Concept and aims

The main aim of ‘The Rails Which Circled the World’ project was to highlight the historical importance of rail-making to Workington. The town’s Moss Bay Steelworks was once proudly responsible for producing vast quantities of steel rails which were shipped all over the world.

Community Rail Cumbria and Workington Focus Group wanted to create an outdoor art exhibition that celebrated the town’s heritage and rich social history, and enhanced other elements of the transformed station including the return of its original LMS colours, black and white signage, heritage benches, and artefacts displayed on the platforms.

The project also set out to continue the educational thread emerging along the Cumbrian Coast Line, with Workington joining Maryport, Ravenglass, and Millom as ‘destination stations’ hosting key focal points where younger generations can learn about Cumbria’s heritage.

What happened

The community rail officer formed a focus group with colleagues from transport groups, the local authority, and a local museum, tasking people to research their chosen areas of industrial interest. Designs and content were created for heritage boards depicting the triumphs and tragedies of the coal mines, ironworks, steelworks, and docks, all connected by a complex rail network.

The group used a local print company, Firpress, to adapt the drafts, helping to support the local economy during the COVID-19 pandemic. To complement the emotive displays, former industrial employees were interviewed and filmed to capture their personal stories, providing footage to be played on a loop in both station waiting rooms.

A total of 17 seven-foot-high panels were unveiled a launch event in May 2021.

Results

The project’s legacy will ensure that people know about the importance of Workington and the impact that its working-class industries had across the globe. The next phase includes plans for a seven-foot statue of Sir Henry Bessemer, famed for his role in mass steel production, to be erected in the station car park.

Some of those who have viewed the exhibition have said that for older generations, the panels have offered a trip down memory lane, to reminisce, and to ponder how life has changed down the years. Those behind the project hope this may support people living with conditions such as dementia, enablijg them to be transported back to a time they may cherish and remember fondly.

Other feedback has described the display as “spectacular”, “eye-catching”, and “very engaging and informative”, and the group hopes the exhibition will support an increase in people visiting and using the station.