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Witton Aston Manor Tram Depot

Peter Walker

gone but not forgotten
The early history - steam trams
Witton tram shed was built in 1882 to house the steam trams which first operated a public service between the Old Square and Witton. The main shed still survives, with its inscription “BOROUGH OF ASTON MANOR TRAMWAYS DEPOT”, and four arched entrances and tracks dividing into seven dividing inside the hall. To the left of the main shed was the locomotive shed, entered off he road by a single track. The steam trams were very small and boxy compared with the bulk of the long double deck trailers, and the fires had to be looked after all night and steam pressure raised next day in time for service. But they were more powerful and efficient than horses, and lasted over 20 years. The passenger trailer cars were licensed to carry 60, but twice that number were carried for special events at the Aston Lower Grounds or the Serpentine Ground.
The depot and all the street tracks were owned by the Borough of Aston Manor, but leased to the Birmingham and Aston Tramways Company. Part of the original proposals was a loop round the Lower Grounds, from Aston Church along Trinity Road, Bevington Road and Witton Lane, which was opened for occasional service for special events in 1884. A branch was built under the same terms from Aston Cross to Salford Bridge and opened on 25 February 1885. Meanwhile the Birmingham Central Tramways Company opened steam tram routes from the Old Square to Perry Barr (where they built a depot) and later to Lozells, Villa Cross via Six Ways. New tracks were built along Witton Road from Six Ways to Bevington Road in 1887, but these were operated by Birmingham Central Company steam trams.
Electric trams
By the turn of the century, electric trams were in regular use elsewhere, and a big national corporation, the British Electrical Traction Company Ltd (BET), was set up in 1896 to take over existing horse and steam tramways, to electrify and operate them. Between 1897 and 1902 the BET acquired most of the tramway companies in Birmingham and the Black Country. Most of the smaller town were happy with this arrangement, but Birmingham, Walsall and Wolverhampton obtained parliamentary powers to operate tramways themselves, taking in the leases to existing companies as they expired or by other arrangements.
The Birmingham & Aston Tramways company’s lease expired at the end of 1903, and during that year, the company was taken over by the BET and Birmingham Corporation rebuilt and electrified the tracks southwards from the city boundary at Aston Brook Street to a new terminus in Steelhouse Lane, next to Snow Hill Station, together with a new depot in Miller Street, to the approval of the Board of Trade on 28 December 1903. Corporation trams started to run as for as Aston Brook Street, and passengers then had to change on to steam trams (which I guess reversed on the triangle leading to Miller Street depot) to get Witton or Salford Bridge. By 16 June 1904 the electrics ran through to Aston Cross, where the connecting steamers had to reverse, and by 19 September 1904 company electric trams ran through to Aston Church - presumably for the first few weeks the depot was being electrified and the company electric cars may have been stabled at Miller until Witton depot was ready and company cars ran through from Steelhouse Lane to Witton on 6 October 1904. The route to Salford Bridge was electrified on 14 November 1904.
It is on record that the 27 old steam locomotives cost between £625 and £895 each when new, and were sold for £25 to £45 each, while the 26 passenger trailers cost £220 to £250 each when new, and went for scrap at between £3 and £5. A year earlier, Birmingham Corporation paid £537.10.0 each for their new electric cars.
The old Borough of Aston Manor was merged into the City of Birmingham in 1911, and the various properties of the City of Birmingham Tramways Company were taken over by the Birmingham Corporation Tramways Department on 1 July 1911. The old locomotive depot was leased out - I think a firm named Birmingham Electrical Repairs was there in the 1930s and 1940s. The main depot remained in regular use until the rear part was badly bombed on 4 December 1940, bringing down part of the side wall on the right and most of the roof . All but two of the 38 cars housed there were damaged. Over the next month the damage was cleared, what was left of the cars was towed ( with the loose bits removed) to the back of Moseley Road depot, where there was spare room for them, while spare cars from other depots were used to keep services running, parked overnight on the Trinity Road / Bevington Road loop. By January, the depot had been cleared and dangerous structures removed, and new overhead wires supported by normal street poles erected within the depot were the wall had gone. At some time around 1946 (I wish I could remember when) the roof was replaced, and the depot came back into full normal use, until 31 December 1949, when the 3X route to Martineau Street was replaced by buses, The depot was still used for the Lozells 5 and some of the Short Heath 79 workings until 30 September 1950, when the Lozells route was closed. For the next few months the depot was used as an abattoir by the contractor W T Bird to cut the cars up into pieces which were transported to their yard near Stratford on Avon. Then followed an quiet time at the depot, with a few redundant cars being broken up in 1951, until most of the old Bristol Road cars were broken up there after that abandonment on 5 July 1952. That took some time, as there were well over 100 cars to deal with, and then it was time for the final abandonment in July 1953. As the big depot at Miller Street was to be converted for buses, it was decided to out-stable 30 or so of the cars from there every night at Witton from November 1952 until the final abandonment on 4 July 1953
My special memories
I became fairly familiar with Witton tram shed after I started at Aston Grammar in 1944, using the 3X and 5 trams a often as I could find an excuse.
Over the Easter school holidays in 1950 I paid many visits to the depot, where a few young fellow members of the Light Railway Transport League had inveigled themselves into into the maintenance engineers’ office in the evenings. Their den was in the right-hand corner at the back of the shed. They had quite a good view of the rest of the depot, and had the basic requirements for their job, a workbench, a table, plenty of chairs, stove, and they were provided with adequate coke and cooking materials, There were three or four men on duty each night, with various jobs to do. Somehow they all found time to talk to us, which I think they enjoyed as much as we did. The conversation was entirely about trams (although this was right next to the Villa ground) and we were taken through, underneath and on the roofs of the cars. They let us do a few simple jobs on the cars ourselves, like filling the sand hoppers for braking. This was quite unofficial of course, although the Manager, Arthur Chantry Baker had a policy of encouraging serious interest, and his successor Wilfred Smith on retirement became President of the Omnibus Society.
Birmingham trams may have been old and narrow-gutted, but they were always well maintained.
Peter Walker
 

gingerjon

master brummie
Peter what a cracking story and historical facts this would go well with our transport page on the main site what do you feel about it ?
 

Di.Poppitt

master brummie
What a good history of those beloved trams Peter. I have written of my love of them as a child, and I remember standing on Witton Road seeing the tram lines being taken up.
 

Peter Walker

gone but not forgotten
Witton tram shed - a postscript

I have just been looking at a copy of our magazine "The Modern Tramway" dated January 1941, which contained the following news item:
"A certain tram depot in the Midlands which recently suffered air raid damage is to be reopened for use on 'open-air' lines. Though the roof has partly gone, poles are being erected to support the overhead, formerly carried in troughing suspended from above."
I think it is nice to see how enthusiasts could and did pass their news on, despite various government and police controls. 25 years later when I was editing the overseas part of the same mag, we had an incredible world-wide network which straddled the iron curtain. We had to be very cautious about disclosing our sources of information, and used the names of two resident journalists, the French U. N. Autre and the German N. O. Cheiner, whose names conveniently translated into English as A N Other. In 1970 we published a complete track map of the Leningrad tramways which I drew from details supplied by a party of enthusiasts rode every route and got into every depot.
Peter
 

Alf

Gone but not forgotten. R.I.P.
3X

Great article Peter.

Oh the 3X when we moved to Erdington by Witton cemetry used to catch the bus to Witton just to ride the 3X to town.
 
O

O.C.

Guest
Old 100 year (Nearly) Postcard in Memory of the OLD STEAM TRAM
 

Rupert

master brummie
Hi. Peter,
What can I say. Just a wonderful article. First class I suppose none of the old locos were saved.

Great post Cromwell.

Regards.
 

Di.Poppitt

master brummie
Rupert, there is a Transport Museum in the old tram depot at Witton, there are old bus's I know, but I have never managed to get in because it opens at odd hours. Peter will know if there are any of the old trams in Brum. He's off line right now, his puter is poorly.
 

Rupert

master brummie
Thanks Di. You see these little old steam trams in pictures from time to time. Doesn't seem right.. a tram pulled by a little loco does it. But they were around and the article here tells all about them and more. Cromwells post actually gives some idea of what it was like to ride on them. This is a great site.
Regards.
 
O

O.C.

Guest
Astonian
Cut and pasted you question below (bottom)
Tyburn Rd was called that in the 1920's but the best person who you can talk to regarding trams is Peter Walker as his knowledge is far greater than mine on the subject
But saying that I think you are right regarding the turntables.


CROMWELL DID TYBURN ROAD RD, ERDINGTON, ALWAYS EXCISTED IN THE 192O,S OR WAS IT CALLED SOMTHINK DIFFERENT IN THOSE DAYS , BEFORE THE TRAMS STARTED RUNNING DOWN THERE, I BELEIVE THERE WAS A TRAM TURN TABLE DOWN THERE TO TAKE PEOPLE TO THE DUNLOP, , HAS YOU OR ANY BODY GOT A PIC OF TYBURN RD,FROM THE 193O,S I COULD DOWN LOAD , HOPE TO HEAR FROM YOU SOON , KEEP UP THE GOOD WORK ,;;;; BEST WISHES , ASTONIAN;;;
 
O

O.C.

Guest
I have just come across this photo in a paper dated 1906 The Last Steam Tram
Showing the last journey made under steam in Birmingham,the road is allready being taken up to lay the live rails
 

postie

The buck stops here
Staff member
The last horse drawn tram to Nechells in 1906. The drivers whip carries a black ribbon to signify his redundant state. :(
 
R

Rod

Guest
I'm sure Peter will be most interested in these piccies once he can return to the site.
 

Rupert

master brummie
These are stunning and historic pictures. So interesting and so poignant. The steam trams were not around for very long from what I have read but they filled the transportation gap for the years between horse drawn trams and electric trams. Can you imagine them puffing and clanking along the road. Must have been a bit smokey.
In 1845 Sir John Franklin set out on his ill-fated voyage to find the North West Passage. The boats used (Erebus and Terror) were retrofitted with auxiliary steam engines which were railway engines bolted down and driving a screw. I think they were only about 20hp. I wonder if the same manufacturer made both engines.
 

Peter Walker

gone but not forgotten
A belated reply, as I was off-line for weeks, but happily back now. Thanks for kind comments.
Steam Trams - I don't think any Birmingham area steam tram engines or bodies survived as long as WW1, but I could be wrong.
Electric Trams - yes, car 395 has been preserved, but I'm afraid I can't say where it is now. It was delivered around New Year 1912 working its early years on the Bristol Road from Dawlish Road, Bournbrook until that depot was replaced by the new sheds which still stand in Harborne Lane,Selly Oak. The tram moved to Coventry Road depot to work the Stechford routes in 1939, and from there to Miller Street in 1942, after which it moved between those depots and Witton until it was made redundant by closure of the Lozells route in October 1950. It went to Witton depot for breaking up, but was earmarked as the best example for preservation, and was put into store at Kyotts Lake Road Works in late November 1950. In early 1953 it was transferred to the new Science Museum in what had been Elkington's factory, where it was not exhibited until 1956 or 1957, in a yard space between other buildings, with a simple corrugated asbestos roof which I designed. It stayed there for many years until the Elkington's building had to be demolished (it was always really unstable). I very much doubt if the Council had it broken up, although it suffered from cold and damp. Somebody else will know for certain.
Peter
 

Rupert

master brummie
There was a tram inside the science museum in an exhibit around the late 50s early 60s. I don't know if this was the tram you refer to but it was complete and I vaguely recall that it had the open ends on top but would not vouch for it. It was a wonderful exhibit with the recorded sounds of the old trams played at the press of a button. This was not in an outside shed as I recall. Surely this would not have been broken up. If it has been then all I can say is those in control have no idea of the treasure that sits in their lap.
Regards.
 

john70

master brummie
I believe the tram that was in the science museum in Newhall St. is now at the Think Tank museum, possibly still in store, the old Witton tram depot now houses a bus museum and the old tram tracks can still be seen the website is www.amrtm.org
 

Peter Walker

gone but not forgotten
Yes, John 70, the tram is in the Think Tank, from the pictures I've seen, although I haven't yet been there to see the real thing again. It was put in the old Museum of Science and Industry, in Elkington's old factory overv the canal in Newhall Street in 1958, and I have in front of me a dyeline print of the original pencil drawing I did when working for the City Architect's Department showing the building work to house the tram. A tracer then produced a fair copy in ink of my drawing, but I never kept a copy of that. I will have a go at scanning a bit of my drawing, as it's quite historic in a way. But it won't be very clear, because I used a very hard pencil on a whitish tracing paper, which was easy to trace over the original, but not so good for doing dyeline copies. My drawing was dated 16.06.1958, revised 03.07.1958, my birthday and a day short of the fifth anniversary of the last Birmingham tram in service.
Peter
 
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