Fires of Prometheus


Further research on the wagons

It is clear from this review that much remains to be learned about the museum's wagons. Although, unfortunately, frustratingly little is known about the back-stories of the individual wagons, each nevertheless is an example, however poor, of a type of rolling stock. Depending on what is decided about retention and disposal, the collection could act as a trigger for further research into these types, their manufacturer and their uses.

Using Hudson catalogues, advertisements and other material (there are a number of drawings of equipment in the museum archive) the development of the wagons and related technologies could be mapped and investigated. It is obvious that there are many differences between a tipper wagon and the final 'Rugga' wagon. What drove these changes?

Later wagons were developed to meet increasing demands, such as those designed for continuous, non-stop movement through mines.

Further research on industrial railways

During this project the author has come across a large number of examples of industrial railways. Some have left only the tantalising evidence of material ordered from Hudson, for example. Others have left textual and photographic evidence, or traces on maps. Still others have left tangible archaeological evidence.

Narrow-gauge industrial railways were constructed around the world, some lasting just a few weeks, others for many decades. Their form and function are valuable pointers to the exploitation of natural resources, the history of civil engineering and the development of present-day economies. They played central roles in hundreds of stories of success and failure, in spectacular projects that are still evident today and ephemeral, long-forgotten projects that have left hardly a trace.

Further research on the archive

This report only briefly touches on the Robert Hudson archive, as it is beyond the scope of the review. However the material would reward a more thorough and detailed examination. The author has digitised the index to the archive, and this excel file has been saved to the museum system. The archive consists of about 60 cloth-bound files labelled from A-Z and AA-ZZ, with a further number of “Dead Files.” The files contain carbon copies of orders and correspondence. There are also a small number of photographs and a larger number of engineering drawings. These were not looked at in this review.

There is also much to be learned about the role of industrial railways in the colonial era. Almost every country in the world made use of industrial railways, however ephemeral and however small, even if their existence is not at first apparent. Our lack of knowledge of the historical archaeology of developing and often unstable countries is clear, as is, perhaps, a general lack of interest. For example, the Gezira Light Railway, with which Robert Hudson had a lengthy relationship, played a vital part in the success of Sudan's cotton industry. Yet it is not clear whether it is still functioning.

There is also a vast area of potential research into the military use of narrow gauge railways, both in time of war and in peace. Robert Hudson supplied many military railways, and some examples of their products are present, in poor condition, in the museum collection.

Further research on communities and labour

The majority of the wagons were manufactured by Robert Hudson Ltd. in Gildersome, near Morley, south west of Leeds. At the moment there appears to be only minimal information about the presumably several hundred workers at this factory over several generations. There is a general Gildersome History web site that hardly mentions Robert Hudson. The local primary school has built a collection of photographs but again there is only a single reference to Robert Hudson. A historical summary on Wikipedia leads to a page on the Leeds Engine Builders web site and Grace's Guide, which includes a number of references. None of these mentions the people who built the wagons. A small amount of biographical material is held by the museum that could be used to launch further research into the Hudson labour force.

A similar research project could be carried out on Leeds Forge Co., especially as the communities involved are adjacent to the museum. Again there is a brief history at Leeds Engine Builders web site and a Wikipedia listing, but not much else.

A third related focus would be on industrial labour in Leeds in general. Considering that the city was an important industrial centre for two centuries, and that Armley Mills was once the world’s largest woollen mill, there is remarkably little published research into the city, its industries and its workforces. What is available is often of poor quality, if not inaccurate.

Perhaps the saddest stories associated with wagons are those where they were present in industrial tragedies such as the huge 1944 explosion at RAF Fauld munitions depot. Much earlier, wagons loaded with coal showed the direction of the 1894 explosion in the Albion Colliery which killed 390 men and boys. Hudson wagons were also present amidst some of the fiercest fighting of WW1.