Rail Room

Project Overview

The Rail Room will be a ground-breaking heritage-based learning project unique to the North-West of England.

The project is led by Millom Folk Museum Society, a registered charity which exists to advance the education of the public into the history and development of the local area by the operation of a museum within Millom Discovery Centre.

Millom Discovery Centre currently houses an Iron Town story in the Victorian building on the rail station. Unfortunately, the ‘impact of rail’ is missing. This project seeks to re-dress the omission, complete the story, and provide an impressive high- tech room for the advancement of primary school children and adults alike.

The Rail Room project:

  • Is the culmination of a three-year programme of extensive research and validation
  • Includes intensive volunteer involvement from a wide variety of sectors
  • Encourages input from all age groups through the initial planning to operation
  • Reveals the hidden mining and rail heritage of the area in a new hi-tech room, and through a series of individual visitor programmes
  • Enables 3,000 primary school children – and their teachers / parents – to learn in a creative and stimulating environment
  • Directly responds to the expressed concerns of OFSTED regarding the lack of achievement in basic skills by children of primary school age
  • Is supported by Cumbria County Council, Copeland Borough Council, Schools, Northern Rail, Cumbrian Coast Community Rail Partnership, and Millom Town Council
  • Provides sustainable employment in an area of recognised need
  • Capitalises on the opportunities afforded by the new rail franchise
  • Is specifically designed to attract and build visitor numbers to a sustainable 6,000 per annum in the year after the project ends.


The anticipated outputs are:

  • the provision of a heritage based facility incorporating the impact of rail into the Iron Town story
  • an education out-reach project for primary school children
  • a place for community learning
  • an attraction for volunteer activity
  • a sustainable tourist attraction
  • an economic stimulus to the town of Millom
  • employment and volunteer opportunity.


Finance and Funding

The Rail Room project is funded through the Heritage Lottery, Copeland Community Fund and the Cumbrian Coast Community Rail Partnership. This finance package is front-end loaded to allow for essential building work (electrical, heating, lighting, etc), the installation of hi-tech facilities and the design and build of an exhibition-standard model railway.

The 3 year project will enable the educational aspects to be fully financially sustainable, along with a build-up of visitors to 6,000 per annum after the project ends.

The Heritage associated with the Cumbrian Coast Railway

The rapid growth of the town of Millom was fuelled by the industrial revolution and railways. The Whitehaven and Furness railway operated all passenger and freight movements along the Cumbrian Coast, with the station at Millom opening in 1850.

The line slowly expanded, extending north from Kirkby to the market town of Broughton in Furness. The line was completed with the Whitehaven and Furness Junction Railway down the coast from Whitehaven, past Sellafield and Millom to Broughton. The extension to Ulverston was finally completed in 1854.

Now the Furness Railway was connected to the national network at Carnforth, and had a link north to the coalfields of West Cumbria. For the first time, the people of

Furness had easy access to the rest of the country.

The Furness Railway Board were not just interested in running a successful railway – backers like the Duke of Devonshire, the Duke of Buccleugh and industrialist Henry Schneider, as well as the FR’s own General Manager Sir James Ramsden, were the driving force behind a complete industrial revolution. They owned the slate and iron ore mines; they owned the railway that transported the raw material; they built the massive docks at Barrow (previously a minor hamlet) that ended Roa Island’s days as the local port; they built the steelworks in Barrow to process the local ore, and they built the shipyard that used the steel from the steelworks.

Throughout the second half of the 19th century, the Furness Railway consolidated its position and expanded. It took over the Whitehaven and Furness Junction route in 1865, giving it direct access to Whitehaven. In the meantime the London and North

Western Railway was operating rail services between London, Lancaster and Carlisle and so was able to exert a great deal of control over the Furness Railway – controlling both its northern and south eastern frontiers.

The Furness Railway Empire in Barrow continued to expand – a new through Central station (removing the need to reverse through trains at the old terminus at the Strand) was opened in 1882. It survives to this day, albeit in modified form, the original station having been bombed during the Second World War. A passenger station had been opened at Ramsden Dock a year before to connect with the new

Isle of Man and later Belfast steamer services.

In the early years of the 20th century, a new era began at the Furness Railway, under the new general manager Alfred Aslett. He inherited a system with run down facilities and falling traffic. His strategy was bold, and has had a lasting effect on the Lake District. Aslett transformed the Furness Railway into a tourist line. It was really a matter of refocusing the business: steamers brought in tour parties from the popular holiday destinations of Blackpool and Fleetwood across Morecambe Bay to Ramsden Dock station. Trains could take the holiday makers to either Coniston or Lakeside (at the bottom end of Windermere), and the FR operated steamers on both lakes. Charabancs were used to provide a number of circular tours from the northern end of the two lakes. The era of mass tourism in the English Lake District had begun.

Today the Cumbrian Coast railway, eighty-six miles in length and carrying over 1m passengers each year, is a major transport artery, serving both the needs of the community and the nuclear plants at Sellafield.

Educational role of the Rail Room

Ofsted Reports continue to highlight the deficiencies of Cumbria’s west coast primary children in basic numeracy & literacy:–

“Poor achievement in Maths and English…and a lack of development of literacy and numeracy skills across all, subjects.” Ofsted report 2014

Research has shown that the importance of educational visits and learning outside the classroom can raise achievement, increase motivation, and develop understanding in all children. It gives pupils unique opportunities to develop their resourcefulness and initiative and to spend time together in an informal environment.

Activities provided can be directly related to the curriculum, some are designed to promote social awareness and others will extend their knowledge of the world. The common factor is that they all make an essential contribution to pupils’ development and education in the broadest sense of the word.

A quote from the National Union of Teachers briefing on school trips (2014) makes the following points

“The NUT believes that school visits can be of substantial benefit to pupils in the development of their characters and social skills. For many they offer opportunities to broaden their horizons and enrich their experience, which would otherwise be unavailable in their lives. School journeys and visits are generally considered to be of educational value in developing the potential and qualities of children and young people, and as such make a valuable contribution to the Every Child Matters agenda.”

An example of where this has worked is in Accrington which has pioneered the successful ‘Bunker’ project, which significantly aided the learning of children. This utilised the connection between the children’s enjoyment of trains, and the education that could derived from the rail activity.

Primary schools in Copeland have already identified the benefits from ‘outreach’ projects, and welcome the opportunity to educate primary children on a train journey to a ‘Discovery Centre’. Significant gains are expected when children have to work out timetables, and calculate fares before travelling. Planned activities on the journey would stimulate the practical need for numeracy and literacy throughout future life.

The Significant benefit to Rural Schools

According the to the group of Millom and district head teachers who have come together to voluntarily help develop the Rail Room concept, having a local facility as an outreach project for West Cumbrian children is a massive bonus to their education. Rural schools are at a significant disadvantage, due to the lack of local history venues able to hold children’s attention. There are many city based venues with major travel issues, which force rural schools to consider many other issues associated with overnight stays. Even Carlisle is seen as a major problem for ‘outreach’ learning, and Carlisle is in Cumbria.

Millom will suit schools from Workington to Grange. It will be seen by the West Cumbrian schools as a fair and central location for such a facility.