When the tramway ruled supreme

A golden age when trams and trolleybuses provided the main transport network in Hastings and Bexhill has been brilliantly re-evoked in a new hardback book.

Thursday, 12th April 2018, 8:01 am
Updated Friday, 8th June 2018, 12:29 am
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The book ‘Trams and Trolleybuses in Hastings, St Leonards and Bexhill 1905 - 1959’ has been written by Robert J Harley and published by Adam Gordon.

Meticulously researched and packed with old photographs, diagrams and route maps, the book is clearly a labour of love that will be prized by those with an interest in trolleybuses or that period of local history that spanned two world wars.

After extensive works to create a network, the first Hastings tram left the depot at 7.20am on July 31 1905.

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According to official figures, an incredible 18,663 passengers were carries on that first momentous day.

Due to the numbers and the unfamiliarity of conductors with the new fare system, many bagged themselves a free ride on that day.

Attention then switched to the west and workmen toiled on the section from St Leonards, Bo-Peep, Bulverhythe and finally Bexhill.

On April 9 1906 the inhabitants of Bexhill could finally celebrate the inauguration of their tramway, when shopkeepers in Devonshire Road took time off to greet the arrival of the new trams.

The phrase ‘lavishly illustrated’ is often overused but the book is worthy of the phrase, containing dozens of rare photographs that, as well as depicting trams and trolleybuses, show fascinating period aspects of Hastings and Bexhill.

Many of the photos contain people. A picture from 1904 shows a procession of 22 decorated tramway cars making its way though Hastings town centre to impress a crowd of French dignitaries.

The book also charts the cross-over period with the arrival of buses and the rivalry that ensued. Buses were faster and police officers with stop-watches monitored the speed of buses, chasing after them on motorcycles, ensuring prosecutions were brought against several bus drivers.

One incident occurred at the memorial in Hastings when a Maidstone and District bus driver piloted his vehicle too close to a queue waiting to board a tram. The bus driver leaned out to gesticulate to the irate crowd and was then struck by an old gentleman wielding a walking stick.

A richly detailed set of appendixes in the book contain electrical diagrams, timetables and notes and correspondence from the time showing how the tram network was developed and built and the obstacles such a feat of engineering entailed.

The book can be purchased from Adam Gordon Transport Books www.ahg-books.com. Tel: 01408 622660.