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New Hall is now open!

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Locomotion’s New Hall opens to the public

  • New 47-vehicle building to open at popular North East railway museum  
  • Host of family-friendly activities planned for opening week  
  • New Hall tells the story of Shildon, the world’s first railway town 

A brand new £8m collections building opens at Locomotion in Shildon, County Durham, this Friday—the museum’s most significant regeneration project since it opened 20 years ago, making it the largest undercover collection of historic rail vehicles anywhere in Europe.

Over 100 vehicles are now on display, celebrating the role of Shildon as the world’s first railway town. Along with a host of other improvements, the museum aims to attract 250,000 visitors a year to the region.   

Locomotion is a partnership between the Science Museum Group and Durham County Council, with the latter having provided significant funding towards New Hall.    

New Hall is the latest milestone in a wider £95m masterplan project across Locomotion and the National Railway Museum in York, regenerating both museums with new galleries, spaces and vital conservation work to inspire future generations of engineers, creators and thinkers.  

Sarah Price, Head of Locomotion, said: “I can’t wait for our visitors to experience New Hall. Great days out are made at Locomotion, and now it’s bigger and better than ever. 

“Whether you’re joining our special opening celebrations or making a date to visit us in the future, New Hall is the place to be to celebrate the North East’s railway story for generations to come, ahead of the nationally significant bicentenary celebration of the railways in 2025.” 

Highlights of New Hall’s collection include historically significant vehicles built at the Shildon works, two snowploughs, a tracked Bren Gun Carrier, two cranes, and the Hetton Colliery Lyon, built in 1851. The museum’s existing Main Hall has also been refreshed and redisplayed.    

Almost 1,000 vehicle moves were undertaken to achieve the new displays—the museum’s largest ever series of shunts, involving a team of in-house workshop and traction experts, conservators and specialist contractors.  

Inside New Hall, oral histories from former Shildon’s rail workers are used alongside historic film clips and graphics that bring the collection to life and highlight the significance of coal, industry and freight transportation and how the North East’s industry and innovation influenced the world.  

The building is the centrepiece of a host of other improvements and additions to Locomotion’s site, including the return of the iconic Gaunless Bridge, designed by George Stephenson.   

Originally spanning the River Gaunless, from 1823 to its removal in 1901, Gaunless Bridge is one of the first railway bridges to be constructed of iron, and the very first to use an iron truss. The bridge was sympathetically restored and repainted to its original colour scheme in early 2024 and is now installed on the approach to New Hall.   

Other improvements at Locomotion include newly planted landscaped gardens, designed to increase biodiversity across the site, renovations to historic railway buildings, enhancements to parking facilities and the restoration of the site’s historic coal drops.  

A ‘Changing Places’ facility has also been installed at the museum. In April, Locomotion was given an award from the North East Autism Society in recognition of its improved approach to inclusion and accessibility.   

Free tickets are available for a special opening bank holiday weekend, the 24-27 May, with a host of celebratory family-friendly activities on offer.    

Steam engine rides on a replica of Stephenson’s Rocket, live performances on an outdoor stage, science pop-ups, storytelling and crafting activities will take place across the May bank holiday weekend, continuing into the following week’s half-term holidays.   

Locomotion employs around 48 people and is home to a vibrant community of volunteers, many of whom have long-standing connections with railways in the region.   

Peter Robinson, a volunteer at Locomotion who was employed at the Shildon railway works from 1956 to 1984, said:  “It has been my life’s ambition to see something like this in Shildon. I’ve been into New Hall to view the display and it’s a wonderful place.   

“I entered the works in 1956 and I was there until 1984. The closure was a devastating blow to the community. My whole life has been built around railways—the museum provides me with a place to share that passion with other people. 

“It’s a hugely positive asset for Shildon. I speak to people from all over the country, and even internationally, who have come to Shildon specifically to visit the museum.”   

Cllr Amanda Hopgood, Leader of Durham County Council and North East Combined Authority Cabinet member for culture, creative, tourism and sport, said: “We’re delighted that New Hall is ready to open and to enhance the already world-class visitor offer we have at Locomotion and across the ‘culture county’ that is Durham. 

“It’s really exciting that the largest undercover collection of historic rail vehicles in Europe will be right here in County Durham and we’re pleased that the funding we have provided has made that possible. 

“It’s fitting that New Hall opens ahead of the exciting celebrations of 20 years of Locomotion and 200 years of the Stockton and Darlington Railway, on which the first ever steam-locomotive powered passenger journey set out from right here at Shildon. 

“We look forward to people enjoying New Hall for years to come, and to it playing its part in the county’s continued economic growth.” 

New Hall was designed by AOC Architecture and J+L Gibbons Landscape Architects. The building draws on the aesthetic of an engine shed, with vehicles displayed on reused tracks across six themed roads. Sustainability has been built in through passive design, high insulation, airtightness and cost-effective construction. Low carbon air source heat pumps deliver heat to the building, reducing energy use.  

Building contractors Nationwide Engineering constructed the building over 14 months, breaking ground in January 2023 and completing work in March of this year.   

Locomotion’s New Hall has been generously supported by Durham County Council (Lead Funder), The Foyle Foundation (Major Funder), Friends of the National Railway Museum (Major Funder), Wolfson Foundation (Major Funder), The Catherine Cookson Charitable Trust (Associate Funder), Sir James Knott Trust (Associate Funder), Banks Group Community Fund (Funder), County Durham Community Foundation (Funder),The Platten Family Fund at the Community Foundation Tyne & Wear and Northumberland (Funder), Northumbrian Water Branch Out Fund (Funder), and The Ridley Family Charity (Supported by).  

The Gaunless Bridge project has been generously supported by The Ironmongers’ Livery Company (Funder) and members of the public.   

For more information about Locomotion visit: www.locomotion.org.uk  

ENDS

For more information please contact:

Simon Baylis, PR, Press and External Affairs Manager 01904 686 299 simon.baylis@railwaymusuem.org.uk 

James Rose, Project Communications Officer 01904 929517 james.rose@railwaymuseum.org.uk  

Notes to editors   

  • Locomotion offers visitors the chance to see highlights of the national collection of railway vehicles in Shildon—the world’s first railway town  
  • Locomotion forms part of the Science Museum Group, along with the Science Museum in London, the Science and Industry Museum in Manchester, the National Science and Media Museum in Bradford and the National Railway Museum in York  
  • Locomotion is a partnership between the Science Museum Group and Durham County Council, which is a major funder of the museum  
  • Admission to Locomotion is free—visit www.locomotion.org.uk   

About Funders

  • The Friends of the National Railway Museum was formed in 1977 to support the National Railway Museum. An independent member based charity, FNRM (or the Friends) help to fund the restoration of exhibits in the National Collection, the acquisition of new artefacts, and other projects that would otherwise not be possible. The charity also undertakes and supports research and educational projects relating to the history and development of railways.  
  • The Foyle Foundation is an independent grant making Trust supporting UK charities which, since its formation in 2001, has become a major funder of the Arts and Learning. The Foundation also operates a community small grants programme and a national school library improvement scheme.  
  • The Wolfson Foundation is an independent charity with a focus on research and education. Its aim is to support civil society by investing in excellent projects in science, health, heritage, humanities and the arts.  Since it was established in 1955, some £1 billion (£2 billion in real terms) has been awarded to more than 14,000 projects throughout the UK, all on the basis of expert review. Twitter: @wolfsonfdn   

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