I recently uncovered this bizarre and remarkable story of a Blantyre tram being “subject to a heist”.
Late on Saturday 9th April 1927, around 11.15pm, the last tramcar of the evening from Cambuslang was proceeding to the Power Station at Hamilton Road, Motherwell. To do this, it had to go through Blantyre as usual. Being so late, the car had only three passengers aboard, who occupied the inside of the car. It was around the Priory Bridge district (a quiet spot lying between Cambuslang and Blantyre) when three (it is alleged) young men stepped on to the parked tramcar and proceeded upstairs.
The night was dark, and it was the custom and duty that tramcar drivers proceeding to the depot on the last run of each evening required to switch off the street lighting. These were days when electric lights on roadsides were new. They were not controlled centrally, but instead operated manually by control pillars on each road. One switch would kill the streetlights. The electric lights on this particular roadside were being switched off at the time by the driver of the car who had stopped and got out to do so.
The fact of the lights the roadside being out, coupled with the fact of the loneliness of the remote road, made the intentions of the men easier than if the lights had been on.
However, the conductor, after the lapse of a second or so, proceeded upstairs to the open top-deck of his car to collect the fares from his three new “countryside” passengers who had boarded at an unofficial stop.
It was when he had reached the top that he noticed the three men had seated themselves in different parts of the car and were strangely not sitting beside each other, despite being previously observed chatting with each other. An uneasiness descended as the streetlights were put out adjacent to the car and the tram plunged into darkness.
Approaching the nearest man, the conductor was informed that the tickets were being procured by the “other chap over there,” meaning of course the passenger further along.
The conductor then proceeded to the next man and inquired about the tickets for all 3 passengers, and was in the act of punching the tickets when he was set upon from behind! A heavy blow being dealt on the back of his head by a blunt weapon of some kind or other. No sooner had the sever blow been received than the conductor felt a hand being forced over his mouth, whilst efforts were being made to pull his bag of money from off his shoulder. This was a robbery.
The conductor, however, appeared to have been stunned by the blow on the head, but he managed momentarily to free himself and in a brave moment, bit the hand which covered his mouth, biting his assailant’s finger. With his mouth free, the conductor called out for help to the driver, all the time struggling against his 3 attackers in their desperate attempt to get a hold of his bag of cash.
However, the driver heard the commotion upstairs, stopped his lighting duties immediately and ran back to the tramcar. Hearing his fellow-worker’s call for aid, he shouted back he was coming.
The robbers now realised their “game was up,” and knowing that the driver was likely now to be the scene at once, they made their escape fast as foot could carry them down the stairway at the opposite end of the tramcar and back into the darkness at Priory Bridge. The conductor appeared to be somewhat dazed, and was suffering from the effects of the blow his head. He had a nasty wound, which was bleeding profusely. Aid was summoned, and the local county police were informed of the untoward event. The bag was held by the conductor and it was later found that only 1s 9d was missing. The men were unknown to the conductor and it was not thought that any arrest was made.
Dr, Wilson in Blantyre, had been early on the scene, and attended the injured conductor who was later removed to his home. The conductor was James Wilson, a young Motherwell man. This was just a couple of years prior to the trams ending and I’m sure would have prompted a lot more caution against similar things happening.
From “Blantyre Explained” by Paul Veverka (c) 2016
Pictured in earlier times is a Blantyre tramcar, on Glasgow Road.
Source: Motherwell Times Archives