It isn’t very often that the National Tramway Museum gets the opportunity to fill a gap in its extensive collection of trams, in either technological or geographical terms – yet a new addition to the national collection actually satisfies both criteria. The Tramway Museum Society has just announced via its ‘Contact’ bulletin, that it is to acquire the remains of a Birmingham cable car, a type of tram which was used by a number of British towns (notably Matlock, providing a local connection for the museum) but which was previously unrepresented in their fleet.
The unrestored Birmingham Central Tramways cable car had been preserved by the Black Country Living Museum at Dudley, although unlike many of the museum’s tramcar bodies it has been stored securely away from public gaze rather than being deposited outside their tram depot. Clearly its owners have recognised that they are unlikely to ever restore this unique tram, and in view of its significant national importance, it has been accepted into the collection of the Tramway Museum Society. The car is being donated free of charge, so the only costs incurred by its acquisition will be that of transporting it to Derbyshire. This will add another very important aspect of tramway history to the Crich fleet, joining the electric, horse-drawn and steam trams already housed there. At present it is not known what plans exist for the tram and whether it will initially be housed at Clay Cross or moved straight from Dudley to Crich, however it has been suggested that its eventual role is likely to be as a static exhibit as a contrast to the other types of tram which illustrate the evolution of tram design in the Great Exhibition Hall. Whatever happens to the Birmingham cable car in the short term, it is fantastic news that it will be joining the national collection and the TMS deserve full credit for acquiring this most unusual survivor. As well as being their only cable-hauled tram it will be their sole representative of the Midlands, and as such could be a most interesting exhibit to many visitors.
Obviously this good news will create one challenge for the museum, as not only the depots at Crich, but also the off-site storage facility at Clay Cross are already full to capacity. The most obvious solution to this problem would be moving one of their cars away on an extended loan arrangement, perhaps to Blackpool where storage space is not presently an issue. However, this can be considered in due course, but for now receiving a unique new vehicle is the most important matter – and one that we can surely all agree is one of the most positive developments of 2016 for the tram preservation movement.