Trams and the workers
On 4 April 1901, the London
United Tramway Company opened London's first regular electric
tram service on a public road. This was the golden age of
the electric tram. The first public tramway had opened in
Blackpool in 1885, and between 1900 and 1907 the national
tramway mileage doubled.
encouraged by the Light Railways Act of 1896, tram and rail
services were transforming patterns of settlement in Britain's
cities and enabling working people to move out to the suburbs.
The census returns for 1901 show, for example, that the population
of Middlesex and Surrey had grown by over a third since 1891,
while that of the county of London had fallen.
[When I first went to live in Camberwell in 1900] our sole
communication with London
was a few erratic horse omnibuses
and lines of slow-moving, two-horse trams
[Now] we have
fast lines of electric trams, brilliantly lighted, in which
reading is a pleasure, hurrying us down from over the bridges
at half the time expended under the old conditions
after family are evacuating the blocks and crowded tenements
for little four-roomed cottages, with little gardens, at Hither
Green or Tooting.
(Charles Masterman in circa 1906, from
Lucy Masterman's C.F.G. Masterman (1939)).
Hither Green, Camberwell and Tooting are all in south London.
The tram suffered heavy competition from the motor bus, however,
and was soon in decline. In contrast, in the late 20th
century, tram services reappeared in major British cities,
including Manchester, Sheffield and London, as an efficient
and environmentally-friendly alternative to the internal combustion
The railways in 1901
In 1901, the railway network was still the dominant
form of long-distance transport for both passengers and goods.
Nearly 1,200 million passengers were carried, and the track
measured 22,078 miles. Railway companies were among the most
important employers in the country in 1901, with
575,834 employees: for many, the railway service provided
a secure job for life (albeit at low wages). Labour relations
were not always amicable. The acrimonious Taff Vale Railway
Company strike ended in 1901 with the defeat of, and the award
of a substantial fine against, the Amalgamated Society of
Railway Servants when the Court of Appeal decided that a trade
union could be liable for damages caused by its members during
In the course of 1901, 476 passengers were injured in railway
accidents. At Malden station on the London & South Western
Railway line on 23 November, a passenger train crashed into
the back of a goods train, injuring 45 passengers and crew
and killing one railwayman. On 23 December, six died when
an engine caught fire at Dingle station on the Liverpool Electric