The Tramway Museum Society have recently published a new strategy review, identifying key aims for the development of the National Tramway Museum at Crich over the next few years. This has included identifying which projects are to be high priorities for the workshop over the next ten or more years, with three trams being listed. All of these are likely to stir up strong emotions, none more so than one of the best loved trams in the entire collection – Blackpool Dreadnought 59.
Naturally, the order of priority for restoration projects can change in light of any funding opportunities that may arise, however as it currently stands the cars which have been identified as being of high priority at present are the aforementioned Blackpool 59, the steam tram loco Manchester, Bury, Rochdale & Oldham 84 and a replica Manchester Standard car. Of these, it is believed that the Dreadnought is the top priority, and this is thought to have been at least partly instigated by a request for this iconic tram to be rescued from storage from some of the museum’s financial supporters. Having been hidden from view at Clay Cross since 1995, any positive developments involving 59 are likely to be greeted with considerable excitement as this is largely considered to be one of the most valuable trams in the museum’s collection, and is often said to be the most important of all preserved Blackpool cars.
Likewise, the addition of a working steam tram engine to the Crich fleet would be a major coup and would enable the museum to demonstrate the three most common forms of motive power on British tramways – horse, steam and electric. Of the three trams mentioned, this is likely to be the most challenging of all, as not only would the restoration of MRBO 84 create many new challenges for the museum, but also it would need to be housed in accommodation separate from the rest of the fleet due to potential fire hazards. However, the benefits of such an ambitious project could be huge, and Crich are to be applauded for even contemplating such a task, which will hopefully come to fruition in the medium term.
The plans to construct a replica of a Manchester Standard car from scratch are likely to be the most controversial of the trio, as this would represent a major change in direction for a museum which has only previously restored existing vehicles rather than creating one from scratch. However, with recent restorations such as Sheffield 74 and London 159 being increasingly thorough due to the small amount of salvageable material on the original cars, the scene has arguably already been set for this next step, although the fact that the TMS are often heard to use a shortage of depot space as a reason for not accepting further vehicles will clearly be an issue here. However, with a large sum of money already allocated to this purpose thanks to a legacy, it seems increasingly likely that this idea will become a reality and Crich will become home to its first ever replica of a long-lost type of tramcar.
These plans are sure to be the subject of much discussion and it could be argued that other more worthy projects exist, but it is pleasing to see the TMS working to identify the projects that it is believed will benefit the museum, and also for communicating its aims to the membership. Whilst a lot of money will need to be raised if even one of these projects is to be completed, it is pleasing to see such plans being released into the public domain and we wish the TMS well in securing the required finance to move forwards and strengthen the museum as both an important collection of international importance, and as an enjoyable tourist attraction for visitors.