Written by Paul Veverka. From my book “Blantyre Glasgow Road South – The Real Story”. (c) 2017
From 1903 until 1930, trams were a vital part of Blantyre’s infrastructure, welcomed by almost everybody, and brought jobs and good transport links to Hamilton, Cambuslang and Glasgow, Motherwell and Wishaw. They ‘opened doors’ for business and trade, made it easier to visit relatives and friends and provided, linked easy access to Central Scotland for exciting, day excursions.
Lanarkshire trams have a long, detailed story which deserves attention and is consequently the subject of another Blantyre Project book.
However, one cannot write a defining book about Glasgow Road without at least touching upon trams and their impact upon Blantyre. Knowing others have incorrectly published dates and information, this brief synopsis is available as fact.
On 7th and 22nd November 1898, the Hamilton, Motherwell and Wishaw Light railway company made an application to construct a ‘light railway’, 3 foot 6 inches wide from Blantyre near the junction of Stonefield Road, eastwards along the entire length of Glasgow Road, into the Burgh of Hamilton and Burnbank, then on to Wishaw. However, the Provost and Magistrates of Hamilton objected, on the basis that it would be unsightly, carriages and carts used for transporting manure, coal and animals and the narrow width could not safely accommodate passengers. The plan was shelved.
However, the Middle Ward of the County was expanding fast and the idea of being able to easily travel between populous centres was a good one. A year later, on 10th November 1899, the idea arose again and was proposed at a meeting by Hamilton Town Council. Extending the scheme to Larkhall was decided as being too expensive, but contractors were invited to tender on the basis that it used new electric power, rather than dirty steam and coal and of course that animals would not be permitted. Trams were to be wholly, a passenger transport service.
The Arrival of Trams
Blantyre’s line was to be part of Tramway Lane 1 of 3. The main line leading into Hamilton onwards to Wishaw at 8 miles and 5 furlongs. The tramlines were designated to be 4 foot 7 and three quarter inches wide, to comply with other tramlines in the Clyde Valley. Construction commenced in June 1902, but at the opposite side at Motherwell. Work teams also shortly after commenced in Hamilton and Blantyre, opening up the roadway, which in those times was still relatively clear of any services or pipes.
The soft, dirt tracks of the era made the digging relatively simple and residents were delighted to gain the added bonus of granite setts, a hard road no less being laid throughout the route. People were thrilled to see for the first time, a ‘modern’ road emerging, that could be walked and travelled upon without getting muddy, a first for Blantyre. Separate crews throughout 1902 and 1903, worked tirelessly erecting pole after pole at the roadside.
Poles and standards along the route were ornate to beautify the network.
The tram workshop, store and garage was named ‘the powerhouse’ located at the terminal in Motherwell. On 19th June 1903, Tram Car 20 left the powerhouse to make a trial trip. Passengers were not permitted on board but the car drew crowds of spectators as Hamilton, Motherwell & Wishaw Tram Company trained its drivers and tested the tracks and wires.
On Tuesday 21st July 1903, Car 3 and Car 6 left Motherwell with the Board of Inspection. Car 3 travelled the whole line to the Blantyre end to inspect the track and as such, it is that day, not the reported 22nd that trams first ran and were seen in Blantyre. All was well and the following day, 22nd July 1903 would be the turn of paying passengers, with all the cars brought from the powerhouse on to the network.
The Motherwell Times reported that opening day, “Thirty thousand passengers it is estimated travelled on those cars in that first day. Although all the places of business were closed it being the merchant holiday (Fair holidays), the town seemed very busy. From early morning until 11pm, the cars ran merrily. There was nothing but praise for the handsome and commodious structures. The July weather was glorious and the novelty of the outing appealed to all. People clearly opted for a ride on the cars, rather than heading to the coastal towns and beaches. The whole thing went without a hitch.”
A Vital service
Despite Glasgow’s long established tram network being so nearby, for many, the arrival of trams in Lanarkshire was the first time they had seem them up close. Along the route were 32 tram stops, marked simply by names on the poles, at quarter mile intervals and the tinkle of the car bells became a familiar noise, one ring for stop/start, multiple rings for alarms. The fare for the whole journey between Blantyre and Motherwell was 5p, the other fares being just under a penny a mile, making it affordable for all. It was a service for people of all ages, all walks of life, all backgrounds.
Cars 1 – 25 of the network also had upper decks and had a livery of light blue and off-white initially but were later coloured green.
Upon opening, ‘Lanarkshire Highways Tram order of 1903’, further subdivided the lines into 11 manageable sections. Blantyre’s tramway from the terminus 75 yards past Stonefield Road junction, (directly opposite David Livingstone Church) heading eastwards to Springwell was officially on timetables as ‘tramlane 2’. Tramlane 1 was reserved for the future between the Stonefield terminus and Priory Bridge, in the hope one day Lanarkshire’s trams could be connected to the Glasgow Network at Cambuslang.
It is safe to say trams were well used. In the New Year holiday period in just a few days in 1903/1904, over 106,000 people used the trams, bringing in around £200. Inevitably, there were accidents. Small claims against the tram company were numerous, usually from injured horses and damaged carts.
However, in May 1906, a first occurred when the tram company sued a private owner for reversing his bakers van into one of their cars.
Extension of Blantyre Network
Given the nature of a miner’s work, trams started early. On weekdays, the first car ran from Blantyre at 4.37am and left at 11.22pm. After that, you were going to be stuck, unless you wanted a long walk!
Glasgow Road from the Livingstone Church westwards to the West End was subject to heavy disruption from May 1906, when the Blantyre extension of the tram network commenced. Squads of workmen lifted parts of the road and laid rails from the terminus to create a new terminus further along at Priory Bridge, an area which caused the company considerable concern due to the narrow bridge and curvature of the road. Dunallan Loop on Glasgow Road near Coatshill, was a passing point and not as others suggest, a terminus.
On 20th January 1907, the extension opened allowing Blantyre passengers to board before Stonefield and be taken to Cambuslang.
The two different tram networks would never fully run through and join. However, a terminus and change point was located at Priory Bridge, which had to be renovated to accommodate the cars. It was a dark, dimly lit area and did not make a comfortable or welcoming place to alight and change.
This wonderful postcard of 1907 demonstrates the sentiment in Glasgow as passengers contemplated being able to travel by tram into Lanarkshire.
The outbreak of World War One in 1914 didn’t affect the running of the trams, but when the war “hotted up” in 1915, many conductors and drivers volunteered for duty and left the tram company with a severe shortage of manpower. This resulted in June 1915, women being employed for the first time. Within 6 months however, police were deployed on occasion on to the cars, for children filled with cheek and hope of a “free hurl” were somehow able to talk back to the women drivers in a way that the men had previously not tolerated. Thankfully such intolerance was only short-lived and women of strengthened, more confident character were employed who could put those ‘imps’ into their place and remove the public police presence!
Stop also to think for a second of how the tram drivers task in winter must have been a grim one. Steering in snow, hail and rain in an open front car, a little windshield offering little protection, it is something many of us forget these workers had to endure.
Cars were sometimes used for different purposes. A funeral car in black carried the tramway managers, who passed away. A recruitment car adorned in posters during World War One advertised the need for more men to fight. Cars were sometimes also given names. Playful names of places and people than were more recognizable from a distance than saying, “here comes car 3”.
1918 was a problematic year for the tram network. A strike by women’s workers over pay stopped trams temporarily in August. Also, the introduction of more expensive fares was not met with any sort of gratitude! Indeed, many who used the cars simply to get to and from work, took to walking and for the first time since launch, 1918 was a year where passenger numbers dropped.
In 1921, parts of the Network were bought over by the County Council for over £60,000. 1922 and 1923 were years of heavy litigation with many claims made by individuals for accidents and damage to their vehicles, perhaps coinciding with the growing number of motorized vehicles and lack of road safety laws.
On 10th March 1926, the Hamilton to Uddingston tramway closed for good, meaning part of the circular route was severed. For some it meant longer journeys and that prompted the use of local privately run bus services, which were springing up in great numbers.
Writing on the wall
In 1928, the writing was ‘on the wall’ for Lanarkshire Trams when the company asked a hypothetical question to the County Council, if they would be recompensed if they withdrew their trams from Lanarkshire, but left their cobbles and hard standing setts within the road for the use of the council. The reply from the council was shocking in that they asked for the tramway company to make good all the roads, something estimated as costing £98,000. This would have liquidated the company, so eventually a deal was sorted where for £12,500, the Tramway company would amend all roads, lifting rails and putting a hard surface down, having 5 years to pay for it, work to be completed by 1933.
With the closure of other parts of the route, the company renamed itself to “The Lanarkshire Traction Company” and combined a use of their tramcars with their own bus services, a transitional period in 1929 and 1930 to oversee the winding down of the tram era.
Blantyre trams ran for the last time on Monday 6th October 1930 the service between Hamilton and Cambuslang then terminated abruptly. It was truly now the age of bus public transport.
In December 1930, restoration of Glasgow Road commenced, the cost ending up at £26,500. The granite cobbles and rails were lifted and the county council took the opportunity to widen Glasgow Road between the Stonefield and Priory Bridge Terminus. This meant compulsory purchase of the front gardens of many Glasgow Road houses. Buildings including the Parkville and Livingstone Memorial Church lost much of their large front gardens as new pavements and a wider road were formed, enough for 2 passing vehicles. Walls and railings were re-erected around the smaller gardens. It was a significant change and one not always welcomed until the appropriate compensation was attained.
The last tram in Lanarkshire ran on Valentine’s Day, 1931.
From the illustrated book, “Blantyre Glasgow Road South – The Real Story” by Paul Veverka (c) 2017