“ The East Anglia Transport Museum at Carlton Colville is unique in that it is the only museum in Great Britain where visitors can ride on all three principle forms of public transport from the early 20th century . „
Being a transport enthusiast, I have visited many transport museums around the country, some I've liked a lot, some less so. I have a fair number on my doorstep as well, including some very successful and popular ones, yet I keep getting drawn half way across the country to the East Anglia Transport Museum.
From the start, the EATM has something that makes it stand out from most other transport museums, it's not a stuffed and mounted, touch me not type of museum, it's a living, breathing, "hands on" (or perhaps more accurately, bums on) museum. It's also unique in being the only place in the UK where you can travel on Trams, Trolleybuses and a Railway. This allows people to experience the sights and sounds of two forms of transport that are now extinct in the UK (trolleybuses and "proper" trams). This seems to excite everyone, young and old. Older people can remember trams and trolleybuses in service and travelling or even working on them. For those slightly younger their are childhood memories of the last years, then their are those (like myself) who are stepping into a world that was long gone before they were born (in fact my parents were very young when the last Trolleybus ran, and never travelled on one).
The museum has a fairly small collection of Trams and Trolleybuses from various parts of the UK and Europe. A large part of the collection is from London, particular the Trolleybuses, and this includes the last Tram and the last Trolleybus to operate in the Capital. The site is small, with trips lasting about 10mins. The Trams travel about 1/4 mile along the site before turning into the woods for another 1/4 mile. Trolleybuses reverse just before the woods and turn back before making a second trip. During 2008 the Trolleybus loop will be extended with a new "back road" running down the back of the site providing a figure of 8. On most days, 2 trams and 2 or 3 Trolleybuses will be in service, trams running alternately, trolleybuses changing on the hour. Their is also a 2 foot gauge railway, running along the edge of the site, hauled by some industrial diesel locomotives.
The museum also has a collection of road vehicles, ranging from a Sinclair C5 to a fleet of vintage buses. These are housed in various buildings around the site, which also contain other transport artefacts. A London Taxi is often used to give rides around the site. The buses are used on special event days to provide free services to Lowestoft and Beccles.
The museum has a small but well stocked gift shop, selling models, videos, books and much more. Their is also a cafe on site which serves tea and coffee, home made sandwiches and hot meals.
Accessibility to the site is good, with the site being flat and all on one level. Transport though has until recent times not been particularly accessible, and this is reflected in the vehicles, although the train and one of the trams are accessible for wheelchair users. The friendly staff are also more than willing to help people out, and you will not feel rushed at all.
The highlights of the museum are the special events. Most years their are 3, Steam and Vintage, Buses and finally the excellent Trolleybus Weekend. Steam and Vintage is usually in June and features Steam Powered Road vehicles as well as vintage cars. The Bus event in July features the Museums own fleet of buses, plus visiting buses from the local area and beyond. The Trolleybus weekend in September has all of the operating trolleybuses in service, and on the Saturday night the museum remains open until 9pm, a giving truly unique atmosphere after dark. All events feature free bus services to Lowestoft and Beccles using the museums own fleet of buses, and a Park and Ride. At the bus event (and sometimes others) visiting buses will also operate services. Events also feature a barbecue and visiting stalls.
Probably the key to the success of the museum is it's staff. These are entirely volunteers who are their because they love what they do, and this shows. Like many others, I found myself drawn in by them so much that after the first visit I signed up as a member, and a few years after started helping out as a working member. I'm now a fully passed Tram and Trolleybus conductor, and a trainee tram driver. Unlike many similar places, they are quick to welcome new members of all ages and experiences, and you'll soon be treated like on of the family.
Admission is just £6.00 for adults, £4.50 for children which allows unlimited rides all day. For £15 (or £8 for 14-17 year olds, £10 for pensioners) a year you can become a member, which entitles you to free entry to the museum, a regular newsletter, and to become a volunteer. The museum opens from March to September, Thursday and Sunday, Saturdays from June to September, and all week but Monday from early July to the end of August (depending on local school holidays). It also opens Easter, May Day, Spring and August Bank Holiday Mondays, and the entire week after Easter and Spring Bank Holiday. Sundays and Bank Holiday Mondays opening is 11 to 5, other days 2 to 5, with last admission at 4 on all days. Parties and School visits can also be accommodated.
The Museum is quite easy to find, being signposted from the A146 from the Norwich direction, and from the A12 for those coming from the South. First Eastern Counties provide a half hourly bus service, Monday to Saturday between Norwich and Lowestoft, and a 2 hourly service on Sundays. It is a 5 to 10min walk to the museum from the nearest stop. Rail services to Lowestoft for buses to the Museum are every hour from Norwich Monday to Saturday, 2 hourly on Sundays, and 2 hourly, 7 days a week, from London and Ipswich. For those feeling adventurous, alight at Oulton Broad North (from Norwich) or South (from London/Ipswich) for a 40min or 1 hour walk respectively to the museum.
The only real downside to the museum is the compact site makes future expansion hard, especially since the surrounding land is attractive for property development. The museum is doing it's best though to make the best use of the available space, but it does limit future development. With the possible exception of the train (a doubling of length into the woods is not impossible) the runs on site a now at their limits (or will be, as of July when the back road opens).
Overall, I would definitely recommend the East Anglia Transport Museum, especially for those interested in Transport, or a big of nostalgia, but also for those who would like to experience a part of history they never knew.
On Saturday 8th September 2006, I visited the East Anglian Transport Museum at Carlton Colville, just outside Lowestoft.
Ill get the how I got there bits out of the way first, never to darken this opinion again.
I travelled from London Kings Cross on a charter train known as the Blue Pullman - a train of First Class coaches and two kitchen cars, refurbished to look like the so-called Blue Pullmans of the 1960s. The actual prototypes (Bristol Pullman, Midland Pullman etc) were not renown for their smooth ride, which must have made dining an exciting affair, so it is with some relief that I can report that this aspect of 60s travel hasnt been replicated, and not once did I have to say Waiter, theres a soup in my flies.
The charter was arranged by Hertfordshire Railtours, and cost around £90 per person, including the full English breakfast (and I do mean full!) and four-course dinner on the way back, leaving you with only your drinks bill to settle before getting off, in my case at Finsbury Park. Entry to the museum and shuttles to-and-from Lowestoft Station in vintage buses were also included.
THE MUSEUM EXHIBITS
First impressions are that its not very big, as a walk around the site will confirm. However, once it all comes to life, it starts to feel much more realistic.
Saturday was a London Trolleybus Gala Day; my reason for going. This is a working museum very few exhibits are permanently static. On Saturday, for example, we had a range of say ten different trolley buses and a clutch of trams running the main street for all its three hundred yards, along with a vintage London taxi.
Combine this with hundreds of visitors milling around and it all started to bustle nicely.
I hadnt ridden a trolley bus since 1962, when the last London routes were closed down (near me as it happens) and I carry some very fond memories of a childhood waiting at bus stops letting all the diesels go past in preference to a trolley. It must have driven my mum mad, laden as she would have been with the weeks shopping.
For the uninitiated, trolley buses are electric, powered by two wires strung overhead, in much the same way that trams have one wire. Two trailing trolley poles make contact with the wire thanks to constant upwards pressure from springs. The poles were compliant enough to allow the driver the latitude to steer all over the road (mainly his own side hopefully!), so that badly parked vehicles in one of todays bus lanes, or road works could be got around.
The rest doesnt need much imagination. They are very quiet with a fine turn of acceleration and non-polluting; well, assuming a green source of electricity they have the potential to be green at least.
The London trolleys were double-deckers and being 6-wheelers, longer than their diesel contemporaries. The sideways bench seat that traditionally covered the rear wheels in most rear entrance buses was five seats long, not three. They seemed to have bigger stairways and aisles (bigger everything for that matter).
Their quiet air of efficiency has led to their being given many nick-names, not the least sinister of which is Silent Death; a soubriquet voiced by the people of Adelaide, South Australia as a comment on the road deaths caused by pedestrians failing to look over their shoulder before taking that first (and last) step into the road as a trolley approached. Yesterdays experience reminded me that they werent kidding.
Unlike a vintage electric tram, which seems to have all manner of things dangling with a potential to clank, the trolley really does make very little noise so much so that you wonder why HSE do-gooders havent made them use the vehicle reversing beeper in both directions like those airport caddies for the disabled!
In use on Saturday was a Manchester trolley, destined never to reach Stalybridge, despite what it said on the front. This was probably the most modern-looking bus, rather like a London Routemaster without the engine. Also running were several London 6-wheelers, a Bournemouth open-topper (dont worry, the wires were way out of reach!), and a continental single-decker from Solingen in Germany, bound for Gräfrath and equally doomed never to get there.
Combine this with a Blackpool and a London tram, and you can see that the place was pretty busy just after lunchtime. The initial feel of the place being small, and by implication, not very comprehensive soon faded away.
They say that comparisons are odious, and to be fair, The Crich Tramway Museum in Derbyshire is much bigger, having a lot longer run of track and much more street furniture to make it feel like the real thing, but then, it doesnt have any trolley buses at all, just trams. Lovely as they are, they werent what Id come to see on Saturday. Tantalisingly, the Beamish Open Air Museum in Co. Durham DOES have provision for trolley buses around part of the site, but in three visits Ive never seen them running. Something to do with them being anachronistic to the Victorian era portrayed Im guessing.
No, Im thinking that here and Sandtoft in Lincolnshire are the only places that the trolley aficionado will find satisfaction. Either that or go somewhere where they still use them like Vancouver.
Entry to the museum costs;-
Adults £5 (£4), Concessions £4(£3.50), Children £3.50 (£3) party rates fro groups of 10+ in brackets.
On entry we were presented with a ticket for use on the various rides, some of which actually were punched on boarding the vehicle and some werent. The conductors seemed to have a very relaxed attitude to people riding the same vehicle twice, and to be honest, it didnt really matter. There was plenty there for everyone. I rode five vehicles without even queuing.
The thing that immediately struck me on entering the top deck of my first tram ride was how cramped it felt, built for an era of shorter (and narrower?) people no doubt!
The museum does also have static exhibits, like the superbly-restored G-reg PO Telephones Morris Minor van in dark green. Theres even a Sinclair C5.
For me, the best non-working exhibit is the splendid Portsmouth Corporation trolley-bus nearing completion in its very smart dark maroon and white livery. Somebody should perhaps tell Stagecoach that looking like a stripy deckchair cover isnt classy.
Catering facilities were only adequate Id have to say, although on Saturday they were also running a barbecue from one of the tram-sheds. Its not that the food was bad, but certain staff members (OK, theyre volunteers, no doubt) werent exactly steeped in the customer is always right ethic.
Look Ive only got one pair of hands, Dont go wandering off I havent got all day to shout out food orders, Youll have to bring your own trays back we havent got many, Dont leave your own rubbish on the tray and no doubt the occasional What did your last servant die of?.
Maybe theres a frustrated sea-side landlady in there somewhere (or maybe an off-duty one).
Sybil Fawlty aside, one of the other attractions on this site is the detail. Old fashioned Major Road Ahead road signs, period bus stops, old phone boxes, cobbles between the tram lines, and the pièce de résistance, that rare road sign, Tram Pinch which warns that the tram lines converge with the kerb from the right, probably to allow a tram to negotiate a sharp street corner. Last time I saw one of those it was in Blackpool, and may still be there for all I know.
Of course, the older signs assumed you could read errr .English, that is.
Bear in mind that the majority of the museum is open air, and the weather was VERY kind to us on Saturday. I havent even gathered my thoughts on what youd find to do if it was pouring down.
This probably accounts for why its only open from April to September* inclusive, giving the staff down time to restore new exhibits and fettle up the working ones for another seasons onslaught of men of a certain age i.e. the ones that made their mums wait for a trolley bus in preference to the next bus!
*Even then, you need to consult their calendar for actual open days.
You can sit the Museums web-site at www.eatm.org.uk
We hear a lot about new tramway schemes. After all, its been 50-odd years since we ripped up all those rails that had cost so much to put down in the first place. Now were going to all the expense of stuffing them back down, in the name of light rail this time.
What would be so bloody wrong with bringing back the trolley bus?
Yes, they need two ugly wires hung up. But even trams need one, so theres not much difference there.
Trolley buses could use existing bus lanes, mix it with normal traffic, and, heaven forbid, use new reserved routes just like light rail. It doesnt cost an arm and a leg to re-route a trolley bus (no rails to dig up, see), and a broken down trolley bus can be overtaken you just pull down its trolley poles and drive round it. No-one has yet found a way to overtake a broken down tram with another tram!
Oh yes, and like trams, theyre electric. They may not be so fuel-efficient (rubber on tarmac versus steel on steel) in terms of their ability to move along, but by the time you cost-in the pollution required to manufacture all those new steel rails, plus all the extra traffic pollution you cause during the construction period, itll be a long time before any new tramway pays back its carbon debt to society.
On my way home from Finsbury Park, I had occasion to use a diesel-powered bendy-bus, ironically along a route pencilled-in for tramway-ification, and I got to thinking. Hmmm, double-decker bendy trolley buses theres nearly a train load there!