LONDON A-Z An alphabetical journey through the capital's museums Whitewebbs Museum of Transport
Location: Whitewebbs Lane, Crews Hill EN2 9HW [map] Open: Tuesdays 10am-4pm (& Open Days last Sunday of the month) Admission: £4 Brief summary: low-key many-wheeled ephemera Website:www.whitewebbsmuseum.co.uk Time to set aside: an hour or two
And for W, the northernmost museum in London. You can't go further north in London than Crews Hill - a semi-rural outpost of greenhouses and garden centres. Most people arrive by car, probably from the M25, queueing patiently along the only road in the village as they attempt to drive from one horticultural car park to another. Reaching the museum by public transport is a little trickier, especially for their Sunday Open Days, because the weekend's last bus departs mid-Saturday afternoon. The only option is to travel via one of London's least used stations, a bleakhalt on the Hertford North line, and then trudge past the potted shrubs and fibreglass birdbaths to the museum.
Whitewebbs' main building used to be a pumphouse for the New River, the artificial contour-hugging canal which channeled drinking water into London in the 1600s. The pumphouse dates from 1898, which is of a similar vintage to the earliest vehicles housed therein and roundabout. Old vans and early automobiles are parked in an outdoor shed, mixed in with classic cars from later in the 20th century. When I was young an Austin Princess or Vauxhall Victor would have been fairly commonplace, but this is one of the few places you'll see either today. Or a Ford Capri, a chocolate-brown Ford Capri no less, another reminder of a less flash pre-TopGear age.
Nextdoor are a couple of fire engines, because they're exactly the sort of thing this sort of museum collects. When the nation's Green Goddesses were phased out a few years ago, one of them ended up here. Out here you'll also find a tractor, and some motorbikes, and quite a few piled-up motoring accessories. One rather interesting room contains a Mini Clubman van, a display of old car radios, plus shelf after shelf of old packets and tins that your uncle might have stored in his garage. A Castrol oilcan, a bottle of 1001 carpet cleaner, an austere chunky Thermos flask, that sort of thing.
There is, of course, a model railway layout. It's housed inside a disused railway carriage, and there's not very much space for the public to squeeze inside to take a look. Little locos whizz round on a split-storey circuit, nothing special, but enough to enchant small boys ("Thomas!!" "James!!!") and their moist-eyed grandfathers. Inside another room, past the level crossing gate and a "Rhyl" platform nameplate, is a fully functioning rotary steam engine. You always seem to find one of these in a museum like this, because it's something for the volunteers to enjoy greasing and tweaking while they wait for any visitors to pop in.
On the day of my visit, two floors of the old pumphouse housed a Toy Collector's Fair. These are fascinating occasions, even for the non-collector, because the enthusiasts are usually as intriguing as the objects they're being enthusiastic about. Those with stuff to sell sat behind tables crammed with model cars, or vans in pristine boxes, or Hornby engines, or whatever, and waited patiently for a customer to take an interest. Most such folk were older middle-aged, often here with friends or partners, and happy to have hundreds of subtly different miniatures to pick over. I will confess to being drawn to the stalls piled with Matchbox cars, but only because my brother and I played with Hot Wheels rather a lot as kids, and I wanted to see how much they might have been worth. They might have been worth something if we hadn't taken them out of the box, it seems, but smashing them down a plastic track and chipping half the paint off meant their value was rather closer to what we'd paid for them in the first place.
I resisted a bite to eat in the cafe, not because toasties and beans on toast aren't my thing, but because it was full. Whitewebbs is almost more of a social club than a museum on these Open Days, and many people need little excuse to meet up and reminisce about a golden age of transport. All credit to the Enfield and District Veteran Vehicle Trust, who've nurtured an attraction out of nothing and continue to preserve the everyday past for future enjoyment. by train: Crews Hill