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Tuesday, 21 October 2014

National museum to house Forsythes’ saga of railways

THE affectionate term “anorak” might have been invented to describe Robert Forsythe.

For train buffs just don’t come any keener than the 50-year-old from Prudhoe.

But Robert hasn’t spent a life-time collecting train numbers and hanging around draughty stations in the hope that Sir John of Gaunt might come steaming through.

Instead, he has devoted many hours to accumulating publicity material about railway services – lots of it.

Members of the public, and indeed, the railway companies themselves, tended to throw away their pamphlets and leaflets once the event they were designed to publicise had taken place.

Not so Robert – he squirrelled them away in a collection that just growed and growed.

Finally, the house in Prudhoe he shares with his wife, Fiona, was swamped under 125,000 items of ephemera he has acquired over the years.

He has not restricted himself to the railways either.

His acquisitive nature has also seen him pick up pamphlets on all manner of modes of transport in the latter half of the 20th century, including Stena Sealink timetables, London Transport Bus maps and catalogues from well-known coach tour operators such as Shearings and Wallace Arnold.

The collection was spread over 625 ring binders, which occupied every inch of shelf and cupboard space at the Forsythe family home in Lime Grove.

But the trains have now left the station, having been shunted off to the National Railway Museum in York.

And the museum is so delighted with its acquisition of The Forsythe Collection it has devoted more than 100 metres of shelf space at the tourist attraction to what is described as one of the most comprehensive private collections of transport history in Britain.

The Forsythe Collection of Travel and Transport Publicity Ephemera is now housed in Search Engine, the NRM’s £4million research and archive centre, where museum staff are busy working on making it available to the public.

The complete story of the railways, from the pre-Beeching era through to the current day is encapsulated in a variety of publicity materials including timetables, handbills and brochures.

Material featured includes literature on arrangements for the 1966 World Cup, the funeral of Diana, Princess of Wales, the 1953 Coronation, the end of steam on British Railways in 1968, the start of Hovercraft services from the South Coast, classic Pullman trains like The Golden Arrow and the Brighton Belle, and the involvement of Sealink vessels in the Falklands war.

It includes gems such as the only booklet British Rail produced specifically for women, which proves particularly amusing reading to modern eyes, and a large volume of GNER-related material.

And to show that there is more to Robert than obsession with the minutiae of railway life, he has a favourite brochure from the tens of thousands in his collection.

He goes gooey eyed over his brochure about British Rail’s own steam ship, The Caledonian Princess, for it was built at Denny’s shipyard in Dumbarton in Scotland, where he and Fiona met!

Robert is well remembered in Tynedale for his brief spell as Tynedale Council’s museums officer, but he had a varied career before that.

Born in East Anglia, he came to the North-East as a student at Durham University.

He studied theology, and then moved to Ironbridge in Shropshire to study industrial architecture, and then to central Scotland where he looked after the Scottish Mining Museum.

Robert worked as the curator at the Scottish Maritime Museum from 1986 to 1989 and played a key role in the preservation of the Linthouse Engine Shop, the largest building in Britain saved by relocation.

He also worked on the 1996 restoration of the Lambley Viaduct on the old Alston railway line.

He came back to Tynedale for a year in 1990, and since then, he has been a freelance museums officer, and prolific author.

He contributed a poem to the Writing on the Wall project published by Arts UK , and is already 67,000 words into his next opus.

Fiona is a chartered librarian from a Scottish railway family, so has been aware of the importance of the transport network to people’s lives from an early age.

She has been vital in sorting and organising the collection, which is highly regarded as a key resource by historians.

Head of knowledge and collections at the NRM Helen Ashby, explained: “This is a key collection for anyone interested in transport and we’re delighted that people will be able to access it.

“It can be used to find the answer to questions such as ‘What do we mean by integrated public transport?'

“Given the wide range of publicity material within the collection, it would also appeal to anyone with a fascination for graphic design or advertising.”

Curator of archive and library collections at the museum Tim Procter, added: “The Forsythes have been building this renowned collection for years – it has been a real labour of love.

“Now this fantastic treasure trove of transport history can be accessed by the public, and in the year ahead we will be working hard to make the archive even easier to use.”

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