Here’s everything we learned from this map of London’s defunct tram network

Those were the days: London’s lost tram routes. Image: Getty.

In 1860, George Francis Train, an eccentric American rail magnate who seemed to be in the grip of some form of some form of nominative determinism, created London’s first tram: a horse-drawn route along Victoria Street. The following year, he was nicked, for “breaking and injuring” the Uxbridge Road.

That wasn’t enough to stop the rise of the tram, of course. In 1870 they were officially authorised by act of parliament, and for the next eighty years, they were a big part of London life.

But the last routes of that original network closed in 1952. Since then they’ve been erased so completely from our mental image of London that more than one person has acted surprised when I told them there were trams on the streets of south London today.

Part of the problem is that there was never a tram equivalent of the tube map, to lock them into the city’s cultural memory. On scattered corners of the internet you can find photographs of old maps, but they’re generally so tiny it’s all but impossible to see where the trams actually went.

Normally here we say click to expand, but not much point to be honest.

Luckily then, that somebody’s done it properly:

You can zoom into this on ShareMap.org, to check exactly which roads the trams served (though sadly, not which trams served which routes). But in case that sounds like a lot of effort, here are some thoughts.


Trams didn’t go to posh places

There are almost no trams in Westminster: one route down Vauxhall Bridge Road, another on the Embankment, but that’s about it. They’re even less of a factor in chichi Kensington which, best I can tell, had not a single inch of track.

This might have reflected lack of demand, due to private cars or the tube. Or it might simply be that the locals didn’t allow anyone to build the bloody things.

Trams barely went to the City

At Aldgate, Moorgate, the north ends of the bridges: time and again, the boundaries of the square mile mark the end of the line. Again, this might reflect the fact the tube was providing transport instead – but it’s hard to miss the whiff of NIMBYism to which the Corporation of London remained committed right up until around 2000, when it realised Canary Wharf was about to eat its lunch.

Trams didn’t go to Hampstead

I was going to suggest this might be because they didn’t cope well with hills, but they made it up to Highgate okay. Once again, I suspect the influence of posh residents is at work here.

Trams refresh the parts other transport modes cannot reach

Nonetheless, it’d be silly to ignore the influence of the Underground on the map of London’s tram network altogether.

By the 1930s, the tube was all but complete: no Victoria line, and no Jubilee (although the bit from Baker Street to Stanmore was already running, as part of the Bakerloo), but otherwise the map would have been pretty recognisable to the modern commuter. That means that, at the peak of the tram network, the tube was already showing its prominent north western bias.

And this, one suspects, is one reason the tram network was so much more extensive to the east and south of the city centre. Places like Lewisham, Brixton or Hackney weren’t on the tube – but that didn’t matter so much because they had trams instead.

At any rate, back in the day, north east London had a tram on almost every significant road:

If the big gap around Hackney Wick looks like a hole in the network, it’s worth remembering that, as recently as 10 years ago, that was still basically industrial wasteland.

Similarly, while the area round the Old Kent Road may have neither tube nor rail lines, it did at least have trams back in the day.

So it’s probably no coincidence that…

Trams served the parts of town now dependent on buses

…many of London’s busiest bus corridors are routes which were once served by tram. On this map, you can trace the route of the 38, all the way from Clapton Pond to Holborn, or the 53 from Plumstead to Westminster.

The Kingsway Tunnel was the Crossrail of its day

Okay not really, but it felt like a good tagline.

As noted a few paragraphs back, very few trams penetrated into either the City of Westminster. That meant that, just like their bigger, heavier train counterparts, very few trams could cross central London.

There was, however, a single line which ran from one side of London to the other, using which trams could travel from north London to south. At Southampton Row, just north of Holborn, trams would drop into a tunnel under Kingsway, serving two underground stops at Holborn and Aldwych, before emerging on the Embankment under Waterloo Bridge. From there, they would use Westminster or Blackfriars Bridges to continue their journey south. (I’d always assumed they’d cross the bridge, but turns out I assumed wrong).

The southern part of the tunnel is still in use, as the Strand Underpass – but now it is used entirely by cars. Which feels horribly fitting, somehow.

If you’d like to explore the map in greater detail, you can do so here.

Jonn Elledge is the editor of CityMetric. He is on Twitter as @jonnelledge and also has a Facebook page now for some reason. 

Want more of this stuff? Follow CityMetric on Twitter or Facebook.

 
 
 
 

You’ve heard of trainspotters and planespotters. Now meet Britain’s growing army of busspotters

Some busspotters in action. Image: Damian Potter.

In the summer of 2014, with too much time on my hands and too little to do, I found myself in the middle of an incredibly active, 200+ person Facebook group. How I ended up here (record scratch, freeze frame) is a little too convoluted and stupid to explain – but what I found was a world that I a) could not have imagined nor b) had any clue even existed.

The group I tumbled into was what I now understand to be a very, very small example of a “busspotting” group – that is, a Facebook group full of dedicated bus enthusiasts which exists to share pictures of buses they see on the road. This group had members from all over the country, with a concentration on northern buses, and was predominantly filled with young, white men.

What I expected to see was a range over relatively interesting buses, holding some significance or another, that were tough to find in your average day-to-day life. This was, largely, not the case. What fascinated me was that the vast majority of the group was not focused on unique buses, new buses, historically significant buses, and so on – but simply on the average bus and or bus route you might take just to get around your city.

What was even more bizarre to me was that people from across the country were meeting up in small towns (Morpeth, Livingston, Stevenage) to take seemingly mundane bus rides to other equally small places (Washington, Gloucester, Grimsby). The busspotters would travel hours on end to meet at these locations simply to ride this bus, often for three or four hours, and experience a bus route they’d never been on before or one that they just particularly enjoyed.

Ooooh. Image: Damian Potter.

After a couple of weeks of silently watching and one semi-ironic post, I left the group. And, for the next three years, I gave barely a thought to bus enthusiasm, as no busspotter group/page/person crossed my path. Unlike similar enthusiasms like planespotting and trainspotting, it didn’t seem to me that busspotting had any significant following.

But, as is the way of these things, a weird thread on Twitter three summers later sparked my memory of my short time in this group. I wanted to see what busspotting was actually and about and if, in fact, it was still a thing.

So I spoke to Damian Potter, an admin on several popular busspotting groups, about what it’s like to be deep into the busspotting scene.

“I used to sit upstairs on double decker buses and 'drive' them, including the pedal movements!” Damian announced right off the bat, speaking of his childhood. “I've been driving coaches at home and abroad since I passed my PCV test in 1994. I've been driving for Transdev Harrogate and District Travel since 1998.”

Damian, as you might have gathered, has been a busspotter since his early youth. Now, at the age of 50, he manages four different busspotting Facebook groupsm, mostly based around the Harrogate area (Transdev Enthusiasts, The Harrogate Bus Company, iTransport Worldwide and Spotting Bus and Coach Spotters). Some of them have over a thousand members.

He also participates in busspotting IRL, travelling around the country participating in busspotting meet-ups and events and co-organising trips along different bus routes. When I asked him what busspotting was to him, he explained that it can manifest in different ways: some people focus on makes of bus and routes, other focus on particular bus companies (National Express is particularly popular). Of course, bus enthusiasm is not solely a British phenomenon, but busspotters can certainly be found in practically every corner of the UK.

“People tend to think that spotters hang around bus stations furtively, with a camera and some curly cheese sandwiches, but this isn't really the case,” Damian continued. That said, he also mentioned some particularly hardcore bus nuts who have been known to trespass on company premises to be the first to snap a picture of a new bus.

“They really do produce some brilliant pictures, though,” he added.


Although much of busspotting culture happens online, predominantly on Facebook, groups often have what are called ‘running days’ which involve meet ups having to do with particular routes. Damian mentioned one particularly popular day following the London Routemaster buses that happen periodically. Not only do these routes draw in enthusiasts, he noted, but also draw huge numbers of tourists who want to claim they’ve ridden on the original London buses.

“I reckon the general public miss the old Routemaster buses. There is only one 'heritage' route in London which still uses Routemaster buses and that's the 15 service between Trafalgar Square and Tower Hill.”

Despite this widespread interest in buses and bus history, though, busspotters often find themselves treated as the lesser of the motor enthusiasts. This became clear to me almost immediately when speaking to Damian, and continued to strike me throughout our conversation; without my saying anything sarcastic, malicious, or snarky, he became instantly defensive of his fellow enthusiasts and of his hobby.

When I asked him why he felt this immediate need to defend busspotting, he explained that people often ridicule busspotters and bus enthusiasm generally, arguing that bus drivers are the most common attackers. “However,” he noted, “if I bring a load of pictures into the canteen they're the first to crowd around to see bus pictures...”

Aaah. Image: Damian Potter.

Despite being perceived as an often-mocked hobby, bus enthusiasm is expanding rapidly, Damien claims. “The bus enthusiast culture is growing, with younger generations getting more involved.” Drawing in new, younger enthusiasts has become easier thanks to social media, as has creating real personal connections. Social media has made it easier for bus enthusiasm to not just stay afloat, but actually thrive over the last several years.

It’s so widespread, in fact, that a national competition is held every year in Blackpool to mark Bus Driver of the Year (Damian himself came in 34th out of 155 back in 2002). This event draws in everyone from the bus world – drivers, manufacturers, tour companies, and enthusiasts alike. Here is one of the many places where great friendships are forged and busspotters who’ve only known each other online can finally meet face-to-face. “Personally I have made some great friends through Facebook,” Damian told me. “I have even stayed over at a friend's house in London a couple of times.”

Busspotting may be less well-known than motor enthusiasms like planespotting and trainspotting, but that very well could change. Thanks to active social media groups and regular in-person meet-ups, people have been able to use busspotting forums as not only a way to find lifelong friends, but also spend more of their free time exploring their hobby with the people they’ve met through these groups and pages who share their enthusiasm. For all the flack it may receive, the future of busspotting looks bright.

Want more of this stuff? Follow CityMetric on Twitter or Facebook.