Wednesday, 16 September 2015

Uncovering the story of Eltham's trams ........... and a bit more too

I have long had a fascination for trams and I have just bought Eltham and Woolwich Tramways which contains “a wealth of nostalgia with many previously unpublished photographs depicting street scenes from the past.”*

Now I don’t do nostalgia it is a shallow preoccupation which distorts the past and leads you into all sorts of pitfalls.

On the other hand there is nothing wrong in wanting to peel back your own past and match your memories with the historic record and in doing so not only relive a bit of your youth but also learn more about that time.

So it is with trams.  I was just two and bit when the last one London tram trundled into the depot at New Cross and while family legend has it that I was there I have no memory of the event.

Likewise it would be another twelve years before we moved in to Well Hall and so the story of the Eltham and Woolwich trams is all new to me.

Bits of the story I already knew but Mr Hartley’s book is as promised full of some wonderful pictures which offer up scenes of Eltham and Woolwich before I knew them and as you would expect I was more than a little thrilled at getting close to our own house on Well Hall Road.

But it is easy to get seduced by the old pictures and forget the importance of the tram.  It was a cheap and for the time efficient means of transport reflected in the fact that within a few short decades it was adopted by local authorities across the country to replace horse drawn buses and trams.

LCC Tam, 1622,  route 40 from New Cross to Westminster, 2015
And because it was cheap and fast it opened up the suburbs by allowing workers to live further away from their work place.

Now to a certain extent the railways had pioneered this development but the tram could do this better.

After all it was far cheaper to lay tram track which had the added advantage that the routes could follow the existing road network.

So when the Government settled on Well Hall for its huge housing estate for the Arsenal workers in 1915 the tram network had already been in place for five years and following the Great War the network was extended to Lee, Lewisham and London.

All of which I suppose could mean that Ruskin’s observation that "Your railroad, when you come to understand it, is only a device for making the world smaller"** could equally be applied to the tram.

And on that note I shall leave off and go back to reading the book with just a thank you to Tricia Lesley who first alerted me to it and pass on a recommendation for the book which will not only delight fellow tram buffs like me but also offer up a snap shot of an Eltham which has pretty much vanished.

Sadly the book is out of print but where there is a will there is a copy and if enough people show an interest perhaps there could be a reprint.

Pictures; cover of Eltham & Woolwich Tramways, 1996, courtesy of the publishers and LCC tram 1622, 2015, Crich Tramway Village courtesy of Andy Robertson***

*Eltham and Woolwich Tramways, Robert J Harley, Middleton Press, 1996,

**John Ruskin 1856

***Crich Tramway Village,

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