Written by Jeannie Swales
Apparently the word ‘charabanc’ was recently declared pretty much redundant by the compilers of the Collins English Dictionary, who in 2011 relegated it to only their larger, less-used, dictionaries on the grounds that its usage had had ‘no significant frequency since the 1960s’.
Which seems a shame – one of the more colourful and evocative words in the English language, charabanc was based on the French ‘char à banc’, meaning a carriage with wooden benches.
Usually open-topped, often equipped with a huge canvas hood which would be labouriously unfolded by hand if it rained, charabancs – often known simply as ‘charas’ – were particularly popular for works outings to the seaside in the early part of the 20th century. Horse-drawn or motorised, some models could carry 30 or more people.
Our picture shows a one-eighth-size model (that’s one-and-a-half inches to the foot) of a 34-seater charabanc that ran tours from Scarborough railway station from 1907 to the start of the First World War in 1914. Ten of the original, full-size charabancs were built, with 40-horsepower engines and chassis supplied by the Fiat Motor Company of Italy at a total cost of £675. The bodies were built by the North Eastern Railway carriage works, which operated the service from the station, and similar ones elsewhere in Yorkshire (including Whitby and Bridlington), Durham and Northumberland.
The Scarborough charabanc operated during the summer season and took day-trippers to popular beauty spots such as Hayburn Wyke, Forge Valley and Thornton-le-Dale.
The model is mainly made of wood and was built by Nick Downing from Stockton-on-Tees. Mr Downing built it for railway historian Ken Hoole, who in later life lived in West Ayton and was a well-respected authority on the subject, writing over 40 books including North Eastern Railway Buses, Lorries and Autocars, which included charabancs. The model came into the care of the Scarborough Collections after his death in 1988.
You can see this wonderful model at Scarborough Art Gallery from next month – it will be a star attraction in the next exhibition, Last Stop Scarborough, which opens on Saturday 6 July and runs until Sunday 5 January 2014. The exhibition will also include rarely seen railway and tourism posters featuring the town.
For more information on the exhibition, or on the Scarborough Collections, the name given to all the museum objects acquired by the Borough over the years, please call the Gallery on 01723 374753 or visit the Scarborough Museums Trust website: www.scarboroughmuseumstrust.org.uk/