Manchester L53 at Beamish May 2009 – The View from the Front Platform

Geoff Senior – from the Manchester Transport Museum Society – gives an alternative look at the events of the “Power from the Past” event at Beamish, and particularly the operation of Manchester Eades Reversible Horse Tramcar L53.

The week of just gone could be seen as the culmination of all the restoration efforts of the past 29 years with L53. To take the car into a working period street environment with operation by two horses was what we as a team had always looked forward to, but certainly not what I would have thought of as a 17 year old schoolboy when I first started working on the side-frames at school. But such a fitting tribute to the likes of Bob Hill and Alex Grey who put so much effort in during latter years.

The Tram travelled up from Heaton Park after loading on Tuesday 26th May arriving late afternoon to be unloaded into the museum’s street after the days visitors had left, ready for the test runs the following day. With the early morning reassembly of the wheel guards taken off for transit, a quick solo brake test and the polishing of the brasses undertaken, we were ready for the arrival of the two teams of horses.

Both horse teams were to undertake the trials on the Wednesday so that they and the attendant staff were all familiar with the operation of the car and how it was to be turned. This also confirmed that the horsemen were happy to allow MTMS staff to be in control of the brakes of the car, whilst they remained in charge of their steeds. For me this was further icing on the cake in that it continued a long running family tradition started by my father with the operation of Sheffield 15 with ‘Bonny’ and ‘Felix’ back in the early days of Crich in 1963 before I was even born, as can be seen in the 50th anniversary issue of the TMS Journal.

That first hour or so on Wednesday morning was a definite learning curve for all concerned and I must say those guys in the late 19th century must have had several pairs of eyes as well as hands, to keep control of the car and the horses on steep roads full of other traffic. The though of ‘punting’ the tram up the back of those magnificent animals meant your eyes were firmly fixed on the traces and the distance between the dash and their backsides!! The job of watching the road ahead was one for the horsemen at least for the time-being. During that hour we also established the limits of operation for the car considering the best possible locations that both man and beast could do the deed of turning the car.

At the end of the session we were all happy and the duties for the next two days were set. The job of sitting in up front on the brake handle was to be left in my hands, with Ops Manager John Whitehouse available as relief if required. Guard for the Thursday and Friday was the well attired Dave Hooker, complete with a genuine Kay’s Fair Box and a MCT Co Longsite staff badge. Past and present MTMS Chairmen Bob Hill and Alex Grey were to act as tech support in the turning of the car and be on hand in case of any problems with the car. Both they and John were also around to fill in the public as to the history of the car and where it had come from.

Another early start on the Thursday saw us back on site for another few quick test runs with the day’s pair of horses Bonnie and Clyde before the first electric car of the day saw the arrival of the first of our almost 1000 passengers, keen to sample this novel form of traction up and down Ravensworth Terrace and on to the Masonic Hall. Late morning had seen a brief visit from reporter Kate Fisher and the camera crew from Tyne Tees, for a piece for the evening news – L53 just keeps getting it’s face on the telly wherever it runs. A swift break for lunch and it was back into it for the afternoon shift almost until the museum closed for the day at 5pm. By early afternoon the sun was streaming down and if the horses weren’t breaking into a sweat from their efforts, those on the front and back platforms certainly were. From most of the MTMS crew it was then a dash back to the Beamish Mary to catch the news coverage before popping out to the Causey Farm for another ‘Belly Buster’ mixed grill!

Friday’s reveille saw us up sharp to make sure both staff and tram were looking their best for an organised photo-shoot, along with a couple of traction engines and a number of folks in period costumes dress to look the part. Horse Traction for the day was due to be provided by the museums other pair of Prince and Lion but the stable staff had another trick up their collective sleeves- Bonny was also back, to act as a third ‘trace horse’ as used on steep hilly routes, with their boss Chris bravely offering to pose riding bareback on Bonny whilst photos were duly taken in different locations around the town street area. Les Brunton also soon appeared with Newcastle 114 to add to the fun and show the very type of car that ousted L53 and her sisters from the streets of Manchester and give us a great foretaste of what she will look like with Manchester 173 in the hopefully not too distant future.

All too soon the first service cars were again arriving full of expectant visitors and it was back to work in service for the day. The pattern following much as before in the beautiful sunshine amongst the mix of happy visitors and occasional other horse drawn traffic, early motorbikes and cars as well as the electric trams and access bus that ply their trade up and down the street all day. Without us noticing 4pm was soon upon us and Lion and Prince headed off for a well earned rest, leaving us to draw breath and pack the car up ready for heading back home. With the last of the day’s visitors gone 114 reappeared to tow L53 back up to the tram shed where she was to spend the next few days out on the apron for visitors to view, whilst not getting in the way of the busy tram service by being stranded horseless in the street.

All in all a wonderful few days, made possible by the most helpful staff up at Beamish led by Paul Jarman, for whom nothing was too much trouble. Thanks must also go to families etc who allowed us to play out for the week and have so much fun in the sun with this unique piece of Manchester’s past.

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