This post was originally published at Bit About Britain.
Bit About Britain is a gem of a blog that will give you detailed tours of historical places in Britain, many of them now little known.
Please do visit, especially if you are a history buff!
Here’s one for the petrol-heads. Though, to be fair, you don’t need to know anything about brake horsepower in order to admire this splendid, eclectic, collection of wheeled vehicles and associated bits and bobs. Plus, given that the English Lake District is prone to dampness (well, it would be, wouldn’t it?), the Lakeland Motor Museum is a great wet weather option when you can’t manage to heave yourself up Helvellyn, or scramble up Scafell.
Once upon a time, cars were less of a necessity, more of a luxury. Most people walked, rode a bike, or caught a ‘bus or tram; longer journeys were taken by train. So the motor-car sat on the drive or street, not doing much most of the week. Perhaps, in the early days, when love was new, they’d get a buffing on Saturday. On Sunday, father might fold his paper, knock his pipe on the ashtray, and say, “I know, mother, let’s take the car out”. And so they did, though who was treating who it’s hard to say. I’m rambling; gleaming bodies and the heady aroma of oil and leather can do all sorts of things to a person.
Anyway, if you’re of a certain age, some of the cars of yesteryear and the old enamelled tin advertising signs at the Lakeland Motor Museum will be curiously recognisable. Rather like a bunch of old friends you’d completely forgotten about. Some, you won’t be able to place immediately, but then the fog will clear and you’ll be back wrapping coke cans round blown exhausts and breaking eggs into leaking radiators. So be prepared: there could be a wee bit of nostalgia for times when petrol was 4/6d a gallon (22½p) and motorway service stations were jolly thrilling places to spend a day out in (aren’t they still?). The Lakeland Motor Museum has an amazing collection of car mascots too. In fact, it claims to have “perhaps the largest collection of motoring memorabilia on public view in the UK.” All I can say is – perhaps it does…
One thing the Lakeland Motor Museum definitely does have is an enormous collection of pushbikes. Presumably, someone has to do this; I mean, what else can you do with an old bike? But, unless you’re the managing director of Halfords, or one of those people that enjoys squeezing parts of their body into brightly-coloured spandex and going public about it, I can’t see that most folk would find so many bicycles all at once terribly exciting. Let’s be honest: apart from obvious individuals like penny-farthings, most bikes all look pretty much the same. Well, they do to me. Personally, my eyes glaze over when it comes to too many motor bikes as well – though some of these are undoubtedly wonderful looking machines. In any event, the Lakeland Motor Museum certainly includes a few things for the bikers and leather-lovers amongst you too; plenty to torque about.
However, one unexpected, joyous, discovery for me was the museum’s display of kiddies’ pedal cars, which I found captivating: clearly, this was more my intellectual level. Did you know that many of these were made by the motor manufacturers themselves, using off-cuts from the factories? I didn’t, but it makes sense, if you think about it. The examples on show mentally transported me back – oh, at least a decade – to my parents’ postage-stamp of a garden, where I bashed my shins to bits unsuccessfully trying to master the pedals of a red tin-plate pedal car. The rich kids had ones with engines and horns and things. I remember seeing a mini-Mercedes in Harrods sometime in the 1990s, which had a real petrol engine, sound system and leather upholstery, priced at £42,000. Bonkers – that was more than the price of some houses in those days. Most of the examples at the Lakeland Motor Museum were of the humbler variety, though.
But it’s the grown-up cars you want to know about, isn’t it? All that shining steel…the aromatic scent of rubber and exhaust fumes… Well, the Lakeland Motor Museum has some magnificent – I’m even tempted to say iconic – motor-cars; everything from a 1907 De Dion Bouton back to the futuristic DeLorean (1981) – and more besides. Most of the vehicles are European, though there’s a Cadillac, Buick, or something similar of the type owned by Al Capone, complete with de rigueur Tommy-Gun accessory. Refugees from the 70s can reminisce over what Ian Dury might have done whilst imitating a hyena in the back of a Cortina, there’s a Ford Escort ‘Mexico’ and an Austin Allegro in the same shade of vomit green as my mother’s Morris Marina. Just what did designers think they were doing with paint colours in the 1970s?! Donald Campbell’s Bentley, a beautiful car in hideous bluebird blue (yeuch!) is there – with a fascinating Campbell Bluebird Exhibition next door, by the way. I was intrigued by a rather natty 1960 MG roadster, with police trimmings: apparently, 50 of these were procured by Lancashire Constabulary…it does make you wonder what the boys in blue got up to, doesn’t it? At least there’s room for a couple of hooligans in the back of a modern copper’s BMW. But I think my personal favourite at the museum had to be the white Jaguar XK140; beautiful!
In any event, there are cars you grew up with, cars you’ve seen in movies, ugly cars, lovely cars – and one thing they all seem to have in common is that every one of them seems to be in excellent condition.
If all the motoring stuff isn’t enough, there are several amusing full size recreations as well – a street with shops of yesteryear, a 1930s garage – and so on. There is also some interesting background on the local industrial heritage. Nearby was an iron works that closed in 1963 and a gunpowder mill that produced over 33% of the powder used in the Napoleonic Wars. Industrial Britain would be unrecognisable to most of us. The museum itself is located in a refurbished factory, which used to package ultramarine ‘dolly blue’ – a pigment used as a whitener in laundry all over the world and manufactured in an adjacent building – now a hotel.
A great deal of thought and enthusiasm has gone into the Lakeland Motor Museum. The collection moved there from nearby Holker Hall in 2010, though it is already cramped in parts and there is precious little room for expansion. This must be an issue for them – collections tend to grow rather than shrink. I wonder if they’d exchange the Jaguar for a Toyota Corolla?