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Last Updated Saturday 1st December 2012

A Decade at Crich
by Andrew Waddington

The past ten years have witnessed many ups and downs at Crich Tramway Village, home of the National Tramway Museum in Derbyshire. With newly restored trams joining the operating fleet, new acquisitions and a whole host of excellent special events, there have been many high points at the Museum – however, the last decade has also been a difficult time in many ways, with declining visitor and volunteer numbers being of particular concern. As part of the British Trams Online tenth anniversary celebrations, Andrew Waddington takes a look at how Britain’s top tram museum has progressed during the lifespan of this website.

When British Trams Online first went ‘live’ in December 2002, Crich Tramway Village (as it had been known since 2001) was in quite a strong position. New attractions such as the workshop viewing gallery and the Red Lion public house had added greatly to the site, and Leeds 345 had recently arrived on site for restoration to running order, following hot on the heels of the latest major vehicle project, which had been the rebuild of Oporto 273 with funding from a Heritage Lottery grant.

This trend of development continued in 2003 with the completion of an extension to the existing library at Town End, incorporating the facades of two period buildings which greatly enhanced the period street scene and helping to create a superb setting for the trams to run in. Whilst the library itself made very little difference to visitors, it was a clear sign that the Tramway Museum Society was taking its role as a designated national museum and educational charity very seriously. However, for many enthusiasts the most exciting event of the year was the return to service of Leeds 602 which had been disused since November 1995, when it had been withdrawn due to a leaking roof. To commemorate its own fiftieth birthday, and the fiftieth anniversary of Queen Elizabeth II’s Coronation, the stunning royal purple tram was commissioned for restricted use and proved extremely popular with visitors. 602 was the undisputed star attraction at that year’s Tramathon event although a thunderstorm did mean it had to scuttle back to depot as a reminder of the reason why it had sat idle for so long! Nonetheless, 602 behaved impeccably when it ran and another major highlight came in September, when it was posed alongside the other surviving railcar Leeds 600 as the climax of the annual Enthusiast’s Day.

2004 was a busy year in the workshop, with the two decks of Leeds 345 being reunited in time for the Tramathon event when it was displayed on the depot fan at the end of the day. Soon afterwards early test running commenced, although there remained a lot of work to complete before the tram would be ready to commence passenger service. Meanwhile, Blackpool Toastrack 166 was lifted for attention to its bogies, having bowed out of service in 1998 due to a loose wheel. Thanks to an appeal run by the Fylde Tramway Society and the Tramcar Sponsorship Organisation, 166 was fit again in time for the 2004 Enthusiast’s Day, although unfortunately the weather was rather miserable which spoilt the occasion! After its official launch, the tram was then posed in the street along with a superb line-up of Blackpool trams including a rare mainline appearance for Blackpool Standard 49. In spite of the dismal weather this was a classic Crich event with ‘continental running’ demonstrated along the street in the morning, Den Haag 1147 displayed at Town End and London Transport 1 spending the day parked on the siding at Wakebridge!

The year concluded with more good news for Leeds 602 which had its leaky roof repaired thanks to donations, allowing it to return to more regular service ahead of the 2005 season. Southampton 45 also paid a visit to the workshop for a truck overhaul to ensure it would be at its best for it to play a major role the following year...

If 2004 was enjoyable, then 2005 was to be a fantastic year for Crich which got off to a good start with two new arrivals on site. These were Halle 902, a brand new acquisition which was intended for use as a second wheelchair-accessible tramcar, and London United Tramways 159, which had moved from Clay Cross for work to start on a major restoration, funded by the London County Council Tramways Trust. Whereas 159 arrived as a complete wreck, 902 was able to run almost straightaway although its high power consumption proved challenging for the tramway’s power supply! The car did undertake trial runs a number of times during the year, and even made a few appearances in passenger service towards the year end. Another controversial addition to the national collection was Oporto C65, a coal transporter shipped over from Portugal, although this tram has not yet gone on public display, going straight to Clay Cross for storage instead. The thinking behind acquiring this tram was never really explained, and with space so limited, many people felt (and still feel) that this was a very unnecessary purchase – especially as other similar cars had been acquired by British preservationists solely to provide parts to help restore British trams.

However, the biggest talking point of the year was undoubtedly a positive one. The late May Bank Holiday weekend saw the Museum stage a spectacular event to mark 50 years since the formation of the Tramway Museum Society. The highlight of this was a procession of trams along the street, led by Southampton 45 which was of course the first tram to be preserved by founder members of the TMS. The rest of the procession was arranged in a rough chronological order to show the development of tramcar design, and as well as most of the available running fleet it included a few surprises, such as horse cars Oporto 9 and Sheffield 15 (both diesel-hauled), and Sheffield 189 which was propelled by the Blackpool electric loco. The star of the show, however, was Blackpool ‘Conduit’ 4 – Britain’s first electric tram, which was, and still is, normally confined to static display. Remarkably, the batteries used to power this tram when it operated at Blackpool in 1985 still worked and so the tram was able to be driven rather than towed! Although 4 did not carry passengers, its appearance was a fantastic achievement, and commendably it then ran occasionally for the rest of the year before returning to the Exhibition Hall once more.

The excitement didn’t end there however, as the annual Tramathon event saw a record vehicle turnout including Blackpool 4 out and about again, plus Leeds 345 and Halle 902 on test. The 2005 Enthusiast’s Day was another triumph with several unusual line-ups, including parades of both Sheffield and Leeds cars along the main line. The day concluded with a display of three trams soon to be dispatched to Clay Cross on the depot fan: these being Sheffield 46, Leeds 600 and Glasgow 1100. The latter had even made it to Glory Mine where it had been placed on the little-used siding for most of the day. A few days later, there was yet another new arrival at Crich in the shape of Blackpool Brush Railcoach 298. Restoration work on this tram had been undertaken at a number of locations over the years, but now it was coming to Crich at last where work was expected to be completed. Sadly, an examination of the car revealed that its underframe would need to be replacing and it was dumped in the Exhibition Hall, receiving no further attention over the seven years that followed. Bearing in mind the future paths that would be taken by this tram and Halle 902, the departure of three attractive non-runners to Clay Cross in December 2005 seems all the sadder in hindsight. The loss of Sheffield 46 was particularly regrettable, as this left Crich with no British four-wheel single-decker on display (excluding horse and works cars of course). It was worth mentioning that the Curry Rivel horse tram had also been dispatched to Clay Cross earlier in the year to free up further space at Crich.

2006 was a good year for the operating fleet although in some ways, this felt like the start of a period of decline for Crich. A high point was the launch of Leeds 345 – one of the first trams to arrive on site, but which had never previously run there – on April 1st, although this was a surprisingly low-key affair. The return of Glasgow 1297 to service for the first time in well over a decade following significant workshop attention was also very pleasing, as was Johannesburg 60’s return to service, complete with new wheel spokes to replace those which had cracked a few years earlier. Leeds 602 was also treated to a full repaint and briefly operated without some of its gold lining, due to the painter retiring before the job could be completed. This all helped contribute towards a whopping twenty-four passenger trams being available for the Tramathon event, but in a worrying indication of future trends, nowhere near enough volunteer crews were available to staff all of them. Therefore, a split service operated on this day with most crews swapping trams part way through the day. Unfortunately, this meant that some cars were only running for a couple of hours, but at least every available tram was able to be used at some point during the day.

However, the slightly disappointing Tramathon was more than made up for by the best Enthusiast’s Day so far, featuring no less than ten non-runners appearing outside, as well as the usual intensive tram service. Rarities included the steam tram and trailer being displayed in the depot yard, followed by Blackpool 298 and then the grand finale of Hill of Howth 10. There were also a number of rarities on the main line, with Grimsby & Immingham 14 spending the day on the spare track at Town End, whilst Edinburgh 35 starred in a procession of Scottish trams, when it was unusually pushed and pulled by Paisley 68!

The year ended on a downer with Halle 902 being withdrawn from use due to electrical problems, casting doubt over its intended role as the second ‘Access Tram’, and the car remains stored in the depot today. This seemed to set the tone for 2007, and in a contrast from 2006, the annual Tramathon was more notable for its shortage of trams than a shortage of staff! Many old favourites such as Blackpool 40, Southampton 45, Leeds 399 and Sheffield 510 were all simultaneously unavailable, as was Leeds 602 which had been withdrawn for unspecified reasons just months after being repainted, and has not run since. Equally disappointing was the unexpected demise of Blackpool 166 which needed re-wiring; no doubt a slap in the face for those who had supported its restoration to service just three years earlier. Although the September Enthusiast’s Day offered some light relief, with star turns from the likes of Sheffield cars 189 and 264, even this was something of a disappointment and it seemed like the ‘anything can happen’ attitude of past years had somehow been lost. This was highlighted even further when Glasgow 1297 was withdrawn again, less than two years after receiving major workshop attention at considerable cost. Hopes that this situation would be short-lived were in vain and five years later, 1297 is once again a static exhibit with seemingly little hope of it running again for the foreseeable future. With trams like 602 and 1297 being withdrawn so soon after passing through the works, an uncomfortable feeling that the workshop programme was lacking any clear direction at this time was hard to ignore.

One high point during the year, however, was the return of Cardiff water car 131 from a lengthy period of storage. Being the first tram to arrive at Crich in 1959, 131 had been selected for restoration to help celebrate the museum’s 50th anniversary, and following arrival it was soon dismantled ready for rebuilding.

2008 was a fairly uneventful year and turned out to be the swansong of the long-running ‘Tramathon’ events, which bowed out with more of a squeak than a bang. The year’s few notable occurrences included a welcome return to service for Blackpool 166 which had been rewired and fitted with strings of coloured light bulbs, enhancing what was already one of the museum’s most popular trams. Reassembly of Cardiff 131 progressed at an impressive rate over the course of the year, although understandably work on LUT 159 slowed down considerably due to the need for 131 to be completed the following year.

2009 was definitely a return to form however, with the Crich 50th anniversary event creating some very memorable spectacles. Naturally this co-incided with the launch of Cardiff 131, which was marked by a visit from both the Mayor of Cardiff and TMS Patron, HRH the Duke of Gloucester. To make the event even more special, Cardiff horse tram 21 was borrowed and after playing its part in the celebrations, it was placed on display in the Exhibition Hall. This important milestone in the history of the museum was marked by further events, including an impressive twenty-tram cavalcade arranged in the order that cars arrived on site, and featuring every operational electric tram at Crich at the time.

A more surprising event during the summer season involved the TMS’ steam tram loco, ‘John Bull’, which paid a brief visit to the Manchester Museum of Science & Industry for a transport festival which was primarily held to reunite many locomotives constructed at the nearby Beyer Peacock works. This seemed to set the tone for the next few years with an increased number of TMS trams venturing further afield as tram loans in general became more popular in the UK.

2010 really should have been another milestone year for the Society, but in many ways it turned out to be a considerable letdown. The year began well enough, with a welcome revamp of the Exhibition Hall which saw some of the old displays such as ‘Tram at Night’ and the Trade Exhibition stands removed in favour of a new display aiming to illustrate the progression of tramcar design between 1860 and 1960. In recent years the Hall had become something of a dumping ground for unserviceable trams, and the improved layout made the exhibits inside much more accessible, rather than cramming in as many trams as possible. One of the main attractions was the first of several ‘new’ trams to be acquired from Blackpool in light of the imminent tramway upgrade, this being Blackpool Balloon car 712, which reverted to its old fleet number 249 in preservation. Unfortunately on arrival, the tram was almost immediately moved to the back of the Exhibition Hall, denying enthusiasts the chance to photograph 249 outside at its new home. This was especially disappointing as the car had been in regular use just a few months earlier, presumably due to concerns over its structural condition, although some limited operation at Crich would doubtless have been a huge draw for enthusiasts.

A more surprising new arrival was a modern works vehicle from Croydon, Tramlink 058, which came together with a works trailer. Both vehicles were sold to the TMS for a very modest price after being considered surplus to requirements, and have proved to be very useful additions to the works fleet.

During April, Cardiff 131 hit the headlines once again when it was loaned to Beamish Museum for their ‘Power from the Past’ event, when it appeared alongside numerous other vehicles associated with road and rail maintenance. However, the big event of the year was undoubtedly the 125th anniversary of the famous Blackpool tramway, with ambitious plans for six trams from Crich to visit the seaside to mark this momentous occasion. Sadly, this number fell considerably – first, LCC 106 was pulled due to a mechanical list, and then a decision was made not to send any enclosed double-deck trams to Blackpool after Johannesburg 60 was damaged by overhanging tree branches soon after leaving the museum by road. In the end, three TMS cars made it to Blackpool – Blackpool & Fleetwood ‘Rack’ 2, Blackpool 167 and Oporto 273 – but even after they had all arrived it wasn’t plain sailing. First, Oporto 273 derailed at Pleasure Beach: an incident which was blamed on its unusual wheel arrangement, and led to the car being banned from running again in Blackpool. Worse still, 167 suffered a motor bearing failure on its first day of passenger use, causing an axle to seize, and the tram did not run again before returning to Crich for repair. Thankfully ‘Rack’ 2’s visit was much more successful, and despite a few minor faults the tram led the anniversary parade on 29th September before re-entering service back home.

After the excitement of 2010, 2011 was a less eventful year – the main achievement being the refurbishment of the old Stone Workshop, which was redeveloped as an exhibition area and education room. However, at the end of the year there were two further new additions to the tram collection, both of which came from Blackpool. First to arrive was Jubilee car 762, just a few days after it last ran in Blackpool, and ending a period of uncertainty regarding the future of this particular tram. Just before Christmas it was joined by Blackpool Brush Railcoach 630, which had been superbly repainted in 1990s green and cream livery before moving to Derbyshire. Unfortunately, proposals to acquire a Centenary car and a Twin set were dropped due to space issues and the poor response to an appeal to raise funds to construct a new depot building at Crich. Meanwhile, there was also plenty of activity in the workshop, where the museum’s disabled access tram, Berlin 3006, was treated to a much-needed overhaul. This included a repaint in its original mainly cream livery, which was widely considered to be a vast improvement on the dark orange and white it carried previously.

By contrast, 2012 has turned out to be one of the most exciting years at Crich in the recent past, with a series of memorable events and notable firsts occurring throughout the year. Naturally these have been covered in some detail on this website, but it is worth summarising the highlights to round-off this review of the past decade. Blackpool Brush car 630 was launched into service in its new home in May with an excellent event celebrating the products of the Loughborough Brush works, which included a very rare daylight appearance from Douglas 1. Just a few weeks later, another Blackpool tram was also launched into traffic – this time it was Open Boat 236, which had been extensively restored at Blackpool and duly became the only Boat car in the UK to lose its windscreens, in order to portray its 1950s appearance. This event featured an impressive line-up of Blackpool cars on the depot fan, in spite of torrential rain which did not dampen the spirits of the event organisers.

Unfortunately, the launch of London United Tramways 159 was less successful; the tram derailed during its first day in public service and has not carried passengers since. However, work is now in hand to try and prevent a repeat occurrence of this incident which should allow the latest flagship restoration project to enjoy an upturn in its fortunes during 2013. This disappointment was, however, compensated for by the outstanding Enthusiast’s Weekend in September, which primarily marked the 50th anniversary of the closure of the Glasgow system. Highlights included a line-up of five different Glasgow route colours, made possible thanks to Glasgow 1115 being extracted from the Exhibition Hall. Paisley 68 was repainted as Glasgow 1068 to mark the occasion, and Glasgow ‘Coronation’ 1282 was temporarily reinstated to service as well, almost nine years after it last saw use. This event saw Crich at its absolute best, and gave a great deal of hope for the future as it showed the museum’s willingness and ability to put on a good show for its core audience.

2012 has certainly raised the bar for imaginative enthusiast’s events at Crich, and hopefully this trend will continue in the years ahead. In the past it has often suggested that the TMS have alienated many enthusiasts, but this was certainly anything but true this year and this is a very encouraging step forwards. Admittedly the museum is far from perfect – the declining visitor numbers and the struggle to find enough volunteers to operate a respectable tram service are particularly worrying – but after a period of stagnation, there now seems to be a real determination to turn around the museum’s fortunes for the better. Getting more tram enthusiasts back on side is undoubtedly a major step forward and hopefully, even more positive steps will be made in 2013 and beyond.

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