THE Beechworth Carriage Museum is something of a dark horse when it comes to Victorian collections.
The collection is one of the best going, with 19 jinkers, buggies, wagonettes, carts and carriages all in immaculate condition and all offering an intriguing peek into rural Victoria's past.
The carriages are housed in the bowels of Murray Breweries cordial producers, but they have had several homes around the town of Beechworth.
At one point the collection was housed in the stables of Tanswell's Commercial Hotel and at another time in the engine shed on Railway Ave.
While each is privately owned by the original families, it begs the question: who has carriage over the Carriage Museum?
It's a question that has puzzled Leonie Willis, unofficial tour guide and Murray Breweries office manager.
"Nobody owns them and officially they come under the banner of the National Trust, but we house them and maintain and dust them," Leonie says, adding the carriages are kept indoors and under cover next to their own historic brewing equipment.
"Visitors say it's a shame they are not used or don't have a dedicated museum.
"It's just a donation to the community by these families, but they are magnificent examples of transport from another time and have enormous historical significance.
"They are the equivalent of today's family car; part of everyday life in the 19th and early 20th centuries."
Among the collection is a 1906 fire-cart, a Cobb and Co coach and a governess cart made by the Coffey brothers in Richmond in 1905 and used to transport local children.
"Because the seats were sideways it was considered safer travel for children, with the door at the back," Leonie says.
Family owners occasionally drop by the museum to admire their ancestors' transport, with a piano box buggy still owned by a woman from Chiltern, and an abbot buggy built by Albury's Townsend St carriage maker James Higgins in 1907 for the Larkin family.
"The Larkins come from Upper Gundowring and they used it until 1923 when they bought a car," she says.
"The current owner, the Larkins' daughter, still remembers tripping around in it to go to school."
Leonie says the grandest carriage is an enclosed black hearse with glass windows, built in Beechworth.
"On the day of the funeral it was pulled by two horses and the locals knew if there were black plumes on the horse and carriage it was an adult, and if there were white plumes it was a child," she says.
Leonie says the connection between cordial and carriages may be a tenuous one, but Murray Breweries - which brewed beer from 1873 to about 1920 - would be sad to lose the collection. She adds that it fits nicely next to the old brewing equipment of bottle washing machines, crown sealers, vats, ice boxes and even an original kerosene fridge. Plus, it's an important link to the past.
"I tell school kids who visit they shouldn't complain about their cars with electric windows, climate control and TVs because kids back then would love to have a door or window."