Tramway Today

Visible evidence of a once proud transport system:

There are a surprising number of reminders left to prove that Leicester once had a proud tramway system. The following pages serve to highlight what is still known to exist and what is available to see by the general public. If you know of anything in addition to the pages here please do get in touch so we can log the reminders.

A rare gathering at the Crich Tramway Village.

Car No.76

A Leicester Tram website without mention of Car No.76 just wouldn’t be right and truthfully the story of No.76, its discovery and its restoration deserves a website all of its own…

Sadly, although we do love No.76 very much, she doesn’t belong to us, nor is she on display in Leicester. However, she is not far away and I thoroughly recommend anyone to go and visit her at the National Tramway Museum.

No.76 Basks in the sun in an extremely rare outdoor moment.

Car No.76 is splendidly preserved at the Crich Tramway Village in Derbyshire. She was the very first tram car to be restored at the Crich Museum. The body of No.76 was acquired by the museum after she had been discovered in use as a cricket pavilion and changing rooms in the village of East Cowick, Nr Snaith in Yorkshire. She appears at Crich in a 1920’s appearance with open balconies and a covered top.

No.76 as part of the 'Trade Exhibition' display. This exhibition has been replaced this year with a new theme and for the first time in nearly 20 years her wheels have rolled - to the wash bay - and then back into the gallery to a different spot!

No.76 is mounted on a Brill 21e truck which was rescued from a Glasgow Corporation tram. She serves as inspiration to remind us of what we hope to achieve with our very own Car No.31.

Tram car No.76 and No.31 have much in common in that they both survive today because they were purchased privately in the 1940’s from Fred Edlin’s yard at Blaby Wharf. When volunteers at Crich heard of No.31’s existence in the 1960’s they visited and retrieved many parts off her to re-use on No.76 believing that she would be the only survivor.

No.76 did run in service briefly at Crich during the 1970’s, however not long after her extensive restoration she was found to have a structural defect which meant that her passenger carrying duties could not be fulfilled. She is now a treasured exhibit in the main gallery at Crich and very rarely leaves the protection of her shed to see the sunlight.

As we progress with No.31 we relish the possibility of a close working relationship with the National Tramway Museum. Maybe one day the idea of two Leicester cars side by side might not be so silly!!

The Art-Deco Tram Shelters

There are five of these 1930’s Art-Deco style shelters across Leicester. They can be found at convenient locations at the extremes of the tramway system and were presented to the City in 1934 by Robert Rowley, a renowned local knitwear and hosiery magnate in the City.

Robert Rowley & Co Ltd  were based in Queen St and the firm occupied the same site from 1867 to 1999 (eventually becoming a part of Courtauld’s in 1968). Robert Rowley was the third largest knitwear and hosiery manufacturers in the City with only Wolsey and Corah’s of a greater size.  Rowley employed a great many workers who relied on the tramway system to get them to and from work and the shelters were considered an acceptable gift to the people of the City for their comfort whilst waiting for a tramcar. The shelters are of a concrete construction reminiscent of the 1930’s London Underground architecture. Although the wooden benches that were once fitted inside have been removed and the window frames no longer contain glass they are regularly treated to fresh coats of paint to combat the graffiti that is infrequently scrawled upon them.

Replicas of the original plaques that once adorned these fine structures re-appeared around the year 2000 on four of the five shelters.

Uppingham Road terminus for Humberstone Park and the Trocadero Cinema.

Hinckley Road terminus for Western Park.

At the Western Park terminus two 'R's can be seen in the metalwork (part of the second 'R' has broken away), they stand for Robert Rowley.

Narborough Road terminus - for the Braunstone Hotel and the Roxy Cinema.

The junction of Fosse Road North and Groby Road would have been a hive of tramcar activity in the 1930

Western Boulevard - and the odd one out. This shelter was built for a proposed tram route that was never constructed. It's the only one of the five that never saw a tramcar... ever!

The Tower Wagon

102 years old and still working!

The overhead wires were maintained with the help of tower wagons. These machines consisted of a vertical platform, so designed that the height could be varied and the platform moved into the desired position. Originally drawn by horses, the first motorised tower wagon arrived in 1911 and was designated works vehicle No.1 registration BC 1078. The horse drawn wagon remained until the early 1920’s and in February 1923 a second Leyland tower wagon arrived this time with a body of non-Leyland manufacture – unsurprisingly this vehicle became works vehicle No.2 and was registered, BC 8077. In November 1924 a third Leyland tower wagon arrived,  BC 9909, yet despite nearly 14 years between No.1 and No.3 they differed very little in appearance, the 1924 vehicle also sporting solid tyres.

No.1 'BC1078' at work at Abbey Park Road depot in the 1940's. Note the word 'Leicester' has been painted out to confuse the enemy! A measure brought in during the war but a feature that remained until restoration.

In 1950 the vehicles were employed to dismantle the overhead catenary which they continued to do for the remainder of the year.

The 1924 Leyland, BC9909, was withdrawn not long after completing its dismantling duties and it’s demise appears to have slipped off the radar. Any help from readers as to what happened to this vehicle would be much appreciated.

The chassis of 1923 Leyland, BC  8077, resurfaced after many years of obscurity, eventually turning up in an overgrown Yorkshire field. The remains were later acquired and incorporated into a Leyland ‘Barnsley and District’ bus ‘HE 12’ of 1913 vintage. This vehicle is part of Mike Sutcliffe’s wonderful collection of vintage buses and is based in Bedfordshire.

Not much left from BC 8077 but there's definitely some of it in there!

The original 1911 Leyland, BC1078, survived the closure of the tramway system and remained in active service at Abbey Park Road depot as the most convenient way of changing the light bulbs inside the depot. Even after the engine seized the vehicle was kept on and was pushed manually around the depot making use of the tower. Eventually BC1078 was repainted in 1963 and donated to Leicester Museums where it now resides under the care and attention of staff and volunteers at Leicester’s Abbey Pumping Station, Museum of Technology. The engine was rebuilt at APS during the 1970’s and still runs to this day – where it can be seen driving around the museum site on special event days. 

Leyland X-Type 4.5 litre 30 h.p engine. Before super-mileage ingredients in fuels were developed it was capable on a good run of 2.5 miles to the gallon!

BC1078 was repainted in 1963 by Leicester City Transport prior to being donated to Leicester Museums.

Made in England

After 47 years the paint still shines – thanks to the care and effort of staff and volunteers at the Leicester Museum of Technology.

At 99 years old BC1078 stands proud in classic vehicle displays making other vehicles look positively modern!

The Tramway Company Horse Buses

Leicester Corporation Tramways operated a fleet of horse buses that worked alongside the horse tram system as feeders beyond the routes laid in rails. When the tramways were electrified the horse cars continued for only a brief time afterwards. The horse buses however still provided a useful feeder for passengers wishing to travel beyond the tramway extremes.

Despite their continued usefulness it is thought that the horse buses were all gone by the early 1920’s. In 1924 Leicester Corporation purchased a small fleet of Tillings single deck motor buses. This may have been the catalyst that allowed the company to dispose of the horse buses or they may have already been disposed of before this time.

Anyone for Narborough Road?

In 1932 Leicester held a great Pageant to celebrate the city and boost prosperity. Grand Parades, Acts, Celebrations and Performances were witnessed on the grounds at Abbey Park with nearly every school child in Leicester having a part to play in the spectacle.

It was joked at the time that over the days when performances were taking place it was highly likely that you could board a tram and find yourself sitting next to a Roman Soldier or opposite Simon De Montfort and Cardinal Wolsey!!

As part of the transport ‘through the ages’ parade, a horse bus was provided for exhibition by the Tramway company. However, as the company had already disposed of its horse buses some time earlier, the Abbey Park Road Depot workshop apprentices were enlisted to construct a replica. This replica then appeared in every performance and became a regular feature of Leicester Transport festivities for many years after. It has been suggested in the past that the vehicle could contain elements of an original horse bus.

A period setting at the Snibston Discovery Park.

Today the horse bus survives as part of the Leicester Museum’s collection. It is currently on display in the County at the Snibston Discovery Park although it has been displayed in the City at the Leicester Museum of Technology’s Abbey Pumping Station in the past.

Fleet No.2

Rear Entrance Platform and Staircase – It’s a wonderful exhibit although a little fragile!

The Catenary Roses:

The vast majority of the tramway’s overhead catenary system was carried and supported by a network of street-side traction poles. In the early days some of these poles were very ornate but by the mid 1920’s the tramway company had standardised on a rather simple and plain type of traction pole. However, in narrow streets where there was not enough room for street furniture the catenary system was supported by a series of ‘roses’ that were bolted directly into adjacent buildings.

Where as we think all the traction poles have long since been removed. It is still possible to see the odd rose still mounted high on contemporary buildings.

Where there was no room for traction poles, Catenary Roses were used instead.

This particular rose can still be seen on Great Central Street opposite the former Leicester Central railway station frontage. Great Central Street is a wonderful time-warp to explore on a quiet weekend with some lovely railway architecture thats even older than the tramway system!

A tiny spot of ‘Traction Pole Green’ can still be seen on this one!

Up high it is possible to completely miss them unless you are deliberately looking for them.

If you look up at the Marks and Spencer’s store building on Granby Street there is the sun scorched evidence of the outline of a tramway rose. When the brickwork was cleaned up several years ago somebody removed it leaving a silhouette behind!

Until recently, there were several of these roses still to be found mounted up high on the former Abbey Park Road depot. If you know of or spot any more of these still fixed to buildings along the old tramway route, do let us know or send in a picture. I wonder how many more of these survive?

Calcutta Tramway Company

As the closure of Leicester’s tramway system drew near, a quantity of withdrawn tram cars had their bodies lifted and the Brill 21e trucks removed for salvage. These trucks (it is thought approx’ 20) were then sold to the Calcutta Tramway Company in India.

Calcutta’s tramway system was constructed to a British standard and although it has reduced in track mileage over recent years the core of the network remains and is still very much a part of the every day life for the people of Calcutta.

The main passenger cars of the system are now bogie cars, however there are still a few cars in the Calcutta fleet using Brill 21e trucks. Could it be that some of the Leicester trucks still remain at the works and in use on maintenance vehicles?

2009 and a long way from Leicester! A water car travels the streets of the Calcutta Tramway spraying water onto the rails to ensure a good electrical return in the scorching heat. Could it be that this car is riding on a former Leicester Brill 21e truck? It’s possible!

One thought on “Tramway Today

  1. I did not know that another Leicester tram had survived (Number 31). I would like to know more about it. When I was a little boy, just after the second world war, trams still ran everywhere in the city although buses were starting to take over. I remember that I used to make my father let the buses go by and wait for a tram, so that I could stand on the top balcony and pretend to drive it. I had a special noise (Bangbang Bangbang) that I used to make as we went along. I have a clear memory of doing this one snowy night around Christmas. My poor father, how he must have suffered. Please let me have some details on this other tram.

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