Crich Tramway Village

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This review is designed to give some background information about Crich Tramway Village and more detail about the site. It should be read alongside the review I wrote about our visit.

Trams were first introduced from the united States in 1840 and quickly proved a great improvement on the horse driven carriages. Rails gave a much smoother ride on the rough road surfaces of the day.

Early vehicles were horse drawn and the museum has exhibits of trams from Chesterfield & Brampton, Sheffield Corporation (still in running order) as well as Cardiff. This open top double decker tram must have been a bit of a novelty when first introduced as there is a notice at the front warning passengers to “remain seated under bridges”.

The introduction of electric traction led to rapid development of tramway systems in towns and villages throughout the country. Everywhere aspired to a tram system as the tram was the first vehicle to provide cheap urban transport for the masses. By the 1920s there were over 14,000 tramcars in operation.

Most got their electricity from overhead wires. In London, to appease those who objected strongly to a proliferation of poles and overhead wires, the electricity was picked up from conduits between the rails. A conductor known as a ‘plough’ beneath the tram fitted down between the rails to make contact with the underground electricity conductor.

A few other companies used a stud contact system. The current was fed to a conductor beneath the road. Studs were set in the road surface at intervals between the rails. As the tram passes over them, a skate collector beneath the tram depressed the stud as it passed over, so picking up the current. These proved unpopular as the studs had a tendency to remain live after the tram had passed. They were also liable to burst into flames. Examples of the studs can be seen between the rails from the workshop into the yard.

By the Second World War, trams were regarded as old fashioned and uncomfortable. They were disappearing to be replaced by buses and trolley buses. The last trams ran in the early 1960s.

In 1948, a small group of enthusiasts were concerned about the disappearance of the trams and began to collect and preserve trams. The Tramway Museum Society was founded in 1955.They acquired the present premises in 1959 from the closed Cliff Quarry Company. This included a section of mineral railway from the quarry which had been built by George Stephenson.

The Museum now has a fleet of over 70 trams. A few are still undergoing restoration. This can cost between £300,000 to £500,000 for a vehicle. The rest have been immaculately restored and many are in running condition. These can be seen in the Tram Depot and the Great Exhibition Hall which has a display of trams from the 1870s to some of the last trams to be built in Europe in the 1960s.

During the day, trams run a regular service along a mile of track. To give visitors a feel of what it was like, the society has rebuilt a replica of a typical tramway street using building and artefacts rescued from around the country. The stone flags on the pavements are from Leeds. The granite setts on the road are from Glasgow. Gas lamps come from Oldham. The splendid iron gates across the frontage are from the Great Central Railways London terminus at Marylebone. Most of the poles, wires and overheads are from trolleybus systems.

The Eagle Press is in the weigh bridge from the quarry. The Derby Assembly Room Facade is the first building you see as you approach the museum. The Red Lion Pub with its splendid tile frontage came from Stoke.

Street furniture came from all over the country and includes a Victorian post box, Gents pissoir, cattle trough and drinking fountain, bandstand, Metropolitan Police box (Tardis for fans of Dr Who) as well as the only button A & B phone in Britain still working on the British Telecom system. Don’t miss the School sign still with its beacon symbol.

This makes an excellent day out. Do try and choose a sunny day. The museum has made a point of providing disabled access to all of the buildings and also runs a special access tram for those in wheelchairs. Ask at the ticket office when you arrive for details, or the inspector in the Tramway village.

Tickets seem expensive at first, but give you free admision for the rest of the year. There are reductions for deniors and very good concessions for the disabled.

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