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  • Writer's pictureJohn Woodman

Getting Reacquainted - With Crich

A brief visit to Crich over the holiday weekend coincided with a calendar special event for the museum. Blackpool's Standard car 40 in immaculate red and cream colours was a popular ride for the many family visitors clutching children who needed especially long dwell times unloading from the top deck.

Of particular interest was a real favourite of mine - Jubilee Car 762 which attracted many riders of all ages. Having last ridden Jubilee Car 761 on the final night of traditional tram operation in Blackpool (pre-light rail) it was tantalising to hear again the sounds emanating from behind lower deck panels of the power technology on these Blackpool designed and built duo. Sadly 761 which was saved by the FHLT and subsequently transferred to the care of Blackpool Transport's Heritage Tour business - but now remains destined for long term storage within the vast line up of rolling stock filling Rigby Road Depot. As a high capacity car unique in Blackpool's collection - it deserves better respect and real attention.

Whilst cold weather and lower visitor numbers prevailed at Crich it was particularly noticeable that enthusiasts were few in number on the day of my visit (a Sunday) with family outings taking up most of the entry tickets. Given the competing tramway museum options now tempting the core tram enthusiast body in the UK, probably numbering no more than 3,000 it is hardly surprising that the National Tramway Museum features less in the calendars of those ready willing and able to travel distances in pursuit of their hobby. Blackpool with its myriad 'Gold' and other one-off tram events seemingly captures the lion's share of enthusiast spend; whilst Beamish cannot be far behind with its enjoyable circular ride and crowded cars. The smaller museums at Birkenhead, Carlton Colville, Summerlee, Dudley (and Seaton) offer short tram excursions with vastly differing cars - but still manage to accomplish credible numbers of visitors but on a far lesser scale. However the diversity and location of Seaton - seaside and birdwatching : Carlton Colville (trolleybus operation); Dudley (more trolleybus operation in the heart of the West Midlands) and much more, and at Summerlee with its many industrial and railway exhibits - all manage to add impetus to the educational and social value of these venues beyond just the trams themselves.

Crich of course is the granddaddy of them all - with its enormous collection (even beating the number in Rigby Road!). The well honed operation with winter seasonal break for housekeeping and maintenance among other essential needs - has stood the test of time but not without challenges in what is now a highly competitive market for discretionary leisure spend. Being off the beaten track but within the Peak District catchment area - the museum is an established venue for family visits, as well as nostalgic travel from older generations (now much older). Its Workshop is forever busy with ongoing restoration and overhaul work on operational cars in the large collection. On my visit this past weekend a Blackpool 'Brush' car (not 298 alas) shared space with LT 1622 which seems to forever take up workshop time. LCC 1 is undergoing final phases of its lengthy restoration job - sponsored by the deep pockets and hard work of London area enthusiasts. Launch of this famous tramcar, hopefully later this year, is guaranteed to draw the crowds. Newcastle 102 also takes pride of place as it gets attention from the Workshop team prior to it taking up service once more. What a coup this would be to see 102 running at Beamish in concert with its northeastern brethren. Not just a whimsical dream in this era of cooperation among the museum fraternity in this more open era.

The Exhibition Hall at Crich has been rejigged since my last visit and now boasts the Bournemouth survivor (85) on a short length of narrow gauge track; but the number of horse cars clustered tightly together leaves little room for appreciation of the evolvement of electric trams from horse (and steam) operation as the 19th Century drew to a close. In contrast Leeds railcar 602 - at the tail end of UK tramcar development is splendidly displayed on its own track and correctly placed next to the Glasgow Mark II Coronation car.

Of course Blackpool trundled on in its own individualistic style from the 1960s into a new era of light rail development in Britain. Crich is missing a twin car set which could have easily been acquired, and one of the Centenary units which complete development of UK trams in the 1980s. Jubilee Car 762 thankfully was acquired by the Museum, although concerns were raised by some of the absence of a Centenary car as a more appropriate type to complete the Blackpool pre-light rail story. Who knows? It may well be that one of the now ill-used light rail balloon conversions may make its way to Crich in years to come; having proved of little or minimal value to Blackpool's service needs. My ride on 762, albeit foreshortened due to ongoing work on the final stretch of track up to Wakebridge, was a real joy on a grey and somewhat soulless Bank Holiday Sunday.

Crich Workshop full of contrasting types this past weekend with Newcastle 102 leading the pack and well on its way to operating condition. Its trucks being seperately tended to in the adjoining bay. LT 1622 slides in on the right with LCC 1 just visible at the rear in its startling dark blue and white special launch scheme of 1931. A Blackpool Brush car brings up the rear behind 1622. Below : a dramatic contrast in tram development from the 1920s Glasgow (22) passing Blackpool 762.

Barnsley - not a town associated with electric trams (or trolleybuses). The owning group opted for tramlike buses for the primary local service before World War One. A rare example of that era was found encased in a house - and retrieved to be fully restored to operating condition on Leyland chassis by Mike Sutcliffe. Now forming part of the display at Crich it is a testimony to the craftsmanship and care given over years by its later Owner for eventual permanent acquisition by the TMS.

Profiles at Crich with 762 approaching Town End. Who recalls the end sections of this tram and sister car 761 were prefabricated and installed by Metal Sections Ltd.? A perfect duo with Blackpool Corporation open balcony 40 - built at Rigby Road passing Jubilee 762 also built (or rather radically rebuilt) in the same workshops some fifty years later. Below : Inside the lower deck of 762 on its short journey this past weekend. A perspective through the centre exit doors - something not possible on sister car 761.

All Images : John Woodman May 25, 2019

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