WW1 Day at Crich Tramway Museum


Last Sunday, July 19, we headed off to Derbyshire with our 16-year-old grandson to visit the Crich Tramway Museum (the letter i in Crich is pronounced like the word ‘eye’). The museum is situated in the Crich Tramway Village, close to the town of Matlock and is an hour-and-a-half drive from where we live:

Map of Derbyshire civil parishes, highlighting Matlock Town. Author: Rcsprinter. Commons
Map of Derbyshire civil parishes, highlighting Matlock Town. Author: Rcsprinter. Commons

We specifically picked this weekend because it was a World War One weekend, and the event was attended by a number of people in period costume or WW1 army uniform. A re-enactment group were also in uniform or other Edwardian dress. Shop windows displayed WW1 foods and there were various recruitment posters about:

It’s thirteen years since we last visited Crich, when Kieran was only three. On that occasion, it was a Thomas the Tank Engine weekend, and Kieran was mad about all the different, colourful engines. His love of Thomas and friends dwindled very soon afterwards, when real steam engines took over. His passion for those has never waned. In fact, trams fall a long way short for him, but he enjoyed the day well enough.

The heart of the village is Tramway Street, a cobbled street with a shiny ‘lacework’of metal running along it, flanked by period buildings. Above, the overhead wire has been described as ‘a mad woman’s knitting’. Both the tracks and wires have been retrieved from towns and cities all over the country…

… as have the buildings and street furniture, some of which were moved stone by stone from their original destinations. There is a pub – the Red Lion Pub, a cafe (Rita’s Tearooms) an old-style sweetshop, the Yorkshire Penny Bank and the impressive Derby Assembly Rooms with its grand Georgian frontage (originally built between 1765 and 1774). It now houses the video theatre and other displays about Britain’s tramways. There is a bandstand in a little park area, and a number of old gas lamps and a couple of telephone boxes. The village is also home to the Eagle Press, a small museum dedicated to letterpress printing, including an 1859 Columbian printing press:

The Bowes-Lyon Bridge (seen above) crosses the road. From up there we could watch the trams going underneath us. These pictures give a good view of the ‘mad woman’s knitting’ design of the wires, with the tracks beneath:

There are fifty trams on display at Crich, both single and double-deckers, some from places abroad, including France, Germany, Belgium, Portugal, South Africa and the U.S. The idea is to portray each of the significant stages in the evolution of the British tramcar. The gaps have been filled in with tramcars from outside the U.K.

Several trams run through the village and visitors can ride up and down the one-mile track along the edge of the beautiful Derwent Valley.

019 (2)

018 (2)

Visitors can get on and off a variety of trams at different spots to view the sites. These include a lead mine, with the rails for the trolleys, a woodland walk with some unusual wooden sculptures (several of the Green Man) and views of the quarry:

The Derwent Valley was named a World Heritage Site by UNESCO due to its historical importance. The valley can rightly be described as the birthplace of the Industrial Revolution. The village of Cromford, only a mile away, was where Richard Arkwright built his new mill in 1771. George Stevenson, the great railway pioneer, had a close connection with Crich and the present tramway follows part of the mineral railway he built to link the quarry with the village of  Ambergate.

On their arrival in Britain in 1860 from the US (where they were developed) trams were welcomed as a means of transport that gave a far smoother ride than previous horse drawn buses. They also provided a far cheaper form of urban transport for the masses. When the electric tram arrived in 1900, it was a wonder of the age. By the 1920s there were 14,000 electric trams in Britain. The trams at Crich mostly ran along the streets of cities in United Kingdom before the 1960s, with some trams rescued and restored (even from other countries) as the systems closed.

Besides the trams constantly rumbling along the streets, there are many inside the exhibition halls to be brought out on different days, and some in the workshop undergoing restoration:

Decline of the trams came after WW1, notably when the internal combustion engine was developed. Vehicles powered that way offered reliability and perceived low cost, and were not restricted to rails. However, it took many years before buses became swifter and carried more passengers than trams. Even when the motor car was developed, public transport still thrived. But few towns invested in new trams and the cheaper buses eventually took over. By the 1950s only a handful of tramway systems were left. Blackpool closed before the 60s and Glasgow Corporation Tramways in 1962.

There has been a recent revival with new networks such as the Croydon Tramlink, Sheffield Supertram, Midland Metro, Edinburgh Trams, Manchester Metrolink, and Nottingham Express Transit being built and extended. Whether or not other cities will follow remains to be seen.

Here’s a smile inducing piece of information to end with, complete with illustration, from inside the Discovery Centre: