Just over 72 years ago Southampton said goodbye to its tram system for good. It had a fruitful history.
The trams were initially drawn by horses and first opened in May 1879 under the Southampton Tramways Company. The opening was not without drama, when over 3500 people signed a petition against the practise of running the trams on a Sunday but the company said it would continue as long as they made a profit.
Trouble continued however when two years after opening, in 1881, one manager absconded to America, and another was dismissed in 1882 due to irregularities in the accounts.
By 1887, the company’s finances were on sound footing and by 1896 the frequency of trams had doubled which meant 40 more horses were needed. The fares were reduced, and Southampton Corporation eventually bought the tramways company in 1896 for £51,000.
Four years later, the first electronic tram was introduced and extended over the next three years and again in 1910 and 1911.
During World War One, women were hired as conductors – also known as ‘conductorettes’.
The trams were also used to build morale and boost recruitment. For two hours, twice a week, a tram travelled around Southampton with a military band playing tunes on the top deck.
After the war, the system was extended again in the 1920s and 1930s.
In the early 1900s Bargate was still joined to buildings on either side and the central archway was too low to allow trams to pass through.
In 1923 the general manager, P. J. Baker, designed a new tram with a rounded top to fit through the archway. Despite the new design, the road through the arch still had to be lowered.
By 1932, trams started to pass around the East of the Bargate and the last tram would pass through the central archway in 1938.
By the end of the war, the entire system needed modernising, but the funds were not there, and it was decided that busses were a better alternative.
The trams were closed on 31 December 1949 and most of the fleet was sent to a scrapyard.
Only four Southampton trams are known to have survived. Two were discovered in 1977, one as a summer house in Winchester, the other was found near Rockbourne and a third tram was found in the woods in Romsey in 1972.
Tram 45 was sold for £10 in 1949 to the Light Railway Transport League for preservation. This is preserved in Crich Tramway Village.
The Solent Sky Museum recently hosted a tram celebration showcasing 3 trams in their specially-built workshop where they are being restored to their former glory. There is another one planned for Spring 2023.