Remembering the dawn of Norwich's tram age

 Tramcar 25 makes its way along a crowded Gentlemen’s walk

Tramcar 25 makes its way along a crowded Gentlemen’s walk in around 1916. - Credit: Norfolk County Council Library and Information Service

This week in Norwich 121 years ago, the streets were packed and the people were in party mood. Join Derek James on a tram ride around the city

Imagine the scene on an exciting day in old Norwich. The trams were finally running. This is how we reported what was happening in the last week of July 1900.

“The ladies craned out of their windows forgetful of peignoirs and curling pin, the street boys began crowing to each other by the sidewalk, and the men stood looking on with that critical, unemotional air which distinguishes the Englishman in the presence of the unfamiliar.”

A group of men lay tram tracks in front of the Maids Head.

Tracks are laid at Tombland in front of the Maids Head in around 1899. - Credit: Norfolk County Council Library and Information service

The people had waited a long time for this, coping with getting about a city which was changing shape, with buildings tumbling down and roads dug up .

There were those who  didn’t want the trams but once they arrived….the mood changed.


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They offered a cheap and reliable means of travel for the masses. The days of the horse-drawn omnibuses were coming to an end.

Workmen lay tram tracks on Magdalen Road. Groups of people stand watching the work.

Building a new passing loop on Magdalen Road where “health and safety” didn’t seem to be an issue. Date. Around 1904. - Credit: Ken C Baker Collection

And now we can all read about The Days of the Norwich Trams: Transforming Streets, Transforming Lives, the new book out this week by Frances and Michael Holmes of Norwich Heritage Projects.

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They have worked long hours producing this wonderful and important local history book which is brought to life by some rare and magnificent photographs.

A black and white picture of a tram conductor standing on a tram.

All aboard for Trowse. Tramcar 43 in around 1913. - Credit: David Mackley Collection

As they say the arrival of the trams, a technological wonder of the age, revolutionised travel.

This is the latest publication by the independent, non-profit making project, which encourages an appreciation of the heritage of a wonderful city…and we have much to thank them for.

They have already produced marvellous books on Norwich Market, the pubs and breweries, the courts and yards, the boot and shoe industry and Norwich 1945-1960…so why trams?

Two tram conductors stand on a tram.

Tramcar 42. The Earlham Road to Riverside Road service in around 1906. - Credit: David Mackley Collection

“We never intended to write a book about the Norwich trams, after all there were many excellent publications, including Norwich Tramways by David Mackley and the Tramways of East Anglia by R C Anderson,” they said.

Then they received a donation of old photographs collated by the late Michael Adcock about changing streets…and many of the city ones featured trams.

Frances and Michael love a challenge…so they spoke to David who shared his archive with them, visited the great East Anglia Transport Museum at Carlton Colville, received much appreciated support from the Norfolk Record Office archive, Norfolk Library and Information’s website and Picture Norfolk.

Book Cover for The Days of Norwich Trams.

The book out this week features a photograph of elegant Red Lion Street in around 1905 on the front cover from the collection of the late Philip Standley. - Credit: Frances and Michael Holmes

We were also pleased to help them with our stories over the years and many of you responded to my requests for your stories so they finally had a ticket to ride…a journey of discovery aboard the old Norwich trams.

“We would like to thank all readers who got in touch following your articles,” they said.

It is important to remember how the Norwich Electric Tramways Company changed so many lives.

They heralded the start of a time when all citizens had access to a cheap mode of transport, one which gave them greater flexibility to organise their lives.

For some it allowed a move to better homes, for others the opportunity to visit Mousehold Heath or just enjoy a day out. Such improvements came at a cost with buildings demolished and streets congested.

The trams ran from July 1900 until December 1935 when the lines were dug up and the buses took over. It was fitting that once again large crowds gathered. This time to cheer and sing as the last one made its way through the streets.

They had revolutionised public transport, but their job was done, and it was time to send them on their way.

The Days of the Norwich Trams: Transforming Streets, Transforming Lives by Frances and Michael Holmes of the Norwich Heritage Projects is out this week. On sale at Jarrold and City Books at £12.50 or click on www.norwich-heritage.co.uk

Find out how you can win a copy of the book in our Through the Decades supplement  next Tuesday.

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