The world’s first streetcar line was in New York which
began operating in 1832. However, it was an American,
George Train, who opened Britain’s first true permanent
street tramway, in Birkenhead on 30 August
The Edwardian era saw a mass explosion in the
building and electrifying of tram routes in towns and
cities throughout Britain, and by 1910, there were more
than 300 tramways, nearly half of them opened in the
first decade of the twentieth century. By 1914, the
combined London area tram operators comprised the
largest tram network in Europe. However, the First
World War called a halt to the expansion of tramways,
as tens of thousands of drivers, conductors and other
staff joined the armed forces.
The writing on the wall for trams had by then
begun to appear, with only five new lines opening
during 1910-13. The motor omnibus had begun to
arrive and offered far greater flexibility, especially in
places where tram routes had been found to be
unprofitable. The 1930s marked the start of a mass
abandonment of tramways as road traffic increased.
Around the beginning of the 1950s trams became
the target of preservationists, and today major historic
collections are held at the Crich Tramway Village, the
Beamish Open Air Museum and the Seaton Tramway
to name but three.
Commercial trams have also made
a major comeback in Britain’s cities. Worsening road
congestion following soaring levels of car ownership
saw planners look again at the tram concept, and draw
up several light rail schemes. Far from being an
anachronism, such developments suggest that street
trams may well have been ahead of their time.
Expert Robin Jones re-tells the story of Britain’s
trams. In more than 60 images and with a sharp and
incisive text, Spirit of BritishTrams is the ideal brief guide,
in Halsgrove’s collectible, pocket-size format.
A graduate of the University of Central
England, Robin Jones, founding editor of
Heritage Railway magazine, was a news
editor and chief investigative reporter at
the Birmingham Evening Mail, and over
the years has produced several books
and special publications, along with
historical features for numerous other
newspapers and periodicals. He has
been interested in railways from a
very early age, when his elder brother
Stewart took him trainspotting at
Widney Manor Station in Solihull at the
age of four, at the end of the British
Railways steam age.
Imprint: PiXZ Books. ISBN 978 0 85710 048 1, hardback, 110x155mm, 64 pages. Published July 2011.