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  • Writer's pictureJohn Woodman

a tram at Covent Garden

Many years ago when the London Transport museum relocated from out of centre site at Syon Park to Covent Garden the ground level area was filled with vehicles. Admittedly the space available is limited, but in those formative days three trams found their way on to public display : a wonderful 'Feltham' car, a bogie car typifying the bulk of London's tram fleet in final decades and a sample two axle open balcony car, formerly in the West Ham municipal system until absorbed by London Transport made up this trio.

West Ham Corporation Tramways 102 in all its glory stands as the sole representative of the capital's huge tram system. A fine model of LCC 1 in its original dark blue and white colour scheme serves to give notice of the eventual 'outing' of the real thing at the National Tramway Museum.

Regrettably the politically correct museum today has whittled these down to just the West Ham car, with the other two trams (and a horse tram) sidelined to the London version of Clay Cross - out of sight out of mind. A sizeable amount of former display space is given over to what can be charitably described as a 'creche' that is aimed at 'entertaining' younger age groups dragooned into the venue to no doubt boost visitor numbers. The noise and volume from the groups (and their minders) during my thankfully brief tour this week - was intrusive and detracting for anyone paying the £14.00 entrance fee with a serious viewing intent in mind.

A sample trolleybus and three other buses ('Old Bill' an RT and RM) constituted the entire representative collection of the capital's road transport over the years. A delightful fully restored 'chara' was displayed seperately although what this had to do with London Transport was baffling, given that it was restored to the LNWR railway company livery of pre World War One vintage. A flier provided the background to its private ownership and intention to acquire two other finely restored early London buses (open top) all with Leyland chassis and antecedents.

Below : 1914 Leyland 'Torpedo' chara wonderfully restored - with a fine number....

Retail and food and beverage took up considerable space in what is a constricted site and the actual value to anyone with real interest in heritage transport is essentially minimal. How the capital's enormous transport heritage can be seriously represented through this dumbed down truncated display is beyond me. Apart from the obvious footfall benefit of being within a must visit tourist location in the centre of London - there is very little to commend the London Transport Museum. I well recall the wonderful Transport Commission museum at Clapham which utilised a former bus depot (shades of Rigby Road). The latter site allowed considerable discretion in vehicle exhibits; which for the tram purists included Blackpool Conduit Car 4 (1), DHMD open sided tram, a former LT Works Car - now at Crich as LCC 106 with tram exhibits from Sheffield, Leeds and Glasgow (naturally); in addition to the three aforementioned London Transport cars. Now that was a real museum display and I haven't even got on to the bus display or railway/Tube exhibits.

One hopes that the embryonic proposals for a Blackpool heritage transport museum are not similarly destined to follow the same mind set of 'professional' designers which has bastardised London's transport heritage. For a meaningful lesson in providing all ages with salutory insight into yesterday's transport one needs to go to Glasgow and the Riverside Museum - formerly based at Kelvinside, and even previous to that in the former Paint Shop of Coplawhill Tram Workshops. Even the latter would put this Covent Garden effort to shame.

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