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  • Writer's pictureJohn Woodman

Detour via Crich

Returning to Blackpool from Oxford on Sunday saw a detour to that familiar locale in Derbyshire - Crich. Apart from the inevitable house builders working their way through ever more fields - the winding road from Alfreton and through South Wingfield brought us to a busy car park at the TMS freehold under the crags of neighbouring quarry cliffs.

Three trams were operating and I opted to claim a ride on the immaculately maintained Leeds 'Convert' 345 which probably looked far less pristine in its service years. I was particularly impressed with the custom made banquettes along the side bench seating in the lower deck. Whilst not unique it is the sole survivor from a small group of open balcony cars given a makeover in the late 1930s and early 1940s, all of which were given individualistic restyling, particularly of the treatment of their newly enclosed balcony ends. It contrasts with Beeston 'Airbrake' 399, another two axle car from the same system, which has been preserved and also immaculately maintained in an early yellow and white (and brown) fleet livery. Leeds was prone to continuous livery changes by successive Managers from the 1920s to the very end in 1959.

Above : A period touch inside Leeds 345 - with evocative 'banquettes' over the side bench seats. And 345 gliding? down towards Town End

My other journey found me riding inside an almost full Oporto 'bogie' car built by that system's workshops in 1928 faithfully copying prototype example delivered by the JG Brill Company, complete with reversed maximum traction bogies and fully opening side windows (and cab ends as well). Sitting on well sprung rattan transverse reversible seating - I was joined by Derek Redmond whose role and involvement with the TMS is well known. Derek and I shared 'tram riding' exploits in our youthful days with marvellous visits to Leeds, Glasgow and Sheffield - as well as of course sampling the still fulsome delights of Blackpool's street tramways in those final years leading up to 1963.

A wonderful American 'trolleycar' from the 1920s - and the Oporto version now alive and well at Crich. Below - the amazing 'barrel roof' design allowing the storage of the side window frames and glazing during hot summer days (in Portugal).

A look at the Workshop's current tasks in bringing back to life the amazing London County Council prototype 'Bluebell' of 1931, which rounded out its final years running in Leeds along with most (not all) of the surviving 'Feltham' cars - brought into context the huge amount of detailed work needed to restore Number 1. The project is taking up three sections of the Workshops with a very large working 'table' mounted on the bogies of former Blackpool Standard Car 158, the skeletal framework and body of the tram alongside, and one of two bogies being meticulously reassembled (upside down I was told) in the engineering section.

Derek proudly pointed out the newly installed narrow gauge rail inside one of the tracks of the Exhibition Hall, awaiting installation of Bournemouth 85 in due course. The tram will be trucked into the building and rolled onto the special three rail section now awaiting its arrival. A considerable amount of moving trams around within and without the Exhibition Hall has been undertaken, and will continue it seems. I was also shown the varnished seating inside the Blackpool boat car which has returned its condition to closely how it would have appeared inside the English Electric manufactory on Strand Road, Preston in 1934. This was also a major job for the volunteers and support staff at Crich but very worthwhile from an immediate first perspective. Blackpool's trams are of course very much a 'presence' at Crich, to the extent of Jubilee 762 being used to carry a formal Party of Society Officers and Members at the AGM weekend events this year. Of course the absence of Dreadnought 59 and Brush Car 298 from the now significant Fylde coast delegation, is to be lamented, but never say never.

Below : Profiles of two great British tram designs from the 1930s - epitomising two progressive systems in the pre-war years :

The Author with one of his favourite trams at Crich : MET 331.

The Museum's operations are notable for the number of younger platform staff, all smartly turned out and deadly serious in their duties. I was duly admonished for not having my current Life Membership card with me, but Derek didn't have one at all, so I felt slightly superior none the less - and all this whilst riding inside a crowded Oporto tram! Piles of new street tram rail were seen carefully stored at several places on the site - a reminder of the lost Merseyside light rail scheme which disposed of much of its assets including brand new tram rail and of course all of the acquired Blackpool trams intended to operate in the Wirral Waters heritage development. Being involved in the repainting of one of these (Trailer T7) at Fleetwood, and seeing other examples of that ill starred scheme now in Rigby Road - I should say that all's well that ends well.

And Derek with two of his favourite trams of all time ! Note the destination on one....

Thanks Derek for the memories.... Images at Crich July 30, 2017

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