One of the things I love about September are the Heritage Open Days. Many stately homes, castles and other properties open their doors and allow you to visit for free. We love getting out and visiting places, the car rally at Kielder Water was really interesting. This time we went to the Stephenson Railway Museum in North Shields. The museum is free to visit but runs rides on steam trains, which normally you have to pay for. The museum is named after George Stephenson, known as Father of the railways. He is probably best known for the Rocket, which was really the first successful steam locomotive. George Stephenson was a North East man, born in Wylam and bringing up his family in a cottage in West Moor, which you can still visit today. He is also the father of Robert Stephenson who was also known for his work on the railways. Stephenson Railway Museum was built to commemorate their work and is home a collection of engines and other steam memories.
You enter the museum past a cafe and a gift shop. If you want to go on a train you can get your tickets here, the rides are only at certain times during the day so check the times before you go. Inside the museum you feel as if you have walked into an engine shed, there are plenty of steam engines, signals and railway signs scattered over the walls. The displays have been well thought out with plently of information on the history of steam as well as hands on exhibits which the kids can play with.
Stephenson’s Billy greets you on the way in, this train was a forerunner to the Rocket and you can see many similarities in the design. Earphones allow you to listen to commentaries telling you about the history.
The mining history of the area is evident in the displays, the railways were of great importance for transporting coal to and from Newcastle and many of the tracks went up to the local pits. At that time mining was a dangerous occupation, there were often explosions caused by naked flames. Stephenson designed a safety lamp which could be used in the mines. Independently Humphrey Davy had also designed a safety lamp, which was different in design. He accused Stephenson of stealing the idea. Stephenson was later cleared by a committee of enquiry but it must have been a source of bad feeling at the time
Older engines mingle with more modern engines and you can happy wander around the museum for an hour, learning about the history of steam.
The train was waiting on the platform, it reminded me of diesel engine in Thomas the Tank Engine. The driver was happy to show the inside of the engine and it looked great fun to drive. The train had a stately air about it, it had obviously worked hard over the years.
We made our way to a carriage and took a seat, my son taking his place next to the window. There is an old fashioned grace about the carriage, you expect ladies in swishing skirts and layers of petticoats to board, their bags being put on board by servants. Looking out the window you half expect to see the railway children flagging down the train.
The track is the former metro test track and it takes you all the way to Percy Main and back. There is something restful about travelling on a train, the wheels clattering along, the whistle going ooooh oooh and the gentle rocking of the carriage. The journey took about half an hour and we were happy to sit and look out of the window. We really enjoyed our visit.
If you want to visit Stephenson’s Railway Museum it can be found on Middle Engine Lane in North Shelds. It is open from 11am to 4pm Saturdays, Sundays and bank holidays and though the week during school holidays. Train rides operate on Sundays and bank holiday Mondays. It is also worth visiting the Discovery Museum in Newcastle which is also free and looks at the industrial past of the city.