The transport publisher Ian Allan has brought out a new book on London’s tramways.
Ian Allan says: “In mid-Victorian London, it was feared that a major public transport revolution would place great temptation in the way of the lower classes, and that the new-fangled invention of trams – street railways which for decades were to form a key artery in the beating heard of the capital – would offend God himself, because they ran on Sundays.
“On the contrary, the network of electric tramways which spread across London from Edwardian times helped reinforce the city’s position as the hub of the British Empire and the greatest in the world. It is now exactly 60 years since the last traditional electric trams were withdrawn from London’s streets, to be replaced by the more versatile modern buses.
“In 2012, new high-speed Javelin trains ferried London 2012 spectators to Stratford [in London] for the Olympic Games. The last time that the Games were held in the capital in 1948, electric trams were still an essential part of public transport serving them.
“The Elephant Never Forgot: London’s Trams in Retrospect sees author Paul Collins taker a fresh look at what was once a bastion of everyday city life which suddenly came to an end on July 5 1952.
George Francis Train
“The book looks at the history of London trams from the early horse-drawn operation begun by American entrepreneur George Francis Train – an ironic surname because he intended to compete with the city’s railways. Based on a prototype in Philadelphia, Train opened a short horse tramway in Birkenhead in 1860. It was a dazzling success, and he immediately set his sights on London.
“He laid three demonstration lines in the city and ran them between 1861-62, but faced many opponents, not least of all an objection from a man in faraway Cheshire, who accused him of ‘adding to England’s national sin of Sabbath-breaking, and putting a temptation in the way of the lower classes that they would not otherwise have.’
“It was not until 1899 that the first electric tramway in the city was built, by London United Tramways. The first such lines were opened at 7am on April 4 1901, between Shepherd’s Bush and Acton, Shepherd’s Bush and Kew Bridge, and Hammersmith and Young’s Corner.
“The title of the book, published by transport publisher Ian Allan, is taken from a film which recorded 1952’s Last Tram Week. Produced by British Transport Films, it was released as London Transport Cine Gazette No. 12, but is better known as The Elephant Will Never Forget. The ‘elephant’ of the title is the Elephant & Castle [area of London]. The book also looks at the revival of the tram concept in 2000, in the form of the Croydon Tramway, and the calls for further modern tramways to be built.”