The Great North Steam Fair took place at Beamish – the Living Museum of the North between Thursday 14th and Sunday 17th April. As the name suggests this event (one of the two major transport events which will take place at Beamish in 2011) is mainly concerned with various varieties of steam vehicles but that doesn’t stop the trams and other forms of transport playing starring roles. Gareth Prior reports from Day One of the event – Thursday 14th April.
I think it would be fair to say that anyone looking for a general transport event in the UK would be hard pressed to find a better one than those provided by Beamish with Power from the Past (which will take place between 1st and 4th September later this year) and the Great North Steam Fair. Practically any vintage form of transport you could think of makes an appearance including steam locomotives, steam traction engines, steam lorries, steam rollers, buses, cars, vintage vans, bikes (of the push and motor variety) and of course the main interest of this website – trams.
In the build up to the event it had been hoped that Manchester 765 would be on loan from the Heaton Park Tramway (having wintered in Blackpool following its loan period there for the 125th Anniversary celebrations), that Sunderland 101 (or Blackpool Balloon 703 if you prefer) would make its preservation debut following works to bring it fully serviceable condition and that home based Newcastle 114 would return to service after an overhaul and repaint into a revised livery style. Unfortunately in the lead up to the event it was revealed that firstly 101 would not be ready in time and then in the week preceding the event that 114 would also not be completed in time. Luckily the loan of 765 was still going ahead and the tram arrived at Beamish on Monday 11th April ready to take it starring role in the event. Following commissioning and testing 765 was ready to make its debut passenger runs at Beamish at the start of the Great North Steam Fair, becoming the first tram new passenger tram to run at the Museum since long time Heaton Park stable mate Leeds 6 started its loan period 12 months previous.
Day One of the Great North Steam Fair started with Gateshead 10, Sunderland 16 and Beamish (Oporto) 196 operating the passenger service. On arriving at the Foulbridge Depot Manchester 765 was sitting outside and after a few last minute checks was sent out for a circuit of the track on test before it too entered service meaning for the first couple of hours a four tram service was in operation. The other loanee tram – Leeds 6 – was stabled on the Depot Fan, where it was to remain all day.
Following a couple of hours of the four tram service 196 returned to Depot and was stabled alongside 6 before 765 also returned to Depot for a lunch break where it was put in front of 196 meaning the “Heaton Park 3” (196 had of course been on loan in Manchester in 2010) could be photographed together for a period. This left just the two trams on service until firstly 765 and then eventually 196 re-entered service and that is how the tram service remained until the end of the day.
And what of the other trams at Beamish? Long time withdrawee Sheffield 264 has now been taken off the tracks in the Depot (due to a lack of space!) and has been pushed to the far side of the Depot where it is stored pending more tracks to be built in the Depot and/or funding being in place for a full overhaul to operational standard. Meanwhile, 114 and 101 are both in the left hand side of the depot (track 1 if you like) and unfortunately the door of this section was only slightly ajar but both of the trams could be seen (just about) and the little of the repaint of 114 which could be seen seems to be of a high standard.
Moving away from the trams there was so much more to see and do transport wise across the Museum site. On the Colliery Railway resident Coffee Pot No. 1 was joined by Captain Baxter No. 3 on loan from the Bluebell Railway in Sussex. These two steam locomotives used to work together at a quarry in Dorking until going their separate ways in 1960 so this was a most welcome reunion. Both locomotives were used on shunting demonstrations of various trucks on the Colliery Railway. Also in the Colliery were two further steam locomotives on a temporary construction railway with Peter Pan and Jack in operation on this.
On the main railway at Rowley Station, LNER Y7 0-4-0T No. 985 was in passenger service pulling a carriage up and down the line – some of its first passenger runs since its restoration was completed at the North Norfolk Railway. Finally, for the railways, at the Pockerley Waggonway the replica Puffing Billy was in action, also providing passenger journeys.
Away from the rails there was a lot more action with the “vintage and veteran traffic”. This ran round the majority of the Museum site and included the Sentinel Steam Waggon (which certainly managed to pick up some speed on the Museum’s roads!) and various other steam vehicles of which there are too many to mention (partly because, to be honest, I don’t have a clue what half of them are!) There were also buses in service down to the Pit Village and around the