Thursday, 1 February 2018

What do we mean by heritage?

The West Somerset Railway is a heritage railway. But what does that really mean? Does it mean that we want to faithfully recreate a GWR steam age branchline? If so, what era? Our railway in 1950 looked entirely different from how it looked 80 years before in the late Victorian period with broad gauge engines crewed by men dressed in their best Fustian White. So what exactly do we rebuild then? Do we faithfully try and recreate a particular period or time in the railway's life, and if so how accurate would that be? Or do we try and recreate an example of a 'generic' railway - nothing specific but redolent of a GWR branchline. And what about if we need new things that the GWR never built - do we build those in a sort of heritage pastiche, or put something in modern?
As an example, I recommend to you an image from the excellent Stogumber Station website.

Here we have a picture of two railway signs. The "Beware of Trains" sign is a newish sign that has been made to resemble the sort of thing the GWR might have done, but in fact never did. Although it might look the part, it is not authentic. The modern sign behind "Stop Look Listen" could be said to be a modern intrusion, but it is a genuine, authentic sign, albeit not 'heritage'. I guess you might say that it will be heritage in 30 years time, if we can wait that long.
I do not offer a solution, apart from saying it's a problem! How can we reconcile these seemingly mutually exclusive features?
I heartily recommend Stogumber station as a haven of tranquillity in quiet west Somerset. There was once a brewery here that brewed Pale Stogumber Ale, recommended by the medical profession as ideal for the weak and feeble.


  1. Whichever you have, you do not need two signs so close together say essentially the same thing. And if the 'old' one has proved adequate so far, where is the evidence to support the need for and/or benefit from the expenditure to provide the new one?

  2. I think visitors accept that there have to be concessions to modernity. What they appreciate is the heritage 'feel'. Part of this is that their train is pulled by a steam loco, but there are many other things that contribute both to the 'feel' and as a way educating visitors in some of the things that made up the railway of the past. Some that spring to mind are Edmondson tickets, guards waving a green flag and blowing a whistle, the semaphore signals, the level crossing and signal box at Blue Anchor, token exchanges, locomotives taking water, and having tickets clipped on the train.

  3. Honoured that my photo has found its way onto the blog.

    Both signs are ‘heritage fails’. The red-and-white sign is vinyl letters on a plastic background in a style never used by any railway company. As for the modern sign on a galvanised post...words fail me. But it isn’t difficult to get it right. When we have to do things the Railways would not have done like providing tourist facilities or enhanced signage at a Crossing we need to remember that we are attempting to recreated a GWR or BR(W) branchline and ask how the GWR would have done it. The SVR have some very good cast iron crossing signs. The ‘comment’ facility here does not permit me to post a photo but I have sent Ian a copy. Perhaps he might care to post it?

    Heritage, and getting it right, is a lot of fun. I look forward to helping with the new heritage arrangements as they emerge.

    Kind regards

    Robin Moira White

  4. I think there should be two approaches to heritage on a "heritage railway". The first should be when you are considering the ambience of the railway, where, as Robin and Tim suggests, it is important that things don't stick out as modern, so you have signage in a "GWR" style. The second is when you are returning something to its original appearance, when it is important to get the details exactly right, as in a building or a locomotive. Arguably, any modern modifications should then be clearly readable as such.