Tram at Southwark Bridge

The first trams were introduced into London in 1860 by the American George Francis Train. These early trams were originally led by horses, with the first one operating along Victoria Street in Westminster. In 1883 the West Metropolitan Tramways Company ran a Kew Bridge-Richmond horse drawn service, although these early trams were not without their faults. In 1861 Train was arrested for “breaking and injuring” the Uxbridge Road, a result no-doubt of the impractical design of the rails which stood out from the road and obstructed other traffic. Parliament would later legalise trams with the condition that theses rails were recessed into the carriageway. Aside from these early teething problems the early trams were extremely popular, providing a safer and more comfortable journey than rival transport such as the Hackney Carriage.

Tram 1849 at Southwark Bridge in 1950

Horse drawn trams were soon replaced with cable ones and in 1891 Europe`s first cable tramway was introduced for Highgate Hill. As technology developed so did the tramways and by 1901 electric systems were coming into play. Indeed it was that year that the Croydon Corporation introduced the first fully operational electric tram service into the Greater London area. Dartford, Bexley, Barking, Ilford, West Ham and Walthamstow were just a few of the areas operating an electric system in the early 1900`s, and in 1903 London County Council Tramways opened its first electric line between Westminster Bridge and Tooting. By 1903 there were 300 electric tramcars in London alone, and in the LCC `s third year of business it transported five times more traffic than the horse trams ever had.

The onslaught of World War One in 1914 saw female workers take over the roles previously occupied by men, as the latter went off to fight. Prior to the events of 1914 London`s tram network had been the largest in Europe, although development quickly ceased as the war progressed. The next few decades would see the slow decline of the tram as diesel buses become more popular. Various reasons offered by the authorities to explain the trams demise included a shortage of steel and electrical machinery following World War Two, the trams being too large for London`s narrow streets and the issues of congestion. “Operation Tramaway” was announced in July 1950 and on July 6th 1952 the last tram arrived at south-east London`s New Cross depot, driven by the deputy chairman of London Transport Executive, John Cliff.

The memory of the tram can today be identified in the light rail systems operating around London, such as the Docklands Light Railway which was opened in 1987. The opening of Tramlink in 2000 has also ensured that the tram will play an important role in London`s future, and further tram links and extensions are very much on the horizon.