HISTORY FEATURE: Restoration will recognise tramway’s Victorian heritage

HISTORY FEATURE: Restoration will recognise tramway’s Victorian heritage

By Jill Theobald | 29/04/2022

HISTORY FEATURE: Restoration will recognise tramway’s Victorian heritage


JILL THEOBALD finds out about Rotherham’s link to Scarborough’s famous cliff tram, which is now being refurbished in Canklow

HISTORIC tram carriages dating back to the Victorian era have left the cliffs of North Yorkshire for the first time in decades  and are currently being restored and refurbished to protect their heritage by specialists in Rotherham.

The Scarborough Central Tramway, which last year celebrated its 140th anniversary milestone, also has a dual connection to the borough as its owner, Neil Purshouse, is the grandson of Lewis Purshouse, a former chairman of Rotherham United.

The seaside business is now in its fourth generation of family involvement and is keen for the interior and exterior restoration work undertaken by Wheel Sets UK in Canklow its biggest engineering project for more than 50 years to reflect modern technology as well as retain the proud heritage of its era.

Tramway director Amy Bartle, the granddaughter of Lewis and great-grand-daughter of his father Eric, said: “There’s a lot of history with the Purshouse family and Rotherham.

“In the late 60s, early 70s, my grandad Lewis became chairman of Rotherham United and began buying shares in the business until he owned the club.

“Eric and Lewis were in business together and Eric and his wife Edith would holiday at the Grand Hotel next to the tramway in Scarborough. It was Eric who then began buying shares in the tramway.

“There are three siblings who followed Lewis, six grandchildren and now four great-grandchildren.

“Everyone has some connection to the business, whether that’s through shares or company directors.

“Those currently actively involved are my dad Neil, Ian my uncle, Gareth my cousin and me.

“Helen Galvin also joined us last July as general manager our first female in the post at a really challenging time after Covid and as we were preparing for this, our largest engineering project in over 50 years.

“She is, importantly for us, local and has a background in transport including 20 years working for GNER as well as in heritage at Burton Agnes Hall.”

Amy (45) said: “Primarily, we’re a transport business with people traditionally using it as a service. But over the last ten years we’ve evolved and focused more on the character and Victorian heritage.

“Lots of work has been done over the years to maintain the machinery and ensure the safe running and reliability which is very important. But there was another side, too the aesthetics.

“The tramway plays a big part in Victorian history it’s a really important legacy of industrial engineering for Scarborough and the wider Yorkshire area.

“The renovations and maintenance are highly specialised and very specific and we feel we have come full circle with the work being done back in Rotherham with Wheel Sets UK, who also carry out our regular maintenance.”

The refurbishment is the family firm’s biggest engineering project since the 1970s, when carriages were damaged in the Olympia building fire on the seafront. The upgrade work includes replacing both chassis which date back to the 1930s repainting exteriors and interiors, and new emergency brakes fitted and integrated with a new modern drive system.

The carriages were removed in January and are expected to be back in operation by mid-May.

“They are being sand-blasted back to their bare elements and resprayed,” added Amy. “It’s going to look as good as it would have in 1880.

“It will be brand new but retain that character remembered by people who visited with their parents or grandparents years ago and are now bringing the next generations with them.”

The  project took 12 months of designing and planning, according to Martin Hudson, managing director of Wheel Sets UK, before the carriages and chassis were removed from their lift ropes, manually winched down the track, lifted off the tracks with a 50-tonne mobile crane and transported to their workshop in Rotherham.

He said: “The technologies supplied are state-of-the-art and fit very well within our main business of supplying specialist rail mounted vehicles to the UK and international tunnelling, leisure, and mining industries.

“Today, the operation in Scarborough is controlled by a modern computer drive and safety system that we installed and commissioned back in 2020. This has improved dramatically both safety and efficiency at the tramway. The challenge for us has been concealing key components and technologies that don’t fit the Victorian period.”

Despite the challenging nature and timescales of the project, he added: “We are confident the owners and public will be impressed by the end result.”



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