The Magazine of Lenton Local History Society

Lenton Times Issue 8 - May 1993

Trams and Lenton

In the years prior to the introduction of Nottingham's horse trams those wishing to travel by road into and out of town could choose one of several means of conveyance. Throughout the week carriers' carts would be travelling to neighbouring towns. Passengers could arrange to get a lift and for a pre-arranged fee would be taken part or all the way along the route. Private operators gradually found it profitable to provide regular services for the public between specific locations. For instance as early as 1853 a horse bus ran three times a day between the Black Boy lnn on Long Row and Arnold. Other services operated from the Shoulder of Mutton on Smithy Row to Beeston and Bingham. No doubt those in Lenton could avail themselves of the Beeston service. The well-to-do might use their own pony and trap while for the less well-off there was always 'Shanks's Pony`.

Photo courtesy of Nottingham Local Studies LibrarySee in Lightbox

A horse tram with 'cock' horse in assistance slowly ascends the Derby Road c.1900.
Photo courtesy of Nottingham Local Studies Library.

In 1875 a number of local businessmen formed the Nottingham & District Tramways Company with the aim of building a passenger carrying tramway in Nottingham. The company submitted its proposals to the Board of Trade and was granted authorisation in 1877 to operate tramways, worked by animal power only, around Nottingham and out into Lenton, Basford and Radford. In the course of the next four years tracks were laid and services established, operating from St. Peter's Church to Trent Bridge, St. Peter`s Church across to London Road, the Market Place to Carrington, and a fourth route from the Market Place out as far as Basford gasworks (where a horse bus would take any remaining passengers on to Bulwell). The initial intention to provide a service to Lenton fell by the wayside and so a horse bus service continued to ply its trade along the Derby Road to Lenton and beyond.

The advent of horse trams had ushered in a more comfortable means of transport and their subsequent electrification added speed. For some twenty years electric trams were the number one choice for city traveller, but gradually improvements in the internal combustion engine meant the motorbus and its rival, the trolleybus, eventually reduced the trams to the status of also-rans. Nottingham dispensed with its tram services earlier than many other towns and cities hut nevertheless the electric trams enjoyed a good innings of thirty five years. It is the story of those thirty five years that is related below with particular reference to Lenton and the west of the city.

The Tramways Act of 1870 contained a provision that allowed local authorities to take over the running of a tramway at the end of a set period of time, namely twenty-one years after its initial establishment. In 1897 the Town Council decided to exercise that right and purchased the Nottingham tram system for £80,000 and convert it into a Corporation service. Other towns and cities had begun to install electric tramway systems and Nottingham quickly developed plans to follow suit. The Council envisaged a much enlarged tram system powered by overhead cables and among its plans was a new route that served Lenton. This was to run from the Market Place out along Castle Boulevard (then known as Lenton Boulevard) across to Radford Boulevard and on to Gregory Boulevard where it would meet up with the tramway on Mansfield Road. It was recognised that this route would not be ready for several years and as an interim measure the Corporation established a horse bus service which began from St. Peter`s Square and ran along Lenton and Radford Boulevards concluding at Hartley Road in Radford.

Photo courtesy of Nottingham Local Studies LibrarySee in Lightbox

A No.5 tram travelling along Lenton Boulevard on its way to the Market
Place. Date of photograph unknown, reproduced courtesy of Nottingham
Local Studies Library.

The first route in the city to go electric was along the Mansfield Road to Sherwood and began operations on 1st January 1901. Work then began on convening the other existing routes and on the installation of new trackway between Basford and Bulwell. There was considerable enthusiasm for this new mode of transport and in May 1901 proposals were placed before the City Council to create new electric routes out to Arnold, Hucknall, Carlton, Kimberley, Beeston, Stapleford and other places in the county. The Council decided, however, for the time being to restrict its activities to within the city boundary. This provided the green light for others to try and get in on the act. A notice in the local press on October 1901 announced a proposed scheme for a light railway between Nottingham and Derby via Long Eaton, with a connecting line from Long Eaton out to Ilkeston. A month later another scheme was publicised which envisaged lines from Nottingham to Carlton, Arnold, Hucknall and llkeston. Coupled with this second set of proposals was a scheme sponsored by Sir Bache Cunard (of liner fame) for a Derby to Nottingham light railway operating via Beeston and Long Eaton. Strong opposition was mounted by the Midland Railway, who feared a serious loss of revenue if any of these schemes were allowed to go ahead, and eventually the various proposals were all turned down by the Light Railway Commissioners in January 1902.

Construction work for the tramway through Lenton began in early 1902, with sufficient progress being made to permit trial running to commence on 11th September. The public service initially began on 30th September 1902. The route, however, was not quite the one originally conceived in 1898. It now ran along the Boulevards as far as the junction of Radford Boulevard and Hartley Road, where it simply terminated. The idea of running the tramway on along Gregory Boulevard had been abandoned and instead the following year a short section of track was laid along Hartley Road to provide a link with the Basford/Bulwell line at the junction of Bentinck Road and Alfreton Road. This was opened on 27th July 1903 and revised services were quickly introduced. A tramcar coming from Basford on reaching the Bentinck Road/Alfreton Road junction would now head off down Hartley Road and proceed along the Boulevards entering the Market Place via Lister Gate and Wheeler Gate. On its return the tramcar would leave the Market Place, go along the Mansfield Road and turn off on to Nottingham Road along which it continued to Basford. Elsewhere a service from St Anns which came into the city along the St. Ann's Well Road would, on leaving the Market Place, travel along Lenton and Radford Boulevards, turn on to Hartley Road and then head hack to the Market Place via Alfreton Road whereupon it would make its way out to St. Anns again. These two services combined to form what was known as the Boulevard Circle with trams running along the Boulevards every six minutes in either direction.

As it was impossible to read the trams' destination boards at night a system of coloured lights was used. The Basford service which ran along the Boulevards displayed a blue light while the one from St. Anns was green. The actual destination boards used painted signs based on the same colour scheme. So the boards on the front and rear of the Basford trams were white letters on a blue background while those on the St. Anns service utilised green lettering on a white background.

Photo reproduced courtesy of David OttewellSee in Lightbox

Castle Boulevard (or Lenton Boulevard as it was then known) in the region of
Chippendale Street showing the central poles still in situ along with some of the
residents of the nearby streets. Photo reproduced courtesy of David Ottewell.

In May 1903 the Nottinghamshire & Derbyshire Tramways Company Bill was passed. This provided the newly formed company with authorisation to create tram routes from Nottingham out to Arnold, Beeston, Carlton and Ripley, with the initial portion of each route being carried on Corporation track. It was envisaged that the Beeston route would use Lenton Boulevard track until it reached the junction with Church Street, whereupon new track would be laid along Church Street, Gregory Street, Abbey Street and Beeston Road and then the route would continue across fields belonging to the Highfields Estate and on to Beeston. No doubt the announcement caused a flurry of excitement in the area but this would gradually have abated as the company's plans appeared to flounder. In 1908 the Council decided to take over the powers for the three local routes. The Arnold and Carlton routes were subsequently built but the Beeston route failed to materialise. Reasons for this failure are discussed later in the article. The Notts & Derbyshire Tramways Company did manage to realise one part of its scheme when in 1913 it began to lay the twelve and a half miles of track needed to link Ripley with the Nottingham system. Opened in 1914 the route ran through Heanor and Kimberley and continued to operate as a tramway until 1932. It was later converted for trolley bus use in 1933.

The first electric trams in Nottingham's fleet were all open-topped double-decker vehicles. Travelling on top was pleasant enough ln fine weather but less so when it was wet or cold. By way of an experiment the Council agreed in 1904 to roofs being fitted on two of its vehicles. The increased receipts that these two tramcars generated encouraged similar modification to other vehicles. Gradually over the next few years most of the fleet underwent conversion. In 1906 the Corporation bought three motorbuses, which it operated on a route previously served by horse buses. The motorbuses were not deemed a great success; the combination of solid tyres and sett-paved roads made for an uncomfortable journey and they were also mechanically very unreliable. Consequently they were taken out of service in 1908 and horse buses reinstated. About this time it was acknowledged that the poles supporting the electric cable which hitherto had been situated in the centre of the road were now constituting something of a hazard, causing traffic congestion and the occasional accident. So a programme of installing the poles at the edge of the road was instituted; those on Castle and Lenton Boulevards being replaced during 1908.

In 1912 the large coloured route plates on each tram were replaced by service numbers; the eight routes being as follows: Service 1 - Sherwood to Trent Bridge, Service 2 - Mapperley to Trent Bridge, Service 3 - Bulwell to Trent Bridge. Service 4 - Basford to Colwick Road, Service 5 - Nottingham Road (Basford) to Radford and Lenton, Service 6 - St, Ann`s Well Road to Lenton and Radford, Service 7 - Wilford Road to London Road, and Service 8 - Carlton to Market Place.

1913 saw the Council obtain permission for various additions to its tramway network; among these was one along Derby Road to serve New and Old Lenton. Work on this particular route began in May 1914 with track being laid from the Bulwell route at Canning Circus along Derby Road as far as its junction with Gregory Street. Once various safety checks were carried out public services began on 25th September. Allotted the number 9, a ten-minutes service operated from the Market Place with outward bound trams using Market Street and those returning to the city centre using Chapel Bar. Work on extending the Sherwood route to Arnold was completed in January 1915 and the Derby Road service was immediately coupled to this new service to Arnold. Retaining its number 9 this now became the longest tram route in Nottingham.

Photo reproduced courtesy of David OttewellSee in Lightbox

A No.6 tram travelling along Lenton Boulevard as it approaches the junction with Derby
Road. By now the central poles had been replaced by others positioned at the side
of the road. Photo reproduced courtesy of David Ottewell.

Conscious that the population of Dunkirk was still poorly served by public transport the Corporation decided to try and lay on a motorbus, which would ferry locals to and from the Derby Road tram terminus at Gregory Street. Orders were placed with the Daimler Motor Company in April 1914 for the two single-decker 25-seater motorbuses needed for this new service. Unfortunately for the residents of Dunkirk Daimler soon found themselves fully engaged with work for the War Department and proved unable to fulfil the order. As a result the proposed service to Dunkirk was held in abeyance. Another casualty of the war was the Beeston line. Although a start had been made with pegging out the route across the fields between Dunkirk and Beeston a 'postponement' was reluctantly announced owing to a shortage of essential materials. Examination of the 1915 Ordnance Survey map suggests that in anticipation of the new route points had already been laid at the junction of Lenton Boulevard and Church Street with a few yards of track extending on to Church Street.

With the depletion in available manpower the Corporation began to employ women as tram conductors but couldn't envisage them working as drivers. Following Zeppelin raids on the city a form of blackout blind was fitted to the tramcars and late night services terminated completely because of the raids. Yet in some respects life continued as before. For instance arrangements for the Royal Show to be held in Wollaton Park in June/July 1915 went ahead and in order to transport visitors special tramcars were laid on along the Derby Road route.

Once the war was over the Council was in a position to renew its interest in a Beeston tramway. The time period in the previous enabling Bill had elapsed so a new Bill was submitted to Parliament in 1920. Now an extension of the route as far as Chilwell was contemplated, Parliament approved the new amendments including a proviso that the Council could choose to use motorbuses instead of trams should it so wish. In fact the Council obtained permission to run motorbuses on any route outside the city provided that consent was obtained from both the Ministry of Transport and the local authority concerned.

During 1922 Sir Jesse Boot entered into discussions with the City Council regarding his plans to build what became known as University Boulevard. It was made apparent that Sir Jesse would not countenance a tramway operating along his Boulevard and this became a major stumbling block for the proposed Beeston tramway. A motorbus service had been introduced in late 1920 to provide some limited form of access for those living in Dunkirk and in August 1923 the Corporation began to operate a bus service to Beeston via Derby Road and Beeston Lane (later shared with Bartons). The introduction of this motorbus service effectively ended the possible establishment of a Beeston tramway but the final nail in the coffin came in September 1925 when a second Beeston bus service began to operate along University Boulevard. Thereafter the Council's powers in respect of a tramway operation to Beeston were simply allowed to lapse.

Tramway expansion in Lenton was not quite over. The Council had obtained permission in 1925 to extend the Derby Road line another quarter of a mile as far as Lenton Lodge, the former gatehouse to Wollaton Park. The Wollaton Park Estate was then under construction and the tramway extension would help meet the needs of this new development. Opened on 16th April 1927 the terminus was to he found entirely off the road to the north of the gatehouse on the land that now provides the pedestrian access to Charnock Avenue (*). This was the last tramway extension in the city and opened the week after the first trolleybuses had made their appearance on the Nottingham to Basford route.

See in Lightbox

Nottingham's tram routes in 1926 - a modified version of the route map which first appeared in F.P. Grove's Nottingham City Transport, reproduced with permission from Transport Publishing Co. Ltd.

The conversion of the Basford route to trolleybuses meant that one of the links in the Boulevard 'Circle' route had been removed and so the No.8 tramcar service from Carlton was altered to operate via the Market Place and then round the Radford and Lenton circle. Three years later, on 20th March 1930, the St. Anns trams were replaced by trolleybuses linked to run via Wilford Road. This broke up the other 'Circle` route, so alternate Sherwood trams were extended to serve Lenton and Radford. The London Road tramcars, which had previously run to Wilford Road, were now diverted to run to Lenton Lodge.

Following the retirement in 1929 of the Corporation's long serving transport manager, the new man, a Mr. W.G. Marks, undertook a fresh appraisal of the Corporations public transport system and came down in favour of trolleybuses. His proposals were approved by the Council and the Nottingham Corporation Bill submitted to Parliament in 1930 envisaged the conversion of all existing tramways into trolleybus routes, together with lengthy extensions and linking services. Locally it was planned to establish trolleybus routes on llkeston Road, Middleton Boulevard and Derby Road; a route to Beeston from Abbey Bridge out along University Boulevard and then on to Broadgate; and a second route to Beeston via Derby Road and Wollaton Road with a side branch running along Woodside Road, Lenton Abbey. The proposed routes were all passed by the House of Commons but any route extending beyond the city boundary, which had not previously been served by trams, was deleted from the Bill by the House of Lords. This followed strong opposition mounted by Nottinghamshire County Council and the Trent Motor Traction Company. (The University Boulevard route had been dropped at quite an early stage once it was appreciated that the terms of Jesse Boot's bequest of land for the Boulevard might generate legal problems.) Certain late additions that did gain approval included a circular route along the Boulevards taking in Gregory Boulevard and Mansfield Road; the route along Derby Road and Woodside Road was retained as far as the city boundary; and the route from Abbey Bridge to Greenfield Street, Dunkirk was also kept. For reasons outlined below the Ilkeston Road/Middleton Boulevard/ Derby Road route was the only one from this extensive list ever actually to be equipped with trolleybuses; the others (where adopted) being served by motorbuses,

In anticipation of work to widen the bridge which carried the Derby Road over the railway the No.9 tramway had been cut back in June 1931 to the city side of the railway bridge. For the duration of the work on the bridge a motorbus service that operated along llkeston Road was extended to run along Middleton Boulevard and on to Derby Road where it terminated at Lenton Lodge. The bridge was duly rebuilt but the track was never subsequently reinstated. This was because from 29th November 1931 the planned circular trolleybus service operating along Ilkeston Road, Middleton Boulevard and Derby Road was introduced and the Derby Road saw the last of its trams.

See in Lightbox

A No.9 tram stands at its Derby Road terminus just beyond the
junction with Gregory Street. To the left of the photograph is the tram
shelter and just visible is the Three Wheatsheaves.

The transition from trams to trolleybuses was always dependent upon the Corporation acquiring sufficient new vehicles and installing the appropriate electrical wiring. The early 1930s, however, were a time of acute national austerity and the Council's plans were hamstrung by a lack of finances. As a cost saving measure in 1932 the tram service between Lenton and Sherwood was even curtailed during off peak periods and the redundant tram track on Derby Road lifted in order that it might be used for repair work elsewhere in the city. At the beginning of 1934 W.G. Marks resigned his position as general manager in favour of a similar post in Liverpool. His replacement, a Mr. J.L. Gunn, proved less enthusiastic about the merits of trolleybuses and recommended that the trolleybus service proposed for the Lenton/Radford 'Circle` route be dropped. The Council agreed and the tram made its final journey through Lemon on 12th May 1934. The next day a motorbus service took over the route.

Thereafter Nottingham's remaining tram services were gradually withdrawn until on 6th September 1936 the very last tram left Arnold bound for the Parliament St. Depot, driven by the chairman of the Transport Committee, Alderman J. Parr. Those on board were issued with special tickets bearing the letters 'R.I.P.'. By the time the tram reached its destination practically everything that could be removed had been pocketed by souvenir hunters.

Our article is now all but complete. It just remains to tie up the loose ends. Trolleybuses continued to operate along Derby Road/Middleton Boulevard (the 45 service) until 4th November 1962 and Nottingham's very last trolleybus ceased operations on 1st July 1966. Since then the motorbus has reigned supreme.

We were prompted to publish this article following the appearance of a short pamphlet entitled The Trams and Trolleybuses of Lenton 1902-1962 by David Watts (1992), priced 50p. and published by the Notts & Derby Transport Society. Like ourselves David drew his information from two earlier publications. These are A History of Nottingham City Transport 1897-1959 by Roy Marshall (1960) and Nottingham City Transport by F.P. Groves (1978). Over the years members of the Notts & Derby Transport Society have managed to acquire a number of old trolleybuses which are in the process of being refurbished. The long-cherished aim of the Society is to see these vehicles returned to some form of working display. Anyone interested in joining the N&DTS and/or assisting with the project is invited to contact David Watts 76 Harmston Rise, Nottingham NG5 1NQ.

(*) The tram terminus may have long since gone but one structure that remains to recall those times is the men's urinal adjacent to Lenton Lodge. This would have been installed to meet the needs of drivers and conductors as would the urinal to be found at the Junction of Willoughby Street and Castle Boulevard.

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