As part of its mission to show fully the evolution of British railed street transport, the National Tramway Museum has carried out some remarkable restorations. Indeed, some of the restorations are almost reconstructions.
One of the oddest-looking stages in the development of the British tramcar from an electrified, railed, double-ended horse bus to a suitable vehicle for speedy, weather-proof mass transportation is illustrated by the impeccable example of Sheffield 74, dating from 1900 but displayed in its late Edwardian condition.
It’s fundamentally a four-wheeled open-top tram, but with the upper deck enclosed in a substantial and shapely top cover. However, in order to sit in sheltered state upstairs, you have to brave the icy blast climbing up and down the stairs from the platform.
It was a half-way house, dictated by the nervousness of designers and – more significantly – the Board of Trade about the feasibility of extending an upper deck out over the platform.
Fairly quickly those concerns were dealt with, and most British double-deck trams from the First World War onwards had a full-length double deck, commonly fully enclosed by glass: [see Essentially Victorian Blackpool].
Sheffield 74 went through a number of metamorphoses, including transfer to Gateshead, where it ran until the early 1950s. It must have looked as we now see it for only a few years.
When I first rode on the restored 74, I asked one of the crew how much was actually original. The answer was identical to the answer I got when I asked about a tram at the Birkenhead Tramway – only the lower saloon, which in this case survived in Gateshead as a garden shed.
In the restoration of Sheffield 74, the top deck was taken from another Sheffield tram, 218, with parts from a third, 215, and the chassis (in tramway jargon, the truck) is from Leeds and the motors from Blackpool. Most of the rest is, apparently, a superbly crafted fabrication.
The wizards of the Crich workshops have performed this feat time and time again – Derby 1 (formerly a summer house), Chesterfield 7 (a cottage), Leicester 76 (a cricket pavilion). Some others, such as the Leeds trams 345 and 399 and the Liverpool Green Goddess 869, stood derelict for so long that they had to be fully rebuilt to be fit for passenger service.
What you see is not always what you got in vehicle restoration: sometimes the shining monster is back-restored from a later design (like some of the locomotives currently emerging at Didcot) or even built totally from scratch, like the LNER A1 locomotive Tornado.
But up to now, the workshops at Crich and the other British preserved tramways have always ensured that what you see is built round something original, and what you get is at least as good as new.
For information about the National Tramway Museum, see http://www.tramway.co.uk.