An eccentric railway sculpture by Rowland Emett has been saved for the nation and will be heading to the National Railway Museum in York.

It was put up for sale by its owner, and bought for an undisclosed six-figure sum, supported by a grant from the Art Fund and a number of donations to the National Railway Museum.

The whimsical train ride was initially a commission for a shopping centre, but by the time the sculpture was completed in 1984, it was no longer required. It was then bought by the current owner and first exhibited in Spitalfields Market, London, in 1992. The piece – all 8ms of it –then went into storage, only to ‘disappear’ seven years later, nearly meeting its end at the scrap yard. However, once saved, the current owner expertly restored it, adding a digital control system.

After being displayed in 2014 at Birmingham Museum and Art Gallery, it proved such a crowd-pleaser that it boosted visitor numbers by 70 percent, so unsurprisingly, it’s hoped to have a similar impact at the National Railway Museum.

Rowland Emett, born in London in 1906 particularly noted for creating the Far Tottering and Oyster Creek Branch Railway, a madcap train ride in Battersea Park for the Festival of Britain, as well as Caractacus Potts’ inspired inventions in Chitty Chitty Bang Bang in 1968.

The Director of the National Railway Museum, Judith McNicol, said, “It’s the business of museums like ours to acquire and preserve those really significant objects that have played a powerful role in the ongoing development of our railways. It’s what we do. But it’s not every day you have the opportunity to acquire something which combines that seriousness of purpose, design, and skill with, well, such a sense of fun.”

A Quiet Afternoon in the Cloud Cuckoo Valley: what is it?

A Quiet Afternoon in the Cloud Cuckoo Valley tells the story of a pleasure trip on the Far Tottering and Oyster Creek Railway.

The centre of the creation features a train called Wild Goose, driven by an ingenious driver who toasts tea-cakes on the fire-box as the train trundles along a raised railway line. As he passes Cowparsley Meadow a farmer plays his harp soothingly to his herd of cows, and in a secluded dell at Wisteria Halt, there is a beautiful flowering tree, on top of which sits the clock.

At Shrimphaven Sands, a fisherman can be seen out at sea, hauling in a net in which he appears to have caught a mermaid. As Wild Goose continues its journey past Twittering Woods, an ornithologist is seen cycling along with his camera – he is disguised as a tree and a bird has made its nest in his bicycle lamp.

On the beach at Oyster Creek, a bathing hut is occupied by an elderly gentleman dressed in full-length Victorian swimwear, who dives dramatically into the water from time to time. Finally, for those passengers on Wild Goose whose wishes and dreams are not yet met, there is a wishing well, complete with a typically Emett-esque leaking bucket.

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One comment on “Rowland Emett’s fantastical railway saved for the nation
  1. John B says:

    Excellent. I had hoped to catch it on its last day yesterday, but I ran out time after the Cold War exhibition at Kew on my way to protest outside Parliament.

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