The rise and fall of Aberdeen’s iconic trams

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Trams ruled the roads and kept Aberdeen running for almost eight decades, having been approved 150 years ago in 1872.

A shortage of labor and iron meant that work could not begin until April 1874.

It took only four months from the start of the earthworks to the opening of the network on August 31, 1874 to build the Aberdeen horse-drawn tramway.

The total length of line operated by Aberdeen District Tramways Company (ADTC) was three miles to run six trams, pulled by a fleet of 24 horses.

A horse-drawn tram on Castle Street in Aberdeen in the late 1800s.

The first route took passengers from Queen’s Cross, where the tram depot was located, to Kittybrewster via Union Street and St Nicholas Street.

The second took them from Queen’s Cross to the North Church on King Street via Union Street and Castle Street.

Trams ran every 15 minutes from 8am to 10pm and, at a cost of just £18,000 for the entire network, the tram was considered a financial triumph.

Lines were later added to Rosemount, Bridge of Dee, Mannofield, Bay View and Bridge of Don.

A map of the tram network

On August 26, 1898, the company was bought by the city and the first electric streetcars arrived at the turn of the century on the Woodside line.

The remaining horse-drawn lines were converted over the next two years.

New lines have been opened to the beach, Ferryhill and Torry.

The trams were piled up to the gunwales.

Quite a scramble through the gate of Aberdeen Castle to board the horse-drawn tram to Bay View from King Street.
Quite a scramble through the gate of Aberdeen Castle to board the horse-drawn tram to Bay View from King Street.

Between 1899 and 1904, revenues tripled and the number of passengers rose from four million to 15.5 million.

The Aberdeen Suburban Tramways Company began operating trams in 1904.

A fleet of six cars, painted red with cream panels, provided a 12-minute service from Mannofield to Bieldside and from Woodside to Bankhead.

He then used Aberdeen Corporation lines at Castle Street and Market Street.

Trams and horse-drawn carriages on Union Street in Aberdeen in 1900.
Trams and horse-drawn carriages on Union Street in Aberdeen in 1900.

The trams had a pay-at-entry system that operated from April 1913 until it was abandoned in 1915 due to boarding delays.

Aberdeen Corporation Tramways found itself with too few conductors as more and more men were called up for military service during the First World War.

The industry depended on people’s ability to travel, and cuts to tram services posed serious problems and Aberdeen began to recruit women to work as conductors.

By the end of the war, almost all drivers in Aberdeen – and a handful of chauffeurs – were women.

A Bridge of Dee train in the 1920s with one of the first female conductors or 'clippers'.
A Bridge of Dee train in the 1920s with one of the first female conductors or ‘clippers’.

Buses began appearing on the streets of Granite City in the 1920s and by the end of the decade competition forced Aberdeen’s suburban lines to close.

The loss-making Torry road was closed in 1931.

The fall of the Torry line was much like the first domino falling for Aberdeen trams.

The Ferryhill link disappeared later that year for similar reasons.

Torry's last tram took off in the middle of a snowstorm on February 28, 1931.
Torry’s last tram took off in the middle of a snowstorm on February 28, 1931.

The bus fleet almost doubled from 77 to 149 between 1945 and 1950.

By then, however, the network of streetcar lines had been overtaken by the developing city.

But then they disappeared in quick succession.

It wasn’t a thunderbolt, however.

These pigs were escaping from nearby Kittybrewster Mart in 1950 and didn't seem worried about being in more imminent danger from a Market Street tram.
These pigs were escaping from nearby Kittybrewster Mart in 1950 and didn’t seem worried about being in more imminent danger from a Market Street tram.

Aberdeen had passed its trams.

The Mannofield Road was closed in 1951, followed by Rosemount in 1954.

The Evening Express described the operation of the last tram on the Rosemount Road as a gala occasion with a “one and a half mile long human avenue disrupting Aberdeen’s traffic”.

Cars, buses and trams were stopped, forced to make way for the humble workhorse, “long ousted from the daily street scene”.

The last tram to Mannofield received a large dispatch in March 1951.
The last tram to Mannofield received a large dispatch in March 1951.

The report, under the title “Horse-Drawn – like the first”, said it was an event that would have passed without incident had it not been decided to mark the occasion by bringing out two heavy horses to pull the prototype of the trams then in service. – a wooden-seated convertible car that was 70 years old.

“It led to a chain of events,” EE’s account continued, “that led to one of the most fantastic scenes in the city’s history.”

Thousands of people crowded the road from Castle Street to the Queen’s Cross depot and lined the tracks for a closer view.

Traffic, with drivers at risk of hitting people, was forced to a halt and bottlenecks were created at every junction, with the scene described as more reminiscent of a victory celebration.

The horses, Bill and Betsy, from Northern Co-operative Society stables, were unfazed by the multitude of people crowding around them and valiantly attached themselves to their task.

The steep slope of the Rosemount Viaduct, however, was more than they could handle and when Betsy stumbled at the junction of South Mount Street and Baker Street the horses were unhitched while an electric tram pushed the veteran tram at the top of the slope where Bill and Betsy again took over.

The normally 12 minute trip took exactly one hour.

The Woodside route went in 1955 and Woodend in 1956.

Happiness is tinged with sadness as crowds pose in front of the last tram for Woodside in November 1955.
Happiness is tinged with sadness as crowds pose in front of the last tram for Woodside in November 1955.

The Hazlehead and Beach trams were closed in 1956.

Aberdeen’s last tram derailed on May 3, 1958.

The last hurrah was a short drive from Bridge of Dee to Bridge of Don where the streets were lined with local residents who had come to pay their last respects.

Huge crowds lined the streets of Aberdeen to witness the end of an era.
Huge crowds lined the streets of Aberdeen to witness the end of an era.

The city fleet was destroyed on the beach a few days later.

Their funeral pyre saw flames dancing high in the darkness.

At that time, no one wanted to buy second-hand trams, as cities across the UK were closing their tram systems.

The Aberdeen cars had value only as scrap, sold to a dealer in England.

Aberdeen's era of historic trams went up in smoke in 1958.
Aberdeen’s era of historic trams went up in smoke in 1958.

In the last year of operation, Aberdeen tram passengers totaled 11 million.

The buses carried 85.8 million passengers.

Could the trams ever come back?

The nostalgia for trams may have grown over the years, but they are unlikely to ever be seen anywhere other than the city’s transport museum.

The suggestion has sparked much debate among the public, but officials believe Aberdeen is too small to make a multi-million pound project viable.

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