Museum of Transport Celebrates 50 Years in Glasgow
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Museum of Transport Celebrates 50 Years in Glasgow



Glasgow Museums is celebrating the Golden Anniversary of the opening of a Museum of Transport in Glasgow.  It comes in the same month that Glasgow’s current museum of transport, Riverside Museum, welcomed its 3 millionth visitor.

Riverside Museum, Scotland’s Museum of Transport and Travel is the new home for the city’s world-class transport and technology collection.  It is Glasgow’s third transport museum and the first purpose-built one, it opened in June 2011.  The first was opened by Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth, the Queen Mother on the site of the old tramcar works at Coplawhill on Albert Drive in 1964.  The second, at the Kelvin Hall, was officially opened by Her Royal Highness the Duchess of Gloucester in 1988.

Councillor Archie Graham, Chair of Glasgow Life, said “We are pleased to celebrate this momentous occasion.  Glasgow opened its first dedicated museum of transport in Albert Drive 50 years ago.  Since then millions of people have taken great delight in wandering around the city’s internationally renowned transport collection

“In 2011 we opened one of Glasgow’s star attractions.  The Riverside Museum is a breathtaking home for our collection and this month we welcomed our three millionth visitor.  Many of those people have very found memories of going to the Kelvin Hall or even Albert Drive and are keen to bring the new members of their family to enjoy the stunning displays in Riverside.  They not only show off the trains, cars, trams and bikes but also tell the stories of the people who made them, bought them, used them and loved them.”

Ian Stewart, a member of the Scottish Tramway and Transport Society who was present when Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth, the Queen Mother opened Albert Drive in 1964, said: "I had a second row seat at the opening and recall the Queen Mother remarking that there had never been a time when the people of Glasgow had not taken a keen interest in their public transport.  Someone had briefed her well!  Nothing much has changed today.

“In the course of her walkabout she boarded one of the older trams (No.779) and was baffled and fascinated by the leather strap-hangers.  Their function was duly explained.  Presumably they did not need them in royal carriages."

To mark the occasion a large golden 50 was placed on the beautifully restored ‘Room and Kitchen’ tram, dating from 1898, which proudly greets visitors entering Riverside Museum.  It is one of the six former city trams offered to Glasgow Museums, which resulted in the birth of Glasgow’s first, dedicated Museum of Transport.  A series of events will run throughout the coming months to celebrate the significant anniversary. 

The collection, in its earliest form, was first exhibited for the opening of the City Industrial Museum in 1870, then again at the International Exhibitions of 1888 and 1901. The profits from the 1888 exhibition paid for Kelvingrove Art Gallery and Museum, which for decades housed much of the city’s transport collection, including ship models and maritime relics.

In September 1962 Glasgow closed its tram system, six former city trams were offered to Glasgow Museums as examples of the fine transport heritage of the city.  At that time there was no space in the city which could accommodate such large objects so the search began for a suitable home for the ‘caurs’.  The old tramcarworks at Coplawhill on Albert Drive was selected and the process of converting the Victorian building began. 

The new museum was officially opened by Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth, the Queen Mother on 15 April 1964, in what had been the paint shop.  It proudly featured the trams, together with many other transport related objects that had been on display at Kelvingrove Art Gallery and Museum, including Scottish cars, horse drawn vehicles and bicycles.

Key events during the Museum of Transport’s time at Albert Drive included the opening of the railway section on 8 March 1967, which featured six main line steam locomotives from Scottish based railway companies.  Four of these are still on display* in Riverside Museum.  From 11 to 16 August 1971 an incredible 56,137 people visited the museum to see the Command Module of the Apollo 10 moon mission.  The popular model railway opened in December 1971, followed by the horse drawn gallery in 1973 and the steam and commercial road vehicles gallery in 1976.

There was much excitement when His Royal Highness Prince Charles visited on 23 February 1978 to officially open the memorable Clyde Room, the fitting new home for the many loved ship models previously housed at Kelvingrove West court since the museum opened in 1901.  The subway exhibit has consistently remained one of the most visited attractions at the museum since it opened on 14 December 1979.  It featured two subway carriages and material removed from what was Merkland Street Station (now Kelvin Hall) during the modernisation of the system in 1977.  Then after many fond years it closed its doors on 4 January 1987.  The Tramway, as it is now known, has been transformed again and is now one of Europe’s leading visual arts centres.

Glasgow’s second Museum of Transport opened at the Kelvin Hall on 21 April 1988.  Around 500,000 people visited every year, but despite its popularity, this was never meant to be a permanent home for the city’s transport treasures. The space had previously been the exhibition and conference facility for Glasgow prior to the SECC and regularly hosted, among other things, a circus.  Fluctuating temperatures, humidity and damp caused problems to some of the 1,500 objects on display and to the hundreds of thousands of objects kept in stores.

Glasgow City Council took the ambitious decision to build the first purpose-built museum of transport and travel in Scotland.  It was the first major museum built in the city since the Burrell Collection opened in 1983.   On 13 November 2007 the first sod was cut on the site chosen for Glasgow’s third museum of transport, which would be named the Riverside Museum.  After delighting visitors for over 20 years and as Riverside neared completion the site at the Kelvin Hall closed on 18 April.  It is currently undergoing a complete transformation which will see it transformed into a state-of-the-art Glasgow Club health and fitness centre and an exciting new centre of cultural excellence providing museum and archive collections’ storage, teaching and research in partnership with the University of Glasgow and the National Library of Scotland.  For the next 14 months a team moved thousands of objects, many to the new Riverside Museum and others to the new Glasgow Museums Resource Centre.

The land, which prior to Riverside was occupied by industrial sheds and commercial units, was donated to the city by Glasgow Harbour as part of the wider multi-billion-pound Clyde Waterfront regeneration.  More than 1,200 people worked on the project, with the main contractors, BAM, describing the building of the roof, which has no internal supporting columns, as the most challenging engineering feat in the UK today. An additional 3,000 people worked on the various construction contracts to build the museum and quayside public realm.

Riverside Museum, European Museum of the Year 2013, houses more than 3,000 exhibits in over 150 interactive displays.  The £84 million pound Zaha Hadid designed museum gives the objects an environmentally friendly and stable home, which will ensure the collections long-term survival, while also celebrating the magnificent influence the city and its people have played upon the world through travel, trade and transport, and all within the context of the River Clyde.  From massive steam locomotives, the Wall of Cars and the Infinite Bicycle Velodrome, to the recreation of a city street during the 1900s and a Ship Launch Show, the cathedral-like structure provides a stunning backdrop to showcase the innovation and ambition of what was the ‘Second City of the Empire’

Riverside displays many significant forms of transport that do not regularly feature in many transport museums, including prams, disability transport, Show People’s transport and skateboards.  Many objects supplement the important exhibits providing context, while others are important in their own right, such as painting of shipbuilding by LS Lowry, Muirhead Bone and Stanley Spencer.  Audrey Hepburn’s 1960’s miniskirt by Paco Rabanne sparkles alongside more affordable, everyday clothing and work wear.

Glasgow Museums travel and technology collection contains more than 21,000 objects dating from about 1700 to the present day.  This includes an unrivalled Scottish car collection, a comprehensive collection of Scottish-built locomotives, a small group of trams noted for their innovative designs and a wide variety of horse-drawn vehicles.  It has the second largest fire-engine collection in the country, a Spitfire, caravans, subway vehicles and a station, some very rare commercial vehicles and a collection of cycles that includes the oldest bicycle in the world. The ship model collection is unsurpassed anywhere in the world, and represents the revolutionary changes in shipbuilding technology that took place on the Clyde.

The bulk of the objects not on display at Riverside are stored at Glasgow Museums Resource Centre in Nitshill. GMRC is open to the public and, like all Glasgow Museums’ venues, admission is free.​

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