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Weekend: Full steam ahead; Some of Birmingham's most impressive artefacts are on the move. Ross Reyburn keeps pace.

Byline: Ross Reyburn

Birmingham will be presented with a temporary tourist attraction this morning when the great City of Birmingham steam locomotive makes a 21/1 mile journey through the city centre on a low loader.

It is costing around pounds 25,000 - or pounds 10,000 per mile - to take the awesome 1939 survivor of the age of steam from the old Birmingham Museum of Science & Industry in Newhall Street to its new home at the Discovery Centre at Millennium Point in Curzon Street the other side of the city centre.

For three long years, the massive 97-ton locomotive has remained motionless behind the huge glass windows at the shut-down museum and it will be finally on view again permanently when the Discovery Centre opens in September 2001.

Last weekend, Birmingham's last surviving electric tramcar, which dates back to 1911, was hoisted through the roof of the museum for its departure.

A similar scenario is expected with the vast locomotive, which ceased service i n 1964 after covering 1,650,000 miles.

'Lots of people who saw it come in in 1966 will want to come and see it moved again,' said Jim Andrew, the collections manager for the Discovery Centre.

'It is one of the three survivors of the most powerful class of passenger steam locomotive used in the UK.

'The suggested route through the centre is intended to have impact. The journey will probably take three quarters of an hour.'

Today's move is another stage in the pounds 200,000 operation moving the much-prized historic exhibits from the old science museum.

The impressive list includes Boulton & Watt's historic Smethwick beam engine, the oldest surviving working steam engine in the world, the 1944 Mark IX Spitfire built at the Castle Bromwich, Birmingham City Tram No. 395 and John Cobb's Napier Railton car that broke the world land speed record in the USA in August 1939.

'This museum has a fantastic collection of significant items which illustrates how science and technology changed our lives in the past,' said Jonathan Bryant, the Discovery Centre's chief executive.

'It is interesting how the Discovery Centre will be different in some respects from this museum. We will be taking the best of the items here and represent those to the public in the main hall.

'The middle hall will look at science surrounding our lives today. In the futures area, we will be asking we looking at the implications of what science will be doing in the future.'

Birmingham City Council is supporting the new centre in the same way it supported the old science museum by providing an annual pounds 1.7 million subsidy.

'What is going to be available for the residents of Birmingham is a spanking brand new and up-to-date science centre,' said Bryant, one of the British museum scene's high flyers who was responsible for the award-winning River & Rowing Museum at Henley-on-Thames.

Nick Fraser, the man responsible for the new museum, has already given the up-beat prediction it will be better than the Dome and better than the Science Museum could ever be because it will have things people will really want to see. The annual visitor prediction is 300,000, a similar figure to that of the science museum.

Older Brummies will no doubt find it disturbing they have to pay to see the Discovery Centre whereas the science museum was free. However the days of the totally subsidised museum appear to have disappeared and Jonathan Bryant views their departure as an end to mediocrity.

'If you charge admission, it keeps the management attitude on the right track,' he said. 'It also gives that institution some discretion and flexibility of what it does with its resources, which is very important.

'You don't have the dead hand of the state interfering every five minutes. We have to put on shows the public respond to.

'We will be making special arrangements for Birmingham people to enable them to come and use the facilities as many times as they want.'

Bryant doubts the validity of many of the visitor figures for museums charging no admission.

'If you charge to go to a museum, you no longer stand on the door with a clipper and say: 'We've had four people in today' and suddenly make it 400,' he said.

He is also bitterly critical of culture minister Chris Smith's proposal to charge visitors to national museums just pounds 1.

'The Secretary of State for Culture is about to disadvantage regional museums by introducing a 'Quids in' policy for national museums,' he said. 'There will be nothing to help us make our admission charge even lower for the general public.

'Why should people in the south-east be advantaged? He should keep his nose out of it and not be such an interfering old busybody.'

The decision to close the old science museum for what will be a total of four years has proved controversial.

'The early closure was very much tied up with the budget situation of three years ago,' recalled Andrew. 'Another factor was that it was it was getting dodgy on safety grounds.

'Parts of the building are 180 years old. Sections were closed in the summer because it was too hot - the security staff had thermometers. There was vegetation growing out of the brickwork and we did occasionally have to close sections because of leaks from the roof.'

Watt's Smethwick Engine (1779), the oldest working engine in the world run by a boiler plant, and the Murray Engine of 1805, the third oldest steam engine in this category, will both be be at the Discovery Centre with working displays staged.

The 1892 Ruston Proctor portable steam engine, which was used for the Elan Valley reservoir scheme, will also be on display. 'It can't work inside the building because it burns coal and it will fill the place with smoke,' said Andrew. 'We will be taking it out on special events.'

Generations of visitors were treated to the sight of the great City of Birmingham locomotive being moved up and down a small length of track by a hydraulic ramp. At the Discovery Centre, the exhibit will be static. The reason is the engine and tender are being separated so visitors, including those in wheelchairs, get a closer view of the famous locomotive.

'On high days and holidays at the Science Museum, we used to let people on the footplate but wheelchairs were totally out,' said Andrew. 'The intention is to separate the engine and the tender enough to get a wheelchair between them.

'So there will be a ramping arrangement there, which ought to get people up so they can actually get in to see the footplate.'

A third to half of the larger items on display at the old museum will have a place in the Discovery Centre. One major exhibit that won't make the new venue is a vast bottle-making machine.

'It was a decision I made,' said Bryant looking at the daunting object. 'It was built in America, it never worked in the West Midlands and to me it has no significance in the story we are telling.'

A Heritage Lottery grant is being sought to create a Collections Resource Centre at Eastside so the city's museum reserve collections are not hidden away.

'You store all the reserve material in buildings with workshops for conservation,' said Andrew. 'You arrange it so there is much improved access for academics.

'You have open days when you allow the public in. Thirdly you can use the large loading bay to stage weekend exhibitions.'

Museum audiences in Birmingham have significantly changed since the science museum opened back in 1950.

'In 1950, the museum was set up 'to display historical machinery for the technically knowledgable',' said Andrew.

'When I came here 25 years ago, if you had a family group there would be someone who had worked in industry with some of the exhibits and they would do their own interpreting. There are fewer peopled in the groups we get in now who have had any contact with industrial science.'

The advantage the Discovery Centre will have over the old science museum is modern technology will be used to bring the exhibits alive. People will be able to see a film clip of John Cobb's record-breaking drive.

'If somebody asks about the arrangement for changing gear or what John Cobb had for breakfast on the morning of his record-breaking run, we can tell them,' said Andrew.

'We will have an arrangement where the car can be raised up or dropped down again so people can look at the technical side of the car.'

A museum on the move

The City of Birmingham steam locomotive is being moved from the old Birmingham Museum of Science & Industry in Newhall Street to Millennium Point in Curzon Street site this morning.

Newhall Street will be closed between Charlotte Street and Fleet Street from 4am until around 5pm. Winching the 97-ton locomotive on a low loader will start about 8am and it is expected to start its 21/1 mile journey to the site of its new home at The Discovery Centre at Millennium Point around 11am.

The best view of the operation will be in Newhall Street itself while Great Charles Street will also offer good vantage points. The route to Millennium Point is via George Street, Newhall Hill, Summer Row, Paradise Circus, Great Charles Street, St Chad's, Lancaster Circus, James Watt Queensway, Jennens Road, Lawley Middleway and finally to Curzon Street.

The estimated time of journey is 30 minutes to an hour. The 29-ton tender and the length of track on which the vast locomotive has stood since 1966 will follow later on the same journey. Tomorrow City of Birmingham will be winched into place at its new home but there is no public access to the site and street views are somewhat restricted.


Jonathan Bryant the Discovery Centre's chief executive is excited to inherit the Birmingham Museum of Science & Industry's legacy such as the City of Birmingham locomotive, but is also looking forward to involving the public in a dialogue about science in the future Birmingham's last surviving electric tramcar, which dates back to 1911, was hoisted through the roof of the museum for its departure Top, Watt's Smethwick Engine (1779), the oldest working engine in the world run by a boiler plant; a Mark IX Spitfire built at Castle Bromwich on its way to the Science Museum in 1958; the City of Birmingham locomotive will be moving to its new site at the Discovery Centre today
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Publication:The Birmingham Post (England)
Date:Dec 2, 2000
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