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Last Updated Thursday 8th September 2011

Beamish Museum's Power from the Past Event
1st to 4th September 2011

The North of England Open Air Museum at Beamish, County Durham, has become increasingly famous in the last few years for its outstanding transport events. The two main transport events – ‘Power from the Past’ and the ‘Great North Steam Fair’ – have swapped around for 2011 with the steam event taking place in April and the former moving to the first weekend of September. Following on from the successful visit of Manchester 765 in April, this time it was the turn of one of the most sought-after trams in the UK to steal the limelight – and it certainly did just that! Andrew Waddington reports.

In order to keep things fresh and interesting, ‘Power from the Past’ adopts a different theme each year and following on from last year’s theme of road and rail maintenance vehicles, for 2011 the tagline of ‘Riding for Pleasure: Circular Tour’ was adopted. The idea was to gather together various vehicles that were used for pleasure trips, with particular emphasis on the seaside holiday trade, but unfortunately a few setbacks (such as planned visitors failing to attend) meant that the theme fell by the wayside somewhat.

However, there was still a strong seaside presence and most importantly, the star attraction made it to the event, in the shape of Blackpool Marton VAMBAC Railcoach 11 which was on loan from the East Anglia Transport Museum for the duration of the event. This tram had not left its home at Carlton Colville since arriving there in 1969, and following the cancellation of its planned visit to Blackpool last year many enthusiasts had probably given up all hope of ever getting a ride on this tram away from its home ground, so the fact that Beamish were able to have 11 present was certainly a major coup. This also gave the tram its longest run since it left Blackpool in the early sixties, something to cherish on such a smooth and quiet tram!

One setback which did affect the tram enthusiast community was the cancellation of Blackpool ‘Pantograph’ car 167’s proposed loan from the National Tramway Museum, after the car suffered a bearing defect earlier this year. Whilst it was a great shame that the TMS didn’t offer a suitable replacement for this tram, the presence of car 11 certainly made up for 167’s absence and it was nice that one of the UK’s more overlooked museums was able to bask in glory as one of their prized exhibits took centre stage.

Prior to the start of the event proper, a private photo charter was held on Wednesday 31st August starring Blackpool 11, with all proceeds going towards the costs of transporting this car to the North East. Despite a rather dull start to the day some excellent shots were nailed by those present, especially during an ‘after-hours’ shoot in darkness. As an added bonus, Sunderland 101 (or Blackpool Balloon car 703 if you prefer) was also posed in the Town area alongside 11; as this tram had been ruled out of appearing in passenger service at the event by this time, this was a very welcome addition. Things got properly underway on Thursday 1st September when the general public were able to sample a ride on 11 along the Beamish circuit for the very first time, with four other trams and numerous other vehicles also in action. I personally visited the Museum on the second day of the event, Friday 2nd September, which also boasted an impressive tramcar turnout. As well as visiting car 11, Gateshead 10, Sunderland 16 and Newcastle 114 were also operating throughout the day with the latter looking particularly impressive following a recent overhaul and repaint which has returned it to a more authentic version of its brown, yellow and white livery. One slight disappointment from a photographer’s point of view was that all of the trams were running around the site in the same direction, whereas more common practice is for two cars to run in each direction and meet at passing loops. This meant there was very little opportunity to photograph two cars together, but on a positive note it did mean that a very frequent tram service was provided all day (and indeed on all four days), and there was pretty much ‘always a tram in sight’ which was certainly good news for those waiting to catch a tram to get around the site. Incidentally a trio of buses were running in the opposite direction, with a very attractive visiting Leyland coach joining the Museum’s own replica omnibuses in service.

Two trams which had been due to appear for the event but had been ruled out at the last minute could also be seen at the tram depot. Blackpool Marton Box 31 was unable to carry passengers due to a mechanical defect, but was visible at the front of the shed displaying its ‘Circular Tour’ boards which had been fitted for the event. Also on static display was the aforementioned Sunderland 101 which managed to peep out of the depot; although this was the extent of its movement on the Friday it was displayed more prominently on the other days. Beamish 196 is also out of action at present, but was brought outside and posed alongside Leeds 6 which remains on loan from the Heaton Park Tramway. At lunchtime there was a brief chance to capture scenes of this duo along with VAMBAC 11 when this car ran in for a crew break; 11 was then moved inside the depot next to 31.

Away from the trams and there were plenty of other attractions of interest to keep visitors entertained. Down in the colliery village, two visiting steam locomotives were on shunting demonstrations along with resident ‘Coffee Pot’ No.1, and a sister ‘Coffee Pot’ engine which is normally a static exhibit inside the nearby engine shed had also been brought outside for photos. There were also many other steam vehicles such as road rollers and a Sentinel steam lorry working around the whole site, as well as a large number of vintage bicycles of various designs. A small ‘beach’ area close to the steam fairground near the Town area kept the seaside theme going and was very popular with visiting families.

Unfortunately the non-railed vehicle I was most looking forward to seeing failed to make an appearance on the Friday; that being a horse-drawn omnibus from Glasgow which was on display inside the coach shed along with the Museum’s own superb collection of horse-drawn vehicles. I believe that its no-show was due to one of the horses required to pull it being ‘out of service’! However, horse power was represented instead by a horse-drawn road sweeper which has recently been renovated by the Friends of Beamish; this was being used around the roadways at various intervals and attracted much interest. Another Friends restoration project was also making its debut on this day in the shape of the Northern ‘SOS’ bus, which also gained many favourable comments whilst out and about on its very first test run.

After a relatively slow start (well, by Beamish standards anyway!) the crowds seemed to grow as the afternoon progressed with the trams and buses in services becoming increasingly full. It was therefore extremely pleasing that, towards the end of the afternoon, Leeds 6 came out to give a very healthy five trams in service at once. As much as 11 was the undisputed star of the show, I must admit that seeing a Heaton Park tram in operation put a big smile on my face and certainly helped to make up for some of the other minor disappointments! It was certainly a novel experience to compare a ride on four-wheelers 6 and 114 with the ultra smooth VAMBAC car, a tram so quiet you could quite happily go to sleep on board - and I believe that at least one visitor did just that!

Friday may have been my one and only day on site, but our Webmaster stayed for Saturday as well which saw a similar selection of vehicles in use, although this time both 31 and 101 were posed in front of the tram depot as planned, and the Glasgow horse bus also made a brief appearance carrying passengers. For many however, the highlight of the day came after the normal opening hours with a special photo shoot in the evening which included a spectacular parade of no less than seven trams, led by Blackpool 31 which was followed, in order, by Sunderland 101, Leeds 6, Sunderland 16, Gateshead 10, Newcastle 114 and last but certainly not least, Blackpool 11. A few showers during the afternoon did threaten to spoil Saturday’s activities but those who were present didn’t seem to mind too much – it was a good excuse for some more rides on 11 anyway! Sunday seems to have been the brightest of the four days based on various photographs published online, and once again saw cars 31 and 101 posed outside the depot with the usual suspects in service. This was also 11’s final day in service at Beamish, with the car being packed up and returned home the following day so that it would be back on site ready for the East Anglia Transport Museum’s own big event on 10th & 11th September,

So, that was it for another excellent event from Beamish Museum. It would probably be fair to say that the visit of Blackpool VAMBAC 11 was the biggest achievement yet for one of the Museum’s events, and many people who had never even seen this magnificent tram before, let alone had a good long ride on it, were delighted to get a chance to sample this vehicle in action. Thanks must go to all at Beamish Museum for pulling off another very enjoyable event, and of course to the East Anglia Transport Museum for allowing their star exhibit to stretch its legs and participate in what will surely be remembered as the most significant tram event of 2011. A lot of effort and planning was involved in making it all happen, but it made a lot of people extremely happy and hopefully all that effort will be considered to have been very worthwhile.

Related Content on British Trams Online

Gallery 269: Blackpool Marton Vambac 11 Preview Photoshoot
Gallery 270: Beamish's Power from the Past September 2011

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