral histories from the Science Museum Group collection, some of which have never been on display at the museum before. New stories and diverse voices will fill the space, improving the unique experience that is a visit to Station Hall.
Displaying our rail vehicles
The locomotives, carriages and wagons in Station Hall are our star objects and treasured by visitors to the museum—perhaps none more so than the royal carriages. These palaces on wheels will remain a key feature of the renewed exhibition, offering opportunities to illustrate exciting new stories. One example is the role of Queen Elizabeth’s Saloon as a ‘rolling office’, complete with writing desk and telephone. The royal saloons weren’t just for relaxing in after all, but for working too.
Within the new layout are current favourites including Queen Victoria’s Saloon and the MR Spinner, and exciting new additions including the LNWR Motor Coach and Class 47 Prince William.
Illustrating with our objects
The defining characteristic of Station Hall is its authenticity. The genuine railway building gives a real sense of stepping back in time, immersing you in the unique atmosphere of a railway station. The new exhibition will build on this with objects that would be right at home on any station platform. The passimeter (a once familiar sight, where travellers would buy their tickets from a booking clerk) will play a key role in one story, illustrating a stark contrast to the digital touchscreen ticket machines we use today. Meanwhile, the restored WHSmith bookstall will become a must-see moment in Station Hall that is sure to spark conversations of “I remember when…” and “Well, I didn’t know that…”.
The exhibition will incorporate smaller objects, posters, advertising signs and more. These objects will contribute to the immersive experience of an authentic station environment.
Using our film collection
The Station Hall redevelopment provides an opportunity to shine a light on some of the fantastic railway films from the Science Museum Group collection alongside other rarely seen footage.
Using films introduces authentic sights and sounds to the space, making it feel more alive than ever before. The films we show in Station Hall will focus on relatable moments through history. Just watching a few seconds of someone missing a train 70 years ago—their disappointed face and frustrated voice—it’s something we can all identify with, can’t we?
Some examples of films that have formed part of the research for the redevelopment to this point include the British Transport Film (BTF) short Rush Hour and the London, Midland & Scottish Railway (LMS) film Holiday. You can probably imagine what sorts of stories these films will illustrate from their titles alone, but there are others which are less obvious. The TV advertisement Completely Different, for example, is a strange but effective insight into the world of day return tickets and making leisure accessible for everyone, created by the Network SouthEast (NSE) branch of British Rail.
Films will be displayed in the gallery in two ways: large projections of film clips and those you can access using your own device.
The inspiration behind the use of ‘bring your own device’ films comes from the success of Sound Tracks—a self-led audio exhibition that takes you back in time and reveals the intriguing history of the NRM site. You can access all of the Sound Tracks content right now, whether you’re in the museum or enjoying from home: railwaymuseum.org.uk/whats-on/sound-tracks. Look out for our Sound Tracks totems with their QR codes around the museum.
Bringing in voices with oral histories
It is not just films that will bring the space to life; also included will be some fantastic oral histories. The National Archive of Railway Oral History is a wonderful resource. It contains real stories, told by people who worked on the railway, in their own words. These varied voices are relatable, insightful, inspiring, sometimes shocking, and always worthwhile hearing. Where else would you get stories about Station Attendants giving the Queen Mother a maths lesson on a station platform, or Goods Shed workers dancing on top of a piano in their downtime?
Planning for the new exhibition for Station Hall is well underway, with research and story development ongoing and plans to bring designers on board in the next few months. We will continue to share updates as the project progresses.
The Station Hall redevelopment is part of a wider programme of development taking place at the National Railway Museum as part of Vision 2025: The World’s Railway Museum.