Thanet Tramways

Passing the Wheatsheaf Inn - oaks and elms line the road.

Passing the Wheatsheaf Inn – oaks and elms line the road.

Stagecoach’s fume-spewing diesel buses are nobody’s idea of elegance as they lumber around “The Thanet Loop”.

I had no idea that for 36 years some 60 electric trams used to run along eleven miles of Thanet’s roads instead.

(I stumbled over the book “Thanet’s Tramways” in the Kent Car Craft garage today – thanks to Owen for the loan).

Operated by the “Isle of Thanet Electric Tramways and Lighting Company”, the open-top, double-decker trams ran off 500-volt overhead direct current cables.

They seated between 52 and 68 passengers and carried some three and a half million people in their lifetime.

Construction of the route started in 1899 and it opened on July 6, 1901.

It was a storming success and on summer days the whole fleet of 60 trams (in marooon and gold livery) was in operation, with the “main line” needing a car every few minutes.

After WW1 however as more housing appeared along the route, the domestic electric supply side of the cables began to take precedence over the tramways, while cars and buses increasingly took over the roads.

As a motoring article from 1935 put it:

The tramways are an undoubted nuisance, not to say danger. In Ramsgate, Broadstairs and Margate the motorist should regard them with caution as in many places the change from single to double track entails a sudden swerve on the part of a tram, which does not always leave room for a car .

By 1935, according to a Margate Museum fact sheet, the town councils of Ramsgate, Broadstairs and Margate petitioned the Company to abandon the tram service, which “was noisy and uncomfortable” compared to the motor buses.

The trams made their final journey on Wednesday 27th March 1937. As Robert Harley, the author of the Thanet Tramways book elegiacally puts it:

The sight and sound of a fully loaded tramcar swaying across the tree lined cornfields, the motors humming and the trolley swishing on the wire, faded forever.

I thought I’d share some of the pictures, many of which in the book show a rich verdancy; the sides of the roads thick with trees.

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