February 2006 was the centenary of the opening of the South Metropolitan Electric Tramways and Lighting Co. Ltd.'s first route. This view is in High Street by Penge West railway station, near the Thicket Road terminus and showing the Penge entrance to Crystal Palace (straight ahead under the bridge). It was taken between 1st June 1906 when the route from Selby Road, as on this tram's destination, was first operated by SouthMet's own cars and 24th June 1907, after which date Croydon Corporation took over the operation of this section. The postcard was published by the London View Company Ltd., our card being posted on 1st August 1908. The caption on the card is "Beckenham Road, Penge, Showing Penge Entrance to Palace". Notice that due to the narrowness of the road under the railway bridge, the tracks there were interlaced. The roadway at this point was also lowered to give clearance for the trams beneath the bridge, but the pavements were not, hence the railings to protect pedestrians.
SouthMet was part of the British Electric Traction Group (BET). The first section of their system, in Penge from Selby Road to the Pawleyne Arms, was inspected on 10th February 1906 and opened to the public on 13th February. On 12th April the track continuing along Beckenham Road and High Street to Thicket Road terminus was added. At first the line was worked using BET owned Croydon Tramways cars, but after 1st June 1906 Croydon Corporation took over the operation of their tramway from BET and so SouthMet's own cars were substituted. In 1906 further SouthMet routes opened to the west of Croydon to Sutton and Mitcham (see Postcard). The initial livery is described as Brunswick Green and Ivory. In 1913 SouthMet was absorbed into the Underground Group and the trams were repainted red and white, and in 1933 became part of London Transport.
Tramcar 5 was part of the 1-16 series (later called Type J). The bodies were built by the United Electric Car Co. Ltd. of Preston and supplied to Brush of Loughborough who fitted them out for the opening of the SouthMet tramways in 1906. They were double-deck open-top with 28 seats in the lower saloon and 30 on the top deck. They had normal half-turn staircases and were fitted with Brush type "H" controllers. They were mounted on 4-wheel Brush 9ft 6in wheelbase trucks with Lycett & Conaty radial axle boxes, two 40 horsepower Brush motors and C.J. Spencer's patent track brakes for use on Anerley Hill. After some reconstruction in 1928 and 1930, the whole class passed to London Transport in 1933 and were repainted in their red livery, receiving an "S" suffix to their fleet numbers (SouthMet cars were never given new numbers in the LT fleet list). They ran until 1935 when they were broken up at Brixton Hill depot.
The Lycett & Conaty axleboxes were much larger than normal and consisted of an inner and outer box. The outer winged box allowed vertical movement of the axle, and was sprung in the normal fashion. The inner box, which actually contained the axle bearings, could move horizontally to allow a radial action, easing flange wear and allowing the wheelbase to be made larger than normal. The motors were axle hung, nose suspended as on most 4-wheel trucks, but in this case each nose suspension was at a single point instead of the usual sprung beam and this connection provided a pivot for the radial action. The inner axlebox was allowed to move within the outer box on top and bottom slides, which could turn on pivots to take up the best position. On entering a curve the axles would follow the line of the curve due to flange pressure and on leaving the curve would return to a parallel position.
On 6th December 1933 former SouthMet route 6, West Croydon to Mitcham, was replaced by an extension of ex LCC route 30, which in turn was replaced by trolleybus route 630 on 12th September 1937. SouthMet route 7, Sutton to West Croydon, was replaced by trolleybus route 654 on 8th December 1935. When B1 class trolleybuses with the special run-back brakes for Anerley Hill became available, this route was extended on 8th February 1936 to replace SouthMet route 5, West Croydon to Crystal Palace. At the first stage of trolleybus replacement on 3rd March 1959, RT buses on route 154 took over.
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