A new exhibition celebrating Eastleigh’s rich railway history and, in particular, the role women played in it was officially opened by the Mayor of Eastleigh on Saturday (8 July) at Eastleigh Museum.
Commemorating the End of Southern Steam documents the story of Canadian Pacific, the steam locomotive built during the Second World War at Eastleigh. The workforce was partly made up of women, many of whom relocated to the town from across the UK, to work in Eastleigh Works.
The exhibition forms part of the Watercress Line’s Heritage Lottery Fund-supported Canadian Pacific project that will see the Midhants Railway’s flagship steam locomotive return to service. The restoration work is being carried out in Eastleigh Works, the place the historic steam locomotive was originally built back in 1941.
Mayor of Eastleigh, Cllr Maureen Sollitt, has a particular interest in the exhibition; her mother, Audrey Light, worked in Eastleigh Works as a young girl, and was part of the female workforce drafted in during the Second World War to build Canadian Pacific, the fast and powerful engine affectionately referred to as CanPac or CP.
Speaking about the exhibition, the Mayor said: “I am delighted to open this new exhibition.
“Eastleigh has a rich and proud association with the railway industry. For over 100 years it was the hub of the railway industry in the South of England, the centre of design, construction and upkeep of some of the most famous locomotives of the steam age. As broadcaster John Arlott famously once described it: ‘Eastleigh has a heart – a huge fiery, steam-pulsed, hammer-beating heart.’
“I am proud to be part of that history especially given my own family’s connection to the industry and, in particular, to Eastleigh Works and Canadian Pacific.
“This new exhibition acts as a reminder of the hugely significant role Eastleigh has played in the railway industry and the lives it has helped to shape.”
In its 75 year life, Canadian Pacific would have touched the lives of many people. Not only those who worked on the railways or drove the locomotive faster than the Flying Scotsman, but also troop movements in wartime, taking immigrants from Southampton Docks, hauling prestigious boat trains and holidaymakers travelling to the south coast.
Dr Becky Peacock, Outreach and Interpretation Officer on the Canadian Pacific Project, said: “We are thrilled to be staging this exhibition in Eastleigh Museum, especially as it highlights the significant role Eastleigh has played in the history of railways.
“The project has seen us collecting the oral histories of people who worked on the railways during the age of steam, talking to WI groups, working with student film makers and running family workshops as part of the steam engine restoration.
“This exhibition tells the story of how the railways brought around social change and it is the human stories that bring this to life.”