ELHAS Meeting Report - April 2012

Meeting Report April 2012

The April meeting was attended by 41 members who gathered to hear retired police officer Jamie Guest describe the project to restore the last Leeds horse drawn tram. When Jamie retired from the police force ten years ago, he told his bosses that he would now 'have time for the important things'. In this case it was time to indulge in his life long interest in railways and transport, both as a volunteer and secretary of the Leeds Historical Transport Society. He also finds time to be chair of 'Treasures Revealed', the scheme which promotes the annual opening of places of worship to members of the public.

Jamie began by informing us about the history of trams in general and their use in Leeds in particular. The horse drawn tram was invented in the 1860's in the USA by a gentleman called George Francis Train. They made their first appearance in England in Birkenhead and then in Leeds shortly after. The first tram route in Leeds was from Leeds centre to Headingley. The tram was first used by the rich merchant classes to move about the city without having to suffer the inches deep mud and litter in the roads. Trams on level routes were drawn by two horses and the hillier routes required three horses in a Unicorn formation. After only 20 years the steam tram came into being which was able to carry 100 passengers and didn't need a rest stop for the horses. Ten years later Leeds pioneered the use of the electric tram also developed in the States. The first electric route was from Kirkstall to the Oakwood Clock.

Although the trams survived in Leeds until November 1959, the earlier horse drawn and steam tram coaches had all been disposed of. Fortunately for Jamie and friends, one horse drawn carriage survived. It had been given to a member of Leeds City Transport staff after having been used as a mess hut, and was doing duty in his garden as a summer house. In fact during the Second World War it was actually lived in by a couple who would otherwise have been homeless. It was rescued in the late 1970's by members of the Leeds Historical Transport Society. Research by the group discovered it was tram number 107 built in 1898 at Birkenhead, and last run in Leeds in 1901.

In 2005 Jamie and fellow enthusiasts began a labour of love to restore it. Jamie described how over the last six and a half years they have been meeting every Wednesday in a secret location to bring the carriage back to life. Although they have been able to restore and use many of the component parts some were beyond repair and had to be rebuilt. This required a great deal of ingenuity and skill, and in some cases it was necessary to construct Heath Robinson like equipment to make certain parts. However, the group were not deterred and the carriage now rising phoenix like in a garage in East Leeds, is constructed from original parts and new parts made from the likes of old wardrobes. Jamie was delighted to inform us that the project was nearing its end and they expect to complete the task in the next 18 months.

When fully restored the tram will go to the tram museum at Crich where it will be a worthy testament to the dedication and skill of a small band of enthusiasts. Throughout the talk we were fascinated by the photographs of the original vehicle and its gradual transformation. The talk was followed by the society's annual pea and pie supper, and was an opportunity for members to socialise and chat about the interesting presentation they had seen.

The next meeting on Monday 25th June 2012 will be the tri- annual general meeting, followed by an illustrated talk by Canon Ann Hemsworth entitled 'Gilt Edged In Vestments'.

Photo courtesy of Leeds Library & Information Services - www.leodis.net