Beamish’s Great North Festival of Transport 2013

The Spring transport event at Beamish, The Living Museum of the North saw a major expansion in 2013 with the Great North Steam Fair joined by Our Friends Electric and Old King Coal to make a 12 day spectacular called Great North Festival of Transport. The event commenced with Our Friends Electric between 4 and 7 April where the 40th anniversary of the tramway was to be celebrated with the Great North Steam Fair then taking place between 11 and 14 April. The Festival concluded with Old King Coal from 18 to 21 April which still had transport elements included. British Trams Online attended three days of the event (two of Our Friends Electric and one of the Great North Steam Fair) and our report of the Festival follows from Gareth Prior.

Thursday 4 April – Our Friends Electric Day One

The first day of the Festival commenced as Beamish celebrated the 40th anniversary of the start of services at the Museum. Unfortunately despite plans being in place for this to be an extra special event it didn’t exactly go according to the plan mainly because of the poor weather which was still being experienced across the Midlands and north of England with snow still falling a week before the start of the Festival. This meant that the trams due to visit on loan – Lisbon 730 from Birkenhead and Glasgow 1068 from Crich – were not able to start operating quite yet. 730 had arrived at Beamish the previous day (with Leeds 6 heading back to Heaton Park as a return load) but commissioning was still ongoing for most of the day which meant anyone visiting the event on just this day would be sadly disappointed if they wanted to sample the visitors.

A four tram service was planned to operate most of the day with the chosen four being Grimsby & Immingham 26, Blackpool 31, Sunderland 101 and Oporto 196. 31 ran in service for a couple of hours in the morning before heading back to Depot and it then returned to service for the last couple of hours. Despite pre-event publicity stating that there would be changeovers of trams during the day this didn’t happen and the same four were in use throughout the day. Normally at special events the trams run in just one direction but Our Friend Electric saw two trams run in each direction which allowed for more photographic opportunities of those in service with vehicles normally passing at each of the stops.

One of the most pleasing aspects of the day was the display of trams not in service in front of the depot. This initially included British Trams Online sponsored Blackpool 233, Newcastle 114 (specially decorated for the 40th anniversary celebrations) and currently withdrawn Sunderland 16. These three were later joined by Blackpool 31 in between its spells in service and then towards the end of the day Lisbon 730 was pulled forward out of the depot after its commissioning had been completed and it too was displayed allowing photo opportunities of the static trams.

Although both the Pockerley Waggonway and Rowley Station railway were operating (with Steam Elephant and visiting Barclay 0-4-0ST no. 22 in use respectively) there was a distinct lack of vintage transport on the road despite pre event publicity also stating there would be enhanced road transport throughout the event.

Friday 5 April – Our Friends Electric Day Two

The second day of the Festival started with the arrival of Glasgow 1068 from the Crich Tramway Village. The familiar site of the Scotts low loader was seen driving past the Museum Entrance shortly before the Museum opened at 1000 and was then parked up next to the Foulbridge tramstop whilst the morning’s trams and buses came out of the depot. Once these vehicles had left the depot and entered service the low loader was driven onto the depot fan and the unloading of 1068 commenced. With a crowd of enthusiasts gathered the team from Scotts alongside volunteers from both Crich and Birkenhead the tram was gently pulled off of the low loader and not long after 1100 the tram had touched the rails at Beamish – becoming the first Scottish tram to do so. The small Scotts tug was then used to drag 1068 into the depot and commissioning could then commence for the majority of the remainder of the day.

Meanwhile another four tram service was offered on the Museum circuit with Lisbon 730 making its passenger debut at Beamish following test runs the previous night after the Museum had closed. This was joined in service initially by Grimsby & Immingham 26, Blackpool 31 and Oporto 196 but 26 suffered a dewirement during the late morning and had to return to depot. This was soon replaced by Newcastle 114 which carried its special 40th anniversary decorations. Unlike the first day the four tram service was retained throughout the day. Again trams ran in both directions around the tramway circuit and with 196 and 730 running in opposite directions it was possible to get shots of the two Portuguese trams together at both Pockerley and Foulbridge – images that may well never be able to repeated again.

Another display of trams was also arranged on the depot fan with first up 114, Sunderland 16 and Sunderland 101 lined-up and then when the former entered service Grimsby & Immingham 26 joined the display. Unlike the previous day Blackpool 233 remained inside the shed throughout the day with withdrawn Sheffield 264 also kept in its usual place at the back of road 5.

Unfortunately due to other commitments I wasn’t able to stay for the full second day or for the rest of the weekend which left me a tad disappointed with the event. Although not Beamish’s fault – we have to accept that these things with transport do happen and no-one could have predicted the late cold snap we would have in 2013 – the fact of the matter is that anyone attending the start of the Festival would not have been able to sample both visiting trams.

Saturday 13 April – Great North Steam Fair Day Three

After the personal disappointment of not having seen Glasgow 1068 in service during my two day visit the previous week for Our Friends Electric I made the rather foolish decision of making 600 mile round day trip to Beamish for the third day of the Great North Steam Fair – and it certainly turned out to be the correct decision.

Upon arriving at the Museum shortly before 1100 it was already evident that this was going to be a very busy day across the site with large queues to get in to start with and then queues at most tramstops and to get into various buildings. Fortunately Beamish seemed to realise beforehand it was going to be a busy day and at the start a five tram service was in operation with visiting pair Lisbon 730 and Glasgow 1068 joined by Newcastle 114, Oporto 196 and Blackpool 233 – all of the trams operated round the circuit in a clockwise direction. The use of the Blackpool Boat was only short-lived however as after a couple of hours of use it returned to depot to allow its crew to provide lunch relief for the crews on the other trams. As the day started to draw to a close the service returned to five trams when Grimsby & Immingham 26 was pressed into action and with the Museum site being as busy as most people can recall – rumours of 5,000 visitors! – this was a much needed addition to help clear the site.

With this being the Great North Steam Fair and not a specific tram event there was not such a large display of trams on the depot fan although Sunderland 101 was available for photos all day and when Blackpool 233 was taken out of service in the late morning this too was displayed in front of the depot. Road 5 in the depot was also full with Blackpool 31, Sunderland 16 and Sheffield 264 present.

Whereas at the Our Friends Electric event it felt odd not to see other traffic on the roads this was not something which would affect the Great North Steam Fair as you could not move for seeing various vintage vehicles whether they were powered by steam, petrol or even person! There was also a display of fire engines – both old and new – on the events field which proved to be popular with the children present especially when they could get fireman’s helmets! The reason that Beamish transport events are probably the best in the UK is because there is normally so much going on and where else can you get photos of trams alongside steam traction engines and vintage cars?

The railways were not to be outdone with two more anticipated visitors. On the Pockerley Waggonway the National Railway Museum’s replica Rocket was in action whilst from Rowley Station the replica Planet – on loan from the Manchester Museum of Science and Industry – was operating. Meanwhile down on the Colliery line resident Coffee Pot No. 1 was in action alongside Barclay 0-4-0ST no. 22 (which the previous week had been operating from Rowley) with the usual freight demonstrations. Unfortunately 22 suffered a minor derailment during the afternoon although this was soon rerailed. In addition the narrow gauge construction railway was also in action with demonstrations of what happened in days gone by for road construction.

Personally speaking this was probably the best day of a transport event I have attended at Beamish – you know it has been a good day when it comes to departure time and there was so much more you wanted to do! The sun shone for most of the day and after the seemingly never ending winter we seemed to have had this was just another welcome aspect of the day.

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