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Hopping on a horse tram

Article from the Kentish Independent Newspaper

By E.R. Oakley

My boyhood days were spent around the Wickham Lane district of Plumstead and I remember quite well some of the stone horse troughs mentioned by Mr. E.W. Buis in his article “All change” in the “K.I.” of 17 April.

There is one still standing today (which, incidentally Mr. Buis omitted to mention) at the top of Bostall Hill by the junction with Longleigh Lane.

Of particular interest to me, however, is his mention of horse and electric trams.

While he is correct in saying that the horse trams “bridged the gap” from the L.L.C electric trams at Albion Hill to the Bexley cars at ‘The Plume of Feathers,’ Plumstead High Street, this is by no means the whole story.

Originally, in 1881, a 3' 6" gauge horse tramway was constructed by the Woolwich and South East London Tramways Co. and ran from ‘The Plume of Feathers’ to ‘The King William IV’, Trafalgar Road, East Greenwich.

The depot was at the bottom of Cage Lane —later Lakedale Road—and is still in use as a motor garage, aptly named ‘Tram Yard.’

It wasn't until 1903 that Bexley Council cars began running into Plumstead, and then they terminated end-on with the horse cars, outside "The Plume."

Also in 1903 the L.C.C. opened the first section of the newly electrified reconstructed line from East Greenwich to Westminster, built to ‘standard’ — or 4' 8 1/2" — gauge.

Over the next few years extensions eastwards were made to this conduit electric tramway.

In 1905 the L.C.C. purchased the Woolwich horse tramway and in 1907 closed the portion between "The Plume" and Beresford Square, Woolwich, for reconstruction on the overhead system of current collection and at standard gauge.

An extension to Abbey Wood was also built and the new line opened in 1908. Bexley cars commenced to run through to Woolwich as a consideration for the purchase of their tracks in Plumstead High Street by the L.C.C.

Shortly afterwards, this line was extended to Nile Street (Free Ferry), and this remained the terminus for a number of years.

In 1910 a new depot was opened to house the electric cars of the L.C.C. at the end of the line at Abbey Wood. Originally intended to provide accommodation for 25 cars, it was not long before it was enlarged and its ultimate capacity was 86 cars.

In 1911 the L.C.C. extended this conduit electric line eastwards to Chapel Street, Woolwich, and from this time until November 1913 the ‘gap’ was ‘bridged’ by the horse tramway —just over a 1/2 mile long— and operated by one or two cars.

These cars were housed in the now disused car shed at Lakedale Road, and conveyed to the narrow gauge line each day by a long standard gauge truck with a length of narrow gauge track on its deck.

Early in 1914 — with the ‘gap closed’ — electric cars ran through from London to Abbey Wood.

As to Mr. Buis' remarks about Bexley trams being cast-offs from most of the corporations in the country, I'm afraid that here he is very much ‘off the track’, so to speak.

Bexley purchased 12 four-wheeled cars of the open top type with which to commence services. These were new vehicles and were housed at the dept built near the eastern end of the line, not far from the Graveyard Hill terminus.

Two services were operated,one from Plumstead (later Woolwich) to Gravel Hill, and the other over the same line as far as Bexleyheath Market Place and then along Mayplace Road to the council boundary at Northumberland Heath.

Before long, however, the ‘Main line’ became Woolwich — Northumberland Heath and remained so for many years before circumstances caused Bexley to allow the Bexley Heath Service to be operated by Erith Council.

About two years after the commencement of these services, four more cars were purchased to maintain an anticipated increase in traffic.

During the early part of the 1914- 18 war Bexley borrowed six class ‘B’ L.C.C. four wheeled covered top cars to enable them to cope with the vast increase in munition worker traffic, and in 1917 — due to Dartford Tramways depot and cars being totally destroyed by fire on the night of August Bank Holiday — hired more L.C.C. cars to enable them to maintain the joint service to Horns Cross.

Eventually 17 of these cars were purchased and remained in service, along with the open top cars, until the whole lot was taken over by the L.P.T.B on 1 July, 1933.

As all the cars were by then 30 years old and nearing the end of their lives, they were replaced by class ‘M’ cars of the late L.C.C. Although these cars were 22 years old they were much more sturdily constructed and had many more years of life left in them. These were all covered top cars, and maintained the service until replaced by trolley busses during the night of the 23|24 November 1935.

It is true to say that the track of Bexley tramway was bad. This, coupled with the fact that most of it was single line with passing places, making the service very slow, was the main reason which prompted the L.P.T.B to change over to trolley busses when they did.

In closing, I would like to say that there is an excellent book, ‘The Tramways of Woolwich and South East London’, published by the Tramway and Light Rail Society and the Light Railway Transport League, which gives the complete story of tramways in the Woolwich area, and I am sure that Mr. Buis — and many other people — would enjoy reading about this fascinating period in our local History.


Article submitted by Derek Crompton.

The Kentish Independent newspaper is now history along with the tram which was before my time. I can remember the trolleybuses. Also the rails in Beresford square.

The book ER OAKLEY reefers to Tramways of Woolwich and South East London (Hardcover) by Southeastern edited by G E Baddeley was published in 1963 for the sum of 35 shillings.

Another interesting artical is this: BEXLEY TRAM LETTER BOX by Peter Bathe


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