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Cabbies declared war on their rivals the trams

14:20 20 August 2007

The end of a

The end of a 'toast rack'.

All through the Victorian era the cabbies and donkeymen of Weston had thriving businesses, but at the turn of the century, on the May 5, 1902

A double-decker tram on Beach Road.

All through the Victorian era the cabbies and donkeymen of Weston had thriving businesses, but at the turn of the century, on the May 5, 1902, there arrived a formidable rival, the electric tram. Great was the resentment shown by the cabbies towards this new opposition, particularly so far as the sea front trade was concerned. They tried out many dodges to obstruct the trams, including driving their vehicles at walking pace in front of them. This particular move ended in Magistrates' Court proceedings and fines.The trams had come to stay - at least for 35 years - and during that time they ran four million miles and carried one million passengers. On an August Bank Holiday they were known to carry 45,000 passengers in a day, and in one season just before they finished they conveyed 1,700,000.The tramway system was introduced at Weston by the old Weston and District Electric Supply Company, which ran the resort's electricity undertaking until nationalisation. The depot was on the site of the Electricity Board's offices and stores in Locking Road.Members of the Urban District Council rode on the first tram to journey from Locking Road to the Old Pier. They boarded the vehicle at the terminus, which was then at the junction of Ashcombe Road and Locking Road. Later it was moved to the Langford Road corner.The Mercury's report of this first Weston tram run records that horses reared and plunged as the apparition proceeded along the sea front. The trams, incidentally, were bound by regulations to a speed not exceeding ten miles per hour.Board of Trade officials were on board on the opening run to certify that the track and vehicles were satisfactory. There was only one untoward incident, and that was near Claremont Crescent where some untrimmed bushes caught a Board of Trade official a resounding smack and swept off his top hat.The track was laid out in 'T' formation. It stretched up Locking road, turning left into Oxford Street at the Odeon corner. At the top of Oxford Street the line diverged, there being one stretch of track along Beach Road to the terminus at the Royal Hospital, and the other along the sea front to the Old Pier.There was only a single line, with loops at intervals for cars to pass each other. As road traffic developed these loops, of course, became a great danger, and were one of the reasons for doing away with them later. Power was obtained from overhead wires. There were two types of cars, popularly known as 'winter' and 'summer'. The 'winter cars' had an open top deck taking 35 passengers, and downstairs accommodation for 35. The 'summer' cars also had the name of 'toast racks' which they resembled. They were single decked and carried 45 people.Their conductors did what no union would allow them to do today. They collected the fares while the car was in motion by swinging along on the outside of the car from row to row on the step. In all the company built up a fleet of 14 cars, and they gave Weston good service. They provided a far better summer and winter service along Weston's sea front than the bus company does today.The arrival of electric trams in Weston did not get a general welcome. They were strongly resented by the cabbies and others to whom they constituted a serious rival. Until the arrival of the trams people who wanted to journey along the sea front from the Royal Hospital to the Old Pier used the horse drawn vehicles known as 'the twopenny brakes'. Certain drivers of these tried to continue to pick up the trade by keeping in front of the tram along the track. This led to police court proceedings. By lying on one's back in the trams one could read the regulations on the roof of the tramcars. These informed passengers that they were forbidden to play musical instruments. Plumbers, carpenters, and other artisans, were instructed to leave their tools on the platform outside the car. There was also the regulation that any person whose clothing might be calculated to damage the seats would be refused admission. Passengers were also forbidden to sit on the rail surrounding the top deck!I once interviewed the Mr Daunie Marshall, who had over 30 years' service on the Weston trams and became the chief inspector. He was first employed as a conductor in 1903, a year after the service was opened. He was on the tram that was seriously damaged late at night in the great storm of 1903. It had battled its way to the Old Pier, but on the return journey the water was deep over the road near Knightstone and the motors of the tram being flooded, the vehicle was stranded.The driver, named Grenville, suffered severe electric shock. Helpers carried him through the flooded road via Greenfield Place to Church Road where he was conveyed to Hospital. The passengers were marooned in the tram until about 11 o'clock. After this experience, because of serious damage to he motors and the possible loss of life owing to short-circuiting, trams were not allowed to run along the front in severe weather.Mr Marshall told me that the tram-cabby war was at its worst in 1910. To begin with the tram terminus for the Old Pier was just above Rozel opposite the Claremont Hotel. This meant that the cabbies could stand between the trams and the holidaymakers coming off the pier. The Tramway Company had the track taken to a point outside the Royal Pier Hotel at the entrance to the approach road to the pier. By arrangement with the Pier Company its manager also had a chain put across the road so that nothing could stand in front of the trams."Trouble was expected on the day we first put this chain into use," Mr Marshall told me, "and we certainly had it. "The cabbies, pushing tramways employees away pulled the chain from its socket. We held on to one end of the chain but we were pulled down the steps towards the Promenade wall, where the chain was torn from us and hurled over the sea wall."Mr Marshall also told me of the high jinks on the trams by inebriated or high-spirited visitors from Wales. "I have seen Welshmen drop off the top of a double-decker tram into the street," he said, "and change from the top of one car to another on the loops."Weston's trams ended their local service on Saturday, April 17, 1937.I rode on the last tram, the 9.37pm from Oxford Street to Locking Road. It was a double decker and I chose to go on the open top deck. Just before the tram was due to start there was a fusillade of eggs. It was directed at the councillors who were on board, and I howled with laughter, as I saw one miss its councillor target and strike a press colleague sitting next to me. Before I had stopped laughing I had a yolk spreading down my jacket.The tram was driven by the Mr J G Western, chairman of the Urban District Council. The conductor was George Simons, the vice-chairman. There was a tumultuous run to the depot with cars and cyclists thronging behind sounding horns and bells. As we passed the ambulance station in Oxford Street the warning bells on the ambulances rang loudly. The crowd at the Town Hall was of 'Royal Visit' density. From time to time detonators placed on the rack exploded while the tram wheels flattened out many coins placed on the track, which were later recovered as souvenirs. The journey was drawn out by the fact the exuberant passengers on the top decks of preceding cars kept dragging the cable arm off the wire and so stopping the trams.There were incident-packed scenes as the last car halted on the loop outside the depot souvenir-hunters swarmed onto it and started pulling it to pieces. Headlamp covers were opened and the bulbs taken, and I saw one joyful being already on the way home hugging a destination board. It was certainly some night.Useful though the local tram service was, it could not be described as swift. I have a cutting of an article I once wrote describing a trip over the whole of its route. Including the time taken up by waiting for connections, the journey of six miles took just over an hour!But Weston was sorry to see its tramcars go.Not long after the final run an advertisement appeared in the Mercury: "For Sale. - A number of Tramcar Bodies, fittings and light stanchions. Can be viewed. Apply at offices, Locking Road Generating Station."Many of the tramcar seats were bought by Mr Leonard Guy for use on the Grand Pier which he then owned. He also bought much of the top deck railing for use as cattle fencing on his 'Caves' estate at Banwell. Some of the seats were bought for gardens, and bodies were sold for sports pavilions. The motors, which were made in America, each contained two tons of copper, and this found a ready sale.The Weston scene was the poorer for the loss of 'the glittering galleons' which had ridden its highways for so many years, but their end was inevitable. Motorised transport was on the up-and-up and a time of opportunity had arrived for the Bristol Tramways and Carriage Company to develop local bus services.In speeches at a social event after the last tram had passed into the depot Major F J Chappell, general manager of the Bristol Tramways company declared: "The trams have given you a good service over a long time. We will do all we can until such a time as some other form of transport may wipe us off the road."That has not happened yet, but who know what rivals may emerge in the years ahead?* This article, edited by Jill Bailey, was originally published on January 5, 1968

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