THE DECANT OF THE MIDLAND RAILWAY STUDY CENTRE
by Dave Harris, Coordinator of the Midland Railway Study Centre
The home of the Midland Railway Study Centre is being transformed into the “Derby Silk Mill Museum of Making”. What was for many years the Derby Industrial Museum, which has been largely closed to the general public since the financial crisis hit the public purse so badly, is now operated by a charitable trust. A great deal of work has been done by the new Derby Museums organisation to develop something which will attract people — not to visit once and never return (no matter how much they may have enjoyed looking at the exhibits), but to return and use — again & again & again...
This vision is materialising in the form of the Derby Silk Mill Museum of Making.
The word Making has a multitude of interpretations; from how Derby was “made”, through all facets of industrial history and manufacturing, to the act of crafting things yourself from a wide range of materials. DSMMoM will celebrate Derby's history and the associated skills of the city, as well as offering people the chance to learn and develop skills of their own. In that context, railways are a perfect fit; intrinsic to the history of Derby and relying on a bewildering range of crafts and skills. The Midland Railway Study Centre will continue its role in assisting people learn about that history, while the famous model railway will form the perfect environment to learn or apply many skills — at least those needed to reproduce the Midland Railway of the Edwardian period in miniature. Even if ‘hands on’ isn't your thing, there will still be plenty to look at with ALL the objects from the combined collections of ourselves and Derby Museum being in “accessible storage” and so, for the first time, available for all visitors to appreciate — without appointment.
Before any of that can happen, however, nearly a century of neglect that has blighted the building needs to be reversed. When the Mill was rebuilt following the fire which literally razed it to the ground at the beginning of the 20th century, the liberal use of asbestos was intended to prevent a reoccurrence. Combined with a riverside site which present its own structural problems, and several generations of public ownership with consequent minimum investment in the fabric, this is a once in a hundred years opportunity to bring this World Heritage site back into tip-top condition. That amount of work, however, can only realistically take place with a completely empty building — and is certainly not compatible with keeping irreplaceable artefacts anywhere in the vicinity.
Thus we are “Decanting” to a temporary site for the duration of the building works.
The planning work to get us to this point, almost the dawn of the Decant, is itself hugely impressive. Staff from Derby Museums have worked tirelessly to develop the fine detail and prepare various bids for funding. The lion's share (£9.4M) is expected to come from the Heritage Lottery Fund with the balance coming from the Arts Council, trusts, foundations and fund raising. As this is typed we are on the brink of hearing whether the Museum have managed to successfully convince the HLF people this is a worthy project to fund. (We are confident they will say yes, but we can't tempt fate...) Meanwhile, Bauman Lyons Architects of Leeds were appointed to develop the design for the building and see the project through, and specialists in developing inspirational visitor environments, Leach Studio of Huddersfield, are designing the look and feel of the exhibition and learning spaces.
The task to empty the building will begin in earnest in November, at which point the Temporary Site will be prepared to receive its treasures. A team of volunteers has been assembled and trained to carry out the work under the exacting conditions expected of an Accredited Museum. There is always a need for more volunteers, so if you are able to step up for what will effectively be a full time job for six months, please get in touch with the Study Centre Coordinator on the link below and I will pass you on to the Museum.
As for our place in the Derby Silk Mill Museum of Making, it will certainly look different. Although we will be in the same part of the building as we currently occupy, because all our objects will be redeployed elsewhere, either on display or in Accessible Storage, our footprint will contract. All we will be directly responsible for will be our own and Derby Museums's Midland Railway document & ephemera collections, providing access to them for researchers and anyone interest in learning about the social history they represent. We will continue to be volunteer led, operating by appointment, with a reading room constructed as a new mezzanine above our existing object store and accessed — step free — from the second floor of the Silk Mill.
Exciting and busy times ahead.