Bidding a fond farewell to Grampian Transport Museum curator Mike Ward

When Mike Ward, Curator of Alford’s Grampian Transport Museum, first took up the job, he didn’t think he’d still be there 38 years later.

By Dawn Renton
Wednesday, 10th November 2021, 7:57 am
Updated Wednesday, 10th November 2021, 7:57 am
When the Duke of Edinburgh visited the museum in 1992 to inaugurate the Birkhall’ steam engine donated by Balmoral estate, Mike described it  at the time as “The proudest day of my life”
When the Duke of Edinburgh visited the museum in 1992 to inaugurate the Birkhall’ steam engine donated by Balmoral estate, Mike described it at the time as “The proudest day of my life”

But all good things must come to an end and Mike retired from the role last week.

It was back in 1983 when Mike moved to Aberdeenshire from his home in England to take on the job at the much-loved visitor attraction.

“It seems like such a long time ago – and I suppose it is,” laughed Mike. “My first day was in April 1983, which is when the museum first opened to the public.

Lifelong motorcycle enthusiast Mike in his student years on his Triumph ‘Café Racer’

"My wife and I were interested in doing something else. I was very young – just 27 – and I was employed at the Brewery Museum in Burton-on-Trent.

"I just thought that working at the Brewery Museum is a really good job, and the trouble with good jobs is that you can become stuck,” Mike explained. “I saw the job at the Grampian Transport Museum advertised in the museum newsletter and after a bit of head scratching, decided to apply and I got the job.”

But Mike didn’t think he’d be there more than three decades later.

"Not for a minute!” he said. “I thought I’d give it a couple of years or so, but here we are 38 years later. I’m in my 60s now and brought up two children in that time. All on the back of the museum."

Mike Ward has now retired from his role as Curator of Grampian Transport Museum.

Explaining why he stayed at the museum so long, Mike said: “The thing about the Transport Museum is that I’ve stuck with it because everyday is different and every season we are looking forward to the next. There’s never been a dull moment throughout my time here. It really has been fantastic.”

Mike, who was awarded an MBE in 2012 for cultural services in Aberdeenshire, said that the changing exhibitions has helped keep things fresh not only for him, but the hundreds of visitors that come through the museum’s door.

"The museum is seasonal, which means that for five months the museum is closed,” he explained. "Those five months are the best, because you get the time to plan the upcoming season. You can build new exhibits, plan stories and displays and much more. It’s great to spend that time creatively.”

The museum is filled with a wide variety of fascinating displays.

Mike’s lockdown project’ was a total restoration of his LandRover.

But there was one exhibit that was a highlight for Mike: “Probably the best one of them all was in 2012 when we put on an exhibit of the Great Train Robbery.”

On the night of August 1963, a gang of armed criminals boarded a Royal Mail train en route to Euston station. They escaped with a staggering £2.6 million (£50 million in today’s money). It became known as the Great Train Robbery.

Mike picks up the story: “It was the anniversary of the crime so we decided to add an exhibition to the museum. The train started from Aberdeen so there was a link there!

“We booked the The Postal Museum’s exhibition ‘The Great Train Robbery: Crime and The Post’, but it was very “IKEA flat pack” so we decided to embellish it. We added the actual Austin Loadstar truck used by Biggs and his gang to flee the scene, as well as an ex-Army Land Rover Series 1.”

Mike continued: “The highlight was researching it and going down to Scotland Yard and spending time with the people who investigated it. We were the first museum to do that.

"Meeting with the Met Police was an eye opener! We had quotes from police officers in the 60s and we didn’t think they would ever see the light of day.

"We found out that they took huge liberties to get a conviction. They don't do things like that nowadays! I absolutely loved it and so did the public. There’s a huge amount of interest in crime stories and transport history, so combining the two was fantastic. It was one of our most popular display."

Another favourite of Mike’s was exhibitions on time travel to coincide with the resurgence of Dr Who, complete with real-life Daleks.

"That was another one that was really popular and great fun,” he added.

But after nearly 40 years at the helm, the time came for Mike to bid farewell to the museum.

Speaking to him on his final day last Friday, he said: “It feels strange. Retiring is what we do only once. It feels like walking on the moon, that a weight has been lifted.

"I will miss it greatly, but the time has come to say goodbye. I’m just packing up all my stuff in a cardboard box along with my pot plant,” he joked.

So what does the future hold for Mike and his wife Mandy?

“The pandemic has been such an awful, awful time for so may people but my wife and I saw it as a dress rehearsal for retirement. We really enjoyed having the time to ourselves,” he said. "I rebuilt an old Landrover during that time so I have another couple of projects like that, and we plan to go cruising around Europe and enjoy a proper holiday.”

He added: “The Grampian Transport Museum will be in safe hands and continue to go onwards and upwards long after I’m gone.”

It truly is an end of an era and Mike will be sorely missed by staff and visitors alike at the museum.