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Last Updated Saturday 17th March 2012

Event Preview: Beamish Great North Steam Fair 2012
Written by Andrew Waddington

Event: Great North Steam Fair
Where: Beamish - the Living Museum of the North
When: Thursday 12th to Sunday 15th April from 1000 to 1700 each day (last admission 1500)

The first of two major transport-orientated events taking place this year at this excellent award-winning open air museum is being held this April. For the annual Great North Steam Fair, there is obviously a great emphasis on steam vehicles with resident engines such as ‘Coffee Pot’ No. 1 operating on no less than three standard gauge railway lines, as well as numerous road rollers, steam lorries and traction engines. In fact, publicity material states that around twenty steam machines will be demonstrated on each day of the event! The Museum’s own collection will be joined by various visiting vehicles, and a specially constructed narrow-gauge railway. One of the star attractions for the second year running is likely to be the steam locomotive ‘Captain Baxter’ from the Bluebell Railway, which will hopefully be used in service at Rowley Station (behind the Town area), whereas on its previous visit it was steamed in the colliery village.

However, the other forms of transport at Beamish are not forgotten and as usual the 2012 event promises a diverse selection of vintage cars, bikes, horse-drawn vehicles, a trolleybus and of course, electric trams on display - and many of them will also be in action around the 300 acre site across all four days. This year will also see a model tramway exhibition on the Saturday and Sunday only, with several working layouts featuring models of many local trams, plus the East Lancs Model Tramway Supplies will also be in attendance. This will be located close to the tram depot which is a very short walk from the Foulbridge tram stop.

The Lowdown on...Beamish - The Living Museum of the North

Beamish - The Living Museum of the North

Beamish is billed as the North East’s Living Museum and aims to recreate a sense of what life in the region was like in two very different periods in history, with the Pockerley area set in 1825, and the remainder of the site focussing on 1913. This includes a superb period Town complete with cobbled street and many recreated buildings such as a sweet shop, garage, Masonic Hall and a pub. Other attractions on site include the Colliery village, a railway station and Home Farm as well as the aforementioned Pockerley Manor which also has its own steam waggonway. A fleet of vintage trams and replica buses are used to transport visitors around the site, serving all of these attractions and giving a real sense of a transport network from days gone by. In recent years the resident fleet have been supplemented by several visiting trams for special events, with the likes of Manchester 765 and Blackpool VAMBAC 11 having proven extremely popular at past events. The tramway here is the longest of any museum line in the country at one-and-a-half miles, with trams normally running around the circular route in both directions. Four trams are usually in service on event days, although five cars in traffic at once is not unheard of!

The Trams

For many tram enthusiasts, the star of this particular event will be Birkenhead 20 which is visiting from the Wirral Heritage Tramway. This is the first time that the Merseyside Tramway Preservation Society have loaned one of their preserved trams to Beamish, and the outstanding restoration job carried out on 20 will be shown off to full effect in the superb setting of this large open air museum. It will also mark the first time that this tram has ever operated away from Birkenhead, and the 1901-built open topper should fit in perfectly with the period atmosphere at Beamish, providing some fantastic photo opportunities.

Blackpool tram fans should also be well catered for with the Lancastrian Transport Trust’s preserved Blackpool ‘Boat’ car 233 (latterly 605) also due to be in service for the event – subject to completion of necessary commissioning work and a full repaint in 1930s green & cream livery. Again, the sight of 233 mingling with Birkenhead 20 and the other Beamish trams (and other vehicles of course) should create some memorable scenes. Hopefully the other LTT-owned tram at Beamish, Sunderland 101 (AKA Blackpool Balloon 703) will also be in service during the event, to reunite this car with the new arrival from Blackpool.

With an intensive tram service planned to operate across all four days of the event, the rest of the service cars should be drawn from the usual pool of Leeds 6 (itself on loan from the Heaton Park Tramway since April 2010), Gateshead 10, Sunderland 16, Blackpool 31 and Newcastle 114. Beamish 196 is currently undergoing a major overhaul and is not expected to be ready in time, but the others should provide a good selection of trams for visitors to ride on, with plenty of different cars available depending on the weather.

How to find the Museum

Probably the easiest way to get to Beamish is by car with the museum being well signposted from the A1M, Junction 63. For anyone using Sat-nav the postcode is DH9 0RG.

For public transport users the nearest main-line station is Newcastle-upon-Tyne (Chester-le-Street is closer but suffers from an irregular train service). Service buses run regularly from Newcastle City Centre to the Museum Entrance Gates. The Waggonway service 28/28A runs from Newcastle to Chester-le-Street via Gateshead, Low Fell, Birtley and Ouston with buses every 30 minutes during Monday to Saturday daytimes and hourly on Sundays and evenings. On Saturdays throughout the Summer it is also possible to travel on the 128 from Durham City Centre (buses run every hour). Full detailed information on bus times can be found on Traveline North East here.

Full details on how to get to the Museum can be found on their website here.

How Much Does it Cost?

Admission prices cost £17.50 for adults, £10 for children (aged 5-16), £13 for 60s and over, £13 for students and two family tickets are available - £46 for 2 adults and 2 children and £32 for 1 adult and 2 children. The admission price actually allows visitors to revisit as often as they wish for up to one year, so potentially you can visit both the Great North Steam Fair and the Power from the Past event in September, and only pay once! Please note that some extra activities may incur a small additional charge.

You are strongly encouraged to pre-book a ticket on the Beamish Museum website before visiting as this enables you to join a ‘fast-track’ queue, so that you can bypass the general admission queue which is traditionally very big on busy event days and will potentially save you a considerable amount of time. With so much to see and do at this Museum, every minute you have will count - so be sure to make the best of your time! Click here for more information on pre-booking your tickets.

Want to Know More?

The official Beamish website can be found here with plenty of information on the Museum and how to buy admission tickets in advance.

For any updates on the Great North Steam Fair visit Paul Jarman’s – Keeper of Transport – excellent blog here. Photos of many of the planned exhibits for the steam fair are also being uploaded to the Museum's Flickr page.


To find out what the weather might be doing click here for the BBC 5 day weather forecast for Chester-le-Street, only 3 miles away (please note Beamish is not an option on the BBC Weather website!)

Online Coverage

Keep an eye on Yahoo! Groups: Tramgen">Yahoo! Groups: Tramgen during all four days of the event to see if there are any updates. We also hope to provide some updates via our Facebook group (unfortunately you have to be a member of Facebook to view this page) for at least the first day of the event.

After the event has taken place, you’ll be able to re-live the memories – or see what you missed – here on British Trams Online. Both Gareth Prior and Andrew Waddington should be attending different days (not because we hate each other, honest!) and this will enable us to provide extensive coverage of the event. Look out for a large photo gallery and a full report which will hopefully appear on the website shortly after the event itself.

All information in this preview is provided in good faith and is, to the best of our knowledge, correct at the time of going to press, although all planned events are subject to change or cancellation if unforeseen circumstances dictate. Please note that this event is not organised by British Trams Online and that we cannot be held responsible for any inaccuracies contained in this article. If you plan to visit for any specific attraction, we would advise you to check the websites mentioned in this feature before travelling. We will of course endeavour to keep our news page updated with any new developments involving any of the trams that are due to appear at this event.

British Trams Online is an enthusiast run website for enthusiasts. It should be able to be viewed at all screen resolutions but I do advise you that it is probably best at 1024x768. The site is owned, maintained (and in the main written) by Gareth Prior. Any comments or suggestions please email.