Rival railway museums dispute ownership of steam locomotives | Heritage
A dispute has erupted between rival railway museums over ownership of the world’s first passenger steam locomotive.
Darlington Council wants Locomotion No 1 to remain in the town’s Head of Steam Museum, but the National Railway Museum (NRM), which owns the locomotive, wants to move it 10 miles from Locomotion, its museum in Shildon.
The engine is a unique memento of Britain’s pioneering role in the development of rail transport in the early 19th century and has been on display at Darlington for 163 years.
In 1968 responsibility for all of British Rail’s historic objects was given to the NRM, now part of the Science Museum Group (SMG). Since 1975, Locomotion No 1 has had a loan agreement which allows the engine to be displayed at the Head of Steam in Darlington, while the NRM retains ownership rights.
Peter Gibson, the MP for Darlington, said: ‘This is not a legal ownership dispute. Rather, he said, it’s about the “location and presentation” of the engine. “Locomotion No 1 is central to Darlington’s cultural identity. It features on the town’s coat of arms and on the badges of our football and rugby clubs, and moving it to a shed in Shildon would certainly damage our position in British locomotion history.
Gibson disagrees that Darlington Council has a responsibility to return the locomotive to NRM as they are the rightful owners. “That’s an insult in itself because ‘return’ implies prior possession. The National Railway Museum owns the locomotive due to an accident in history.
“A lot of the original funding came from Edward Pease, a Darlington man, and it’s been on display in Darlington for 163 years…You wouldn’t remove the crown jewels from the Tower of London.”
The current loan agreement runs until March 31, 2021, but with the upcoming 200th anniversary of the opening of the Stockton and Darlington Railway in 2025, who can display the locomotive during bicentenary celebrations is at the heart of the dispute.
A memorandum of understanding that would have seen the two sides post Locomotion No 1 in 2025 was nearly reached last week, but talks have since broken down.
Andrew McLean, the NRM’s chief curator, expressed frustration that more than a year of negotiations had not resulted in a deal. He compared Darlington Council’s refusal to return the motor to “borrowing a car from a car rental place and refusing to return your car”, adding: “It sets a potentially dangerous precedent that borrowers begin to question the return of legitimate loans to their rightful owners.”
In response, Heather Scott, the leader of Darlington Council, said: “It’s absolutely appalling; we had a contract that was renewed every five years. Why are they deciding to have a problem with our deal now with 2025 looming? It’s been in the city for 163 years and we’ve taken care of it all that time without the need for funding from the Science Museum.
Dr Sarah Price, Head of Locomotion at Shildon, said: “As we head into the unique rail anniversaries of 2025, we want the whole of the UK – and the world – to turn its attention north. -is, where world railway history was forged. To do this, we must all work together.
“We fully understand the importance of Locomotion No 1 – emotionally and historically – to Darlington. It is important to emphasize to residents of Darlington that the engine will only travel a very short distance to Shildon where it has been based for almost throughout his professional life, and where he will be seen and enjoyed for free at Locomotion by more than 200,000 visitors every year.”