In an old quarry in Derbyshire, children are being transported back to Victorian times. Andy Farquarson reports.
It could be a scene from a pre-war British movie: a gaggle of chattering schoolchildren board a tram, the conductor rings his bell and, with its wheels squealing on the steel rails, the gaily painted vehicle rattles off over the granite sets. But these youngsters bear all the hallmarks of our new century - Westlife satchels, Nike trainers and decidedly modern haircuts. They are on a trip back through time at the National Tramway Museum at Crich in Derbyshire.
Set in a disused quarry, the open-air museum's centrepiece is a full-size reconstruction of a period city street, complete with shops, a tile-fronted Victorian pub, elaborate cast-iron street furniture and a host of enamel advertising plaques.
Needless to say, rails thread the street and trams rumble under the overhead power wires on their stately progress along the museum's mile of track. The collection includes more than 70 trams (of which nearly half are in operational order), a maintenance workshop, numerous displays and exhibitions, as well as tearooms, a shop, picnic area and nature trail.
The museum charts the history of tram travel in Britain from the late 19th century, through its inter-war heyday to its virtual disappearance in the Sixties (although trams are making a comeback in cities such as Manchester, Newcastle, Birmingham and Sheffield). The vehicles themselves represent the whole gamut of 20th-century development, from the ornate brass and polished mahogany of the 1900s to the sleek modernity of the Fifties. The paint-schemes also reflect changes down the years - the intricate signwriting, coach-lining and bright colours beloved of the Edwardians giving way to the more sombreand utilitarian liveries of post-war Britain.
The museum is ideal for an educational visit, as Virginia Atkinson, headteacher at Monyash primary school, Derbyshire, explains. "We took the whole school - 60 pupils from four-year-olds up to 11. The educational content of our visit was excellent and the museum's education team were very supportive. They understood the curriculum requirements and helped us tailor our visit.
"There was so much to see, as well as hands-on activities and role-play - it really brought history to life for the youngsters."
Each child is given a halfpenny to buy a ticket from the conductor which entitles them to as many tram rides as they want.
"I'd recommend a visit to any colleagues in primary or secondary schools," says Mrs Atkinson. Two weeks after the visit, the museum's educationofficer visits the school to getfeedback.
The museum's exhibits provide material for all ages and subjects from industrial history to maths, CDT and health and safety. For A-level and higher education students, the museum's library is a valuable resource. Its collection of books, pamphlets, journals and magazines, reports and Acts of Parliament covers the history of British and overseas tramways.
The National Tramway Museum is 15 miles north of Derby, 8 miles from J28 on the M1 and is signposted from the A6 and A38. There is parking for coaches. Whatstandwell station is 1 mile away. There are buses to Crich from Matlock and Belper stations. Opening: Jan-March, Nov and Dec - Sundays and Mondays, 10:30 to 16:00; April-October, daily 10:00 to 17:30. Group discounts available. Free pre-visits for teachers of pre-booked schools. School activity packs are available for key stages 1 and 2. Other material is available, talks can be arranged.