This October saw a spectacular 15-carat gold key make its way back home to Manchester after being lost for over 100 years. The gold key was used back in 1901, a milestone year for public transport in Manchester, by Lord Mayor Thomas Briggs to open the first electric tram depot at Queens Road.
Since then it’s not been clear exactly what happened to the key, however, it mysteriously turned up in an auction last month in Newcastle. The Museum of Transport Greater Manchester, who share the Queens Road site with bus company Go North West, crowdfunded in order to bring the key back to the city. The generosity of the public was outstanding, and the Museum of Transport secured the winning bid.
The key, which has been sent to be restored and cleaned before it takes pride of place in the Museum of Transport early next year, is solid 15-carat gold and features an intricate design of Manchester’s coat of arms. It was crafted in the city at Elkington Jewellers in St Ann’s Square.
It also has an engraving which reads “Presented by the Tramways Committee to the Rt Hon Thomas Briggs, Lord Mayor of Manchester, on the occasion of the opening of the first electric tram route and the Queens Road car shed – June 1901.”
The site on Queens Road at Cheetham Hill, is still a fully operational bus depot, owned and run by Go North West, Manchester’s newest bus company.
Len Newnham, the Go-Ahead Group’s longest-serving bus driver, who started driving buses in Manchester 53 years ago (the year England won the World Cup!), and his colleagues at Queens Road are eager to find out where the key has been.
Following generous donations from employees and the bus company, Len was given the opportunity by the Museum of Transport, along with Nigel Featham, the Managing Director of Go North West, to briefly view the key before it went off for restoration last week.
Nigel Featham, said: “This key represents so much more than just the ceremony it was used for. This day, 6 June 1901 marked a huge game change for Manchester’s public transport system as it moved from horse-drawn omnibuses to trams. It’s a truly beautiful object and we were delighted to be able to help with donations to bring it home for future generations to share.”
Bus Driver, Len Newham, added: “It was such an honour to able to see the key, I had no idea just how ornate it was. I’ve been telling everyone about it! We really want to know why it ended up in Newcastle, it seems strange it didn’t stay at Queens Road or in Manchester somewhere?”
Paul Williams, spokesman for the Museum of Transport, said “Manchester’s public transport started in 1901 with this golden key – it literally unlocked the city’s transport system. We were very lucky to find out about the auction, and even more lucky that we’ve been able to bring it home, back to the city where it was made and presented over a century ago.”