It’s hard to define exactly what the Christmas spirit is; family and community celebration perhaps? Or tinsel, carols and mince pies? Whatever it is, the Ipswich Transport Museum Christmas cracker event has it in spades, and that is where I found myself on the afternoon of Saturday 7th December.
As I entered the museum I was greeted by the sound of a brass band playing Joy to the World, which is always a good way to start getting you into the aforementioned Spirit.
As I paid my admission I noticed a child receiving five old English pennies to spend in the museum, this is a yearly tradition I later discovered, allowing the children to spend their 5d on treats and attractions – from a visit to Santa’s grotto to rides on vintage vehicles.
I began my perusing of the Transport Museum displays to the background sound of carols supplied by the brass band. This was great, providing the warm sensation of a Salvation Army band without the cold, rushed, last-minute Christmas shopping induced panic, that usually accompanies hearing them in the street outside Debenhams. Instead, I could take my time examining the huge amounts of transportation devices on display, from the motorised to the pedal powered. I looked around and learned a little about Ipswich Engineering, and then I looked up and saw bicycles, lots of bicycles, all hanging in a central line from the rafters of the building.
Established in 1965, Ipswich Transport Museum is the home of all things mechanical made and used in Ipswich over its history, and with companies such as Ransomes and Rapier having made Ipswich their base over the years it turns out this is quite a lot.
The museum is impressively run entirely by volunteers. One such volunteer is John Griffiths, who I found standing next to a miniature railway village, complete with train chuffing smoke, endlessly circling its rails, as if finding it impossible to locate an appropriate spot to stop. We got talking and he enthusiastically began to tell me about the Transport Museum’s latest major project – the affectionately named ‘Operation Firewood’ – restoring a 1890s tram, which was until recently being used as someone’s shed, back to its former glory.
John is a man with an encyclopaedic knowledge of horse-drawn and electric trams. He could, and did, speak with interest on the subject for half an hour, but realising the limited time I had before the museum closed, I extricated myself from the conversation in order to see what else the museum had to offer.
One of the things Children could spend their 5d on was a Clementine from a mobile grocery vehicle, which was today being manned by one of my colleagues from the Colchester and Ipswich Museum Service. As I walked over to meet her, Brian, another volunteer, appeared and my colleague introduced us to each other. Upon hearing my connection to the museum service, he kindly offered to take me on an interesting behind the scenes tour of the museum; viewing the stores and hearing plans for future development. When we walked into the museum office Brian was keen to point out their computerised documentation system, which they had created from scratch themselves, and I was yet again impressed with the level of commitment the museum elicited from its volunteers.
It was time to fully embrace the Christmas transport spirit and experience the delights of a vintage vehicle in motion. I plumped for a bright red 1960s fire engine. A young boy sat in the driver’s passenger seat in front of me taking every opportunity to ring the engine’s bell as loudly as he could, clearly enjoying the rare opportunity to create as much noise as possible whilst being praised for doing so by adults.
I left the hanger feeling pretty Christmassy and very impressed with the friendly and welcoming volunteer army that made the event, and the museum itself for that matter, possible.
So the Transport Museum is great. It goes without saying, but I thoroughly recommend a visit. Oh, and one last thing. MERRY CHRISTMAS!