West Metropolitan Horse Tram

West Metropolitan Tramways, Kew-Richmond

The year 2001 was the centenary of the opening by London United Tramways of London's first true electric tramway. However, not all L.U.T. horse tramways were electrified and, as shown in our postcard, the line from Kew Bridge (south side) to Richmond was the exception.

The postcard, captioned Kew Road and Victoria Gate Kew Gardens, was published locally by E.Whiteley of Kew Gardens. Interestingly, an overprint on the back is in French and advertises Bleu Reckitt, Brasso, Mine de Plomb Zebra, and Pâte Zebra. The date is uncertain, but is probably around 1905.

In 1881 the West Metropolitan Tramways Company was formed to take over the existing horse tramway from Shepherds Bush to Acton and to build other lines in West London including one from Hammersmith to Richmond via Kew Bridge. Kew Bridge itself (an eighteenth-century structure) was far too narrow for a tramway and as permission to lay tracks was refused, the tramway was built in two sections, with that on the Surrey (south) side of the River Thames along Kew Road being isolated from the rest of the system. It opened on 17th April 1883.

The Kew Road tramway was single track with passing loops and had its own depot at Richmond although heavy maintenance was undertaken at the main depot at Chiswick. It is believed the trams were dragged on their flanges over Kew Bridge. Prior to 1901, the route was worked by knifeboard-seat cars from an unknown British manufacturer. From the very start, the route was financially unsound, partly due to fierce bus competition and partly due to the fact that it could not cross the river.

Pissarro French Impressionist Camille Pissarro visited London several times and in 1892 painted his "Church at Kew" (St. Anne's church on Kew Green), which included a West Metropolitan tram (left).

In 1894 the West Metropolitan company went into receivership, being taken over by the newly formed London United Tramways who electrified the line north of the Thames in 1901. New garden-seat 7-window trams by G.F.Milnes were put on the Kew Road route in 1894. Electrification released better horse trams to replace the last of the early cars on Kew Road, these being 4-window cars built by Milnes and 5-window cars by L.U.T. themselves at Chiswick. The livery of the trams was noted as being brown and yellow, or blue and cream. Our postcard seems to show one of the 1894 Milnes cars and the brown and yellow colouring would be correct.

London United Tramways made repeated attempts to electrify Kew Road and to cross Kew Bridge, which was rebuilt in 1903. Richmond Corporation formed a Tramways Committee that continually blocked the schemes wanting, among other things, road widening and operation by the conduit system. The residents of Kew Road also opposed the use of overhead wires. As the Kew line was losing money and there seemed no prospect of early electrification, the company gave up and decided to close the Kew Bridge to Richmond line. The last tram was car 22 which ran into the depot at 11.20 pm on 20th April 1912, driven by W.Banfield who had driven the first car in 1883. The line was formally abandoned on 31st May 1912, the route being covered by extensions to the "General" bus service from Turnham Green to Richmond and Twickenham.

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Postcard of the Month is created by John R. Prentice © Copyright 2001