The publication of the Tramway Museum Society’s Annual Report & Accounts for the last financial year has revealed a rather unusual donation to the operators of the National Tramway Museum at Crich. The hefty sum of £200,000 has been bequeathed to the TMS – for the sole purpose of constructing a replica of a Manchester tramcar!
The notes accompanying the Society’s statement of funds clearly indicates that this money has come from a ‘legacy received towards the re-creation of a Manchester bogie car’. The subject would be a 1928 double-deck Manchester bogie car. However, no other information about this legacy is offered, which throws up a number of questions. For example, has this money simply been left to the TMS without any forewarning, for a project which is a personal fantasy rather than a genuine project which the museum has agreed to undertake? Or, did the Society agree beforehand with the donor that their money would be used in this manner?
Although recent Crich restorations have been virtually replicas – London United Tramways 159 being a good example – to actually build a brand new tramcar from scratch would be a major first for the TMS. However, this would be a significant change of direction for the Museum, and one which is unlikely to gain universal approval. With the TMS having often used a shortage for space as an argument against acquiring more vehicles, with a Blackpool Centenary car being one such example that was recently declined for this reason, the argument for constructing a replica tram seems very weak. The type of tram concerned would not particularly fill a gap in the collection, although it would give the museum an operational Manchester tram which it currently lacks. Presently the only representatives of the city’s first generation trams in preservation are three trams, all owned by the Manchester Transport Museum Society who operate the Heaton Park Tramway.
On the other hand, it would be a terrible shame to see such a large sum of money sitting idle in a Society bank account, as it will be considered ‘restricted funds’, meaning that it cannot be spent for any purpose other than that specified by the donor. Hopefully any decision on whether to actually build a replica tram will be taken following full consultation with members of the Society, as such a move would undoubtedly be a game-changer for the National Tramway Museum, and as such this matter needs careful consideration.