The Royal Institution of British Architects celebrated its150th anniversary in 1984, and British Rail decided to mark the occasion with an exhibition dealing with historic and modern examples of railway buildings. It was a time when the architectural merits of many old railway buildings were becoming appreciated, and as the Eastern Region Architects Department was enjoying a growing reputation for the sympathetic treatment of old structures when the time came to modernise or demolish, by demonstrating that conservation and adaptation was not only cost effective, but iresulted in a more agreeable outcome, the Regional Architect at York, Norman Millin, was asked to oversee the project. A member of his staff, John Ives, was jointly to curate the exhibition, with Stuart Rankin who had written previously on the subject and had display and exhibition experience, and was “loaned” by the Regional Public Affairs Department. Linda Clarke, of the Architect’s Department was tasked with graphics and photo captioning from text supplied to her.
By a happy coincidence, the City of Bristol was also wanting to mount an exhibition celebrating the architectural work of I. K. Brunel and the City’s restoration work on his original Bristol Temple Meads station train shed. Paul Simons of the City’s Planning Department therefore joined the project, taking responsibility for the sections on Brunel’s work and Bristol. John Ives had been for some time, working on many schemes of improvement at York Station, the section on which he therefore adopted, together with those dealing with the railway work of architects Andrews, Tite, Livock and Thompson. Stuart Rankin filled in the gaps. It proved to have been a shrewd move involving someone from outside the Architects department in the writing because he had taken on the job with an undertaking that his criticism would be fair, but not subject to censorship. This escape hatch came in handy, late in the project, when someone very high up wanted to know why there was nothing in the proposed exhibition about Euston or Birmingham New Street? The response was it could be suggested, but as there was no editorial control over text, the result might not be too favourable… Authority retired, baffled.
The exhibition was first held at the National Railway Museum at York, and was so well received that the City of Bristol decided to fund the production of a “Book of the Exhibition” to be available when the exhibition appeared at Temple Meads. The design,graphics and layout closely replicated those of the exhibition. Unfortunately this was done in such a rush, that no proofs were sent to the York members of the team, and there were some errors, like the headings “FORWARD” instead of “FOREWORD” and “MERCHANDISING” instead of “MERCHANDISE”. However, here was an even more serious error, which to save embarrassment I will not mention. This led to the first print run having to be scrapped. A new one, equally hasty was produced correcting the major fault, but the others again slipped through the net. The exhibition was additionally staged at the King St. Gallery, Bristol, the Building Centre, London, The Royal Society of Arts, London, and Bristol Temple Meads as part of the GWR 150 celebrations in 1985. It was well received by the public, but the newly appointed Director of Architecture, Design and Environment of British Rail, appointed in 1986, felt that the approach was “too popular” and the exhibition was withdrawn from further outings. That, of course, is the problem with some architects – they are far more concerned with the opinions of their peer group, than with those of the poor beggars who have to live in, work in or look at theit ctreations!