This page contains, almost exclusively, London from fifty-plus years ago. Please excuse the trips to Blackpool and Hong Kong, and the brief look at modern Croydon.
Watch this video of preserved London Trams & Trolleybuses from 2012, and there are many more similar ones on Youtube.
This page has sections on:
A gallery of 16 photos of old London trams and a “Diddler” trolleybus.
By the late 1800s there were thousands of horses on the roads which began to smell like farmyards. Each horse deposited 14kg of manure a day and 9 litres of urine.
[First] An old postcard of trams on Blackfriars Bridge; they used a circular route from South London, along the Embankment and back over Westminster Bridge (or vice versa).
[Second] This postcard shows trams on Westminster Bridge, Big Ben is off to the left; the trams turned and went along the Embankment, with much screeching I bet! There seems to be some problem behind a single-decker on the bridge, a crowd has collected, perhaps a horse dropped dead, which was not uncommon even at this time. Motor buses and electric trams replaced the horse-drawn ones but not the carriers’ horses, yet. Even this had taken 80,000 horses off the roads of London, each producing 3 to 4 tons of dung a year; you can imagine what it smelt like!
The single-deckers went through a tunnel beneath the approach to Waterloo Bridge, under the Kingsway, to emerge at Holborn to serve North London. That was as near as they were allowed to the City because of the overhead wires or here, underground conduits. In 1931 the tunnel was deepened to take double-deckers. (I’m rather worried about the one-legged man in the street; his missing leg is casting a phantom shadow! And why isn’t he on the pavement? Perhaps he’s from the Ministry of Silly Walks)
Kingsway Tram Tunnel took routes 31, 33 and 35 under the busy Aldwych area from Waterloo Bridge to Kingsway; the southern part of it is now used as the ‘Strand Underpass’ for northbound light traffic, though the old northern entrance near Holborn tube station can still be seen.
The northern entrance to the Kingsway subway, now disused; the tunnel is still there as of May 2014, but the entrance is securely fenced off. The southern part of the tunnel is used by vehicles (cars, taxis, light vans) from Waterloo Bridge to gain access to Kingsway; buses and heavy vehicles have to go the long way round via the Aldwych.
In the late 1800s, there were experiments with steam trams, rather like a steam train with a carriage. They were not very successful – boiler explosions in a crowded street were not at all popular. This photo was taken in Lower Edmonton in 1890.
[Left] An early map of part of the LCC tram system in south London
[Right] Pre-1952 Trams in Central London
[Left] “All Cars Stop Here”; a car is a tram-car
[Right] This dual stop sign was illuminated at night
In Abbey Wood, three overhead wires were provided, two for trolleybuses and one for trams (their electric circuit being completed by the rails). This was so that one type of vehicle could overtake the other.
Complicated overhead wiring at Knee Hill, Abbey Wood, London Transport’s pride and joy, receiving professional visitors from far and wide! The building on the right was a Salvation Army Hall and is now used by the Abbey Wood Community Group.
With all these overhead wires, regular and emergency maintenance was required. The photo on the right shows a converted Tilling bus, still with solid tyres.
Wires were provided for:
I have quite a large collection of tram and trolleybus books, and can recommend some of them to you:
London County Council Tramways, E R Oakley (The London Tramways History Group)
Volume 1 – South London
Volume 2 – North London
The Metropolitan Electric Tramways, C S Smeeton (The Light Rail Transit Association)
Volume 1 – Origins to 1920
Volume 2 – 1921 to 1933
London Transport Tramways 1933 – 1952, E R Oakley and C E Holland (LTHG)
Improving London’s Trams 1932–7, E R Oakley and C L Withey (Light Rail Transit Association)
The Tramways of Croydon, G E Baddeley (The Light Rail Transit Association)
Trams in..., D W Willoughby and E R Oakley
...South East London
...Inner North London
The LCC Trailers, M J D Willsher (Light Rail Transit Association)
London’s Tramway Subway, various authors (Light Rail Transit League)
The London Tramcar, 1861 – 1952, R W Kidner (Oakwood)
Middleton Press publications: Tramway Classics:
Eltham & Woolwich Tramways, Robert J Harley
Greenwich & Dartford Tramways (including Eltham & Bexley), Robert J Harley
North Kent Tramways (including Bexley, Erith, Dartford, Gravesend & Sheerness), Robert J Harley
Southampton Tramways, Martin Petch
London’s Tramways, Their History & How To Model Them, David Voice (Patrick Stephens Ltd)
London Trolleybus Routes, Hugh Taylor, Capital Transport
Middleton Press publication:
Woolwich and Dartford Trolleybuses, Robert J Harley
London Trolleybus Wiring, South-East and North-West, Keith Farrow (Trolleybooks)
London’s Trams and Trolleybuses, John R Day (London Transport)
Cable Car, Christopher Swan (Ten Speed Press), Berkeley, California (San Francisco cable cars)
Classic Tramcars, R J S Wiseman (Ian Allan)
[Left] Trolleybus 1612 working on one of the circular routes around Kingston-on-Thames
[Right] A typical line-up showing the frequent service that many of the routes offered
Bexley Trolleybus Depôt which served the 696 and 698 routes (and the Sunday-only 694: Woolwich to Plumstead, Wickham Lane, Welling, Bexleyheath, Barnehurst,
Northumberland Heath and Erith). The Bexley routes were completely isolated from the rest of the trolleybus network.
Bexley Trolleybus Depôt received a direct hit from a bomb in June 1944
A 698 turning into its terminus at Bexleyheath Clock Tower with the destination blind already set for its return to Woolwich.
Plumstead Corner, where the 696 and 698 parted company. This vehicle is turning from Plumstead High Street into Wickham Lane on a short working to Bexleyheath.
The frequency on the 696 was higher than the 698, yet it was the conductor on each 696 who had to set the route at Plumstead Corner on journeys from Woolwich, so that the overhead trolley turned the corner; the 698s could just sail through the junction. There used to be a spare pole (for placing the trolley booms on the wires after a dewirement) at the top of the hill on Upper Wickham Lane by the junction of Lodge Hill. One wonders if this was a location of frequent dewirement. If it was there today some one was bound to steal it.
The tram on route 38 is entering Beresford Square, Woolwich, passing the end of New Road on its way to Embankment using Westminster Bridge. (It will then return to Woolwich and Abbey Wood via Blackfriars Bridge.) The track that leads off the main line, in the bottom right of the photo behind the man in the foreground, is a link from the 36/38/40 track along Plumstead Road and Beresford Street onto the loop serving routes 44/46/72. (These ran from Woolwich to Eltham and central London entering Beresford Square from Green’s End and leaving along New Road.) The link allowed trams from the 44/46/72 routes to reach Plumstead Road and on to Abbey Wood Tram Depôt. The bus in the background is probably an RTL based at Plumstead garage (AM); it could be on any of routes 53A or 54 (to Plumstead Common), 99 or 122A (to Erith), or 122 (to Bexleyheath); the 53A could have been from Old Kent Road (P) and the 54 from Catford (TL) or Elmers End (ED) garages.
The tram on route 46 is turning into New Road; the trolleybus is either a 696 from Dartford or a 698 from Bexleyheath which will terminate at Parsons Hill, Woolwich (using Plumstead Road and Beresford Street). The 46 is on rails that straddle the link track from Plumstead Road into New Road shown in the left-hand photograph.
The need for the strange interleaving of track is because both curves would need to be much tighter to meet in a conventional Y junction; so the tracks cross (like an X) and then meet in a Y, each prong leading in an unconventional eventual direction.
See the track plan and map below.
The interleaved track can clearly be seen here. The bus heading westward is almost certainly an LT on the 53A route, based at Plumstead garage (AM), a frequent service from Plumstead Common to central London, which still exists over 50 years later on a very similar service (as the 53 – all route number suffix letters are banned!)
[Left] Two trams pausing in New Road just before Woolwich Arsenal Station.
The interleaved track between the Ordnance Arms and Royar Mortar pubs can easily be seen here. The short spur into Beresford Square was for short workings from Abbey Wood, avoiding blocking the tracks for the trunk 36/38 services. (The small building immediately south of the spur was a Gentlemen’s toilet!) Note that in Plumstead Road and Bereford Street the track became single, as the roads were very narrow; passing loops were provided, that at the entrance to the Royal Arsenal entrance being the most important.
Trams from Eltham (and beyond) looped via Thomas Street and Green’s End to Beresford Square, then took the sharp turn into New Road, past the entrance to Woolwich Arsenal Station and back to Eltham on the 44/46/72 routes. Both maps date from about 1916.
I well remember as a child going to Woolwich open market in Beresford Square, with the trams sounding their bells to warn unwary shoppers of their presence. Some of the market stalls were so close to the tram tracks that they allowed very little room for customers to avoid the frequent trams. (There was also a covered market in Plumstead Road which suffered none of these problems, but whose merchandise cost more!)
Erith Council Tram, 1905. It was the responsibility of local authorities to arrange for the provision of tram services. Here is a magnificent Erith Urban District Council tram. Unfortunately, the services terminated at Abbey Wood, just round the corner from the LCC trams to Woolwich and London, so passengers had to change there. Similarly, the Erith and Bexley trams stopped at the councils’ border in Northumberland Heath, so Erith passengers for Bexleyheath were obliged to change there.
Later there was better coordination, and Erith trams ran through to Bexleyheath Clock Tower. Further cooperation was necessary when the depôt in Dartford burnt down one night, destroying all their vehicles. Bexley and Erith came to the rescue and provided a service to Dartford.
Bexley Road, Northumberland Heath, about 1920, looking north towards Erith with a tram in the distance. This area was the main retail centre for the Heath, serving a population which was mainly composed of people working in the factories at Erith.
At Abbey Wood, the tracks were never joined, even when the Erith system was merged with the LCC system under the London Passenger Transport Board. The LPTB considered Erith’s track to be in such a terrible state that it wasn’t worth repairing. So in 1935 the Erith, Bexley and Dartford systems were replaced by two trolleybus routes: the 696 from Woolwich to Plumstead, Wickham Lane, Welling, Bexleyheath, Crayford and Dartford; and the 698 from Woolwich to Plumstead, Abbey Wood, Erith, Northumberland Heath, Barnehurst and Bexleyheath.
Bexley Road, Northumberland Heath, about 1950, looking south towards the junction with Brook Street. Limewood Road is seen on the left. Note the trolley-bus wires overhead, the trams from an earlier age [above] having long since gone. Northumberland Heath (or North’ Heath as it is sometimes known) is the area at the top of the high ground just to the south-west of Erith along Bexley Road, and was once an extensive tract of heath land. It was developed in the 19th and early 20th centuries as a residential suburb and shopping centre (and I used to live there). The name has led some people to suppose the district has connections with the county or dukes of Northumberland, but there is no evidence to support this. It has been in use at least since the 13th century, and is almost certainly derived from the Old English word humber (‘river’ or ‘stream’), ‘Northumberland’ meaning simply ‘the land north of the stream’. The area was part of the old manor of Erith. Residential development began in earnest in the 1880s to form a thriving community by the early years of the 20th century. The Brook Street/Bexley Road junction was the terminus for trams from both Erith and Bexley. Northumberland Heath also had a windmill, built in the early 19th century on land near the middle of the present Mill Road.