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Re: Peter walker archives

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Peter Walker

gone but not forgotten
Birmingham steam trams

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Birmingham's steam trams

1 — Origin of the steam tram
For over twenty years, Birmingham played surprisingly little part in its development — a brief two-part story that follows this general introduction.
The advantage of propelling a vehicle on smooth tracks of timber, stone or iron was recognised centuries ago, and such were frequently used in early mines and quarries, using human or animal power. The first regular horse-drawn passenger tramway was from Swansea to Oystermouth, opened in March 1807. Urban horse buses date back to 1828 in Paris, followed by George Shillibeer in London in 1829 (see FIG. 1.1). It is claimed that the earliest urban street tramway ran in Baltimore in 1828, but the New York and Haerlem [sic] Railroad, a street railway or tramway opened in 1832 is better documented (see Fig, 1.2).
Europe’s first urban street tramway opened in 1853 in Paris. Excluding an unsuccessful attempt to use interchangeable flanged wheels to run horse buses on the freight tracks of the Liverpool dock freight railways by Joseph Curtis in 1859, Britain’s first street railway was on the other side of the Mersey, introduced by the American, George Francis Train, who opened a horse tramway in Birkenhead on 30 August 1860 (see Fig. 1.3). Train promoted other urban tramways in West Derby (Liverpool), Bayswater Road, Victoria Street (see Fig. 1.4) and Kennington Road in London and even in Birmingham in 1861, Darlington and the Potteries in 1862, using a step rail projecting above the road surface. The rail proved potentially hazardous, and the last named tramway was converted to grooved rail in 1864. By the time the Birmingham authorities had responded he was out of the country. In Europe, similar trams started in Copenhagen in 1863, Berlin in 1865 in 1865, Hamburg in 1866 and Brussels in 1866.
In the late 1860s, several street tramways were promoted in Parliament, with the active support of the President of the Board of Trade, John Bright. The Tramways Act of 1870 simplified the legal procedure and gave the Board of Trade powers to authorise the building and operation of horse tramways. There were problems over the use of horse power: the work proved particularly taxing on the horses, and their life expectancy was short, while their working conditions were hard if not cruel. Mechanical traction was soon recognised as a better if dearer alternative.
Meanwhile the Locomotive Acts of 1861 and 1865 severely limited the scope for using steam engines on the road in this country. In 1864 an experimental steam locomotive on the Ryde Pier Tramway proved unsuccessful, and tram engines with enclosed wheels and coupling roads were first built by Henry Hughes for Pernambuco, Brazil in 1867 and 1870. After a small steam locomotive had been designed by Loftus Perkins and built for Brussels, which was found to be too light, a larger version was built in 1878 and tested on the Leeds horse tramway. Experiments were also made with integral steam motor cars, with little success. In 1875, Merryweather and Sons obtained a concession to operate a 41/2-mile route in Paris and supplied 36 engines in 1876/7, and other locos were built by Fox Walker. Owing to the condition of the track, horse traction was reintroduced in 1878 and the best of the locomotives were transferred to Rouen. British-built steam tram engines were also supplied to Barcelona, The Hague, Kassel, and Wellington (New Zealand) in the later 1870s. These were the first successful steam tram locomotives in Europe, and influenced later designs in many countries. Among the leading continental steam tram builders was Krauss of Munich, one of whose engines is still in regular service on the Chiemseebahn tourist line in Bavaria (see Fig. 1.5)
. Progress was greater on the development of steam railcars, a notable success in France and Germany being the Rowan articulated car, with the body saddled on the locomotive unit, consisting of boiler, cylinders and driving wheels.
In 1874 The Tramways (Ireland) Act of 1871 provided for a tramway worked by ‘a locomotive engine or other mechanical power’, but the first did not open until 1881 between Dublin and Lucan. By then the rural Wantage Tramway in Oxfordshire had obtained its own powers to operate by steam power along the roadside under regulations authorised in 1875. The Guernsey Steam Tramway Co. Ltd. obtained powers from the States of Guernsey for a steam tramway in 1877, and opened in 1879. During 1878 there were 25 applications to Parliament for Tramways Orders, and a Select Committee was set up, which reported in 1879. The result was the Tramways Orders Confirmation Act which, subject to specified conditions, legalised steam tramways. After experiments under licence since 1878 steam traction on a permanent basis commenced in Dewsbury in April 1880.
The Soho Road experiment
Back to Birmingham, the first horse tramway opened in 1872 from Hockley Brook to Great Bridge and Hill Top, extended into Birmingham to Monmouth Street (Colmore Row) on 1 January 1873.
In 1875, Mr John Downes, licensee of the ‘Red Lion’, Soho Road, Handsworth, (also listed in Kelly’s Directory for 1879 as an Iron Merchant) took out a patent for ‘Improvements in locomotive and stationary steam engines’, claiming a cure for the ‘waste steam and smoke nuisance, and obviating all noise from the engine, thus making it particularly suitable for use on underground railways, tramways etc.’ He had a prototype engine built by Henry Hughes and Company, of the Falcon Works, Loughborough for £600. It was displayed in the forecourt of the ‘Red Lion’ in December 1875, and on 7 January it was put on to the horse tram tracks on Soho Road, and taken to the depot at Tildasley Street, West Bromwich. The next day the engine, coupled to an ordinary horse car, was driven to the ‘Red Lion’ and an official party of invited guests was taken to the ‘New Inns’, where luncheon was served. West Bromwich council became hostile to the locomotive and gave notice to Downes to cease his experiments by 27 January 1876. On 26 January the engine was driven into Birmingham at an early hour in the morning to test its hill-climbing capabilities. It climbed Hockley Hill without difficulty but lost adhesion at the top of Snow Hill, opposite the Great Western Hotel owing to the slippery state of the rails, but is was noted that the flange profile of the wheels was in any case too deep for proper adhesion.
The driver of the engine on these trials incidentally was Mr John Inshaw of ‘The Steam Clock’, Morville Street, Ladywood. Although not the publican there, he may have had some other connection, for he had designed and built a novel steam clock after which the hostelry was named. He had also assisted Dr Church in his experiments with steam road carriages. He also developed steam-hauled canal ‘fly-boats’, and was well-known as an engineer.
The original horse tram route ran through from Birmingham via West Bromwich and Carters Green to Hill Top, but traffic on parts of the line was too light to pay for itself. As a result, passenger services to Hill Top had ceased in September 1875, running only as far as West Bromwich Market Hall on weekdays and through to Carter’s Green on Sundays. There was local pressure to reopen a service using the Downes engine, and the tramway company appears to have been willing to cooperate, but the council was firmly opposed and nothing came of the idea. Downes, incidentally, had another connection with the tramway company, as he leased stables next to the ‘Red Lion’ to them.
Meanwhile the locomotive builders, Henry Hughes, took out a patent for a steam tram engine, and carried out a public trial at Leicester on 27 March 1876. Downes contested infringement of his patent without success.
That year, the struggling tramway company was bought out by a new firm, which paid £22,150 for the system, which had originally cost up to £115,000, together with the principal competing bus company. Work was in hand on building a second line along the Bristol Road, which opened on 5 June 1876.
The Bristol Road experiment
On 2 July 1880 a second steam loco trial was held, this time on the Bristol Road line, using a steam tram engine also built by Hughes of Loughborough, which had already been demonstrated at Glasgow, Wantage, Paris and Lille. The trial started in Colmore Row outside the tramway company’s offices, with representatives of the Public Works Committee and the company, travelling in a brand new horse car behind the locomotive. It proceeded across Victoria Square to Paradise where there was a brief derailment. It took the bend into Suffolk Street ‘well’, where brake tests were carried out on the downhill gradient. The car then continued to Bournbrook terminus, where a break was made at the ‘Bournbrook Hotel’. This demonstration also came to nothing.
No more was reported about the event. The horse tramway company was already in dire financial difficulties and, in an attempt to extricate itself, re-emerged as the Birmingham and Suburban Tramways Company in 1881, having powers to operate tramways in many parts of Birmingham. But it avoided committing itself to expense as long as possible.

 

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Peter Walker

gone but not forgotten
Re: Birmingham steam trams

Re: The Story of Midland Red
The origins
1731 – 1870: Early stage coach and horse bus services

The first commercial stage carriage service to Birmingham was advertised as early as 1731 from London via Warwick, Banbury and Aylesbury. The coming of the canals in 1769 was made it much easier to move heavy goods to and from Birmingham, and it enabled the Industrial Revolution to take place, but the canals were too slow for passenger traffic. So it was not until after the first railways came to Birmingham in 1838 that stage coaches lost their major importance to the life of the town.
Fig 1 — London and Birmingham Stage carriage in the early 1800s.
During the 18th century, Birmingham was still small enough not to need any form of public transport, although a taxicab business started in the 1790s. It was not until 15 May 1834 that Birmingham’s first horse bus route started operation, between the ‘Swan’ in Snow Hill and the Bristol Road turnpike gate at Priory Road. Two other firms started a few weeks later, running from Steelhouse Lane to the ‘Plough and Harrow’, Edgbaston and the ‘Beehive’, Handsworth and, by the end of that year, horse buses were running from Birmingham to Dudley and Wolverhampton. By 1837 horse buses ran to Wolverhampton, Dudley, West Bromwich, Stourbridge, Brierley Hill, Wednesbury, Bilston and Sutton. Out-of-town proprietors offered less frequent services to Aldridge, Atherstone, Bewdley, Bromsgrove, Coleshill, Dudley, Leamington, Solihull, Stourbridge, Studley and Tamworth, mainly for market traffic.
As the town continued to grow, Birmingham received its Charter of Incorporation as a Municipal Borough in 1838, and more services were opened to new suburbs of the town. By 1846 a number of small proprietors were working local horse bus services to Moseley (6 daily, 4 Sundays), Spon Lane, Smethwick (3 daily), Harborne (5 daily, 4 Sundays), Edgbaston (6 daily), Bristol Road (6 daily, 2 Sundays), ‘New Inns’, Handsworth via Hunters Road (7 daily). The number of horse-drawn coaches continued to grow until the railways reached Birmingham in the 1840s, but the road carriage soon lost its importance for journeys over about 20 miles.

Map 1 — This map shows public transport in 1853, a year after the Great Western Railway had opened its line from London to Snow Hill station, and just as the Stour Valley railway line opened to Wolver.hampton, terminating at a partly-finished New Street station. The Great Western was extended to Wolverhampton Low Level, and the London, Bristol and Derby lines reached New Street in the following year.
Fig 2 — A Bristol Road horse bus in about 1860.

By 1869 Birmingham’s population had risen to nearly 300 000 within the town boundaries, or 400 000 including the neighbouring parishes, and there were 20 horse buses in service on 15 routes, operated by different proprietors. In May 1869, William and Daniel Busby, who had set up a large horse bus company on Merseyside, proposed “an immediate attempt to introduce into Birmingham, the Liverpool system of quick and frequent journeys at low fares”. The following month their new company, the Birmingham Omnibus Company, opened five new routes to Moseley, Bristol Road (Pebble Mill Lane), Hagley Road (Norfolk Road), Villa Cross and Aston Park, running at 30-minute intervals using ten horse buses of a new design based on French practice. Competition between rival operators was fierce, but demand was so great that there was room for all.
1872 - Competition from the trams
On 20 May 1872, the Birmingham and District Tramways Co. Ltd opened the first horse-drawn tramway in the district, from the Birmingham boundary at Hockley Brook through Handsworth and West Bromwich to Great Bridge and Hill Top. Trams were better suited to carry heavy passenger loads, especially over shorter distances, but harder on the horses. For this reason, horse traction was soon replaced by steam, cable and ultimately in the 1890s, electricity. From the mid-1880s, horse buses were used mainly to open up new areas before traffic was heavy enough to support a tram service. But they continued to be used on routes between towns.
Over the next 25 years the various tramway companies merged, frequently taking over horse bus companies to eliminate competition, ending up with the City of Birmingham Tramways Company, formed in 1896, which also operated 45 horse buses. The omnibus department was put in the charge of Mr O C Power who was already responsible for the omnibuses operated by the Birmingham General Omnibus Company. Mr Power later became Traffic Manager of the Midland Red until 1943 — and one of the company’s three legendary personalities who built the company up to become a world leader.

Fig 3 — A horse bus in Acocks Green at the turn of the century.
Meanwhile many of the larger Midland towns used their powers to build and operate tramways themselves, starting with Nottingham in 1897, Wolverhampton in 1900, Leicester and Walsall in 1901, Wolverhampton, Derby and Birmingham in 1904, Coventry in 1912, and Worcester as late as 1926. Birmingham was to follow, starting in 1900 but not opening operation until 1904.
Map 2 — By 1900, horse bus routes [shown in red] were secondary to the trams [routes shown in black] except on the Hagley Road through the Calthorpe Estate, which resisted their construction.

 

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Peter Walker

gone but not forgotten
Re: Birmingham steam trams

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Re: Birmingham's steam trams

— The Birmingham and Aston Tramways
The attached Map 3.1 shows the Birmingham steam tramway network at its peak in 1904. The first steam tramway in the Birmingham area was opened in 1882 by an independent local group, the Birmingham & Aston Tramway Company, between Witton and the Old Square (Map 3.2).
Within Birmingham the original route ran from the Old Square, off the almost completed Corporation Street down to Aston Street, Gosta Green and then along Aston Road to the boundary at Aston Brook. The line continued to Aston Cross, then bearing left into Park Road to Aston Church and thence via Witton Lane to Witton. On the return journey the track diverged at Aston Church and followed Church Lane to Lichfield Road, thence to Aston Cross where it rejoined the other track. As shown in Map 2, other routes were authorised, but not all were built. The loop round Witton Road, Bevington Road and Trinity Road was added in 1884, the branch along Lichfield Road to Salford Bridge was opened in 1885, and the lines in Wheeler Street and Witton Road in 1886, as will be mentioned later. The other authorised lines in Coleshill Street and Woodcock Street were not built.
The attached early photo 3.3 shows an engine coupled to two horse trailers, an arrangement which was not approved by the Board of Trade, and was never put into public service. Photo 3.4 shows Kitson engine No. 14 with trailer 22 in Witton Lane, apparently just having traversed the loop via Trinity Road, Bevington Road and Witton Road. The side boards show the route ASTON PARK AND LOWER GROUNDS. Photo 3.5 shows a later version of Kitson engine with five side bays, adding to its weight, but providing extra space for coke and water tanks.


Map 3.1 is entitled Birmingham trams in 1904 — sorry about the confusion
Peter
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Peter Walker

gone but not forgotten
Re: Birmingham steam trams

— Birmingham’s steam trams — a brief description
The principles of steam tramcar design were well established by the time they finally came to Birmingham, and a range of rolling stock was available from various builders. While railcars were being used abroad, in Britain the steam locomotive and trailer were the norm. Because of the many narrow streets in Birmingham and the Black Country, the standard gauge of 4ft 81/2in (1435 mm) and the width of the cars, about 7 feet (2130 mm), had been found inconveniently wide. The Board of Trade favoured the narrow gauge of 3ft 6in (1067 mm), for future tramways in Birmingham and the Black Country. Surprisingly, the overall car width was restricted to only 5ft 8in (1717mm), which proved an advantage in negotiating crowded and narrow streets, but a discomfort for passengers. When overhead electric cars came on the road twenty years later, the maximum width was increased to 6ft 3in (1905 mm), which was a distinct improvement for passengers.
Photograph 2.1 shows the first engine and a typical trailer on the Birmingham and Aston Tramways. The engine (drawing 2.2) had four driving wheels, 2ft 41/4in (717.5 mm) diameter outside the frame, and two cylinders with Joy’s valve gear, all enclosed in a housing to protect pedestrians and other road users. The horizontal boiler was heated by a firebox at one end, into which the driver loaded coke from a hopper as required. The smokebox at the other end discharged into a long chimney which projected through the roof sheltering the driver, to extend to the top of the double-deck passenger trailers. The tram engines were required by law to condense steam leaving the cylinders, and condensers were generally placed above the canopy. They were also required to have a governor to restrict the top speed to 10 miles/h, but it is recorded that these were not usually fully effective in later days. Water was generally stored in tanks either side of the boiler, although some models had well tanks beneath the footplate.
In theory the engines could be driven either way, but different designs were more suitable for one particular direction. Many outer termini had this arrangement, the tram turning into a coke yard with an ash pit over which the firebox could be raked out, water tanks and coke bunkers filled. It was also necessary to drain off the condensate, which was not fed back into the storage tanks, and any necessary oiling would be carried out.
It was more practical to reverse the whole train rather than uncouple and run the engine round the trailer car. This could be done by providing a turning loop, but it was became common practice at outer termini to form a reversing triangle with an off-street coke and servicing yard. The tram would be driven into the yard for servicing, and then reverse out in the opposite direction, ready for the return journey. While the main purpose of the yards was for loading coke, it was also necessary to fill tanks with water, to rake out the firebox, for which a pit was provided between the rails, and carry out lubrication and any adjustments as required. It would also be necessary to drain the condensers, as the water was not fully recycled. According to C Gilbert, coke was delivered to he yards by tram at first, but later by contractor using horse-drawn wagons.
The passenger cars (drawing 2.3 and photo 2.4) were generally double-deck, with an enclosed lower saloon, and an open sided upper deck with a canopy to catch soot and cinders, as well as protection from bad weather. The first cars were double-ended, but some later examples were single ended, for use on routes with loops or reversing wyes. A single staircase made it possible to increase seating capacity within a given length of car. There was a vertically mounted handwheel on the right hand side of each platform, operating brake shoes on the wheels. In later years there was an additional horizontal wheel on the left side of the platform working a drum brake on the axle, which would be applied automatically if a loco separated from the car — a thin chain connection between the two winding on the brake, which would be locked in position by the time the chain broke. Normal service braking was worked from the engine steam brake, by means of a rod and chain. Engines and cars were coupled by means of the Nicholson automatic coupling — a combined centre-buffer and automatic coupling, with the safety chain in case of a breakaway.
The daily routine would commence with raking out and stoking up the fire which had been left to smoulder overnight, the excess ash and soot being dropped into a pit between the rails. Water would be topped up, and bearings and valve gear would be lubricated, after which the engine would be ready for the road. During the day, water would have to be taken frequently (there was an economic limit to the capacity of the tanks), and coke would have to be loaded from time to time. At the end of the shift, the loco would be driven back into the depot yard, the tank filled, the firebox raked out, and left to smoulder overnight.
The engines were supposed to carry a full kit of tools and lifting jack; but C Gilbert recalled that this was not always so, as proved on the Stratford Road one night in 1904. A boy of about five ran in front of an engine and was pinned under the engine for about half an hour before he could be extricated. There was no spanner to remove the protective skirts, and they could not find a jack to left the engine. The drivers also carried two short bars of iron, about a foot long, 11/2in wide and 3/4in thick. They were used if the rear bogie of a trailer took the wrong track, and also for reversing over trailing points, which had no moving blades.
The steam tram was to serve Birmingham from 1882 until the last day of 1906. Their contribution to animal welfare was in itself considerable, but the fact that they continued for so long demonstrates their reliability, although failures were not unknown (see press report, 2.5). They may have had few admirers: a long lugubrious dirge appeared on one postcard commemorating their demise, which did them scant justice.
The rest of these notes describe Birmingham’s steam trams in greater detail. A concise history of the tramway companies and lists of their rolling stock are expertly given by Peter Gould on a series of websites listed at the end of this series. The purpose of the present contribution is to add illustrations, maps and local detail. Dates quoted in the original sources are sometimes contradictory, and specific dates are quoted only where they do not conflict with any other record.
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Peter Walker

gone but not forgotten
Re: Birmingham steam trams

Re: Birmingham's steam trams
— Old Square to Witton and Gravelly Hill
According to the 1890 OS map there was originally a reversing triangle at the Old Square (see map 4.1), but a turning loop was installed, probably when the terminus was shared with routes operated by the Birmingham Central Tramways (see map 4.2), which can be seen in photograph 4.3.
At Witton the exact track layout was more complicated. The 1890 OS map (4.4) shows a complex layout: the road on the left is Witton Road leading down towards Bevington Road and Six Ways, and that on the right is Witton Lane leading down to Aston Church and Aston Cross. We can only guess at the original 1882 arrangement: it seems most likely that the reversing triangle in Witton Lane on the site of the later electric car sheds is original, with an open coke yard. The single connection off Witton Lane led into the adjoining car and engine sheds. The extension round the corner into Witton Road was the Bevington Road loop added in 1884 and the stub end on the north side of Witton Road may have been added in 1886 when a new route was opened via Six Ways Aston to Witton, which will be mentioned later.
The branch to ‘Gravelly Hill’ was opened in early 1885, along Lichfield Road from Aston Cross to a terminus 100 yards short of Salford Bridge, originally a simple stub terminus with a standpipe for the locos, which was soon replaced at the insistence of Aston council by a coke yard with two-way connection, permitting reversal of the tram and servicing of the loco off the public highway. (see map 4.5).

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