Monthly Archives: May 2023

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Danum Museum, Doncaster: GNR No 251 and LNER 4771 ‘Green Arrow’

Danum Museum provides a dramatic surprise when visitors walk through a small door to be confronted by two full-size steam locomotives, parked in an exhibition hall to mark Doncaster’s geographical importance at the centre of England’s transport arteries.

Doncaster was a bridging point on Ermine Street, the Roman road to the North, and a stage stop on the Great North Road that became the highway to Scotland from the Middle Ages onwards.

It was an obvious site for a railway junction when the Great Northern Railway forged its way north from King’s Cross, joining end-on with its partner the North Eastern Railway south of York in 1852 to form what is now called the East Coast Main Line.

The Great Northern acquired acres of flat land around the town for goods yards, locomotive stabling and its locomotive and carriage works, a huge complex that became known as “the Plant”.

From its opening in 1853 until 1867 the Plant undertook repairs and maintenance only, but after the arrival of the great locomotive engineer Patrick Stirling (1820-1895) Doncaster became the birthplace of some of the finest and most famous steam locomotives in Britain for the Great Northern Railway and its successor, the London & North Eastern Railway.

The Stirling Single, Great Northern No: 1, built in 1870, is an elegant express engine with single driving wheels 8ft 1in in diameter.  It broke records in the hair-raising Races to the North in 1888 and 1895.  The first of its type, it’s the only survivor.

Stirling’s next-but-one successor, Nigel Gresley (1876-1941;  knighted 1936) designed his A1 Pacific locomotives, of which the most famous example, Flying Scotsman, claimed the first authenticated 100mph speed record in 1934, and his streamlined A4 Pacific, Mallard, took the ultimate speed record for a steam locomotive, 126mph, in its construction year, 1938.

Danum Museum’s current exhibits from the National Collection are a matching pair of unique survivors, both the first of their class.  The C1 Large Atlantic, the unnamed no: 251, built in 1902, was the first of a long-lived and powerful class of express locomotive designed by Henry A Ivatt (1851-1923), who served as locomotive superintendent between Stirling and Gresley.

Its companion is LNER no: 4771 Green Arrow, built in 1936 as an express mixed-traffic loco, equally capable of handling fast passenger and freight trains.

To stand close to these beautiful giants side by side, resplendent in their apple-green livery, evokes the railway tradition that generations of Doncaster workers built and maintained at the Plant.

New city with a long history

Danum Gallery, Library and Museum, Doncaster

As its name suggests, Doncaster dates back to Roman times, yet despite centuries of importance as an administrative, social and industrial centre, it is one of the newest British cities, awarded Letters Patent confirming its city status in 2022 on the occasion of the Platinum Jubilee of HM Queen Elizabeth II.

Coincidentally, it has gained a superb new museum, art gallery and central library, named after the original Roman fort, Danum, that probably existed where the parish church of St George, now Doncaster Minster was later built.

The Danum Gallery, Library and Museum stands on the site of the Doncaster Girls’ High School, which dates from 1910-11 and was designed by J M Bottomley, Son & Wilburn in bright red brick, contrasting starkly with elegant white Burmantofts ‘Marmo’ faience.

Latterly it amalgamated with the corresponding boys’ Doncaster Grammar School, renamed Hall Cross Comprehensive School, part of which still occupies its 1869 George Gilbert Scott building on Thorne Road.

When the Girls’ High School building became redundant there was a popular demand to retain at least its distinctive butterfly-plan facade.  The extent and physical decay of the rear buildings are admirably illustrated at Doncaster High School for Girls, Doncaster. (, Report – – Doncaster High School For Girls – October 2009 | Other Sites | and Esoteric Eric: In Accordance with Ordinance : Doncaster High School for Girls, Doncaster (

The initial proposal to bring together the then borough’s library, gallery and museum facilities behind the school frontage looked quite different from the final design:  Old Doncaster Girls’ High School frontage plans for new library – BBC News.  The new building opened on May 29th 2021, designed by Willmott Dixon [Danum Gallery, Library and Museum | Willmott Dixon] as part of the new city’s Civic and Cultural Quarter.

The entrance leads into an entirely conventional modern lending library, brightened by full height windows.  Following the line of the windows leads to a surprising space dominated by the spruced-up brick and faience façade of the old school.  Here is Café 1910, where welcoming, homely Yorkshire ladies provide satisfying hot drinks, healthy snacks and irresistible cakes and pastries.  Their warm, well-mannered Facebook stream reflects their style and their service.

Behind the school frontage, the Museum and Art Gallery explores the rich variety of Doncaster’s history in a sequence of displays that leads the visitor from the local ichthyosaurus and the Norman Conisbrough Castle to living legends such as Doncaster’s Diva, Lesley Garrett, in a 2022 portrait by Michael Christopher Jackson, and One Direction’s Louis Tomlinson.  The Museum also tells the story of the local regiment, The King’s Own Yorkshire Light Infantry.

Uniting four previously cultural facilities – library, archives, art gallery and museum – in one location with a café makes it possible to look at art and artefacts, read and research, and eat and drink in comfort.

As someone who is prone to overstimulation and sore feet in museums and art galleries this is a welcome luxury.

The hollow tooth

Kaiser Wilhelm Memorial Church, Berlin, Germany

In Berlin after 1945 the priorities were necessities.  Half the buildings in the city were uninhabitable and the division of the city into four sectors compounded the difficulties of everyday life.

No-one had much time to consider historical conservation or what was left of the built environment.

And yet, the uproar over the demolition of the Anhalter Bahnhof showed that significant numbers of Berliners were keen to keep some built reminders of the historic city, not least to ensure that the horrors of the end of the war were not forgotten.

The most conspicuous of these reminders is of the course the Reichstag, notoriously burnt down in 1933, almost the last redoubt in the battle for the city in 1945, finally restored in 1999.

In the bustling Kurfürstendamm, however, stands a more poignant reminder of the impact of war – the Kaiser Wilhelm Memorial Church [Kaiser-Wilhelm-Gedächtniskirche], or rather the blasted remains of its substantial tower, which people call “der hohle Zahn – the Hollow Tooth”.  The church was designed by Franz Heinrich Schwechten, who had made his name with the Anhalter Bahnhof, and it was dedicated in 1895 as a memorial to the first German emperor, Kaiser Wilhelm I (1797-1888).

Most of the remains of the church were taken down as unsafe after the end of the war, and the architect of the reconstruction, Egon Eiermann (1904-1970), proposed to demolish the old tower but was prevented by a public outcry. 

Instead, alongside a new octagonal church and a separate hexagonal bell-tower (1959-63), the gaunt ruin of the 1895 church stands as a landmark and a symbol of hope and reconciliation.  The walls of the new church are a concrete honeycomb, lit by blue stained glass which floods the interior.  There are six bronze bells in the new tower, the largest of which is inscribed “Your cities are burned with fire.” (Isaiah 1:7) and “But my salvation shall be forever, and my righteousness shall not be abolished.” (Isaiah, 51:6).

The new church was consecrated on May 25th 1962, the same day that Coventry Cathedral, destroyed by German bombs in 1940 and rebuilt alongside the ruins, was also consecrated.

The parallels with Coventry Cathedral are powerful, and the Kaiser Wilhelm Memorial Church is a recipient of a Coventry cross of nails, which is displayed next to the damaged statue of Christ which stood on the original altar.

The only surviving interior of the 1895 church is the entrance lobby, rich with gilding and mosaics, the cracks resulting from the bombing filled but left visible like Japanese kintsugi []. 

It’s an overbearing space, lightened a little by the contrast of the modern exhibition dedicated to peace and reconciliation.

It’s easy to see why the Allied administrators were not anxious to preserve the unstable walls of the bombed nave, a temple to the aspirations of Wilhelm I’s newly united Germany from which had sprung two world wars.

The Kaiser Wilhelm Memorial Church lacks the sense of wholeness of Coventry Cathedral, where the ruins of the old become a prelude and a pendant to Sir Basil Spence’s 1962 church, or the integrity of St Martin’s Church, Coney Street, York or St Luke’s Church, Liverpool, where in each case the altered form of the bombed church reminds the visitor of what happened and invites reflection.

But after even a moments’ consideration of the rigours of life in late 1940s Berlin, we must be grateful that some raised their voices and persuaded Egon Eiermann to keep the tower as a reminder of the darkest days of the city’s and the German nation’s history.

125 years of municipal transport

Nottingham City Transport 125th Anniversary double-decker 627 (YN14 MUV)

Photo: © Harriet Buckthorp

Nottingham City Transport has celebrated its 125th anniversary by decking out one of its double-deckers in a Nottinghamshire-themed livery, based on the county flag, with images of twenty Nottingham landmarks, five of which are visible on the offside in my friend Harriet’s image.

The Nottingham horse-tram services, dating from 1878, were taken over by the Corporation in 1898 and swiftly electrified from 1901 onwards. 

This modest, conventional first-generation tram operator gained a reputation for modernity and innovation.

Petrol buses were introduced in 1906, but when the tram system was life-expired in the late 1920s, Nottingham chose to retain the electricity-supply system and use trolleybuses.  The fleet continued to grow after the Second World War to a maximum size of 155 vehicles.

Thereafter, developments focused on using diesel vehicles, and the last trolleybuses ran in 1966.  The first one-man-operated bus appeared in 1951;  the neighbouring West Bridgford UDC transport service was absorbed in 1968.

NCT currently operates a bright yellow bio-gas double-decker named after Honorary Alderman Betty Higgins (1926-2019), the first female leader of Nottingham City Council, who among many inspired initiatives ensured that the city kept its municipal transport when the 1986 Transport Act forced bus services into the private sector, where they were quickly acquired by national operators such as Arriva, First and Stagecoach.

She served as chairman of the housing committee, where she cleared the city not only of unfit housing but also of the unsuitable 1960s and 1970s flats that had been hastily built to enable “slum clearance”. 

Her insight and forethought allowed the city to keep its transport system in an arm’s-length private operation that wasn’t vulnerable to absorption into a remote national network. 

In addition, she drove the initiatives to give Nottingham its second-generation tram system and the splendid Royal Concert Hall:  Remembering teacher Betty Higgins who became first woman to lead Nottingham City Council – Nottinghamshire Live (

Although Transdev has a 14% minority share in Nottingham City Transport – a consequence of the financing of the city’s light rapid-transit network – the undertaking is one of a very small remaining number of major municipal bus operators, along with Blackpool, Cardiff, Edinburgh, Ipswich and Reading.

Nottingham is an easy city to get about.  When I visit, if I don’t travel in by train, I park at the Phoenix Park park-and-ride, five minutes away from the M1 Junction 28, and take the tram.  You hardly need a car in Nottingham.