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Inside the secret treasure trove of Merseyside transport history

This is the secret treasure trove of Merseyside transport history tucked away in the back streets of Birkenhead. Wirral Transport Museum was created by Wirral Council[1] in Pacific Road and opened in 1995, starting off with just one bus as an attraction. It now has a fleet of ten heritage trams and nine buses, a model railway and offers tram rides between the museum building on Taylor Street and Woodside ferry terminal.

Motorbikes, mopeds, bicycles, classic cars and a Green Goddess fire engine are also on display, along with transport memorabilia like old tickets, models, photos and even bus stop and road signs. Many were donated by transport enthusiasts or families of former bus and tram workers who have passed away.

The secrets of Wirral Transport Museum in Birkenhead. Wirral Transport Museum was opened by the council in 1995 and is now run by volunteers

Manager Tony Cooper, a former headteacher of Wirral[2] Grammar school for boys, said: “People who come in will say two things – one, they didn’t know it existed and two, they didn’t know it was so big. “We get a lot of school groups and interest groups coming in.

“It’s a big shed for big kids.”

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Birkenhead[3] has a long and proud transport history and was the first town in Europe to have a “street car” system. In 1860 George Francis Train, an American entrepreneur thought to have inspired the character of Phileas Fogg, built a line from Woodside to Birkenhead.

Model trams Since January 2014, the museum and tramway has been managed and operated entirely by volunteers from the Merseyside Tramway Preservation Society on behalf of Wirral Council

When the museum first opened, two Hong Kong trams operated a service between the museum, Woodside and Egerton Bridge. In 2000/1 the tram lane was extended to Taylor Street, where the museum is now located, and Pacific Road became a theatre and arts centre.

The view from a tram The vintage signs.

Since January 2014, the museum and tramway has been managed and operated entirely by volunteers from the Merseyside Tramway Preservation Society on behalf of Wirral Council.

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The museum building was once owned by Moorhouse’s Lemonade, which was taken over by Birkenhead Brewery in 1951 and later Whitbread Brewery.

All production ceased in 1983.

More vintage signs.

The part of the building used for the model railway was once used to stable horses in transit from Ireland. Find more information about events at the museum here[4]. What is inside?

The secrets of Wirral Transport Museum in Birkenhead pictured trams. Vintage bus stop signs

The museum has a fleet of ten heritage trams, ranging from two horse drawn trams of the late 1800s to six electric trams from the early to mid 1900s and two Hong kong trams from the late 1900s.

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When the museum is open to the public, trams operate a half hourly service between the museum and Woodside Ferry Terminal from 1pm to 4.30pm.

A fleet of nine heritage buses also support local events and promote the museum at vehicle rallies throughout the North West.

Wirral Transport Museum was created by Wirral Council in Pacific Road and opened in 1995, starting off with just one bus as an attraction A model Mersey Ferry.

What happened to Wirral’s street tramway? Wirral was home to Europe’s first street trams, which were horse-drawn and ran from Woodside Ferry to Birkenhead Park[5]. The concept soon spread to towns and cities across England and into Europe.

According to the newspaper reports, the first tram was a single decker. Eventually there were two double deckers and two single deckers,

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The depot and stables were at Palm Grove in Oxton, and on August 14, 1901 electric trams commenced – but from a new depot in Laird Street which is now Arriva’s Wirral bus depot.

Model railway set. A number of Merseyside station names.

George Francis Train, who brought the idea to Wirral, had spotted the potential of streetcars operating in New Orleans, New York and Philadelphia as a modern urban transport system. He offered to build the first European tramway in Liverpool at no cost to Liverpool Corporation.

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He failed to convince the authorities but was more successful with Birkenhead’s leading citizen, John Laird.

On July 12, 1919 the first Birkenhead Corporation motorbuses began running, and buses gradually replaced trams until the end of the tram operation in July 1937.

Historic buses. The secrets of Wirral Transport Museum in Birkenhead pictured model tram.

What does the future hold for the museum? The museum is currently being refurbished to create a new visitor entrance – based around two restored Mersey Ferries booths. One will be fitted with a turnstile, while the other will be used as a kiosk for gifts and souvenirs.

An upper level/mezzanine tram viewing area is being created and a lift will be installed to provide easier access for visitors in wheelchairs.

The project will also see updated toilet facilities and the opening of a new tea room – currently the museum is unable to serve refreshments.

Wirral Transport Museum is due to re-open fully in May – but tram rides are still running on Saturdays only from January 20, 2018.

References

  1. ^ Wirral Council (www.liverpoolecho.co.uk)
  2. ^ Wirral (www.liverpoolecho.co.uk)
  3. ^ Birkenhead (www.liverpoolecho.co.uk)
  4. ^ here (www.facebook.com)
  5. ^ Birkenhead Park (www.liverpoolecho.co.uk)



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