The annual Great North Steam Fair at Beamish Museum was held this year from Thursday 6th to Sunday 9th April, and as usual, this featured a mouthwatering array of steam engines plus numerous other working transport exhibits and, for the weekend only, a model tram exhibition as well. These events are always extremely well attended and 2017’s was no exception – to the extent that it has arguably become a victim of its own success!
Feedback on the steam fair has, as usual, been extremely positive with many visitors praising the incredible variety of vehicles, particularly those powered by steam, which were on show and being demonstrated around the site. So popular was the event that at times, the museum struggled to cope with demand and on the Saturday at least, a ‘one in one out’ system was enforced due to the site being swamped by visitors! This did lead to some inevitable grumbling as many visitors were understandably keen to stay all day, with so much to see and do, meaning that for late arrivals, a lengthy wait to enter seemed inevitable.
The museum’s tramway was also placed under considerable pressure by this event. Some issues with the trackwork near Pockerley meant that initially, a full tram service could not operate on Thursday 6th April with no trams running between Pockerley and the museum entrance. This meant that all trams had to reverse at these two locations in order to serve the remainder of the line, including the all-important stops at both Foulbridge and the Town. Thankfully the issue was quickly resolved to enable the full circuit to be open for the other three days. However, due to a minor defect with Newcastle 114, there were just three trams available for service on the morning of Saturday 8th April, comprising Sunderland 16, Oporto 196 and Sheffield 264. Despite an extra bus being sent out this proved woefully insufficient until late on in the day, when a hastily repaired 114 finally entered service to assist with clearing the crowds as closing time drew near. This represented a 100% tramcar turnout, as Blackpool 31 has not been prepared for use since its return from Blackpool as it has worn tyres, and Gateshead 10‘s protracted overhaul is still some way off completion. Sadly this situation is unlikely to improve much in the short term, placing those four trams under immense pressure. Considering the huge success of Beamish and the obvious keenness to expand, it is baffling that there is not much more investment in the transport sector, which serves an invaluable purpose as well as being an attraction in its own right, and it is to be hoped that this does not hold back the development of what it is, in fairness, an outstanding open air museum with a very bright future ahead of it.