Before railways, there were tramways. These started out as a means to move coal and other minerals around – a tram was one of the names for a wheeled truck that contained coal, and a ‘tramway’ a primitive rail system for despatching the laden trams to distant points – it was soon realized that passengers could be carried in suitable wheeled vehicles, along rails laid in urban areas. Laden ‘trams’, which could be used for carrying coal, minerals, and baulks of timber were hauled by horses, or along cables wound by stationary steam engines, or even by small steam locomotives. It can be seen then, that these early efforts gave rise to both the more advanced railways and to the tramway, proper.
The world’s first ‘tramway’ was ‘The Swansea & Mumbles Railway’ in Wales (opened 1807); like almost all other early attempts, it was horse-drawn. Soon horse-drawn vehicles running on rails were changing the urban landscape, making living further out from city centres much more feasible. The town of Chesterfield is a bustling place in the north of Derbyshire, world-famous for the crooked spire on the church of ‘St. Mary and All Saints’, and for the local deposits of coal and ironstone which were exploited from the 18th century onwards. In 1879, a plan for a 1 1/4 mile horse-drawn tramway into the center of town was agreed, and it opened in 1882; the operator was the Chesterfield & District Tramways Company, and the standard fare was two pence. Only four years later, the original company folded, and a re-organization saw the line taken over by the Chesterfield Tramways Company, and the fares slashed. Enough money was made to extend the line from Whittington Moor to the Market Place in Chesterfield and out as far as Brampton, a total of 3 5/8th miles. A decision to switch to electric traction (using overhead cables) was made in 1904, and a batch of 12 ‘Aston’-type open-top trams were ordered from Brush of Loughborough and powered by 2 x 25hp Westinghouse 90M motors (strangely, the company would be building Avro 504 aircraft during the coming World War One). These trams were finished in the company’s livery of crimson and yellow, and based at the new depôt on Chatsworth Road; they carried a total of 56 passengers, 22 on the lower deck and 34 on the top deck. In 1919, the top decks of No. 6, 7, 8, 11 and 12 were given flat roofs, to protect passengers from the inclement Derbyshire weather, although there was an open balcony section at each end.
The movement to replace trams with trolleybuses (utilising the same overhead wires) reached Chesterfield in 1924 and the Chesterfield Tramways Company began disposing of their trams in 1927. No. 7 had certainly had an eventful life, including surviving a fire at the Chatsworth Road Depôt. When sold, it was moved to Two Dales, near Matlock, Derbyshire, where the upper and lower decks were separated, and it became the permanent dwelling of Mr. Eric Cocking. A diorama, displayed at the National Tramway Museum, Crich, shows the two decks, sheltered behind a drystone wall at Two Dales, with a small vegetable garden laid out nearby! Acquired by the Museum in 1973, in wasn’t until 1993 that a major restoration project was initiated, which was finally completed in 1996 at an estimated cost of £250,000.
As well as No. 7, the Tramway Museum exhibits the cream and blue finished Chesterfield Tramways Co. No. 8, a horse-tram, which is on loan from the Science Museum, London. Here we see No.7 running back towards the Red Lion Hotel at Crich (I was in another tram, headed outbound); long may she continue to give passengers a taste of early tram travel!