The 1880s gypsy van is a thing of beauty.
Its roof is a kaleidoscope of colours – maroons, yellows, and greens – and its wooden body features intricate and exquisite carvings. At nearly 150 years old, it has stood the test of time.
“It’s very tastefully finished, truly remarkable,” confirms Douglas Miller, as he eyes the vintage vehicle, which stands in Rotherham’s South Yorkshire Transport Museum, on Waddington Way, in Aldwarke.
The gypsy van, manufactured in Surrey at around 1880, is one of the museum's latest acquisitions – one of six vehicles on long-term loan from Shibden Hall in Halifax.
“Shibden Hall was keen to make some room so they could better present some of their artefacts to the public, so they were offering some pieces out. We were keen to accommodate whatever we could from them.”
Among the collection from Shibden was a Hagenbachs Bakers Cart, a Station Fly Carriage, and a horse-drawn Landau.
“The Bakers Cart dates back to the late 1800s, and would have been used by bakers to distribute their products,” explains Douglas, who has been a volunteer and a trustee at the museum for the past 15 years.
“The motor car obviously rendered it redundant in later years, though we do know the owners of this particular cart repainted it in the 1970s and used it present at galas, before finally donating it.
“The Station Fly Carriage is very old, also from the 1800s, and in quite good condition, though we know virtually nothing about its history. Certainly it’s not the kind of vehicle someone would be travelling hundreds of miles in, like a stagecoach; this would have been for shorter journeys.
“The Landau’s official name is a Barouche Carriage, built in around 1800 for the Earl of Lonsdale. It has a pair of very nice silver carriage lamps on it, and its original yellow and black covers.”
A Sedan Chair, built in around 1790, is another striking contribution to the museum, though Douglas admits it needs some TLC.
“It's not in very good shape,” he confirms.
“The basic structure is alright, but it’s quite tatty. It will need some refinishing and reupholstering. It was gifted to Shibden Hall in 1934 and has been there ever since. It took a man at the front and a man at the back to lift it, so while we don't know much about its life before it arrived at Shibden, I think it’s safe to say this would have been owned by a wealthy family.”
Finally, the collection is rounded out by a hand-drawn Funeral Bier.
“This is quite a novel item,” says Douglas, who worked as a mechanic and engineer before his retirement.
“We know that it was used by Mirfield Parish Church, to transport coffins from house to church, as well as taking bodies down pathways to cemeteries that wouldn't be accessible by vehicles. It’s in great condition. Interestingly, when we found out we were going to be receiving the funeral bier, a local funeral home donated a brand new coffin to us, so that our visitors would be able to see it performing its original function.”
The team at the transport museum, which is entirely volunteer-led, will be carrying out some light conservation work on its newest acquisitions in the coming months, in agreement with Shibden Hall staff.
“These items are on loan to us, but we have some very skilled people on staff who will be setting about cleaning, polishing and painting the vehicles, to ensure visitors to our museum will be able to see them in the very best possible light.”
The museum's next open day is on December 9, from 10.30am to 4pm.