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  • Writer's pictureJohn Woodman

Wot ! No Trams !

John Woodman

The abrupt 'lockdown' applied to the National Tram Museum by the government's Office of Road Rail has no doubt startled many followers of heritage trams in Britain. It could hardly have come at a worse time in the year, with the long Jubilee Holiday imminent with the onset of the summer season (although the weather so far has failed to comply with annual 'norms'). Visitors intending to ogle the Museum's eclectic fleet will be thoroughly disappointed, given that the extensive depot complex and Exhibition Hall are all 'off limits' for an indefinite period.

Just how this state of affairs has come to pass has to be the question that TMS Members should be asking themselves - as clearly the issue of governance of the Museum needs to be called into question. While the quality of output by the Workshop staff at Crich is pre-eminent, especially so when compared to the current approach in Blackpool there have to be major failings in the upkeep of infrastructure which have been 'hidden' or otherwise glossed over by Museum management.

One of the problems in these voluntary bodies is the permanence of a small cadre of people who take it upon themselves to view their role as sacrosanct or 'life term' - dismissing and deferring criticism of their methods and policies. The structure of the Tramway Museum Society and its style of governance over several decades has always been defensive and less than welcoming of constructive viewpoints which don't happen to coincide with the approach of its Board. One which protects and preserves vested positions of the few, allowing longevity and indeed semi permanence of certain Members. This constrains and deters any meaningful discussion or debate in policy decision-making. The Society's Annual General Meeting quite evidently took its procedures from the textbook issued to Politburo Members of the USSR.

The grand old lady from 1885 (see previous Blog). Blackpool Electric Tramway car Number 4 seen here in the Exhibition Hall at Crich Museum in the original fleet colours of that year.

Undoubtedly the Museum has accomplished much over its sixty odd years of existence - and is to be commended on many of its achievements in providing a protective and secure home for invaluable relics from former era. However the present embargo imposed by an outside body on further operation of the Society's trams, or access to its collection on site - has to be a wakeup call for the Membership at large of which I am one. Like many other card carrying TMS Members I am unclear as to exactly what has gone wrong at the Museum to require a halt to public access to its exhibits and any further operation of its trams. Some degree of clarity is called for in this regard, whether from the Office of Road Rail or from the Board of Management. Whether for example work can continue in the Workshop on tramcar restoration and testing. Blackpool Rail coach 298 in particular being a highly desirable tram needing to be brought back into the full light of day.

Given the depressing backdrop of the third party report on the lack of responsible leadership in Number Ten Downing Street and consequential malaise of the Party in power at present, the affairs at Crich are very small beer indeed. Nonetheless, those of us with genuine concern in conserving, and indeed strengthening the singular core collection of tramway relics held by the Tramway Museum Society - something needs to be done. Below : an imposing display of British (and Dutch) tramcar development in the Exhibition Hall at Crich. I wonder whether the proposed Rigby Road Museum display will match the level of presentation and visitor interest seen here.


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