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Disaster at the National Motorcycle Museum, UK (September 2003).

On 16th September 2003 around 500 motorcycles, many of them unique, were destroyed in a devastating fire at the National Motorcycle Museum near Birmingham (UK). Believed to have been caused by a discarded cigarette the fire left 70% of the building a blackened shell. The bikes destroyed in the collection were thought to be worth around £8m and traced the history of the British motorcycle industry.  The museum also hosted a number of early 3-wheelers that were manufactured by motorcycle manufacturers dating from around 1898 - 1935. It is stated that the museum contained more than 750 machines and when the fire broke out about 250 of these were saved as museum staff and nearby conference delegates wheeled out numerous machines to the car parks.

I can not comprehend how the museum owners must feel about losing so much as I feel just as shocked about it as they do. What’s more I visited the museum two weeks prior to the fire to photograph all the 3-wheelers in their collection for this web site. My journey however was fraught with disaster and so after e-mailing the National Motorcycle Museum upon my return I was invited to go back and photograph the 3-wheelers with greater access to them. I phoned the museum the day before the fire but the chap I needed to speak to was not available. This is what I had written about my visit prior to the fire taking place. The events that happened then all seem so trivial now compared to the news above.....

Do you ever think, tomorrow I will do so and so and you wake up next day with the best of intentions but then things just don’t go to plan. Well this was one of those days. My idea was to go to the National Motorcycle Museum near Birmingham and investigate how many 3-wheelers they have in their collection. Seems simple enough ...

Sunday morning arrived and after sleeping in I woke up later than planned but thought nothing of it.  As the sun streamed through the window I decided to hang out the washing and then after wolfing down my breakfast decided to start out. As I picked up my camera to check the disk I heard a faint rumble, and then in the corner of my eye saw a flash.  I glanced out of the window and the heavens burst open and the rain hammered down.  So back outside, collected all the washing and placed it on the radiators to dry. I then picked up camera, wallet and car keys and off I set.  Now the National Motorcycle Museum is only 14 miles from my house so I figured a quick blast down the M42 and I’ll be there. As I turned onto the M42 from Tamworth I was about to engage the throttle when I noticed a sea of red lights in front of me. Noooo I screamed to myself, not on a Sunday. The signs at the side of the motorway taunted me by flashing 50 mph but I was lucky to do 10 mph. As the time passed I sluggishly followed the trail of lights and then saw the hold up.  The outside lane had been closed and so traffic was now all filing into one lane. .

Hundreds of unique motorcycles destroyed by fire. (Photo & Data source: Taken from the BBC News web site)

1904 Quadrant Forecar

1924 Seal

1934 Morgan Super Sports

I pulled into the inside lane and then saw the hold up and didn’t know whether to laugh or cry.  Imagine, if you will, sitting in a traffic jam with the outside lane closed. In front of me in the closed lane is a huge lorry full of cones and some chap clad in day glow yellow clothes and a sun drenched face placing comes along the white line.  As I crawl past this lorry there is another one about 20 yards behind him.  This has another chap collecting the cones!!  I jest not. It appears that whilst the guy in the first lorry is putting the cones down the guy in the second lorry is picking the cones up.  Yet another gem by the local authorities to cause as many queues as they can on the M42.

So I finally arrive at the National Motorcycle museum and pay my surpisingly low entrance fee and in I go. I start snapping away at 3-wheelers quite happily until suddenly the LCD screen on my camera reads “Disk Full”.  I thought “what!” and after checking the disk notice that out of the two 16 Mb disk and the two 32 Mb disk I have I come out with the only 8 Mb disk which will only hold 20 photos in HQ (High Quality) mode.  So there is nothing for it. I have to format the card and take all the pictures in SQ (Standard Quality) mode.  (I didn’t actually think at the time if I could mix modes).  So whilst I can take 100 photos on an 8 Mb card instead of 20 there is a reason for this. The quality is pretty poor and as a result the photos I took were terrible

To see all the photos from my visit click here