Capital trams on display at the National Tramway Museum in Derbyshire in 2016
One of the more notable achievements amid the Derbyshire quarry landscape at Crich has been the emergence of a series of distinguished tramcar restorations - the latest of which is make steady progress towards final completion. Whilst the capital had the UK's largest tramway system and total number of trams, their memory and recognition in London itself has been desultory as far as official museumdom is concerned. In fact at the end of the tram operation in 1952 only two examples were set aside by London Transport for preservation. A single enthusiast managed to add to this with purchase of an HR2 class (Hilly Route) car number 1858 which was found refuge within Chessington Zoo where it rested for some time before being taken in by the nascent East Anglia museum group at Carlton Colville.
The demise of the Leeds system in 1959 allowed for one of the still extant 'Feltham' types which had been sold to Leeds to be returned joining the recently opened Clapham Transport Museum under the auspices of the British Transport Commission. The important London County Council prototype car numbered '1' was similarly transferred back to London (and Clapham) from Leeds in 1958, who had acquired it as part of the large Feltham car sale. When the Transport Commission opted out of transport preservation and display completely - its collection scattered to the four winds. By then the Tramway Museum Society had embedded itself in a historic quarry site in Derbyshire. This at least provided a welcoming home for LCC 1 - still of course in its final Leeds City Transport colours and condition; whilst the Feltham joined the duo which would form the tram display of the then new London Transport Museum at Covent Garden.
A further London tram in the form of a snowbroom car 022, formerly LCC 106, was also displaced on the closure of the Clapham museum where it had been stored pending full restoration to original open top condition. Saved by the efforts of local enthusiasts it would in turn also find itself welcomed by the TMS. Quite independently of these transactions and reversals of fortune was the equally unique centre entrance double deck prototype built in 1930 for the Metropolitan Electric Tramways. Numbered 331 it had been sold to Sunderland before the outbreak of World War Two - a system similar to Blackpool which espoused centre entrance loading trams (and buses). This transfer providently proved its saviour when in 1954 on closure of the Sunderland tram system, it was purchased privately by Jay Fowler, prominent in London (and UK) tram enthusiast circles in the 1930s and 1950s. Number 331 would eventually find its own haven at the Crich museum to join both the LCC prototype car and snowbroom 022 transformed into LCC 106 by the efforts of London enthusiasts using a workshop facility in the capital.
The London Transport official collection was initially set up at Syon Park on the outer fringes of the capital and unsuccessful in generating sizeable numbers of visitors. The regeneration of the Covent Garden Fruit and Vegetable market in its historic setting next to the Strand and West End - offered a marvellous site (and structure) in which to fill quite a respectable number of trams, buses, trolleybuses and sample Underground carriages. The new site proved a splendid choice at the time, but also set severe limits on the actual number of buses and other vehicles that could be displayed. Initially the display had the three electric trams in view, but sadly this would dwindle down to just one token two axle car in West Ham municipal colours. Retail and cafe space encroaching into the original layout to the considerable detriment of the display area - so much for 'professional museum managers'.
In the meantime an organised cadre of enthusiasts with London focus implemented what has been a sustained programme of hard work and fund raising to ensure the conservation and full restoration of a series of trams outwith Covent Garden and London itself. Foremostly this saw the full restoration to operating condition of Number 331; the full restoration to operating condition of LCC 106 from its snowbroom condition; the complete recreation/restoration of an E1 class tram - 1622 from the bare lower saloon frame of the original car and a similarly magnificent recreation/restoration of a London United Tramways car 159, not dissimilar to the examples purchased by Blackpool Corporation in 1919. Currently the London group are funding for the most part (if not all of it) the total makeover of LCC 1 from its state when acquired from Leeds via the Clapham Museum, to its as built condition in dark blue and white prototype livery for which it was originally known as the famous 'Bluebird'. An understandable lengthy process within Crich's enviable workshops is bringing back to life the highpoint of London County Council's tram design efforts in the 1930s before the dead hand of politicians intervened to kill off the capital's trams completely.
With the equally remarkable preservation of 1858 at Carlton Colville, again with a very limited number of enthusiast volunteers pursuing a long term vision - there is now a respectable representation of London's tramways for future generations to wonder at. The efforts of a small band of enthusiasts joined together and working on selected goals over decades is giving the heritage transport movement a wonderful achievement. Now if only the powers that are in London could figure out how to put the extensive reserve collection of buses, trolleybuses, trams, trains and Underground rolling stock into a cohesive venue and on public display - or is this wishful thinking?
Below : Covent Garden Museum's token tram (West Ham Corporation 102) filling the role of representing well over a thousand trolleybuses and thousand trams that once served London and its adjoining boroughs before formation of London Transport. It is joined by an excellent scale model of LCC Number 1 in its original dark blue and white colours - hence the nickname 'Bluebird'. This will be applied to the current restoration
project in Crich workshop - making the tram yet another outstanding project which originates through the funding and resources of London tram enthusiasts, combined with the skills at the National Tramway Museum. All Images : John Woodman
PS : I am also reminded that there is a further London tramcar that can be ridden on at the Seaton Tramway in Devon. The lower saloon of Metropolitan Electric Tramways 94 was discovered quite some time ago and acquired by the Seaton company. A remarkable job of adjusting it to allow it to operate as a single deck enclosed car was a tour de force of the workshop. It joined the eclectic fleet as an all weather tram with interior features from the very early years of this London tramway company (MET) - and provides a unique experience in this regard.
Well done Seaton.