Erith, The First Tram

Erith Urban District Council Tramways, The First Tram

The year 2005 was the centenary of the opening of the tramways in Erith, Kent. Our postcard was issued to celebrate the event and is titled "The First Tram Erith, Aug 26th 1905". The picture was taken at the opening ceremony on that date by J.B.Major and was published in the local newspaper, the Erith Observer. The postcard was produced by the Observer at their own printing works. Our example was posted on 7th September 1905.

The tramway was officially opened on 26th August 1905, when there was a parade of cars all decorated as the one on our card. The route was double track from the borough boundary at Abbey Wood eastwards to the centre of Erith and past the depot in Walnut Tree Road. It then went south by single track and passing loops to the borough boundary with Bexley at Northumberland Heath, where the tracks joined those of Bexley Council, permitting through running. A double track branch ran south from Walnut Tree Road to North End. The total was just under 5 route miles. L.C.C. trams ran to Abbey Wood after 1908, but the tracks were not connected despite much negotiation.

The car on our postcard is one of a batch of seven open-top 4-wheel standard gauge cars built by the Brush Electrical & Engineering Co. Ltd., of Loughborough. They seated 22 in the lower saloon and 30 on the top deck. They had 6 foot wheelbase (extended to 8 foot after WW1) Mountain and Gibson 21EM trucks, having two 30 horse-power Westinghouse 49B motors and Westinghouse 90M controllers. There were also seven similar cars built by Brush at the same time, but with top covers and open balconies. In 1906 two demi-cars were added to work the unprofitable North End branch but these were withdrawn in 1910 when the route closed, one being sold to Dartford and the other to Doncaster. During the Great War, traffic increased and in 1917 four open-top W type bogie cars were bought from the London United Tramways and one open balcony bogie car purchased from Hull Corporation, bringing the fleet to 19 cars. The initial livery was apple green and primrose, but after 1917 it was changed to dark mahogany red and ivory.

The Erith tramways passed into the hands of the London Passenger Transport Board on 1st July 1933 for only £4,667, the system being much run down by this time and was making serious losses due to bus competition. L.T. immediately brought in some ex-L.C.C. "M" class cars to improve the fleet, as well as two ex East Ham domed-roof open balcony cars and an ex Croydon open-topper. In December 1933 a connection of the tracks at Abbey Wood was finally laid but only to enable stock movement. The line was by then worked as an entity with the Dartford and Bexley systems and was operated as route 98, Abbey Wood to Bexleyheath. The last tram ran on 9th November 1935, being replaced by trolleybus route 698 using short-wheelbase Leyland B2 class trolleybuses, with the service being extended at last to Woolwich Free Ferry. The trolleybuses themselves were replaced by motor buses on 3rd March 1959.

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