The age of steam

Steam buffs and agricultural historians will soon have a valuable resource at their fingertips thanks to the dedication of volunteers at the Museum of English Rural Life.

More than 10,000 original technical drawings from traction engine manufacturer Charles Burrell & Sons have been compiled in an electronic catalogue by MERL and Road Locomotive Society volunteers in just five months, in the first stage of a fascinating new archive project.

This work is part of ‘Heavy Metal’, a steam engine and farm machinery archive project which has been funded by the Heritage Lottery Fund and the Road Locomotive Society, which owns the Burrell drawings. The project aims to encourage steam and tractor history enthusiasts to make more use of the specialist engineering drawings and manufacturers’ business records held at the Museum, which is owned and managed by the University of Reading.

The new catalogue will be made available to the general public through the Access to Archives website later in the year. The next stage of the project will make more drawings and archives from other manufacturers more accessible online.

The Museum will be promoting the archives with a small touring exhibition at steam rallies, country fairs and festivals across the country during the year. The tour will start at the 2007 Steam and Vintage Show at the Milestones museum in Basingstoke, Hampshire on 26th, 27th and 28th May and the Canals Festival hosted by the Etruria Industrial Museum in Stoke-on-Trent on 2nd and 3rd June.

There will also be a series of workshops at MERL for enthusiasts on how to use the archives to find manufacturer’s technical drawings for particular engine parts, company’s business records and uncover the history of their engines.