Book Review: ‘Regional Tramways – Yorkshire and North East of England’ by Peter Waller

The above title (which is admittedly a bit of a mouthful!) is the second in a new series of volumes describing tramways in Great Britain, primarily those which existed between the years of 1945 and 1962. The style of presentation is, as one might expect, similar to the Scotland title which was reviewed a little while ago here:

The book opens with an introduction, detailing the early history of tramways in Yorkshire and the North East in a roughly chronological order. This section includes some superb images of horse trams from locations such as Hull, Sunderland and York, with an open single deck horse car known as a ‘Bedstead’ hailing from South Shields being of particular note! The text rapidly moves on to the introduction of steam traction and then early electric trams, including a splendid example from Roundhay which was the first to operate in the region. Other highlights include a fantastic line-up of Huddersfield cars outside the corporation’s depot, Halifax 62 in front of an impressive Town Hall and clock tower and a rare scene showing four open-top trams from Doncaster. The downside of this first chapter is that, as with the Scotland book, it does feel rather rushed, although what content is provided is of very high quality.

Nine major systems occupy the majority of the pages with detailed summaries of their operations, including their route closures and a thorough list of post-1945 rolling stock for each system. This includes some excellent views of trams which still survive today in their heyday, including Gateshead 52 which features quite heavily. There are some views of ex-London trams which gave further service elsewhere, including LCC 1 as Leeds 301 and the distinctive Feltham car MET 331 as Sunderland 100. Depot views also feature with a priceless scene with all three Leeds ‘Railcars’ 600, 601 and 602, and possibly the highlight of the whole book can be found on page 136: a view of three Sheffield works car, including Railgrinder 330 and Salt car 354, later restored as passenger car 46 and now preserved by the Tramway Museum Society. Even though the title focusses on tramways in their later years, black and white photographs dominate although some very good colour images are also present. This section also includes modern systems, namely Sheffield Supertram and the Tyne & Wear Metro, although both are only covered in brief. In the case of the former, this means a single image of 08 in its original grey livery, although the present more colourful fleet livery and Stagecoach takeover are mentioned.

Finally, three pages are devoted to ‘Preservation’ providing an overview of those trams from the systems covered which survive today. Unfortunately this is very brief and finding information on individual cars without reading the whole body of text is a challenge. As the author obviously considers it worth documenting the trams which have been saved for posterity, it is perhaps a pity that more detail is not given: for example, it would be helpful to inform readers that Sheffield 46 is not currently on public display, rather than just listing it as one of the many Sheffield tramcars in the national collection. Likewise, preservation seems to be a bit of an afterthought in the main chapters when it comes to the fleet lists: the phrase ‘… is now part of the the National Tramway Museum collection’ and very slight variations of it, is repeated more times than I care to count, and starts to get a little repetitive after a good night’s reading. 

Despite these quibbles this book provides a good guide to the tramways of Yorkshire and the North East. If you are looking for excellent information on Britain’s tramways in the post-war years, accompanied by many high quality photographs, then this is the book for you and overall its positives outweigh the negatives, with some of the rarely seen images included justifying the cover price.

‘Regional Tramways – Yorkshire and North East of England’ by Peter Waller, is published by Penn & Sword and the RRP is £25. The large hard-backed book boasts 176 pages and nearly 200 illustrations, plus route maps. ISBN No. 978 1 47382 3 846.


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