Event Review: Launch of Manchester Horse Tram L53 at Heaton Park

Andrew Waddington reports from the public launch of the Eades Reversible Horse Tramcar L53 on Sunday 30th March 2008. Also included is a visit to the Manchester Museum of Transport.

When it was announced that the Manchester Transport Museum Society had recently completed the restoration of Manchester horse car L53, I knew that this would be the perfect excuse for me to visit this delightful little tramway for the first time since 1993. Not only is L53 a rare example of a fully restored double-deck horse tram, but it is also the only Eades reversible horse tramcar in operational condition in the world! Such a huge milestone in British tramway history had to be marked by a series of special events, culminating in the public launch of the tram on Sunday 30th April 2008.

Before the launch took place however, I paid my first ever visit to the Manchester Museum of Transport. This is primarily a collection of buses, mainly hailing from Manchester and the surrounding area, but there are a number of items of tramway interest. Undoubtedly the star attraction is Manchester 173 – a beautiful open-top tramcar which is currently undergoing restoration, and looks almost complete. The intention is that it will one day operate on the Heaton Park line, however this is just a dream for the moment due to lack of storage space and insufficient height in the depot!

Definitely looking in need of restoration is the surviving lower saloon of South Lancashire tramcar 65. The body has had some work done to it in order to protect it from decaying further, and the lower side panels have been removed to give visitors to the museum a glimpse into the design of the tramcar structure. However, the reality is that this tram is a wreck, although admittedly the interior has survived remarkably well, with the seats and ceiling decorations clearly visible. It would be lovely to think that one day it could be fully restored and run again – but the work required to make this happen is likely to be beyond the means of this particular museum.

Close by the tram body are a series of tram models, including one of South Lancashire 65 in open balcony condition with red and cream livery, as well as a nice display detailing the story of Stockport 5‘s restoration and subsequent return to service in Blackpool. In the main display hall there are many buses, a fire engine, and perhaps more interestingly, a full size design mock-up of a Manchester Metrolink vehicle, which visitors are allowed to board and sit inside the cab. All in all, a very interesting collection, and if you are ever in Manchester when the museum is open I would definitely recommend a visit.

Moving on to Heaton Park, and the mane attraction (a very bad joke, with apologies to Crich)! As I arrived at the tramway, Manchester 765 was just pulling away from the Middleton Road terminus. 765 is a very attractive single-deck ‘Combination’ car, meaning that it is mainly enclosed, but with open air bench seating at each end, and the car is on long-term loan from the Tramway Museum Society. Ever since the Heaton Park tramway opened it has been the mainstay of the line’s running fleet, however on this particular day it was set to be upstaged! Manchester L53 had been extracted from the depot already, and was being turned around by hand, ready for it’s big moment. A magnificent horse called Murdoch had come from the Bradford Industrial Museum to pull L53, and it’s fair to say that he received just as much attention as the tram did.

The opportunity was taken to pose the two Manchester trams, L53 and 765, side by side for photographs, before Murdoch was hitched up to L53. A number of short speeches were made and a special guest was introduced, in the form of a relative of Mr Eades who designed the reversible horse tramcar, before the VIPS and special ticket holders were invited to board the horse tram for its inaugural public run. Mr Eades rang the bell to officially launch the tramcar and Murdoch set off, pulling the tram beautifully smoothly and with apparent ease. On reaching the Middleton Road terminus, everyone was asked to alight so that the tram could be turned – unfortunately this was to be done by human hand, as there is insufficient space to manoeuvre both horse and tram here. There were some concerns after previous derailments had happened at this location, but thankfully all went well and Murdoch was soon re-connected for the trip back to the tram depot where we all alighted once again.

There was another surprise in store, however. As it was such a special occasion, it was decided to run the horse car with Murdoch further up the line, as a one-off photo opportunity. The tram had to run empty due to the track being uphill here, although Murdoch didn’t seem to notice this much as he trotted along at a brisk pace that the enthusiasts trying to chase him struggled to match! He went up to the point where the sleeper track begins, and a great many photographs were taken here. Manchester 765 – which had run to the tram terminus at the park’s boating lake – then arrived on it’s way back down the line, and the two cars were again posed for photographs. Murdoch then did the honours of turning L53 the proper way, in front of a very impressed crowd of admirers. After more photos were taken he took the tram back down the hill where it then entered normal service, proving to be extremely popular as one would expect.

It is worth mentioning that there is a third tram in the Heaton Park fleet – Hull 96. Although this car has run at the tramway before, it has suffered a motor failure, and is stored on jacks in the tram depot awaiting completion of repairs. The depot itself is actually a very old and very elaborate tram shelter, and also houses a small gift shop which has an excellent range of souvenirs, including models, mouse pads, and even embroidered tram t-shirts!

Murdoch and his handlers took a 40 minute lunch break, then went back to work and kept the horse tram busy until late in the afternoon, whilst car 765 also ran until approximately 5:30pm. The horse car ran full up all afternoon and attracted a huge amount of interest from people visiting the park on this delightful spring day. At the end of the day, the team from Bradford were presented with chocolates as a thank-you for their efforts in helping to make the day really special.

I think that everyone from the tramway and Bradford Industrial Museum put in a brilliant effort to create a truly memorable occasion. The event was very well organised and all ran smoothly, likewise the Bradford team were happy to do whatever they were asked to in order to help enthusiasts to get more out of their day. However, the biggest thanks of all must go to Murdoch the horse for providing everyone with such a lovely smooth ride, and for demonstrating a vehicle that had not been used in service for more than a century, the proper old-fashioned way!

* It is planned for L53 to run again on 20th July 2008 during the Festival of Model Tramways at the Manchester Museum of Transport – a bus service is likely to link the two locations.


This entry was posted in Event Reviews, Heaton Park Tramway. Bookmark the permalink.