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Unique railway sketches show working life in 1940s King’s Cross

Steam engines, nationalisation and the harsh winter of 1947 are depicted in a unique snapshot of life on the post-war railway.

The everyday life of railway workers in post-war London is being revealed as never before in a collection of cartoon sketches, which have been acquired by the National Railway Museum. 

The collection of more than 100 drawings and watercolours from little-known artist Arthur Gooch was created between 1947 and 1948 in the era of nationalisation. It shows railway workers at the King’s Cross Passenger Locomotive Depot, an outstation of ‘Top Shed’ where locomotives could be serviced between suburban passenger duties.

The humorous and often satirical cartoons document the extreme winter of 1947, with drawings showing workers getting lost in snow drifts and turning into icicles.  

As well as comic mishaps involving falling piles of coal and leaking water towers, the drawings also depict real-life events that are known to have taken place. These include a visit from the rebuilt experimental LNER Class W1 no. 10000, a locomotive by the designer of Mallard and Flying Scotsman, Sir Nigel Gresley. The W1, also known as ‘Hush-Hush’, was renumbered 60700 by British Railways in 1948.

Ed Bartholomew, Lead Curator at the National Railway Museum, said:

“These sketches are a fascinating and unique glimpse into the everyday life of railway workers at a busy London locomotive depot. As well as being great fun, they also help tell the story of post-war Britain and the railways at the time of nationalisation. However, we don’t know very much about the artist Arthur Gooch or his career and we’d love to hear from anyone who could shed some light on these colourful scenes.”

The collection is called: ‘The Railway Chronicle—From the King’s Cross Pass Loco’ and numbers 114 drawings in total. It features several recurring characters including ‘Bogie’ the dray horse and accident-prone worker ‘Tosh’. There is also reference to real railway employees such as Running Foreman Tom Taylor and Assistant District Motive Power Superintendent Mr Weedon.

Although the drawings display a detailed knowledge of life at ‘Top Shed’, very little is known about the artist, although he is thought to have worked on the railways. To find out more about the sketches, the museum contacted Peter Townend, the last Shed Master at King’s Cross, and he was able to provide valuable information about each drawing.

The Railway Chronicle was acquired from a private seller who previously purchased the collection at auction and so far, searches have been unable to find any relatives or further details of Arthur Gooch’s career. The drawings are now part of the national collection and can be viewed at the National Railway Museum’s archive in York by appointment.

Ends

For more information, please contact:

Simon Baylis, PR & Press Manager
01904 686 299

simon.baylis@railwaymuseum.org.uk

Peter Livesey, Communications Officer
01904 809 646
peter.livesey@railwaymuseum.org.uk)

Notes to Editors 

  • Following an act of parliament, the railways were nationalised in 1 January 1948 to create British Railways (later known as British Rail)—which saw the end of the famous ‘Big Four’ railway companies which were set up in 1923
  • Built in 1852 by the Great Northern Railway, by 1947 King’s Cross was one of London’s most important long-distance stations
  • Many of the cartoons depict the labour-intensive work involved in preparing and maintaining steam engines. This included cleaning ash from the firebox, oiling moving parts, filling water tanks and loading coal

About the National Railway Museum

  • The National Railway Museum in York has the largest collection of railway objects in the world and attracts more than 780,000 visitors per year
  • The collection includes 27,000 objects associated with railway life and work, ranging from guards’ whistles to toys and games
  • The National Railway Museum has a library, archive and image collection, accessible through Search Engine, our research centre. This contains three kilometres of shelving housing personal and business archives; 750,000 engineering drawings; sound archives containing over 500 interviews; 22,000 books; and 1.75 million photographs
  • The National Railway Museum’s art collection contains over 1,000 paintings, more than 11,000 posters and 2,350 prints and drawings 
  • The National Railway Museum forms part of the Science Museum Group, along with the Science Museum in London, the Science and Industry Museum in Manchester, the National Science and Media Museum in Bradford and Locomotion in Shildon
  • Admission to the National Railway Museum is free, for more information visit: www.railwaymuseum.org.uk