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  • Writer's pictureJohn Woodman

Beamish Beginnings

The incredible visitor attraction which has become a lead destination in the north east had modest beginnings and was entirely due to the efforts of one man who saw the potential of redundant structures and industrial machinery for future generations. As part of the vision thing a small group of enthusiasts added their own efforts to the initial development of the Beamish 'Open Air' Museum site.

Sheffield's lone tram in the British Transport Commission collection at Clapham Museum was in need of a new home when that popular venue (a former bus garage) closed down. Fortunately all of the trams at Clapham, including former Conduit Car 4, found alternative venues but the Sheffield car (342) struggled for acceptance at Crich - which at the time was the only tram museum in the UK, apart from emergent efforts at Carlton Colville. Fortuitously the germ of the idea for an industrial heritage attraction on the large estate at Beamish had taken hold and the initiative to install a working line conveying visitors on the site was accepted.

After temporary storage in nearby Consett, 342 was transferred to Beamish in the 1970s albeit sans its top deck saloon which had been badly damaged in transit from London. Nonetheless the tram survived otherwise intact on its original truck and with controllers allowing it to be the first (and only) operating car on the initial Beamish line which wended across open ground to terminate more or less in the middle of nowhere (or so it seemed at the time to this visitor in 1977). Its main attraction was that it actually operated and could carry passengers on what was a single track shuttle from the site of the present depot. So on a visit from the States I made a point of seeing (and riding) this car in its early condition at the museum.

Obviously exceptional caution was practised as far as the trolleypole was concerned - to ensure no dastardly accidents befell top deck passengers.

An anonymous tram still attracts a young crowd at the terminus of the then short running line. I'm not sure of Vaux Ales is still around and Binns definitely isn't. Of course Blackpool's Balloon car masquerading as Sunderland 101 also carried the

Binns signage at each end, detracting from the fleet livery of that town's buses and trams for several decades. I often wonder what this exclusive deal achieved in monetary terms for Sunderland's Transport Department year on year.

In 2017 342 has emerged from a top down overhaul looking resplendent in its 1920s open balcony lined out fleet colours and of course a reinstated replica top deck saloon. One other Sheffield 'Standard' exists in a preserved state - at the South Yorkshire museum. Unfortunately this is without top deck, running gear or

controllers. But at least it perpetuates locally the immaculate tram system which was hallmark of the city up to 1960. Crich has four electric representatives in its collection although none are running now. And a further Sheffield 'Roberts' car is of course now in service at Carlton Colville on long term loan from Beamish. One could go on and on...... Images : John Woodman

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