City of Southampton Society
Registered Charity No 1006256 England and Wales
caring for our city's heritage and its green open spaces
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                                      Titanic departing from Southampton April 1912          John Melody Town Crier          
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Queen Mary entering KG DOCKOur outdoor visit to Minstead Church in 2011 image Will TempleWarrior who after service on the front in WWI became a Southampton Police Horse. Image by kind permission Bitterne Local History SocietySouthampton CenotaphJohn Melody Town Crier at Tudor Revels 2012 image Arthur Jeffery

The trams in Southampton were at first horse drawn and then in 1878 a company was formed introducing the electric tram to the town. The service began in 1879, and soon there was a public petition of 3,500 signatories was raised opposing a Sunday service on grounds of religion.  Nowadays we complain about lack of transport on Sundays.

 Weaknesses in the accounting system resulted in a manager absconding to America in 1881 with a load of cash and another was dismissed the following year for accounting irregularities. After that the company showed a steady profit each year and in 1898, Southampton Council took over and bought out the undertaking running the 13 miles of track until 1949. Because trams had to run through the Bargate arch [passengers were instructed to remain seated on the top deck] they were lower in design than trams in other municipals.

In WWII trams were damaged by enemy action and the council faced heavy expenditure replacing track where streets had been bombed. A decision was made to replace the trams by buses and a large batch was sent to a scrap yard in Bevois Valley. The council however managed to negotiate a deal [much to its delight] with Leeds Council and several dome topped trams were transported up to Yorkshire. After six years of war the fleet was in quite a state and well past its sale date.

The transport department at Leeds soon suspected a pig in a poke and several of their recently acquired trams had to be rebuilt. Leeds realised their misfortune and sent the ex-Southampton trams to be scrapped.

Here are a couple incidents in the story of out trams:

19th July 1937 Violent Scenes at Southampton. Angry crowds stormed a tramcar at Southampton today, smashing the windows with stones, when police commandeered it to rescue Sir Oswald Mosley, the leader of the British Fascists.

As Sir Oswald tried to address a crowd of 20,000 from the top of a loud-speaker van the crowd catcalled, missiles were thrown and a man mounted a ladder and attempted to reach the speaker, until he was seized from behind and his trousers were torn off. When Sir Oswald Mosley stepped down the crowd surged forward, shouting and striking. Police surrounded him, but once he was struck and forced to the ground before officers got him to a tramcar.

Policemen then filled the platforms of the tram to prevent others boarding it, wrenched upholstery from the seats and barricaded the windows to protect women passengers. The tram ultimately forced its way through the crowds and was diverted from its usual destination In order to take Sir Oswald Mosley to the sanctuary of his hotel.

2nd March 1946 Malcolm Willmott was a 21 -year-old Southampton tram driver, whose 16 year-old fiancée used to travel every evening on his tram for three and a half hours (fare 3/6). Now her parents have forbidden them lo meet, so they keep the tryst in secret and daily renew their vow to wait — if necessary for the full five years until she is of age. Said Malcolm ‘We met in 1943, but because it seemed madness to be so serious when she was so young, we parted for a year. Then we knew we were meant for each other.'

4th January 1950 All but one of Southampton's population of 140,000 rejoiced at the passing of the city's ramshackle trams when buses took over in the New Year. The only complaint came from 44-year-old Clement Roy Robinson, who drove the trams for 21 years— and that included the blitzes. Mr Robinson started a petition for the retention of the trams, but he found little support and got only a few signatures most of them out of sympathy. Today he was found gassed in his bathroom at his home in Swaythling.  His wife, Rose, who helped him to organise the petition told a friend “He loved the trams. He was very depressed and kept saying it was a mistake to get rid of them. He took the day off on Saturday and I think he went out to see the last tram return to the depot.”

Outdoor visit to Minstead Church image courtesy Will Temple Outdoor visit on a Guy Arab open top busTug tender Calshot in preservation