How trams not cars shaped Norwich’s streets

Tramlines are laid in St Stephen's, Norwich. The tram service began in 1900 and lasted until 1935.

Tramlines are laid in St Stephen's, Norwich. The tram service began in 1900 and lasted until 1935. - Credit: Archant

The first proper public transport system had an extraordinary impact on the life of the people of Norwich.

The way it was in busy Norwich when the trams ruled the roads.

The way it was in busy Norwich when the trams ruled the roads. - Credit: Archant

The trams, which arrived in 1900, were a lifeline. A fleet comprising of 47 four-wheel, open top cars which trundled along a network stretching over more than 16 miles across the city and into the growing suburbs.

Fares to all termini were one penny except to Eaton (Newmarket Road) and Mousehold (summer service only) which cost two pence. Thousands of people took to the trams and over the years more routes were opened.

During the First World War sections of the track along King Street to Trowse Station were taken up and the rails used for building the Mousehold Light Railway linking the aeroplane factory with Thorpe Railway Station.

The drivers and the conductors were great characters – often shouting to people in the streets – and getting plenty of response from the citizens... some of it not printable! Avoiding the trams on the narrow roads across the ancient city could be a touch dangerous – especially for cyclists.

The late Ralph Potter, who wrote for the Evening News and the Eastern Daily Press, recalled: 'Trams were an integral part of our lives. Who could ever forget the ear-splitting screech with which they manoeuvred the sharp curve from the Haymarket into Orford Place – the centre for all of them, with the inspector sitting in the middle of his little office?

'But the trams were rarely stuck in traffic because if there was a stationary van which impeded progress the driver rang his loud foot-bell with such force that the driver's business was quickly concluded,' wrote Ralph back in 1984.

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'The seats on the open top had reversible seat backs enabling passengers to face either direction but inside passengers faced other from wooden benches running down either side.

'Memories linger, particularly of the period during the 1914-18 war when conductresses - 'clippies' - were introduced. One woman, a pretty blonde, made a distinct impression on us schoolboys.

'It must be remembered that while the driver had duties, such as changing of points, the conductress had the responsibility of reversing the pole which connected with the overhead power lines when a terminus was reached.

'We all coveted this little job, but this bright young woman would only allow us to it if it was raining. Unfortunately, when you grabbed the rope to pull it off the wire the rain cascaded down the rope and down our sleeves to our elbows.

'But the cherubic smile of thanks from the artful conductress was ample payment for our discomfort,' said Ralph.

Happy days on the Norwich trams. The last one trundled into the Silver Road shed 80 years ago this week, in December 1935.

Watch this space for the story of the arrival of the buses... at a brand new station.

Tram memories

•John Powley: 'I am now in my 80s and can just remember my grandfather tell me about when he was a driver on the Magdalen Street/Earlham Road route, out in all weathers shouting to people he knew.

'I have one of his coat buttons on which it has NETCo. It was made by Firmin, London. I think he must have worked in the 1920s era as he died around 1940 during the war. He lived in Capps Road.'

•Christopher Spalding: 'Being only 81 I have no experience of the trams, but between 1948 and 1953 I cycled daily with three friends to school in the centre of Norwich from the old Jenny Lind Hospital on Unthank Road via St Giles and London Street.

'Time permitting, we would try and do this without having to use our brakes. This was not anything like as dangerous as it sounds in that there was very little traffic about and we were quite sensible about it and quickly aborted the challenge if there were any problems.

'In those days there were traffic lights outside Jarrolds and we tried to time our arrival at the top of the Guildhall Hill so that they were green in our favour when we got to the bottom.

'The tram lines had not at that time been removed and they came down St Giles and went along the front of the City Hall. They were set in pinewood blocks embedded in pitch to the sides and were slippery when wet.

'Many's the time that one or more of us fell over at the top of Guildhall Hill as we tried to keep out of the tram lines while we got the timing right before riding brake free down the hill.'

•Cherry Green: 'My mother-in-law, Eileen Green (then Smith) lived on Sprowston Road. I don't think she travelled on the trams much herself but she remembers her bicycle wheel getting caught in the tramlines.

'Her mother did fall off a tram and lost the twins she was pregnant with. They were born and the doctors visited every day but they did not survive as nothing could be done for them at that time.

'My mother-in-law is now 94. Her family worked in the shoe factories of Norwich and her mother mended shoes at home for the factories.'