Monday, 25 May 2009

Ian's Day Off: Must Be Trams!

Yesterday I had a rare Bank Holiday Monday off, which happily coincided with the 50th anniversary celebrations at the National Tramway Museum up at Crich in Derbyshire.

The Tramway Museum Society was founded in the mid 1950s, when most of Britain’s traditional street tramway systems were closing down. Unlike with buses, trams really needed people to band together to provide things like track and overhead power lines. To some extent getting trams was the easy part. Finding somewhere to store them and one day run them was a far bigger challenge.

In early 1959, the fledgling Tramway Museum Society discovered Crich, part of a mineral railway built by the great George Stephenson no less, to take stone from the Crich Quarries down to Ambergate. The line and quarry had closed down but there were only a few isolated stone buildings on the site.

Fifty years later, the “The Tramway Museum” is the “National Tramway Museum”, a place run on such professional lines that it has the coveted “designated” status, recognised by the government as the specialist in its field. It boasts one of the world’s most diverse collections of trams, with examples from all over the UK as well as South Africa, the Czech Republic, the USA and Germany. And its library is one of the most comprehensive anywhere.

The abandoned mineral railway is now traversed by a fully operational tramway, lined with buildings brought from elsewhere, with depots open to the public and a really imaginative exhibition hall, masquerading as a trade exhibition from the early 20th century, a way of showing off all the “bits and pieces” accumulated over the years.

The fleet of trams, well over 40, include many which run, carrying visitors along that “street”, then out into the Derbyshire countryside. The trip culminates in a surprise to first-timers: a splendid view across the Derwent Valley, with the trams virtually running along a ledge.

I first went to Crich in 1980 and have been going back regularly ever since.
Okay, I’m biased because I like trams (no, I don’t know why wither but there you are). But even for casual visitors, Crich really is somewhere different. For one thing, you get to ride on the trams, which means it’s a much more “engaging” experience than say on a preserved railway where you’re in a carriage, not generally on the footplate!

One of the joys of the place is that it’s not just about “going to look at trams”. The place has a real “streetscape” feel to it. You get the sense of what our ancestors experienced travelling along a town street by tram. Furthermore, it has some very pleasant woodland walks and those great views of the Derwent Valley.

Although minus both children and dogs, we noticed how friendly to both the place is. There’s a real sense of the Museum trying to encourage different types of visitor with walks, a playground, allowing dogs in most areas and even having a "smooth path" laid out for wheelchairs and buggies. It is also liberally sprinkled with places to picnic (one of the best I know for that), despite also having a tea room (with very hard working staff) and a pub (brought here from Stoke on Trent) which also does food. Someone has really tried.

So is everything there wonderful? Well no but the problems are few and far between.

The toilets could be better.

The entrance arrangements, especially on a busy day like yesterday can be cumbersome. For that matter, the entrance building is really uninviting, which is sad in a place where – once you’re in – there are some delightful views.

So that rather concludes my free advert for the place, other than – if you think you’re interested or not – to urge you to go there sometime!
Oh and it’s pronounced “Cry – tch”!

Photos at

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