Streetlife Museum of Transport

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Off High Street, this is part of the ‘Museum quarter’ in the Old Town. Outside to whet the appetite, is a 1880s pitch cart used to heat pitch for street repairs, a 1921 land excavator and a Hull timber bogie, the last survivor of the several hundreds built at the end of the 19thC for the dock railways to carry timber. Inside the door is a bright yellow bubblecar – remember those?

Doors lead through to the STREETSCENE GALLERY set in an unspecified time from the early/mid 20thC. My eye was caught by the splendid 1909 Hull Corporation Double decker tram. Behind it is a beautifully preserved wooden tramcar belonging to Ryde Pier Tramcar Corporation. It was built from mahogany and teak in 1867 and was in service until 1935, having been converted from horse to steam and eventually petrol. By then it was the oldest working tramcar in the country and only came out of service after being damaged beyond repair when it was pushed into the end of the pier. There are beautifully carved panels of oak leaves and acorns at the corners with the RPC monogram. Wooden seats down the sides have thick padded cushions.

In pride of place in the street is a 1949 Regal III half cab. Hanging from the ceiling is a 1928 Blackburn F2 Lincock biplane. These were made in east Yorkshire and were designed as a light fighter plane and were popular for their aerobatic capabilities. Tucked in a corner is a Morris Commercial van dating from 1951 which was used as a mobile hardware shop delivering paraffin to homes and businesses.

The shops are a blast of the past. The shelves of the cycle shop are full of boxes of brake blocks and cycle tubes. The chemist is an Aladdin’s cave of boxes, packets and tins with intriguing labels. What could tinct catechum or tinct cinchon have been used for…There were boxes of Drummer blue dyes – remember those on washdays? There was cod liver oil, tonic elixirs, blood purifiers and bottles of compound of syrup of hypophosphites, whatever that is.

The Hull Co-Operative Store was much more familiar with displays of CWS cornflakes, cremo oats, flaked rice, semolina and table jelly (in the most enormous boxes) in the window. Inside there is the usual selection of dry goods on the shelves and some fruit and veg on the counter. Bread, cheese, butter and bacon were so from a separate marble topped counter. And there were stands of open fronted tins of biscuits.

There is also a small sweet shop with shelves full of jars of sweets and peep show machines scattered around the museum.

Half way along the street scene is a level crossing with gates, which marks the start of the small RAILWAY GALLERY. The signal box from Cottingham North has the levers and token machines but no track diagrams. There is no written information although a large box TV from the 1950s is showing a vintage video about the work of a signalman.

According to the information board, the small green shunting loco from 1957 has a vertical boiler, vertical high speed steam engine chain drive to the wheels. I wasn’t much the wiser. It was popular for shunting as it could generate steam very quickly and could be operated by one man. Behind it is a goods wagon on a loading dock with goods being unloaded onto a delivery truck.

There are some small models of steam locos, platform ticket machine, mile posts and a display case of railwayana including lamp, buttons, whistles and an oil can. There is an ornamental wheelbarrow in the shape of a rhinoceros and spade used mark the building of the Hull to Hornsby Railway in 1862. The rhinoceros was the Wade family crest and Wade was chairman of the company.

Behind the Streetscene Gallery is the MOTOR CAR GALLERY. This has an esoteric collection of cars dating from the turn of the 19thC, but little from after this. Tucked away in a corner is a Morris 8 from 1939 and a Morris Minor 1000 van from 1967. There are a couple of old petrol pumps.

There is a Sturmey Voiturette from 1900 which is the only one of its kind ever made to test a three speed epicyclic gear box, which was later developed into the Sturmey Archer gear used in many motor cycles.

The Cleveland Buttery electric car from 1901 was popular as it was clean and easy to start and didn’t require much mechanical knowledge. However the batteries were very heavy and it had disappeared by the First World War.

There are two steam cars – the Gardener-Serpollet and the White Stanhope, both from 1901. Again they only lasted a few years before the petrol engine took over.

A motor wagonette from 1899 by Panard et Lavassor. At the time this was an innovative design with the engine in front with clutch and gear box in line with the drive wheels. This successfully established the design layout of the majority of modern cars.

There is a 1880-1900 horse drawn hearse, with rollers on the base to help load and unload the coffin. Edging round the roof helped keep wreathes in place.

For those wanting to relive their youth, there is a vintage car experience ride for £1. For the kids there is Postman Pat.

By the stairs leading to the Carriage and Cycle Galleries is a Priestman oil engine from 1894 is the only surviving example of the first internal combustion engine to successfully use heavy oil, a safer alternative to petrol. It could be used for any driving purpose and was used into power boats and vehicles. It was also used in construction, agriculture and manufacturing.

At the top of the stairs is Lady Chesterfield’s sleigh, a real bit of fun dating from 1810. shapes as a unicorn with a bird’s head at the front, she used it on the Nunburnholme Estate near Pocklington.

There are good views from the first floor across the tidal river Humber and of Arctic Corsair, one of Hull’s last sidewinder trawlers docked outside the museum and only open in the summer months.

The CARRIAGE GALLERY has an excellent collection of horse drawn carriages and if you want to know the difference is between a Victoria, Brougham or Hansom cab, this is the place to come. Along the walls are paintings and display of horse bridles and there is a reconstruction of a carriage workshop.

There is a dress chariot from 1860 made by Laurie and Marner of London and belonging to the Earls of Yarborough. It was based at their London home and used on state occasions. This could be a model for Cinderella’s coach. Next to it is a smaller 1860s state or dress coach which carried four people and was pulled by six horses.

In stark contrast is the stage coach which is piled high with parcels.

Much more comfortable is the 1825 travelling chariot which was used as a private vehicle by the rich on long journeys, changing horses and post boys along the way. Beware of the recording dog barking when you approach this. It is very realistic…

There are examples of a 1889 bow fronted hansom cab and a 1880 Victoria, named after Queen Victoria who favoured it. It is an elegant carriage and was fashionable until the 1900s. It had no doors so not only was it easy to get into, the ladies could also display their skirts.

There is an 1820s cabriolet, a light and fast carriage which was often a status symbol of the gentry and pulled by a large and expensive horse.

The Brougham from 1880 was used by business men and professionals who wanted a less expensive carriage. This came in two or four seat versions. Many only needed one horse to pull them and luggage could be put on the roof. They often had a speaking tube to communicate with the horseman.

The BICYCLE GALLERY starts with a 1890s triplet (which predated the Goodies trandem by 80 years). It was bought by young men pooling their money and was popular for racing.

There are examples of racing bikes, tricycles, penny farthings and even an 1818 hobby horse with a padded arm rest to let the rider steady himself when propelling the machine forward. The velocipede or bone shaker was well named. It could achieve speeds of up to 8 miles an hour. Manuals suggested the rider run alongside and vault into the saddle once it was moving. The size of the front wheel made the pedal action unpleasantly fast and the rider also had to resist the sideways motion as they pressed down on the pedals.

Unfortunately there is little information about many of the machines and little attempt to display in sequence or look at their development.

TO SUM UP The Streetlife Museum is a bit like the curates egg, hence the overall 3.5* rating. It is a bit of a rabbit warren and there is no set route. It is easy to miss some of the galleries. The Carriage Gallery probably has the most comprehensive selection of vehicles.

Overall there is rather a limited range of exhibits. The Motor Car Gallery specialises in the quirky and there is virtually nothing from after the First World War. There is no attempt to trace the development of the motor car in the 20thC. This is also a failing of the Bicycle Gallery which does have a range of machines covering 150 years+.

Railway fans are likely to be disappointed too with just the one loco. Railways were an essential part of the efficient functioning of the docks but you wouldn’t know it from here and there isn’t much information about railways in the Maritime Museum either. There was limited written information about the exhibits. I enjoyed my visit but came away not being sure what the museum was trying to achieve. Entry is free.

Visit website about the museum.

Visit website about the bicycle and car cllection.

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