This England is the quarterly magazine for all who love our green and pleasant land and are unashamedly proud of their English roots. Published since 1968 the magazine has now become one of England’s best loved magazines and has a readership of over 115,000 people from around the world. As well as being popular in England it outsells all other British heritage magazines in Canada, Australia, New Zealand, South Africa and is sent to readers in every country of the world. Published in Cheltenham, in the heart of picturesque Gloucestershire, the magazine is edited, printed and despatched direct from England. Subscribe today and celebrate all that is best about England and the English way of life.
Trams into Town All aboard for a clanging, screeching, blue-and-cream coloured trip down memory lane! Igrew up in Sheffield — the Yorkshire steel city — in one of the leafy north-west suburbs called Crookes. We didn’t have a car until I was 10 years old: there was no need for one, as any journeys into town for shopping or to catch a train could be made by public transport. And for the first seven years of my life that meant . . . a tram! And what joyous transport that was: a heady combination of noise, smells and colour that still evokes a nostalgic response today. I was born at a time when most major cities had scrapped their trams. London, Birmingham, Manchester, Newcastle, Liverpool and Bristol had all lost or were about to lose their tramway systems by the late 1950s. In March 1950 there were 4,600 trams operating in the United Kingdom, in March 1960 there were just 621. Sixty of these were in Sheffield — the last major English city to hang on to its trams, and I was lucky enough to witness the final years of operation. The first trams to travel on Sheffield streets were pulled by horses between 1873 and 1896 over a total route of just 9½ miles. They were painted in different colours allegedly to allow passengers who couldn’t read to identify the route and destinations by the colour of the tram. Sheffield City Council took over the tramway system from July 1896 and gradually expanded and modernised the system by introducing first single-deck and then doubledeck electric trams using the overhead current collection system. The system was all-electric by 1902 with current from a purpose-built power station on the banks of the River Don with feeder cables stretching to the extremities of the 48 miles of routes. Someone has calculated that over its entire lifespan Sheffield Corporation Tramways (SCT) have operated 884 trams, and at its peak in about 1940 it had 440 in service. These were Above: The National Tramway Museum at Crich, including one of the volunteers at the controls of tram 510. Below: Passengers waiting for a tram opposite the Town Hall had to gather in a small painted rectangle in the middle of the road. kept in seven depots (tram sheds) dotted around the city. They had a policy of continually introducing new designs of tram so that each individual “car” might have a working life of around 25 years compared with, say, 30-40 years in other city tram systems. It was a progressive and forward-thinking policy that earned SCT much acclaim. The pinnacle of this achievement came in the early 1950s when it introduced a tram that was considered to be the pinnacle of tram design in the United Kingdom. They were called “Roberts” cars and 35 of them (numbered 501 to 536) were built by Charles Roberts & Co. in Wakefield. Not only did they look modern and stylish, they were revolutionary in their design. Each car had folding doors at the ends, and both vacuum and electric brakes to stop them. The driver had a seat to sit on in an enclosed cab and the saloon seats were sumptuously upholstered. There were modern electric lights in both upper and lower saloons (fluorescent lights in the prototype car 501), and the upper deck even had skylights. Underneath was a combination of rubber and leaf springs for a smoother ride. Driven by two powerful electric motors they were a sensation when they first roamed the streets of Sheffield. “It is doubtful whether there had ever been a more comfortable public service vehicle on a highway anywhere in Britain”, wrote Kenneth Gandy in Sheffield Corporation Tramways (1985). Not only that, they were painted in a colour scheme that made public transport in Sheffield stand out from all the shades of blue, green and red found in other large cities. Sheffield initially painted their trams in an eye-catching cream and Prussian blue livery with gold-leaf lining. Early trams tended towards more blue than cream, but this was revised after 1935 to
ecome more cream with four narrow and lighter, azure blue bands. The Roberts cars had just three blue bands and a cream roof which made them the brightest of all. They looked sleek, stylish and modern and they were the tram I secretly wished would come round the corner when standing at a tram stop as a small boy. I made many trips on the top deck of Roberts trams, not just from home into the city, but out again on another line to exciting places like Millhouses Park where it was possible to paddle in the River Sheaf while watching passing steam trains on the way into and out of Sheffield Midland station. There was a turning circle here for the trams which meant the conductor didn’t have to go through the unpredictable process of turning the trolley round with a long bamboo cane and reattaching it to the overhead wire. At other termini SCT installed what are know as “reversers” on the overhead wires. This was a clever piece of engineering that automatically turned the trolley around when the tram set off the from the terminus in the opposite direction — without having to test the conductor’s hand/eye coordination! The house where we lived for the first 10 years of my life was almost equidistant between two tram routes. We could BERNARD METTAM walk up a steep hill to the Crookes route to the stop at the highest point the trams ever got to in the city — 720ft. Or we could walk down a steep hill to catch a tram at the Commonside stop on the Walkley route. It really wasn’t a difficult choice to walk down the hill to catch a Walkley tram into town and a Crookes tram back. (SCT trams never showed route numbers, only the end destination was used.) A short walk from our house in Crookes was Pickmere Road, and there lay an incongruous cathedral of a building with six sets of massive double hangar-like doors. This was the 1919 Crookes tram depot and behind those gigantic portals lay 11 “roads” with inspection pits. My father and I often used to make the short trip to the depot to watch the procession of trams returning to their base after the evening rush hour on summer evenings. One by one they would disappear behind the green doors accompanied by the squeal of metal against metal as the wheels made the incredibly tight turn into the shed. It was closed in May 1957 and later demolished to be replaced by a Roman Catholic church. BERNARD METTAM BERNARD METTAM BERNARD METTAM Various Sheffield scenes including a snowy day at the Wicker “arches”, a bridge built in 1848 that is now a listed building. Above: The conductor of tram 510 reattaches the trolley to the overhead wire with a bamboo pole. SHEFFIELDHISTORY.CO.UK
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Magazine: This England