All hands to the pumping station

James Cracknell pays a visit to The Whitewebbs Museum of Transport following its recent reopening

Outside the mock fire station at The Whitewebbs Museum of Transport are Alex Watt, chair of Enfield and District Veteran Vehicle Trust (left), plus trustees Chris Whippe (centre) and Robert Haydock (right)
Outside the mock fire station at The Whitewebbs Museum of Transport are Alex Watt, chair of Enfield and District Veteran Vehicle Trust (left), plus trustees Chris Whippe (centre) and Robert Haydock (right)

After being closed for 16 months, one of Enfield’s most popular visitor attractions reopened its doors to the public last month.

The Whitewebbs Museum of Transport is back and better than ever, featuring its famous range of vintage vehicles and wartime memorabilia. Even if transport is not your thing, the museum’s setting inside a restored Victorian pumping station is enough to justify a visit in itself.

Then there’s the custom-built fire station and its vintage fire engines, the model railway – housed inside a classic railway carriage – plus a chance to see the underground well that once supplied fresh water for the New River. The museum is staffed by an enthusiastic team of volunteers, on hand to provide guided tours and explain the history behind the various exhibits.

As with many venues, the pandemic forced a prolonged period of closure. Alex Watt, chair of Enfield and District Veteran Vehicle Trust, the charity which runs the museum, told the Dispatch: “Everyone was hit hard by the Covid shutdown. Because of the age of the building, it needs regular maintenance, so we had a small team coming in to look after the things that needed to be looked after.

“Over the last three or four months we have been slowly refurbishing parts of the museum, like the valve house, to get it ready again for visitors. There is something for everyone here.”

The Whitewebbs Museum of Transport boasts a display of vintage motorcycles, including Royal Enfield bikes
The Whitewebbs Museum of Transport boasts a display of vintage motorcycles, including Royal Enfield bikes

As well as the museum, the charity runs an annual event, Enfield Pageant of Motoring, which attracts vintage car enthusiasts from across the country. But the pandemic forced the cancellation of the event for two years running. Alex said: “It hit us hard financially. The pageant is a big money spinner for us so we have had to manage everything on donations.

“Now we hope people will come and visit the museum again and support us.”

On busy days before the pandemic, the museum was attracting more than 100 visitors in a day. It even gets visitors from abroad, with Whitewebbs gaining an international reputation among vintage car enthusiasts. And it’s easy to see why.

In the yard to the rear of the pumping station is a series of garages housing the museum’s larger vehicles, including a ‘Green Goddess’, one of the former government-owned vehicles made famous for their role as back-up fire engines during various industrial disputes in the late 20th Century. Alongside this is a mock fire station which houses three vintage fire engines, including a 1912 Belsize fire engine christened ‘Madeleine’. Further down the yard are workshops, a repairs garage, children’s room, and the 1960s railway carriage which is home to Enfield Whitewebbs Railway Modellers, a group of miniature train enthusiasts who have built their own track layout inside.

The old valve house, newly refurbished, was previously home to the trust’s offices, but now contains a display explaining the history of the pumping station, even including the original blueprints from when it was built by the New River Water Company in 1898.

Inside the pumping station itself, the museum’s vast collection is split across four floors. On the ground floor there is a range of classic vehicles of all eras, from sports cars to minivans; on the first floor is the impressive motorbike collection, which includes some models made by Royal Enfield, a brand that can trace its history back to the Royal Small Arms Factory at Enfield Lock; on the second floor is a range of pedal bikes, vintage toys and mock period shops; while the top floor, high up inside the roof of the pumping station, contains the museum’s Second World War exhibits, including old typewriters, sewing machines, and an air-raid siren that visitors are encouraged to wind up.

For local history buffs, Whitewebbs also contains a number of displays highlighting various aspects of Enfield’s own fascinating past. One tells the story of The Standard Fuse Company, a Ponders End factory that made fuses for aircraft and tanks during the war. There’s even a row of old seats rescued from the Edmonton Empire theatre before its demolition in 1970.

The Whitewebbs Museum of Transport is housed inside a disused Victorian pumping station purchased by Enfield and District Veteran Vehicle Trust in 1986
The Whitewebbs Museum of Transport is housed inside a disused Victorian pumping station purchased by Enfield and District Veteran Vehicle Trust in 1986

The museum contains a cafe and gift shop and is accessible to wheelchair users via a lift serving all floors. At present the museum is open every Tuesday, 10am-4pm, and on the last Sunday of each month. Special one-off events are also sometimes held. Car parking is free, while the museum can also be reached by public transport using the 456 bus or rail services at Crews Hill Station. Entry is £7 per person, with under-12s admitted for free.

For more information about The Whitewebbs Museum of Transport:
Visit whitewebbsmuseum.co.uk