RETRO: Fond memories of city’s super trams

Moorhead, Sharrow and Nether Edge Horse Drawn Tram c1873
Moorhead, Sharrow and Nether Edge Horse Drawn Tram c1873
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It was somewhat different to today’s Supertram – but at the time it was considered every bit as...well, super.

Exactly 140 years ago this week, crowds lined the streets to watch Sheffield’s first horse-drawn tram travel through the city.

Horse drawn tram, No. 47 on Heeley route outside Roberts Brothers, Moorhead. Taken c1980

Horse drawn tram, No. 47 on Heeley route outside Roberts Brothers, Moorhead. Taken c1980

The route from Lady’s Bridge to Attercliffe Road was barely two miles long, and, ominously, that maiden journey on October 6, 1873 was delayed when the carriage derailed in Blonk Street.

But this was the start of a public transport love affair which has continued in Sheffield to this day.

Now to mark the anniversary (and, at a time, when there is talk of again expanding the city’s current tram network) Midweek Retro brings you these pictures of those early horse- drawn vehicles.

“This was a revolutionary form of transport,” says Peter Tuffrey, the Doncaster-based author of an upcoming book on Yorkshire’s early trams. “There had been horse-drawn buses before but, because of the state of the roads, they were a bumpy ride. Not many people used them.

“The trams were different. They ran on rails so they were quicker and smoother. They were also considerably easier on the horses. Right from the off, they were a success.”

Indeed, that initial route was just the start.

Within four years a network of lines connected Brightside, Tinsley, Nether Edge, Hillsborough, Owlerton and Heeley to the city centre. Within 25 years, a total of 77 cars served the system. Specialist depots were built at Tinsley (1874), Heeley (1878) and Nether Edge (1899).

“One of the interesting things in the early days was that the livery of the tramcars was painted different colours for different routes,” explains Peter, who also writes for The Star’s Saturday Retro supplement. “That was to help illiterate people identify the right tram.”

Later, all carriages would be painted in blue and cream, the twin hues associated with Sheffield transport ever since.

Patronage increased through the period, both when the system was run by the specially formed Sheffield Tramways Company and from 1896 when it was taken over by Sheffield Corporation, the fore-runner of the council.

Yet, despite the popularity, the trams weren’t perfect. The fares were high in order to cover the costs of keeping so many horses and timetables tended to begin after the steelworks opened.

“It meant when electrification became a possibility there was little desire to stick with horses,” says Peter.

That was 1899. Corporation officials had been impressed by amp power in Manchester and decided to modernise the lines here.

The first electrified route opened between Nether Edge and Tinsley on September 6 that year. By 1902, the entire network was done. The days of the horse-drawn tram were over less than 30 years after they had begun.