Full steam ahead – Leeds Industrial Museum celebrates international partnership

Did you know that Leeds Industrial Museum has a twinning relationship with the Sierra Leone National Railway Museum?

The relationship came about five years ago when the Friends of the Sierra Leone National Railway Museum (FSLNRM) presented Leeds Industrial Museum with a plaque to commemorate the fact that both museums are home to locomotives made by Leeds based company, Manning Wardle.

Five years on, and Leeds Museums & Galleries Curator of Industrial History, John McGoldrick, was invited to Sierra Leone to take part in the National Railway Museum’s 15th anniversary celebrations in March, just before the lock-down.

During the visit, which was funded by the Art Fund, John delivered a training session to SLNRM tour guide staff on the history of locomotive builders, as well as a workshop on Leeds’ industrial history and the story of Leeds Industrial Museum. John was also invited to speak on behalf of Leeds at the prestigious 15th anniversary event which was attended by British High Commissioner to Sierra Leone, Simon Mustard. 

Commenting on the trip John McGoldrick said: “The railway and engineering collections I curate at Leeds reflect long-standing and often painful colonial and post-colonial histories that are only just beginning to be viewed through the lens of our objects. Over recent years I have developed a theoretical understanding of some of these. By having the chance to travel to Sierra Leone I have established a practical and emotional connection with the country and the people I met. I am confident that these bonds will provide me with a strong and sustained motivation to develop relevant programmes for Leeds Museums & Galleries.”

The History of the Sierra Leone National Railway Museum

Since the closure of Sierra Leone’s railway network in 1974, the locomotives, which form the nucleus of the National Railway Museum’s collections were originally housed in a workshop at the Cline Town Railway works, located in Sierra Leone’s capital, Freetown. From that time, the site had been looked after by the retired workshop’s General Manager, Mohammed Bangura. With Sierra Leone in civil war (1991-2002) the country’s remaining railway heritage faced likely destruction. But British Army Colonel Steve Davies , who had been posted to Sierra Leone in 2004, learned of the survival of the collection and quickly garnered support from the then President Kabbah to save the building and vehicles with a view to establishing a museum.

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