Fifty years ago this month, the urban tramway became all but a dead letter in the United Kingdom.
While Blackpool’s distinctive seaside tramroad would soldier into the modern age, the passing of Glasgow’s once-mighty network marked the end of the last major city system in the British Isles. A full decade after London’s trams had given up the ghost, the Scottish metropolis became the final UK city to follow suit, as a quarter of a million souls reportedly turned out on 4 September 1962 to watch the final procession of Glasgow “caurs,” in one newspaper’s interpretation of the local jargon.
In a commemorative piece for BBC earlier this month, noted Glasgow tram expert Ian Stewart suggested that the “reasons for this late survival (centre) around the Corporation Transport Department building its own trams to its own design at the Coplawhill Car Works,” whilst also was “able to manufacture spare parts long after the tramway manufacturing industry had effectively disappeared.”
Still, as Stewart acknowledges, a system which still boasted more than 1,200 trams as late as 1947 “was gradually wound down from about 1953 in what proved to be a lingering death.” The life and death of that remarkable and extensive system was commemorated earlier this month with events at Crich Tramway Village in Derbyshire, England, as well as at two Scottish museums.
Crich turned its annual enthusiast’s day into a two-day event on the 15th and 16th to mark the anniversary. In Scotland, the Riverside Museum in Glasgow and Summerlee Museum in Coatbridge, North Lanarkshire, also held events.
Many eyes in the enthusiast world were intently trained on Crich, home to seven Glasgow vehicles that were deployed to good effect to give visitors a feel for the evolution of the city’s tramcars (specifically featuring 22, 812, 1068, 1115 and 1282), according to the museum’s website. Visitors had the opportunity to ride and photograph a sizable complement lineup the museum’s cars, including many photo opportunities with the exiled Glaswegians and a procession featuring 22, 812, 1068, and 1282.
Among the more memorable events was the unveiling on 15 September of Glasgow 1068 — née Paisley 68 — recently repainted in Glasgow Corporation livery. It emerged from the works in true Scots style, accompanied by the skirl of a piper.
Meanwhile, north of the border, The Riverside Museum put its newly-refurbished 1938 Coronation Tram back on display, whilst Summerlee — home to Scotland’s only (for the moment) operational electric tramway, also held several events.
For more on Glasgow’s tramways, see:
- BBC: “Riverside and Summerlee museums mark Glasgow last tram anniversary,” 3 Sept., 2012
- BBC: “Glasgow ‘a city that loved trams,'” 4 Sept., 2012
- Summerlee Transport Group 50th anniversary page
- YouTube film about Glasgow’s last trams