Guide to Buying a Stairlift

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Today in history... last London tram trundles off

12:00am & News

Londoners bade a fond farewell to a familiar sight on this day in 1952 when the city's last tram made its final journey.

After nearly a century of service in the capital, London Transport's trams were finally phased out, with the last one finishing its shift on arriving at the New Cross depot in the south-east of the city. Unusually for the trams, it was running late – by almost three hours! – thanks to the crowds of cheering Londoners who had surrounded it all along its route from Woolwich. 

For the whole of the previous week the city's remaining trams had carried banners proclaiming "Last Tram Week" and special tickets were produced bearing the same message. For the whole of the final journey, tram car number 1951 trundled slowly along its route with both decks packed with passengers and more hanging from the outsides, all keen to say they had ridden London's last tram.

More people ran, cycled or drove alongside the tram which was driven by the Deputy Chairman of London Transport Executive, John Cliff, who had begun his career as a London tram driver. On reaching New Cross depot, he was greeted by his boss, LTE Chairman Lord Latham. As the tram entered the tram shed, Lord Latham declared: "In the name of Londoners, I say goodbye old tram!"

And so ended a proud era in the history of London's public transport system. Introduced in 1861, the first trams had been pulled along their metal tracks by horses, with electric trams making their debut in 1901. However, as London's streets became increasingly congested with motor vehicles in the 1920s and '30s, the trams drew criticism for being noisy and dangerous to other road users.

A 1931 commission recommended they be replaced by electric 'trolleybuses'. Like the trams, these vehicles drew their power from overhead electric cables, but they ran on ordinary wheels with rubber tyres and did not need tracks, making them quieter and easier to manoeuvre. The gradual replacement began, but the outbreak of the Second World War in 1939 brought a stay of execution for many of London's trams, which continued to operate throughout the war and beyond.

It was the closure of the Kingsway tram tunnel in early 1952 which finally rang the death knell for the trams. Running under The Strand, it also housed two tram stations, Aldwych and Holborn. When the tunnel was converted for road use in the 1970s Aldwych station was destroyed, but Holborn Tram Station remains intact and frozen in time in an unused portion of the tunnel.

Some of London's redundant trams were sent up north to Leeds, where they remained in service until 1959. Its trolleybuses were also pensioned off a decade later, replaced by London Transport's expanding fleet of famous red Routemaster double-decker buses.

Of all the British towns and cities which had trams, only Blackpool managed to hang onto them. Dating from 1885, the 11-mile electric tramway from Starrgate to Fleetwood is one of the oldest in the world. Although a fleet of modern trams was introduced in 2012, some of the old open-topped double-decker trams still operate a heritage service every weekend from March to November.

In fact British trams are far from dead, making something of a comeback since the late 1990s. Now seen as an environmentally means of mass urban transport, modern tram or hybrid tram/light railway systems have been established in British cities including Manchester, Sheffield, Birmingham, Wolverhampton, Edinburgh and Nottingham. And trams have returned to London too, with the opening of the 17-mile London Tramlink in the south-east of the city in 2000.

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