Endangered Archives

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EAP626: Tracking the past - the preservation of the railway archives of Sierra Leone

Work will be carried out to safeguard the surviving archival record of the Sierra Leone Railway. The Sierra Leone Government Railway was built in 1893 and changed the nature of society, enabling the transport of passengers and goods between the interior and the Freetown Colony and port. At independence in 1961 the railway was well equipped and was a significant employer until its closure in 1975. 1991–2002 was a period of bloody civil war in Sierra Leone and much of the infrastructure and academic memory was lost - the vital significance of the railway in developing the country faded from national memory. This material is representative of the history and development of the country and is of outstanding significance to the rebuilding of the country’s social and cultural foundations.

In 2005, shortly after the end of ten years of bloody civil war, the Sierra Leone government opened its National Railway Museum in Cline Town, a suburb of the capital Freetown, based around a collection of British built locomotives, carriages and wagons which had survived in the former railway workshops.

A number of documents and images have been found since the opening of the museum, and a significant amount of archival material was found inside some of the vehicles at the time when the museum was developed. The material consists of documents, tickets, photographs, postcards, stamps, files, notebooks, wagon labels and operating manuals.

This material is currently dispersed amongst the staff of the National Museum in Freetown City Centre, the archivist at the University of Sierra Leone, and the National Railway Museum of Sierra Leone, where material is piled in the corner of a showcase. The papers, particularly those in the two national museums, are not properly stored and there is no proper provision for their care or access. They are currently kept in heaps in unsuitably hot and humid conditions and are vulnerable to damage from movement, light exposure and dust. They are un-catalogued, with the exception of a small number of tickets and wagon labels, so inaccessible to visitors or researchers, and vulnerable to loss or theft.

There are few people left in the country who remember the railway in operation and therefore it is essential that the archives are located, preserved and catalogued as quickly as possible whilst there are people who can explain the meaning of unidentified items and give the material context. The development of a railway archive will give meaning to the rolling stock collection and will help the Nation to re-discover and understand a large part of its history.

The National Railway Museum in York has worked in partnership with the Sierra Leone National Railway Museum since its opening in 2005 in the presence of President Kabbah and Andrew Scott, then Director of the UK NRM. To date support has been practical: curatorial support; the provision of information held in the UK in the Crown Agents Archive and the local archives of the Leeds-based railway manufacturing industry; and the recovery in the UK of a small number of documents and photographs, which are currently held for safe keeping at the National Railway Museum, York. As the archives are not catalogued or accessible, further historical research, and development of interpretation at the Sierra Leone museum is severely limited.

This project will encompass the development of an archives store in a secure area of the National Railway Museum of Sierra Leone and convert the current open ‘office’ area of the main museum hall into a reading and research room. Archive and image collections scattered across Freetown and elsewhere will be gathered together, condition checked, and catalogued. Digital copies will be made of all material and the originals will be placed in archival quality packaging in the new archives store. Training in digitisation and cataloguing will be provided to enable the work to continue into the future as new material is discovered.

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EAP626/1: Tracking the Past: the Railway Archives of Sierra Leone

"Project by the National Railway Museum (part of the Science Museum Group) to digitally photograph and preserve the remaining railway operating documents and ephemera at the Sierra Leone National Railway Museum, and a series of administrative files at the Sierra Leone National Archives, which were created by the Colonial Secretary's Office, relating to the running of the railway and various operational changes."

EAP626/1/2/7: Postcards [Early 20th century-Late 20th century]

Extent: 13 TIFF images
Level: File
Scope and Content: "

1 x 2 inch 6d postage stamp from the colonial period, depicting the Orugu Viaduct. 11 postcards of the railway produced by the Freetown photographers Lisk-Carew Brothers of Freetown. These show bridges and stations, and one street scene in Freetown with the railway tracks in the foreground. Donated to the SL NRM.

Owner of original material: ""Sierra Leone National Railway Museum, 2004-""

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Creator Sierra Leone Railway, 1893-1975
Creator "Colonial Secretary's Office, Government of the Colony of Sierra Leone", 1810-1961
Creator Lisk-Carew Brothers, 1905-1920s
Language(s) English
Script(s) Latin
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