Thursday, April 17, 2008

Last tram in London: New Cross 1952

Some lovely footage of the last tram journey in London coming to an end at New Cross depot on Saturday 5th July 1952. But wait was it really the last tram? Apparently the one featured in the film was a "ceremonial tram" bringing Lord Latham, Chairman of London Transport and other VIPs from Charlton to New Cross depot. Thousands turned out on the streets to cheer.

But, according to the Kentish Mercury, the last tram from New Cross to Abbey Wood (the 72 route) actually left later at 11:33, driven by 'William Crosk (28 years service) of 140 Dursley Road, Blackheath' with 'His conductor... Mr John Whitehead (33 years service) of 131 Alabama Street, Plumstead'.

The last tram was burnt on a "funeral pyre" at Penhall Hall Depot at Charlton on Wednesday 15th July (sources: from Kentish Mercury, 4th July 1952; 18th July 1952).

This is how the US Time Magazine reported in July 1952:

'One day last week, as a fierce hot wind swept the city, London's last regularly scheduled tram made its way along the Old Kent Road to New Cross Depot. Old passengers, some in nostalgic fancy dress, lined the route to bid the old red double-decker farewell with chalked signs, "We Want Trams." Pennies were placed in the tracks to be flattened as souvenirs. Others crowded aboard for a last ride. "They are all mad," screamed the conductress at Motorman William Fitzpatrick. "They have taken the light bulbs; they are ripping up the seats. Why don't you stop when I ring the bell?" But the bell had been stolen as a keepsake. On ran the tram, heady and glorious. It was clanking along at 40 m.p.h. when a motorcycle cop threatened a summons. "We were driving 50 easy," boasted the driver.

When at last the tram reached New Cross, every one of its windows was shattered, every loose object was gone. It didn't matter. The whole thing was soon to be burned, its metal sold for scrap. A transport inspector pocketed the driver's rear-view mirror. Motorman Fitzpatrick sighed. "I'll have to be getting home," he said. "Tomorrow at 9 I'm driving a bus."'.


Anonymous said...

According to the Kentish Mercury
the number 72 Tram was the last tram from New Cross Depot

According to London Transport
"We consider the number 40 tram to be making the last tram journey because it leaves Woolwich at 11:57 pm"

The first Municiple Tram system was in Britain was Huddersfield which opened on 11 January, 1883


Transpontine said...

Thanks Michael, it is a bit confusing, there seem to be a number of candidates for last tram, probably in this order -

- the last scheduled tram from central London to New Cross (this is presumably the one referred to in the Time article, going down Old Kent Road)

- the official ceremonial 'last tram' from Charlton to New Cross, featured in the film.

- the 72 from New Cross to Abbey Wood, leaving New Cross at 11:33 pm.

- the number 40 tram that left Woolwich at 11.57 pm, with the tram age officially coming to an end at midnight.

Which tram ended up being burnt I am not sure. I guess the details aren't that important, what we can say is that 5th July 1952 was the date of all the final tram journeys and the celebrations were centred on New Cross depot (now the bus garage).


Anonymous said...

some scurrilous rumours that a tram actually ran on the 7th July..sssuuusshhh

But I think we have to go by the official London Transport Last Tram

Anonymous said...

This was not the lkastb tram, I was there and this tram got "Stuck on the dead" as it entered the depot. The 72 had to push it in, as I remeber it. My father was a conductorn on the 72's with his driver "Ginger". When the buses came in he tried them then left London Transport as he did not like the ride of the buses.
Mu Uncle, Bill, also worked at the New Cross depot as a tram cleaner.

Peter Cav said...

My grandfather, Bill Merrington was a coachpainter at the Charlton Depot. He did this work for some 40 years but eventually had to give up as the fumes of the paints and solvents in the confined spaces of the trams affected his health. I remember that as a child I was fascinated by the transfer letters that he had in his workbox and used some of them to adorn various things that I had made.

London Sound Survey said...

George Gale wrote a vivid account of the last tram from New Cross to Woolwich in the Manchester Guardian in July 1952:

"The journey from Woolwich to New Cross of the last tram was incomparable.

Imagine a crowd along a prescribed route to see a king or queen pass by. Let it keep its squealing children about its knees and hoist up its infants with flags in their hands. Give it torn paper hats, flamboyant holiday-camp hats and ribbons, football rattles, tin trumpets, dustbin drums and scrubbing-board drums, real and tin tray cymbals, piano-accordions, and a welter of whistles. Let in line up not in daylight but late at night, after all the public-houses from the Old Kent Road to the free ferry at Woolwich and beyond to Abbey Wood have sent away their tens of thousands of customers filled with beer, their arms and pockets filled with bottles, and their throats in full voice. Take away most of the policemen a stately procession would command and then, at midnight, with the moon almost full and the night air hot, send out, to run this crazy gauntlet, a tram.

Off it moved, filled with a noisy babble of passengers, and escorted by policemen on motor-cycles, hundreds of cyclists, scores of motor-cyclists, and dozens of cars. There was a great cheer, flares were lit, horns and whistles blown. A woman leaped on to the rear of the tram and clung there, her frock, underclothes, and blasphemies streaming out behind her. She fell off soon, but others clambered on the sides. By the end of the journey there were twenty youths sitting on the roof and dozens strung along the sides. There was singing all the way, and the tunes came easily to mind. 'Maybe It's Because I'm a Londoner', 'Any Old Iron', and so on to 'Auld Lang Syne'."

Can't find anything on the BBC Archives about it though.


Shirley Foale nee Richardson said...

I am told I was carried on the last Tram in London just before my first birthday and that the tram terminated at New Cross Gate Depot, a short distance from where we lived in Queens Road.

Anonymous said...

I can remember the guys who were lifting the tram tracks in Brockley subsequently selling door-to-door the wooden bricks covered in tar that had lain between the tracks. Apart from the expected use as kindling firewood, they were very good for children to play with and consequently get told off for getting tarry. I think this was in 1953.

Kathy said...

My father drove the one before the last tram Albert chapman x

Kathy said...

I remember my bro with the cart after a thunder storm the tarry logs use to come up. good for the fire