Brass, Steel and Fire
National Railway Museum, 26 September 2019 – 13 April 2020
Science Museum, 22 October 2020 – 3 May 2021
A project with Simon Leach Design
Curated by Anthony Coulls and and National Railway Museum
Exhibition build by Workhaus Projects
Lighting design by Dha
Films by Verri Media
Tool shadows photography by Daylight Moving Image
Graphic production by Quarmby
Photography by Philip Durrant
Photo of Rocket courtesy Jason Hynes/National Railway Museum
2020 Heritage Railway Association Award for Interpretation
Brass, Steel and Fire showcases the creativity of engineering through 100 years of model-making. It features locomotive models and miniature steam engines handcrafted from scratch by ‘ordinary people’ between 1810 and 1910. It includes the world’s oldest working model steam engine (from 1836) and the world’s most famous full-size locomotive – Stephenson’s Rocket (built in 1829). Rocket was known as the ultimate full-size model. It will remain at the National Railway Museum on permanent display following the exhibition.
The exhibition design is stripped-back and conceived around the notion of making models in garden sheds and on kitchen tables. The exhibition narrative has two themes: the Workshop; and Agents of Change. The design reflects this split through the use of different materials and in the spatial setting-out. In each, however, the models themselves take centre stage. They are displayed under clear acrylic hoods with minimal fuss, as if still on their workbenches. Original technical drawings and archival photographs of full-size Victorian railway workshops are reproduced at large scale to underpin the direct relationship between model making and full-size engineering. As part of the exhibition we designed a special installation of hanging tools that were donated to the museum by model engineer Keith Dodgson.