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  • Writer's pictureJohn Woodman

Wirral Wonderland - 2 The trams

Having covered impressions, however fleeting, of the diverse display and operation of period buses through Birkenhead at the Wirral Bus & Tram Show last weekend its time to record the tram element. Firstly; just as the buses put on a brilliant show ferrying (literally) crowds from the Museum to the Woodside Ferry(!) terminal (complete with U Boat) - so the trams put on an equally impressive presence.

Passenger comfort was not exactly high on the list of priorities in Hong Kong. The two examples at Birkenhead being functional and robust - er that's it

The tram queue is lengthening off camera to the right.

Notable were the Hong Kong duo - both operating with full capacity throughout the Sunday. Distinctive with their angular 'British' appearance they are less than easy to ride given the tight interior dimensions, particularly for those of us whose years have taken their toll. What may be very agreeable seating arrangements in that part of China - are definitely awkward for this part of the world. I managed one ride in the lower 'saloon' squeezed into the last space on offer facing fellow passengers. I didn't make it to the top deck - the crowded conditions being too daunting. Nothing much has changed in this regard since my last visit some time ago. Acquired by Wirral Council and first tested in Blackpool on arrival - the two cars are a remarkable addition to the Birkenhead heritage tramway. Of course the days of local Authorities purchasing and shipping exotic trams to the UK for a themed visitor display are now well and truly past.

By contrast the frequent comings and goings of these Hong Kong trams (69 and 70) were interspersed with two quite different tramcars. The original Birkenhead open top car which really began the whole heritage tram scheme made a brave appearance especially fully loaded with complements of happy visitors. Liverpool's 'Baby Grand' 245 a sister car (so to speak) to streamliner 869 at Crich, was equally a star attraction. Again full to capacity, it went through its paces many times along the Woodside to Tram Museum stretch. And again I found myself in the lower saloon for my first chance to ride this car which I found somewhat spartan in decor compared to Blackpool's more luxurious style of the 1930s. The hard riding over railhead joints was noticeable, but then that's what two axle cars tend to produce in service. Immaculately turned out inside and the exterior, 245 was a stunning sight in operation. At the end of the Tram Museum track the Museum's standard gauge Lisbon tram stood in gleaming Carris yellow and white albeit without signage or its fleet number. Inside the Museum itself, Wallasey 78 could be viewed close up as it underwent attention to its truck (and possibly much else). However the standard of restoration (or recreation) of this sole example of a UK 'Bellamy' roof tram is exceptional, and I regretted not having the opportunity to ride on its unique top deck features. Another time perhaps.

Liverpool 245 with its full complement of passengers a marvellous sight. Below :

Wallasey Corporation 78 getting a once over - note the large fleet number so there is no mistaking the tram's identity even from a great distance. The colour is 'seegreen' according to local folklore. Detail below - forever immortalised.

Close by was the ongoing restoration of Warrington Car number 6 which will now appear in an open balcony condition with bodywork well advanced. The last time I saw it only the lower deck saloon and platforms were as one. Since then patient work by the small working team has advanced matters to where we can clearly visualise this next addition to the admirable Merseyside group's collection representing the diverse municipal tramways in and around this part of the northwest. Perhaps somewhere in the background a Southport and Chester car body might be quietly being held for another generation to bring back to life? The Museum has an extensive display of artifacts, models, a replica car garage workshop - no not a 'tramcar'; very well recreated from the 1930s with sounds and a personal flavour; perhaps only the smells of hot oil and heated carburettor were missing. Liverpool 762 which I had indeed ridden on in a previous visit was no where to be seen, but its appearance in Blackpool some years back (on ex Blackpool EE bogies) made up for this. The Merseyside tram group have come a long way indeed and their bonding with the bus museum makes for a great partnership which was all too apparant last Sunday.

Warrington Corporation Number 6 moving along very nicely in the Museum - a case of much tender loving care by a small group of dedicated enthusiasts

Is this a Carris car I see lurking in the undergrowth? Yes it must be.....

Very well done to the volunteers and contributors to the event - a lot of serious effort and work went into the one day spectacular which I am sure was appreciated by the vlarge numbers of enthusiasts and visitors drawn to the Wirral on Sunday.

In the shadows this time - 245 at the Museum terminus waiting to ply its trade for another trip to Woodside. A classic car from a once great UK tram system.

PS : I am informed by an observant member of the Wirral and Merseyside heritage scene that in fact the 'Manchester' Crossley single deck bus illustrated in my previous blog was in fact a Bolton bus restored to look like a Manchester type by its owner. I stand corrected on my first impression. It must have been seeing Stewart Pilcher's name and address on the side that reinforced my description. In any event it is a great restoration and wonderful to see in brilliant sunshine - congratulations to all those responsible for the vehicle's preservation and detailed appearance. I am further informed that it should be 'Stuart' and not 'Stewart' but this is easily happens when you are dealing with another country and another language

A further excuse to show off this Crossley vehicle in a rendition of the striking late 1930s Manchester municipal styling . All Images : John Woodman

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