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Around Bristol by tram

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September 2014

How much impact has your hobby had on your children? Do they take an interest? Will it be something they keep with them for the rest of their lives? Well that certainly has been the case for Peter Davey, his father was fascinated by trains and trams, and spent all the spare time he could taking photographs of them; often taking a young Peter and his sister with him. On 9th September, Peter Davey talked the Thornbury Local History and Archaeology Society through a selection of his father’s photo collection, using them to tell the story of Bristol’s trams.

The first trams were introduced into Bristol by George White in 1875, but they were not what we would think of as a tram: they were horse drawn. They were stabled just off Park Row, opposite the turn off for St Michael’s Hill, on the site now occupied by the Zero Degrees microbrewery. However, when George realised all of his profits were being eaten by his livestock, he like many people since, looked to technology to make his operations more efficient.

Bristol’s first electrified trams arrived in 1895. The photograph of the event is enlightening: it was a grand opening, they streets were crowded, and all the great and good were there, including George White and the other company directors. They clearly was a real excitement about this new form of transport.

The parts were made in Birkenhead and shipped down to Bristol where they were assembled in the Brislington Tram Depot, which is still standing. The tram coach was mostly made of wood fixed to a metal chassis, they were 6 feet 6 inches wide and 28 feet long. They were powered by 550v DC fed by the overhead works which delivered electricity generated by the Tram company coal-fired power station at Pithay Bridge. By the 1930s there were more than 200 trams in Bristol, servicing 17 routes, the closest to Thornbury being the Filton line, and they ran 364 days a years, only taking a break at Christmas.

By 1939 the Company had started to dismantle the tram network in favour of buses; however, this was put on hold during the Second World War. The trams were modified to keep them running during curfew: the windows were blacked out and the edges were painted white. But keeping the network safe during the bombing was difficult, bus drivers were instructed to take their double-deckers home with them at night, so that the fleet wouldn’t be destroyed if the bus station was hit. For trams, though, the vulnerability was power, and the destruction of the Pithay Bridge station Good Friday April 1941 marked the end of trams in Bristol.

The Thornbury Local History and Archaeology Society always welcomes new and occasional members. Details of our programme can be found on this website, the library or the Town Hall. Our meetings are on the second Tuesday of the month, held at St Mary's Church Hall beginning at 7.30pm. Visitors are always welcome at the society for the small charge of £2.50.

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