My Museum Monday: 7

The wonderful wagon

The humble wagon might seem at first merely to be a footnote to the advent of industrialisation. But without wagons, there would have been no industrial revolution, perhaps no industry at all. The first wheeled vehicles were pushed or puled by humans. As they became heavier, they were pulled by animals. Laying rails, first of timber, then iron, then steel, made them easier to move. Eventually they became too heavy for animal-power, and stationary steam engines were used to haul wagons connected by ropes or cables. Then came locomotives and the vast expansion of railways. In the end, road-hauled wagons (I think lorry drivers, at least in the UK, still refer to their vehicles as “wagons”) took much of the traffic from railways.

Wagons played vital roles in every industry around the world. They were also an essential tool in colonisation and the appropriation of resources from empires. Robert Hudson of Leeds, for example, exported industrial wagons to every corner of the world, from Aden to Zanzibar.

I was privileged to be able to carry out a review of the wagons in the Leeds Industrial Museum collection in early 2019. You can find a summary of the project here. I fell in love with these rusty objects and the stories they told. 

0 gauge model railway wagons by Hornby and (top left) Marklin

These are my small collection of 0 gauge wagons, by Hornby and Marklin. Ironically, most are older than almost all I studied in the museum! Much scratched and battered by many years of play, probably on the floor and with many derailments, they too have stories to tell, though they will probably never share them.

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