Portsmouth Corporation Tramways Cars 47 & 16

Postcard of the Month

Portsmouth Corporation Tramways Cars 47 & 16, Southsea Common

This postcard is another by that most famous of French card producers, Lévy Fils et Cie, of 44 Rue Letellier, Paris, who published a number of British scenes. The view was taken on a Sunday afternoon in the summer of 1906 at the Clarence Pier terminus of the Portsmouth tramways at Southsea Common. The tram on the right (16) is in service on the Inner Circle route. That on the left (47) is a "special" and may well have been posed for the photographer.

The Portsmouth tramways began life as four horse tramway companies, the first being built by the Landport and Southsea Tramways Company from Landport railway station (later named Portsmouth Town, now Portsmouth & Southsea) to Clarence Pier Southsea, the location of our view, and which opened on 15th May 1865. The track gauge was 4ft 7 3/4in, this odd size being adopted so that railway wagons could be hauled on the tram tracks by running on their flanges, a practice adopted elsewhere such as in Glasgow but probably never actually used in Portsmouth. The other companies were the Portsmouth Street Tramways Company (a Provincial Tramways company), the General Tramways Company of Portsmouth and the Portsmouth (Borough), Kingston, Fratton and Southsea Tramways Company. The Provincial Tramways Group had bought out all the other companies by 1892 and had amalgamated them. The whole tramway was taken over by the Corporation on 1st January 1901 and electrified on 24th September 1901 although due to required bridge strengthening the last horse car did not run on the Hilsea-Cosham section until May 1903.

The trams on our card were both from the original batch of 80 open top cars built by the Electric Railway and Tramway Carriage Works Ltd of Preston for the opening of the electric tramway in 1901. They had 22 seats on the lower deck and 33 on the upper. They had Brill 21E four-wheel trucks each with two Dick Kerr 25A 25-horsepower motors operated by Dick Kerr DB1 Form K controllers. The livery was crimson lake and cream.

From an original fleet of 65 horse trams on twelve miles of route, the system expanded in electric days to a maximum of 116 trams (including three water cars) and 17.7 miles of route. Also operating in the Portsmouth area were the Portsdown and Horndean Light Railway and the Gosport and Fareham Tramway. As was common with many tramway systems in the 1930s it was decided to replace trams with trolleybuses, the first running on 4th August 1934. The last tram, car 106, ran on 10th November 1936 with around 100 trolleybuses continuing on an extended system until 27th July 1963. Car 84, one of four North Metropolitan horse trams of 1880 rebuilt as electric cars by Portsmouth in 1903 and used as a railgrinder until 1919, has been restored and can now be seen at the Hampshire County Council Museum in Basingstoke.

Alternate view The image is of unusual interest from a postcard point of view. Most cards by this publisher (commonly known as "LL" from the letters on the front of all the cards) were based on a high quality plate photograph and produced as high definition black and white lithographic postcard prints, sometimes machine or hand-coloured as in our example. When a scene was photographed, often two plates were exposed within a very short space of time (usually less than 30 seconds), presumably to ensure at least one acceptable view in the case of busy street scenes. However, many examples exist where both images were produced as postcards bearing the same serial numbers and titles. One such example is this card which exists in an earlier version as in the small view, taken less than one minute before and showing most of the people in different positions, although none of the trams have moved.

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