Friday, June 07, 2013

N.E.R. Not Easily Rivalled

A handful of railway stations in the north of England still display a large, strikingly beautiful wall mounted map made of coloured, glazed, tiles. These are the survivors of several put up by the North Eastern Railway company at the turn of the twentieth century.

The directors of the North Eastern Railway, meeting in 1900, authorised their General Manager, George Stegmann Gibb, to erect large maps of the company’s passenger network at several of their stations. They were to be constructed of sixty four 8” x 8” glazed tiles, with a further eight 8” x 4” ones spelling out the company name at the top. Lines over which they had running rights were included, as were large scale map tiles showing the docks owned by the NER.

The result was a very beautiful tile map, which showed the entire NER passenger system. The tiles were made at Jackfield tile works – now part of the Ironbridge Gorge Museum – by Craven Dunnill and Company Limited.

As well as a few lines belonging to other companies most of the NER's own passenger lines were shown, and the map also includes some nearby features such as lakes, lochs, country houses and their parkland, battlefields, castles, abbeys, monasteries and cathedrals. Very attractive, but simple, colouring was used. What is immediately apparent when first looking at an NER tiled map is the sheer size of the Company’s network. Stretching from Berwick to almost Rotherham, and Carlisle to Withernsea, it is easy to see why this was once the world’s largest railway company.

Very little is really known about these tile maps but at least 25 of them were displayed at various stations, the last, it is believed, by 1910. A contemporary author, G.W.J. Potter, wrote that they were a “striking improvement” and that the idea had “attracted considerable attention, and its adoption has much to recommend it – being easily cleaned, very legible, practically everlasting...” Quite prophetic stuff, because a century later 12 tile maps still exist, 9 of them at their original stations - those at Beverley, Hartlepool, Middlesbrough, Morpeth, Saltburn, Scarborough, Tynemouth, York and Whitby.

The map at Saltburn, previously 'hidden' behind a very worn, scratched Perspex covering, was given a facelift yesterday when the old protective covering was removed and replaced with a new one. The tiles continue to look striking and attract as much attention now as they did when the map was first installed.

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