Travelling back to transport history

Road and rail history is a significant part of the heritage sector. Much has been preserved for future generations to see, and often ride on. Carrie Drage takes a look at some of the attractions in the UK and Europe where groups can re-live past modes of travel.

Vehicles from the collection at Grampian Transport Museum.

Vehicles from the collection at Grampian Transport Museum.

Transport and mobility have played an indispensable role in the growth of human civilisation, the spread of activity nationally and internationally and the development of modern cities. Indeed, the experiences of travel through the ages retain a fascination that ensures collections of transport heritage are ever popular attractions.

Motoring memories

A group touring the National Railway Museum in York.

A group touring the National Railway Museum in York.

Britain’s motoring heritage, from the earliest pioneering times to the present day, is particularly well preserved at the many UK road transport museums.
At Sparkford, in Somerset, more than 400 cars and bikes, from 1885 to the present day, are displayed at the Haynes International Motor Museum. Look out for performance cars like the Dodge Viper and Jaguar E Type, as well as a large collection of American cars, including a V16 Cadillac and million-dollar Duesenberg. Groups of 15 or more receive discounted entry to the museum and a free tour.
Meanwhile, coach parties visiting Beaulieu’s National Motor Museum, in Hamphire, will have two brand new tours available to them in 2011. ‘The Story of Speed’ focuses on the museum’s world land speed record breaking cars, like Donald Campbell’s ‘Bluebird’, to learn about the progress of technology and those that continually challenge the boundaries. ‘To the Chequered Flag’ looks at motor racing history, from its inception in the early 1900s to modern F1 racers. An all-inclusive ticket for entry to each of Beaulieu’s attractions can be purchased.
Brooklands Museum in Weybridge is the birthplace of British motor racing and aviation and, once you step inside the gates, it’s like being transported back in time. The 1907 banked track, some 70% of which remains to this day, was the first purpose-built motor racing circuit in the world, and the site was also used for aircraft production by companies such as Vickers, Hawker, BAC and British Aerospace. Exhibits include a 1933, 24-litre Napier-Railton racing car. Another highlight is the 1907 club house, which has been restored to how it looked in its 1930s heyday. From July, the site will also become the permanent home of the Cobham Bus Museum. Groups of 15 or more receive discounts; guided tours can be arranged.
In the Midlands, the Heritage Motor Centre in Warwickshire has a collection of over 250 historic British cars, alongside exhibitions that uncover the story of the British motor industry from the 1890s to the present day. The Centre also boasts outdoor activities including go-karts and an upgraded Land Rover off-road experience for 2011. Discounted entry is offered for groups of 12 plus, along with reduced rates in the cafe.

Bicycles on display at Coventry Transport Museum.

Bicycles on display at Coventry Transport Museum.

To discover how Coventry became the centre of the world’s motor and cycle industries, visit Coventry Transport Museum. Laid out as a journey through time, the experience begins in 19th century Britain where visitors will discover the first bicycles, carriages and cars. The Museum is also home to the current Land Speed Record holding vehicle – ThrustSSC. Why not experience for yourself what it’s like to travel through the sound barrier at over 760 miles per hour in the ThrustSSC simulator. TheMuseum is free to enter and guided tours can be pre-booked.
Hull’s Streetlife Museum is a rather impressive collection of transport history, focusing particularly on the early days of horse-drawn transport and cycling.

Going loco

Nowadays, we take rail travel for granted but a visit to one of the UK’s railway museums or heritage railways will remind us why building the first railways was such a remarkable achievement.
In the heart of Hampshire, the Mid-Hants Railway, also known as the ‘Watercress Line’, transports passengers along 10 miles of track between Alresford and Alton. To add to the experience, why not arrange lunch or afternoon tea for your members onboard the steam train. Available on mid-week services between May and September, there are a variety of meal options to suit all budgets. Group discounts apply to 15 or more people.
Covering 300 years of railway history, the National Railway Museum in York is home to the majestic Duchess of Hamilton and the imposing Chinese Locomotive, one of the largest steam engines ever built in Britain. There is also the chance to watch engineers at work in the conservation workshops and a working turntable in action in the Great Hall. Admission to the museum is free and it is well worth joining a Warehouse Tour to discover an Aladdin’s Cave of railway memorabilia.

An engine on display at Locomotion – The National Railway Museum in Shildon.

An engine on display at Locomotion – The National Railway Museum in Shildon.

Meanwhile, time has stood still at Head of Steam, Darlington Railway Museum, housed within the original North Road Station built in 1842, complete with period style entrance hall and ticket office. Visitors can see Stephenson’s Locomotion Number One, built in 1825 for the opening of the Stockton & Darlington Railway, and the Derwent, the earliest surviving Darlington built locomotive. Every 11th person gets in free and guided tours can be booked in advance of your visit.

It was from Shildon, in County Durham, in 1825, that the world’s first steam-hauled passenger train departed on its historic journey. Therefore it is fitting that one of the first and greatest railway towns is the setting for Locomotion – The National Railway Museum in Shildon. There are more than 70 vehicles on display at the museum including the original Sans Pareil – Timothy Hackworth’s pioneering locomotive from the famous 1829 Rainhill Trials. To get an insight into the collection and Shildon’s history as a railway town, book your group on a guided tour of the museum.

Urban journeys

The capital’s transport heritage on display at the London Transport Museum.

The capital’s transport heritage on display at the London Transport Museum.

Urban transport has its own fascinating story and there are museums to tell it.
Situated in the heart of Covent Garden, London Transport Museum explores how the capital’s transport systems have influenced and shaped the lives and culture of people living and working in the city. The Museum features vehicles from the past and present including a red London Routemaster bus and the world’s first Underground steam train. Special group rates apply.
Just outside Matlock in Derbyshire, Crich Tramway Village is home to the National Tramway Museum, with exhibitions tracing the history of the tram from the earliest horse-drawn tramways to the electricity revolution. Visitors can also watch as trams are restored from the Workshop Viewing Gallery. Outside, vintage trams run regularly through the attraction’s period streets, past historic buildings and out into the open countryside for views of the Derwent Valley. Groups of 10 or more get a discounted rate.
Housed in a former bus garage, complete with its original transport offices, Greater Manchester’s Museum of Transport has one of Britain’s biggest collections of restored trams, buses and coaches. There are 90 vehicles altogether ranging from an elaborately painted Victorian open-top horse-drawn bus, circa 1890, to the streamlined prototype of Manchester’s Metrolink tram. Group visits can be made outside normal opening times and there is a special group admission price.

A vintage bus at Greater Manchester’s Museum of Transport.

A vintage bus at Greater Manchester’s Museum of Transport.

A stylish riverside development will be the new home for the Museum of Transport, in Glasgow, when it re-opens in spring 2011, replacing the old site at Kelvin Hall. With double the exhibition space, the new venue will provide greater access to the museum’s collections. Visitors will be able to see the world’s oldest bicycle, remnants of the earliest steam ships, locomotives, trams, ship models and much more. The displays will also focus on the stories, memories and experiences of real people, from Spitfire pilots to engineering entrepreneurs. Entry to the museum is free; audio and guided tours can be arranged for groups.
Also in Scotland, the Grampian Transport Museum, in Aberdeenshire, has a changing display of historically important vehicles, including the Craigievar Express (a steam-powered tricycle built in 1895), the Albion fire engine and Cruden Bay tram.
Exhibitions to look out for in 2011 include ‘The Coaching Era’, a study into the lives and times of mail and stage coach proprietors (1790 – 1915), and ‘Cars for the Future’, which probes the future of the car, with a look at some of the more outrageous sci-fi predictions. Discounted admission is offered for groups of 12 or more, along with talks and tours.
Set in 60 acres of countryside just outside Belfast, the Ulster Folk & Transport Museum illustrates the way life used to be and the pace it was lived at. The development of communications systems in Ulster is explored in the museum’s transport galleries, which hold a collection of authentic steam locomotives, horse-drawn carriages, electric trams, buses, fire engines, vintage sports cars and more. The story of aviation is also documented in the ‘X2 Flight Experience’ which, as well as featuring historic planes, has a state of the art eight-seater flight simulator. Groups of 15 or more receive a 10% discount.

Road and Rail Heritage in Europe

Transport systems play a major role in every community the world over and there are some major historic attractions waiting to be discovered in Continental Europe.
In Germany, the displays at Munich’s Deutsches Museum: Transport Museum tackle topics like the future of urban transport, how travel has become a part of our lifestyle and holiday-making, and the mechanics behind modern vehicle technology. Admission is discounted for groups of 20 or more; English language tours can also be booked.
At the Cité de l’Automobile, in Mulhouse, France, a former woollen mill has been transformed into a world-class motor museum showcasing a European car collection started by the Schlumpf brothers. There are over 400 models on display including sports cars like the 1908 Panhard-Levassor, 1957 Maserati 250F and 1963 Lotus type 33, as well as prestigious motor cars like the 1924 Rolls Royce Silver Ghost that once belonged to Charlie Chaplin. Again, visitors are offered a free audio guide inclusive in the ticket price.
Housed in a 19th century tramway depot, Brussels Tram Museum has a collection of more than 60 vehicles dating from 1868 to the present day. On weekends and bank holidays, visitors can ride on a vintage tram to Tervuren, whilst on Sundays, the volunteers run a historical tour of Brussels. Commentaries in English can be provided on request.

Germany celebrates 125 years

It was in 1886 that Carl Benz patented the first motor car in Stuttgart and, to commemorate this moment in history, Germany will host a number of exciting events in 2011.
The Baden-Württemberg region around Stuttgart, in particular, is where the motor car was born and grew up, and a highpoint of the anniversary year will be the Summer of Cars featuring 125 days of automobile-related activities. For instance, visitors will be able to follow the Bertha Benz Memorial Route, commemorating the first long-distance trip from Mannheim to Pforzheim, in 1888, undertaken by Carl Benz’s wife, Bertha.
The Baden-Württemberg region is also home to more than 40 car and technology museums, which will be offering plenty of motoring experiences for visitors to enjoy too. In Stuttgart, the extensive and impressive Mercedes-Benz Museum, where the very first patent motor car is on show, and the Porsche Museum, bringing together historical and contemporary knowledge of the brands history, are among the best known.
Meanwhile, just outside the city, the Meilenwerk is another hugely popular attraction comprising a museum, sports car exhibition and workshop rolled into one. There’s even a car-themed hotel!
Elsewhere in Germany, look out for Volkswagen’s flagship Autostadt theme park in Wolfsburg and the Audi Forum in Ingolstadt, Bavaria. There is also BMW World in Munich, which encompasses an exhibition, car collection centre, brand experience and museum. At Volkswagen’s Transparent Factory in Dresden, visitors can watch the assembly of the premium-class Phaeton, whilst the August Horch Museum in Zwickau chronicles the history of carmaking in this industrial town. Another highlight is the Car & Technology Museum in Sinsheim, home to Europe’s biggest Formula 1 exhibition. All these attractions and more will be part of the celebrations.