National Museums Liverpool (NML) has shared news of its development of a new transport heritage attraction, as part of Birkenhead’s successful Town Deal funding bid from Government.
The Town Deal, which saw Wirral Council being awarded £25m for a range of transformative regeneration projects in Birkenhead, will allow NML to create the new 5000 square metre attraction as part of regeneration plans for an 800m stretch of the former Dock Branch Railway line, which runs through the heart of Birkenhead Town Centre.
The Transport Shed (working title) will be central to the new Dock Branch Park; a unique urban parkland developed on the site of the now disused Dock Branch Railway Line, one of the world’s first rail freight lines opened in 1847. It will display items from NML’s 250-strong transport collection – one of the best in the UK – ensuring that these incredible examples of transport engineering are given a worthy home that has public accessibility and display at its heart.
Sandra Penketh, Executive Director of Galleries & Collections Care at NML, said, “This is an incredible opportunity for us to create a permanent home for our transport collections and to support ambitious plans for the regeneration of Birkenhead Town Centre. It will mean that we can display collections from our stores that would otherwise not be accessible to the public. Using our collection for inspiration, we will be able to support various initiatives that focus on learning, skills development and wellbeing.
“We are very much looking forward to working in partnership with Wirral Council to deliver this exciting new heritage attraction in an area steeped in UK transport history. It will be an honour as well to work in collaboration with the amazing volunteers at the Wirral Transport Museum. Our transport collections are much loved and appreciated by visitors of all ages so we hope this new attraction will bring lots of joy to many local communities as well as to new visitors to Birkenhead. We can’t wait to get started on making our plans a reality and to give these objects the pride of place they deserve.”
The new visitor attraction, joining NML’s other seven city region museums and galleries, including the Lady Lever Art Gallery in nearby Port Sunlight, will give a unique view of the innovative leading transport history of the Liverpool City Region. A nationally significant collection of visually stunning large objects will be on display, including Mersey Tunnel Pay Booths and the Mersey Railway locomotive Cecil Rakes. An outstanding selection of important commercial vehicles, horse-drawn carriages, fire engines, motorcycles and bicycles will also complement those already on display at the nearby Wirral Transport Museum, giving an overview of how people in the region lived, travelled and worked from the 1800s to the present day.
Alongside displays of the objects, there will be an on-site conservation workshop where visitors can learn how vehicles are preserved using museum-standard techniques, as well as a schools’ programme, trails, audio guides, specialist talks, open days and skills sharing for groups of all ages. Landscaping around the venue as part of the wider Dock Branch Park will create a welcoming, visitor-friendly space that can be used for demonstrations and themed gatherings such as car and steam rallies, linking with existing events including the Wirral Tram and Bus Show.
The energy-efficient venue repurposing a disused railway line will improve the built environment and protect local heritage, whilst also concentrating on ensuring post-COVID town resilience.
With the aim of attracting 200,000 visitors annually, The Transport Shed will support the regeneration of Birkenhead, as identified by Government as an area in need of economic investment to drive growth and enhance social cohesion, health and wellbeing. It will also bring programmes, activities and partnerships with the local community and groups.
Cllr Tony Jones, Chair of Wirral Council’s Economy, Regeneration and Development Committee said, “Bringing a brand-new visitor attraction to the centre of Birkenhead is something which we’re really excited about. Birkenhead is the focus for major transformation right now and projects like this which will create new experiences for residents and attract new visitors are an important part of that change.
“Wirral, and Birkenhead in particular, has a proud transport heritage which will be reflected both inside The Transport Shed, and outside in Dock Branch Park. National Museums Liverpool has an exceptional track record of running museums and galleries which keep millions of visitors coming year after year, so we’re delighted to be working with them to give these fascinating objects a permanent home in Birkenhead.”
Residents are currently being invited to have their say on the design of Dock Branch Park and The Transport Shed through Wirral Council’s Have Your Say website (https://haveyoursay.wirral.gov.uk/dock-branch-park ). Until 29 October, people can submit their ideas and views on every aspect of the park – from wildlife to travel. Work on Dock Branch Park is expected to start late 2022 and take two years to complete.
Image: (L) 1909 Burrell Traction Engine, (R) 1938 Leyland Metz © National Museums Liverpool