The tram service ran in Hastings between 1905 and 1929, originally operating between Silverhill and the Memorial and to Mount Pleasant and Ore. The inaugural first tram left the depot at 7:20AM and it is recorded that some 18,663 passengers were carried on the first day.
Act of Parliament
To establish a tramway company operating in Hastings, an act of Parliament needed to be passed. This occurred in July of 1900 after a protracted hearing in Parliament, where the engineer (John Edward Waller) contracted to design the system spoke about technicalities, the Vicar of All Souls Church spoke in favour and it was noted that the Totheigh estate was against the proposal, although both sides appeared to have equal numbers of followers. Following this legislation, a company, the 'Hastings Tramways Company' was soon established. The act authorised routes around Hastings and St Leonards utilising overhead power lines. A further act of Parliament permitted routes to incorporate Bexhill. There was considerable debate as to how the system should be built and who should be contracted for the work. This took until 1904 to resolve when a new company was set up, the 'Hastings and District Tramways Company' and work commenced in December of 1904
A large workforce was required to construct the tracks and overhead power lines. This was estimated at about 1,500 to 2,000 men, many of whom could be, and were, local labourers but there was a requirement for approximately 500 skilled track-layers to be imported to the town. The first sections of track were laid at on the 7th of December 1904. By the beginning of January, work at Baldslow was complete with a re-instated road surface and the tracks from Ore having reached Mount Road with those from Hollington complete to a similar distance. A meal for the imported track-layers was laid on in the Middle Street Drill Hall by the Central Weslyan Church congregation on the 18th of February 1905. Many of the roads with tram tracks laid had their surfaces remade with tarred hardwood blocks to provide a durable surface for other road traffic.
The supply of electricity for the trams was generated by 6 engines giving a total output power of 3150hp. These engines were located in the main power station in the Ore Valley (now off Parker Road) - then a dirt track - the power station itself being built in 1905. The power station featured a 175-foot high steel plate chimney and had a dedicated siding from the railway station. There were substations located at Bulverhythe and Silverhill Traction power was first switched on on the 13th of July 1905
The original system utilised retractible studs (Dolter Studs) in the road along the seafront section to supply electricity, some twenty cars being modified to this system which proved to require frequent maintenance, in part due to the salt-laden air coming in from the sea - failing frequently causing several animals to be electrocuted - and was subsequently abandoned, as being too dangerous. Testing took place overnight of the system prior to the line opening up on the 12th of January 1907 In part, the decision to use this system was to prevent the sea views being obstructed. Other annoyances were caused by the stud system, these being 'spitting and sparking' as the conductors made and un-made connection to the studs, and the lights of a tram dimming or extinguishing completely when the tram could not pick power up from a stud, sometimes coinciding with a total loss of motive power where a tram had stopped for some reason between studs with no pickups in contact with a stud.
A meeting of employees on the 6th of October 1910 decided that they would vote to oppose at the forthcoming municipal elections any candidate who was not in favour of the overhead power system for the seafront route. Hastings Corporation was condemned for insisting on the Dolter system on the seafront, this proving far more costly than any of the other routes with overhead power.
After abortive experiments with Tilling-Stevens petrol generators on board the trams during March of 1914, following an act of Parliament permitting overhead cables and prohibiting the usage of the 'Dolter Studs' on this portion, overhead cables were constructed and switched on on the 20th of March 1914, which were also used by the trolley buses which succeeded the trams. As was predicted, the overhead cabling drew many complaints from residents and hotel owners where it was felt they ruined the view.
The trams were built in Preston and had a 5 foot 6 inch wheelbase running on narrow (three feet six inches) gauge tracks and were in a distinctive maroon red and cream livery., the first three arriving at Hastings Station on the 5th of July 1905. From there, they were hauled by a traction engine up Cambridge Road to the Silverhill Bus Depot. The vehicles would carry 42 passengers, 22 outside and 22 inside.
Launch in the Press
The Hastings & St Leonards Observer ran a supplement detailing what was proposed regarding the Tram company on the 28th of January 1905. The page is reproduced here.
Opening of Routes
The first route was a circular one, run by 'Car Number 10', running from the Silverhill Depot, going to Sedlescombe Road North, The Ridge, Mount Pleasant Road, Blacklands, Queen's Road, the town centre and Bohemia Road to Hollington, with a branch line from up Battle Road which had its inaugural journey on the 15th of July, 1905. 18,665 people were reported to have used the service on the first day. At the time, this route was predominently rural and, as predicted, the arrival of the trams prompted large scale development around the northern parts of Hastings. A branch line from to the bottom of Harold Road opened on the 24th of August 1905 and a further branch from down London Road on the 28th of July 1906. The Bopeep to Bexhill line opened on the 9th of April 1906, but due to problems with powering the trams, the seafront portion from Bopeep to the Memorial took a further year, opening on the 12th of January 1907
Ultimately, there was almost twenty miles of track[a][b], some of which was later utilised by Sidney Little as reinforcement in the concrete extension of the seafront parade. The number of trams increased commensurately with the number of routes opening up, reaching a total of 65 trams operating at the peak.
Prior to the first public service, a special inspection journey was undertaken with Board of Trade Inspectors on board trams numbers 31 & 36 on the 7th of April 1906. Starting from the Bulverhythe Depot, they proceeded to Bopeep Railway Station and picked up the inspectors and various local dignitaries including Mayor . One difficulty experienced on the route was passing under the Bexhill Road Railway Bridge where the overhead power gear had to be lowered and held almost touching the heads of top-deck passengers by means of a rope held by the conductor. This was in spite of the road level having been 'dipped' as it went under the bridge. The route went on a new path bypassing the Glyne Gap area by skirting inland on a dedicated track leading to De La Warr Road and proceeded to Bexhill without incident, other than attracting the interest of passers-by, where they were joined by various dignitaries from that town.
Initially, the Bexhill and Hastings sections were not joined due to difficulties in providing motive power along the seafront, but this was resolved by mid-January 1907, with the first tram running across the full length of the seafront on the 18th of December 1906 in spite of the power issues and the launch of the seafront link being made on the 12th of January 1907
The tramway company were among the first few companies in England to introduce female Conductors. A meeting of shareholders at the AGM on the 21st of March 1916 was informed that they had a total of around 50 females in their employment.
One of the female ticket inspectors resulted in a strike taking place on the 18th of May 1918. This was apparently due to her being so 'obnoxious and objectionable to the motormen' that all staff came out on strike to get her removed. The management capitulated and removed her from her position. The strikers were keen to point out that they were not opposed to working with other women, just this one.
Issues with both the Dolter Stud power system and the overhead cabling necessitated the creation of a mobile maintenance team that was equipped to both work at height on the overhead wires and the buried power studs. A purpose designed vehicle eventually became part of the tram company's fleet.
By September 1926 service numbers had been assigned for the various routes :
The main circuit was formed by tramways nos 1, 2, 3, 5, 6 and 7, which commenced at the Albert Memorial, and followed Cambridge Road, Bohemia Road, London Road (part now Battle Road), Upper Church Road, Sedlescombe Road, Harrow Road, Old London Road (much of it now The Ridge), Priory Road, Mount Pleasant Road, Elphinstone Road, Laton Road, Downs Road, St Helen's Road, and Queen's Road, to return to the Albert Memorial.
Tramway no 9 was an alternative loop from London Road to Sedlescombe Road, along Sedlescombe Road.
Three sites were be acquired for generating stations, at London Road (north of Old Church Road), Old London Road (The Ridge, near the railway tunnel) at Ore, and Bexhill Road (by Bulverhythe boundary).
Services 3, 5, 6 and 7 were run in both directions.
Several turntables were at dead end sites together with the depots which were made eventually redundant by the introduction of reversible trams.
The mother of a tram conductor, Mrs Emma Jane Barnes, was climbing the stairs on a tram that was stationary outside the Wheatsheaf Inn on Bohemia Road during September 1905, when she fell backwards over the handrail surrounding the stairs landing on her back in the road. Believing that she had fainted and not appearing to have sustained any broken bones, she was taken home to 127 Bohemia Road where her son (who had been summoned) found her unconscious. A doctor called to see her and gave a diagnosis of a fracture at the base of the skull. As a result of her injuries, Mrs Barnes finally expired two days later
On the 18th of April 1909, Miss Annie Eliza Marchant, living at 22 Salisbury Road, , struck her head on the stone curbing, by Grosvenor Gardens after jumping off the car whilst it was coming to a halt. She was employed as a domestic servant at 141 Marina.
A taxi pulling out of one of the cab recesses on Marina collided with a tram on the 24th of May 1910, resulting in the tram becoming derailed. No injuries were caused and the damage to both taxi and tram were minor. The tram itself was re-railed after about 10 minutes and continued its onward journey
On September the 29th 1910, a horse attached to a laundry van owned by Albert Catt of 34 Bohemia Road was electrocuted by treading on one of the Dolter Studs on the tramway surface contact system in Robertson Street.
A 67 year old man, George Field of Homeview Terrace was seen by a tram driver on the 22nd of December 1916 to be standing approximately 3 feet from the tracks outside Hastings Cemetery on Old London Road (now The Ridge). As was customary, the tram driver slowed and sounded the warning gong when without warning, the man fell into the path of the tram. Suffering from a broken skull, Mr Field was placed in a car and taken to the East Sussex Hospital via the local police house. It was believed that Mr Field succumbed to his injuries en-route to the hospital
A Maidstone bus came into collision with a tram on Bexhill Road near the Bexhill Road Railway Bridge on the 7th of July 1920. This resulted in the bus driver, Frederick John Featherstone being summonsed for dangerous driving. The bus was following the tram and, attempting to overtake the tram at the Filsham Road crossroads cut in too soon on the tram resulting in the front of the tram hitting the rear of the bus. It was argued that many vehicles overtook trams at this point, however this was not taken by the magistrates as being a valid defence and the bus driver received a fine of £5 with 30 shillings costs.
Whilst his father believed he was playing in the back-yard, a three year old boy, Roland Frank Hoad of Parkfield Road had actually gone to play in the street. Rushing across in front of a tram on the 23rd of April 1930, giving the tram driver no possible chance of stopping, he was hit by the tram and fatally injured. The coroner recorded a verdict of Accidental Death, stating that the tram driver had stopped the tram as fast as was possible and was completely exonerated of any blame.
On the 6th of August 1922, a girl, Violet Patricia Clark, aged two years old was knocked down and killed by a tram on Priory Road at adjacent to to North Terrace. She had apparently gone out to get sweets and crossing the tracks of the tramway, which were wet, been hit by the cow-catcher which did not operate correctly resulting in her going under the tram, coming to rest between the cow-catcher and the car, suffering catastrophic brain damage. The driver rang the warning gong (although several witnesses claimed not to hear it), slowed the tram on seeing the child and then initiated an emergency stop, which due to the rain making the tracks slippery did not stop the tram in time to avoid a collision. Due to the low speed of the tram at the time and the fact that the driver saw the child at the road-side, slowed the tram and rang the gong the coroner returned a verdict of 'Death by Misadventure'
The overhead power gear of a tram at the Memorial caught a broken guide wire of the overhead cables on the 1st of November 1924 causing the end of the cable to fall into the road. Officials from the tram company attempted to pick it up, but found it to be unbearably hot due to it still carrying traction current. A 'service car' was called to restore functioning of the network in this area
The last tram in Hastings ran on the 13th March 1929, having gradually been replaced by the Trolleybus, the tram cars being sold off for scrap prices and many ending their lives as chicken houses or rural caravans. Two of the trams have been purchased by a local restoration group and prepared for display, one of them being tram number 56 which was constructed in 1906 and converted to the Dolter Stud system to run on the seafront route, the other number 48. Most if not all of the tram tracks were left in-situ post-closure, merely being filled over with bitumen on what would appear to be an ad-hoc basis and there were a number of complaints during the 1930s about various roads becoming hazardous due to the tracks still being exposed.
Two trams still exist; numbers 48 & 56 and both are undergoing restoration at the Hastings Tramway Club.
- According to 1066 Online, there was 20 miles of track
- The Hastings Chronicle puts this distance at 19.5 miles
Hastings Tramways by Robert J Harley ISBN: 1873793189
References & Notes
- Hastings and St. Leonards Observer: When the tramway ruled supreme - Hastings and St. Leonards Observer, accessdate: 15 January 2020
- Hastings & St Leonards Observer 31 March 1903 pg. 9
- The Hastings Chronicle: 1900-1949 – The Hastings Chronicle, accessdate: 15 January 2020
- 'Weekly Mail' 7th Jan 1905
- Hastings and St Leonards UK: Trams and Trolleybuses History - Hastings and St Leonards UK, accessdate: 14 January 2020
- Tramway Information: Tramway Information, accessdate: 15 January 2020
- Hastings & St Leonards Observer 12 January 1907 pg. 9
- Hastings & St Leonards Observer 2 August 1913 pg. 5
- Hastings Tramways (Robert J Harley 1993) ISBN: 1873793189
- 'Trams and Trolleybuses in Hastings, St Leonards and Bexhill 1905 - 1959’ (Robert J Harley)
- Hastings & St Leonards Observer 14 April 1906 pg. 9
- East Sussex County Council Archive The Keep GB179_Q_4_P_621A
- Hastings & St Leonards Observer 16 Sep 1905 pg. 7
- Hastings & St Leonards Observer 28 May 1910 pg. 9
- Hastings & St Leonards Observer 1 Jan 1916 pg. 2
- An explanation of old currency and coinage may be found at the following website Pre-decimal currency, accessdate: 16 June 2022
- Hastings & St Leonards Observer 28 Jul 1920 pg. 7
- Hastings & St Leonards Observer 30 Apr 1921 pg. 4
- Hastings & St Leonards Observer 12 Aug 1920 pg. 5
- Hastings & St Leonards Observer 8 November 1924 pg. 10
- Trams Today - Facebook Group