Between 8th and 16th August 2009, a special transport exhibition was staged at Manchester’s Museum of Science and Industry, featuring two very special visiting tramcars. The event was split into two segments, with the first six days being devoted to road transport, and classic cars in particular, whilst the final three days were largely devoted to Beyer-Garrett steam locomotives. As an added bonus, the Heaton Park Tramway was open for business all week for the first time in its history. Andrew Waddington paid a visit to both locations on the first day of the week-long event, Saturday 8th August, and this is what happened!
My first port of call was the Heaton Park Tramway, which was disapointingly rather quiet. The sole tram in service, Manchester 765, was being brought out of the depot just after I arrived at the park; however, Leeds 6 had been brought out as it was positioned in front of 765, and this tram was used to do a ‘check run’ along the tramway, in order to make sure that everything was in good order before the commencement of the public service for the day. 6 has now been returned to its normal grey livery, i.e. without wartime modifications, and after this single trip it was parked on the depot approach track.
765 was not doing a very good trade unfortunately whilst I was there, and operated a few trips completely empty around lunchtime, and I also managed a ride from the tram depot up to Lakeside with no-one else on board! A few interested passers-by were being shown around the depot and told about the history of the trams, but there wasn’t a great deal else happening, so then it was on to the next port of call.
The Manchester Museum of Science & Industry (or MOSI as it is usually known) is not a place that is known for tram exhibits, but it has been in the past; the remains of a Manchester, Rochdale, Bury & Oldham steam tram engine were formerly housed here before transfer to the Tramway Museum Society store at Clay Cross, and Blackpool Conduit car 4 was also operated there for a few years in the 1980s. However, there are no longer any permanent tram exhibits here, so for the transport exhibition two trams were borrowed from two of the UK’s premier vintage tram collections – and the two that were chosen could not really have been much more unusual!
The car park at MOSI was invaded by classic cars and other road vehicles, including a fire engine, and a replica steam loco ‘Planet’ was giving rides around the museum site for a small charge, which proved extremely popular. A small number of vehicles were also to be found in the lower yard, including more old cars, a couple of steam vehicles and, of most interest to us, Manchester Eades Reversible horse tramcar L53. This tram was placed outside on a temporary track with a barrier around it to protect it, however due to its positioning it was easy to get a good range of photographs of the tram. It was particularly pleasing that the tram had been placed next to a sloping walkway, allowing it to be viewed from above at various different angles. The track that L53 sat on was also very high off the ground, so L53 looked very imposing!
After taking a good look at L53, it was time to look around the rest of the displays at the museum in search of the second visiting tram, which was eventually discovered in the Power Hall, where various machinery is housed. The tram in question was ‘John Bull’ – a Beyer Peacock steam tram engine which is normally on display at the Exhibition Hall at Crich Tramway Village. The ‘Great Garrett Gathering’ – a display of many Beyer-Garrett steam engines at MOSI – had prompted a request to be made for ‘John Bull’, a product of the same factory as these maginificent engines, to be borrowed, and the Tramway Museum Society generously agreed to let it go for the duration of the transport festival. Sadly however, ‘John Bull’ was parked inside a building and was surrounded by other vehicles; the only silver lining being that it was right up against the doors, which were opened. Had this door not been opened, taking photos of it would have been virtually impossible; as it was, it was possible to take a few pictures, although the variety of angles available was very restricted. I can only hope that the steam tram was better displayed once the actual Garrett event got underway on the following Friday, as the expense of moving it from Derbyshire to Manchester for such a short period must have been considerable.
Also near ‘John Bull’, a local model tramway club had a very impressive layout on display with a number of large scale operating trams. As well as the usual stuff from Blackpool and London, there were several unusual models in action, including a South Lancashire tram model based on the unrestored car at the nearby Transport Museum. Other highlights included a London County Council works car, a Blackburn double-decker and my personal favourite, an open balcony Rawtenstall tram. It was nice to see interested children being given the chance to ‘drive’ one of the model trams; I believe in encouraging this sort of interaction, as who knows, those children could be the enthusiasts of tomorrow.
My main dissapointment with the MOSI event, is that no attempt was made to label any of the visiting vehicles. Considering the effort made to transport the two trams to the site, I thought it was a great shame that no display board was put up next to each tram, giving a brief history of the vehicle and explaining its historical signifance – surely this wouldn’t have required that much effort!? It would also have been nice if the respective owners of the tram had been promoted, as I’m sure most visitors had probably not heard of either Crich Tramway Village or the Heaton Park Tramway before, and some may well have been prompted to visit. In particular, the connection of ‘John Bull’ to the Garrett steam engines could and should have been explained to visitors, and I doubt that many people even knew that it was actually a tramcar! This criticism does not just apply to the trams either; on a personal note, I saw a Garrett locomotive and asked various people where it had come from, and nobody was able to tell me, as the Museum staff only seemed to know about the vehicles in their own permanent collection, whilst the many people walking around the site in bright green jackets all seemed to be connected with the visiting classic cars. To me, it seemed odd to bring vehicles for a transport festival and then not tell people what they are – especially when in some cases, they were tucked away in corners out of the way. Although I understand that most steam enthusiasts would have come the next weekend, surely if a vehicle had arrived early, it could have been better positioned for photography? I for one am not a major fan of steam engines, but would have liked to have learned a little more about the ones that were there.
The event was a good opportunity to see some unusual vehicles in different surroundings from the usual, but in some ways the exhibition did feel like something of a missed opportunity. For that reason, my rating of the transport event at the Museum of Science & Industry is…