A Year in the Life of a Community Archive: Museum of Scottish Railways Archive

Join us as this year we follow the Museum of Scottish Railways Archive! We will be highlighting the work that the Archive does, the activities it plans, the challenges it faces and the opportunities it captures. 

Introducing the Museum of Scottish Railways 

The Museum of Scottish Railways (MoSR) is Scotland’s principal railway museum, located at the northern terminus of the Bo’ness and Kinneil Railway.  Our purpose is to preserve the story of Scotland’s railways – their people and places, their past and present, and their progress into the future. 

A safe space for things and people 

We care for over 60,000 objects of technical, industrial, and social significance, and we are always happy to consider new acquisitions in line with our collecting policy. 

  

Our site on the banks of the Firth of Forth is often cold, but there is a warm welcome for anyone who would like to volunteer, learn new skills, research or reminisce with us.  We have space for people of all ages and interests to socialise and pursue personal and professional interests.  We help schools and local organisations power their community projects, run a regular youth group, storytelling and STEM sessions, and work closely with creative groups and family historians.  Our conservation in action events and stores open days invite people to get hands on with the Collection and discover their own stories in our stacks. There is always someone ready to chat and offer support, and the kettle is always on.   

  

Our team 

37 volunteers currently work in the Museum and archive, supported by Assistant Curator Vicky, and Director Becky.  We are ably guided in our decision-making by our Museums & Collections Committee, and overseen by a board of Trustees who safeguard and advocate for the objects we hold on behalf of the nation.   

  

Everyone, from the store room to the Board room, is equally engaged in our mission to preserve the past for the future.  One of our newest Trustees, Ian, found his place at MoSR thanks to a rescued Caledonian Railway staff book and a chance meeting with Vicky at the Five Scottish Line Societies Conference in 2022.  Read his story here. 

  

Focus on archives 

Though we are best known for the trains that are such a well-loved sight along the Bo’ness foreshore, archival material now accounts for a largest part of our Collection and our incoming acquisitions.   The MoSR archive, which is managed as part of the Museum’s small objects collection, contains the papers of railway professionals, amateur enthusiasts, special interest groups, and authors. Our photographic collections comprehensively document the railway scene from the earliest days of the personal camera.  We also hold original artworks, maps, films, technical records, oral histories and the Scottish Railway Preservation Society corporate archive. Most recently we entered into an exciting new partnership with the North British Railway Study Group to house the prestigious Willie Hennigan Collection. 

It is clear that archival material, originally judged as of secondary importance to the technical and engineering objects, is becoming a much more significant part of our offer.  We recognise that careful consideration needs to be given to how we best preserve such material and improve accessibility. 

  

The journey ahead 

This year, our team will share our journey as we tackle some of the issues related to managing a community archive within an industrial Museum setting, celebrate the hard work and dedication of our volunteers, and explore topics of social engagement, placed identities, and wellbeing through the lens of railway travel. 

Coming up  

This month, we look at creating finding aids for improved access.  Volunteer Chris reports on the team’s training session with Miriam Buncombe, ‘Your Scottish Archives’ Project Manager, and Assistant Curator Vicky documents how she prepared the Hugh Gould Collection for publication to coincide with Director Becky’s talk to Hugh’s former colleagues in the Railway Correspondence and Travel Society. 

Exploring the Archive

Throughout the project we will be releasing a series of blogs written by Assistant Curator Vicky Kerrigan and the volunteers working at the Museum of Scottish Railways Archive. The series will focus on the work that happens in a community archive told by the people involved in them.

Finding a place at the Museum of Scottish Railways: Ian Doig reflects on his journey from enthusiast and donor to Trustee 

At MoSR, our staff, volunteers, Collections Committee and Trustees work shoulder to shoulder to ensure the objects we hold on behalf of the people of Scotland will be safe for generations to come.   

When not busy with matters of governance, most of our Trustees can be found out on the site, helping our visitors and caring for our Collections.  John L. and Kevin look after our operational locomotives.  Elspeth is a familiar face front of house in the Museum, whilst Chairman John F. is a more familiar pair of legs and work boots since he is most often to be found under our fleet of historic wagons.  Others energetically collaborate with other railway organisations, give talks, and engage in outreach with collectors and enthusiasts.  Each does their part to ensure that Scotland’s railway heritage is understood and continues to inspire the future.  As has always been the case on the ‘real’ railway, we are a close knit team united by our shared task, and everyone is happy to roll up their sleeves to make progress. 

 

In this blog, Ian Doig, one of our newest Trustees and a tireless advocate for our small objects and archive, recalls how he found his place at MoSR thanks to a 136 year old staff ledger and a chance meeting with Assistant Curator Vicky at the 2022 Scottish Line Societies conference in Perth. 

 

Ian’s story 

“My interests include social history of railways. I am interested in the huge changes railways made to society, including widening travel-to-work job opportunities, holiday destinations and social travel, including expanding the genes pool, since before railways, people seldom travelled wider than 15 miles from their birthplace throughout their lives – railways changed all that!  

 

“I was delighted to rescue for the Railway Museum a hand-written staff ledger of the Caledonian Railway’s St Rollox Locomotive Works, covering 1888 to 1893. This ledger documents every employee, their trades, starting and leaving dates, and differential rates of pay. Also, reasons for leaving, including promotion, “slackness”, negligence, insolence, insubordination”, drunkenness, fighting, “causing agitation”, “on strike” denoted in red ink, injured or killed in accidents, and intriguingly “dismissed as unsatisfactory”.  

 

“This fragile ledger was gifted to me by a lady whose father worked there; she thought it was of historical interest but didn’t know how or where it could be preserved.” 

 

After arranging a visit to the archive and a further chat with Vicky, Ian chose to donate both the book and his time to the Collection.  We are so grateful for both.   

 

Providing digital access with a little help from our friends at the Caledonian Railway Association 

The 194 pages of the Staff book (BONSR 2022.4812) have now been digitised, and the 8000+ names contained therein have been transcribed thanks to the extraordinary diligence of David Blevins of the Caledonian Railway Association.  Blevins’ CR Staff List contains a further 30,000+ names and is an invaluable resource for family historians.  It can be downloaded for review here. 

The 2024 Scottish Line Societies Conference will take place this autumn.  MoSR will be showcasing our archival Collections on the day  and will be sharing more news about the event later this year. 

 

Back to Basics: Hierarchical Cataloguing workshop with Miriam Buncombe 

The Museum of Scottish Railways is a member of Industrial Museums Scotland: a collaborative group of heritage organisations who work together to ensure that Scotland’s industrial past is safeguarded as a resource to inspire the future.  In October, 2023, Miriam Buncombe of the Scottish Council on Archives opened up a portal to fresh opportunities for MoSR when she presented her new online hub, ‘Your Scottish Archives’, to the IMS Collections group. 

 

Recognisable challenges 

The ‘Your Scottish Archives’ portal, which replaces SCAN, aims to make as many stories as possible available to the public.  However, Miriam’s team had observed that industrial repositories were underrepresented on the platform, and that collections held in such places were often private and not easily accessible.  These findings highlight a challenge that has become increasingly pressing at MoSR since 2007. 

 

Upward trend in records acquisitions 

In their 2007 survey, NRAS recorded 6 named archives of note in the MoSR Collection. This total has grown significantly in intervening years.  We currently hold 36 significant personal and technical collections and 90% of all acquisitions annually are classified as records. The upward trend in archival acquisitions shows no sign of slowing. 

 

Delivering access 

Much of our accessioned archival material is well documented at item level and available through the museum’s collections database.  However, accessing intellectual order from a flat list is difficult and does not fully support user needs.  Added to this, many new acquisitions remain uncatalogued.  We are a small team of mostly volunteers and describing item by item is a time consuming process.  By contrast, a top down approach would allow us to provide meaningful access more efficiently, share finding aids to improve discovery, and allow the voices contained in our Collections to be heard.  When Miriam offered to upskill our team in hierarchical cataloguing, it was seen as the first step in a very positive direction. 

 

Workshop day at Bo’ness 

Miriam braved the high winds on 1st February to facilitate an informal workshop for our Collections team. Over morning coffee, she gently introduced us to the basics of archival arrangement and standardised description. We had the opportunity to ask plenty of questions and to work through real world examples supported by helpful, user friendly resources. 

 

 

Everyone felt that the guidance was realistic and reassuringly non prescriptive.  Volunteer Chris reports: 

 

“I approached this course apprehensively. The worry was that we would be faced with a rigid system to which we had to fit our existing records. That would mean a great deal of work. 

It was rapidly apparent that such worries were absolutely groundless. Miriam was there, not to tell us how to organise our archives, but to help us make them accessible.  The value of a collection is only realised when the collection is used for productive purposes. Making catalogues available in the go-to place for such things is just what we need to make our collections more widely known and better used.  

Thanks are due to Miriam. Her training was well paced, logically structured, clearly delivered, informative and enthusing.” 

 

We all echo Chris’ thanks and look forward to contributing to ‘Your Scottish Archives’ across the year. 

 

Coming up 

In our next blog, Assistant Curator Vicky puts our new skills to work to catalogue the Scottish papers of BR railwayman and long serving Chairman of the Railway Correspondence and Travel Society, Hugh Gould, to coincide with Director Becky’s talk to the group this month.   

Revealing characters in collections: cataloguing the papers of Hugh Gould 

 

At the start of the month, Miriam Buncombe, Project Manager ‘Your Scottish Archives’ visited Bo’ness to train our collections volunteers in archival cataloguing.  Here I will outline how I catalogued the Hugh Gould Collection (GB/3657/HGOU) and reflect on what I have learned from the process. 

 

Background to the Collection 

Gould was a career railwayman.  He spent holidays from Glasgow University, where he studied music, as a porter at Drumchapel, in the signal box at Glasgow Green, and later as a passenger guard, learning the roads around Scotland and his way around the travelling public.   

 

A black and white portrait photo of a young man wearing a graduation gown 

Black and white image of a man in a suit sitting at his desk with papers in front of him and pen in hand Though accepted as a traffic apprentice in 1956, he chose to defer, continuing to work for a further two years as a guard at Glasgow Queen Street, a place he described as “full of characters”*.  After management training, he became Stationmaster at Burntisland from 1960 until 1962, when he moved south to progressively more prominent roles in London, the Western Region, and Wales. 

 

 

 

Extent 

MoSR has acquired Gould’s created and collected Scottish operational papers and related objects.  3 box files of analogue materials arrived in 3 batches between 2022 and 2024 courtesy of Mike Hill, formerly of the BR Southern Region) and Jim Summers, former Chief Operator ScotRail**.  These were box listed on entry.

Woman wearing blue nitrile glove holding up old piece of paper to look at it

Ordering and appraisal 

Much of the material arrived bundled in original envelopes and folders that indicated original order The A. Hugh Gould Collection arrived usefully bundled in original envelopes and folders (picture below).  These bundles were used to define distinct series in the hierarchy.  These groupings helped to define the catalogue series.   

Old documents in a box and folder on table next to an old bookGould’s time as a Traffic Apprentice is particularly well represented through typescript reports. These observe small details that altered the way that route ran and so changed the experience of millions of people.  Chronological order was retained to reflect Gould’s growing confidence through his training period. 

 

Another cohesive set documents relate to the Queen’s visit to Stirling in 1971 (Img 5_1_5 below Documents relating to the Royal visit).  The records demonstrate the complexity of the operation and detail the names and roles of the many people involved.  The folder contained operational documentation referred to in the correspondence.  These were retained as part of the series. 

Old documents together on a table relating to trainsTimetables and leaflets not demonstrating administration use were moved to MoSR’s general Operational Documentation Collection with notes connecting individual items to the custodial history field of the catalogue serving to preserve conceptual links. 

 

Finished catalogue 

Users can now access each individual record and see how it relates to the whole collection.  How and why the material was acquired (the context) is intact in other levels of the hierarchy. 

 

Reflections 

Perhaps because of his musical background, Gould seemed to have a natural appreciation of the small details and the individual people that made up the rhythms of life on the lines as he knew them.  His papers record noteworthy names found elsewhere in our Collection, but also myriad ordinary people through whose daily effort the vibrancy and diversity of railway life can be glimpsed.   

A collection becomes more than the sum of its parts when viewed collectively.  Gould is one of many people that the story of Scotland’s railways couldn’t have happened without.  However, his papers record, and give access to, countless others to whom the same debt is owed.  The catalogue, now available to researchers, will help those voices be heard. 

 

Coming up 

Another effective way to connect to diverse voices in Collections is through oral histories.  In March, we practise interviewing techniques with Dr Alison Chand, and introduce our new oral history program in partnership with the Retired Railway Officers of Scotland which looks to reveal the many ways that railway networks have connected and shaped Scotland’s places and people. 

 

Notes: 

* Gould, H. “The Glasgow Area in the Post-war Years”; talk to the Friends of the National Railway Museum South of England Group, 17-11-1997 (https://nrmfriends-south.org.uk/filestore/FNRMS_ViewArchiveItem.php?arctype=LEC&arcdate=1997-11-17 

** Summers’ own extensive collection is also held by our archive (GB/3657/JSUM).   

 

Copyright statement 

If you are a rights holder and are concerned that you have found material in this blog for which you have not given permission, or is not covered by a limitation or exception in national law, please contact us directly at museum@srps.org.uk or call us on 01506 825855. 

Oral History training with Alison Chand, OHS 

 A woman is sitting in front of a group of people at tables

MoSR volunteers had the opportunity to participate in an Oral Histories training session with Dr Alison Chand of the Oral History Society in March.   

This fully funded and accredited opportunity was generously provided through the Scottish Council on Archives.  Their support enabled us to upskill our team in advance of the roll out of two major new oral histories projects – the first to capture the volunteer voices of the Scottish Railway Preservation Society, and the second to record the personal reminiscences of the men and women who ran Scotland’s Railways in association with the Retired Railway Officers of Scotland. 

Two women smiling getting their photograph takenAlison demonstrated traditional recording practices, and also the latest methods in remote recording using conference platforms and mobile phones.  There were plenty of practical opportunities, with everyone getting to take on the roles of interviewer and interviewee at various points throughout the day.   

Three older men stand smiling at camera getting their picture taken

 

Two men are speaking to one another as another man takes notes of their conversationA women and man sitting down speaking to each other and taking notesWith our questions asked, and our memories shared, we found we had gained a far greater insight into the complex oral historian’s art and had learned more about our teammates in the process.  We had also discovered that setting up our recorders just across the tracks from a running diesel engine was not the ideal choice of location! 

 

 

 

Feedback from the day 

 “The presentation was very thorough and very well pitched for an audience with a varied experience of interviewing and editing comment. The practice sessions were especially valuable and enabled us to refine our approaches to this form of methodology and to visualise the range of difficulties that may be facing us.  

The presenter used excellent exemplars throughout and took a very practical approach to the topic.  A thoroughly appropriate training day.” 

James Hendrie, who volunteers in the MoSR archive, adds that the session was a “[g]reat day spent discussing the art of oral history interviewing in the company of others who, like me, appreciate the need to capture stories from the many interesting and knowledgeable railway people associated with the SRPS and the wider railway community”. 

We are so grateful to Alison and to SCA for making this wonderful day possible. 

two men sitting facing each other and taking notesComing up 

Later this year, James will be interviewing SRPS volunteer George Lumsden, who hails from a railway dynasty, and whose extensive collection of family papers MoSR has been lucky enough to acquire. 

 

In our next blog, Assistant Curator Vicky gives a taste of the treasures to be found in this collection when she draws back the lace curtains of the station house to explore domestic life on the railway with the help of Isabella Lumsden. 

 

 

The papers of Isabella Lumsden: new perspectives on domestic life in Scotland’s station houses 

 

In March 1994, Stationmaster’s wife Isabella Lumsden recorded in a letter to Dr Ian Scrimgeour that “[f]or some time now, I have been endeavouring to write up my impressions and memories of the railway houses we have lived in”. 30 years later (nearly to the day), this letter, along with her recollections, have been donated to the Museum of Scottish Railways by her son, SRPS volunteer George Lumsden.  They now form part of the Lumsden Family papers. 

Scan of letter typed with typewriterOld handwritten letter

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Here, Assistant Curator Vicky draws back the lace curtains of the station house to explore domestic life on the railway and gives a taste of the treasures to be found in this extensive and fascinating collection. 

 

Depictions of the railway station complex 

The Station Master is the centre of station life in the majority of official accounts, letters, and photographs depicting the theme.  He is commonly photographed on the platform, uniformed and surrounded by his staff.  He is the man (inevitably a man until recently) who keeps things moving, and who, himself, is regularly in motion.  An ambitious employee in this position could expect to be moved around the railway network regularly, relocating his family and possessions to a new station house every few years. 

By contrast, the station house and its occupants are often depicted as somewhat separate, or peripheral to the main business of station life.  At Lochearnhead, the family sit within the perimeter fence, physically divided from the Station Master standing on the road outside, and from the rails visible on the right from the house.  At Redcastle, we assume the presence of a wife and mother behind the picket fence, but it is impossible to glimpse behind the opaque white drapes that screen the interior.  At Conon, Station Master Morrison’s wife and mother-in-law are visible and the door to the station house is open, but the image is fixed in time and the subjects are silent. 

In all cases, the Station Master is the active presence within the scene while domestic life is out of sight, contained, its occupants all too easily read as subject to the railway’s agency and a volition outside their control.   

 

black and white image of a house with garden and trees outsideBlack and white image of house with man and two children standing in front

black and white image of a bungalow house with fence in front and a family standing in front  A new perspective on the station house 

Another photo, taken circa 1947, gives us a different perspective on the station house and its inhabitants.  The image shows Ladysbridge station, then under the control of Stationmaster Richard Lumsden.  It captures an orderly operation with evidence of productive activity.  The main focus, however, is elsewhere. Positioned in the centre foreground is a neat, tied cottage with flower bordered lawns.  Left of the gable end is a lace trimmed baby carriage sitting in the sun.  The composition gives us a sense of being behind the fence, privy to backyard activities and intimate details of daily life.   

black and white image of railway station taken from a distanceThis image was taken by Isabella Lumsden, Richard’s wife and mother of SRPS volunteer George, the donor of MoSR’s newly acquired Lumsden Family Papers, and the former occupant of the baby carriage.  It is part of a unique series of records that document her life and experiences as a Station Master’s wife in the 1940s/50s.   

 

Isabella’s collection includes personal reminiscences, images and inventories of things and places. Read together the documents provide a vivid account of the material realities of repeatedly remaking home in various station houses. Her descriptions of everyday interiors, furnishings, and domestic things throw open the doors of these seldom-seen spaces for re-examination. 

 

Homes set in motion 

Isabella’s early reminiscences give us a sense of the station house, not as a static site on the borders of the action, but as a mobile entity capable of ‘flitting’ in less than a week.  Isabella vividly describes the “crackling sense of excitement” and personal activity that precedes the couple’s move to Ladysbridge: 

 

“I had less than a week to obtain furnishing and furniture dockets. Fortunately, during the past three years I had been buying good furniture and storing it. Now was the moment to tell the storage firm that I would require it out of store, and examined to see that it was still all in good order. A friend of mine in the Drapery trade had advised me  . . “Sheets! Apply for twin beds and bedding, I know that you have 2 large double beds. Your dockets can be used for double size sheets as well as single ones. Curtaining was next, an allowance of 16 square yards. Again I had bought odd lengths of heavy curtaining before rationing had begun. I was also fortunate to get a wringer with stand. That was a must! At times I was up to my elbows packing crockery and sticking labels on boxes thinking “have I allowed for everything?  No I hadn’t . . . we had NO electricity, so the lovely iron we had received as a wedding gift had to be packed away and I dashed along to the ironmongers to buy a gas iron and a McKellar girdle, plus 2 mousetraps.” 

 

Engaged in buying, storing, examining, packing, sticking, the Station Master’s wife is no passive subject in the move but is rather “dashing along” at an impressive rate.  Her lists of objects and tasks have their own energetic ordering power and forward motion.   

 

Later, on the journey to Ladysbridge, Isabella recalls: 

 

“Early May was simply glorious that year 1946, and the countryside had never looked better. As I had always enjoyed travelling, I really appreciated the journey North. When I arrived, around tea time the ‘Flitting’  [a railway van provided to move personnel between station houses] had arrived and everything was in its place. I only had to the curtains to put up”. 

 

Here we encounter a woman who relishes her own mobility and the connectedness her life as part of the railway family affords her. The curtains she puts up to finish making her home at Ladysbridge are not silent barriers, closing her off from the action outside her window, but take on life, agency, and social meaning from being bought, packed, unrolled, and hung. 

 

Networked objects  

Later on, those same curtains are moved to Riccarton Junction where they are reinvented in the “huge” living spaces of a new station house, hanging inadequately in rooms with 12 ½ feet high ceilings beside protruding hooks  – “a relic from the past when a Station Master kept a pig and hung the various quarters on high to cure!”   

 

Objects have the power to sustain stable connections between people even if those people have moved on. How meaning changes through juxtaposition with other objects, object circulation, what gets repurposed, and what gets left behind, offer much valuable food for thought for the student of material culture. 

 

Conclusion 

Isabella’s memories of her station homes and their material contents provide a unique perspective on the traditional view of the station house. Her observations challenge the notion of a passive domestic space that is somehow separate from the actions and agency found on the platform.  Rather, she describes a place rich with social connections, born from the literal mobility of the railway, but sustained by people and things. 

 

The Lumsden Family Papers are currently being catalogued by MoSR’s collections volunteers. 

 

George Lumsden will discuss his railway family and experience of growing up in station houses as part of MoSR’s Oral History series. 

 

Coming up 

 

In April, our theme is growing in new directions and making new connections. Across the month we will highlight how our archive is intrinsically connected to, and engaged with, our wider community in ways that people may not realise.  

 

In advance of Great Big Green Week 2024 (8-16 June) we travel up the line to Birkhill Station with volunteer archive assistant and licensed bird ringer (British Trust for Ornithology) Chris to explore how the unique resources found along our heritage railway can help people connect with natural spaces within their own communities and document their discoveries for the benefit of future generations. 

 

Later in the month, we report on our acquisition of the Dugald Cameron fine art collection. We consider the ethics of acquiring and providing for a collection outwith our traditional expertise, consider how to provide suitable storage and access on a tight budget, and discuss the benefits of working together with partners and the wider heritage community to develop our skills and knowledge. 

 

 

Copyright statement 

If you are a rights holder and are concerned that you have found material in this blog for which you have not given permission, or is not covered by a limitation or exception in national law, please contact us directly at museum@srps.org.uk or call us on 01506 825855.