With news that a new North/South London tramway is to be built, with its southern terminus in Rye Lane, Peckham, we asked Alan Gildersleeve to tell us about the history of trams in Dulwich.
Trams in Dulwich? Well trams in East Dulwich really. They have always fascinated me. Looking at a map, its seems that the nearest points that trams got to SE 21 were in Lordship Lane at the Grove Tavern (now The Harvester) and at East Dulwich Station. Interestingly though, if one walks along Dulwich Common from east to west, one the right hand side pavement one can trace a line of access covers in the pavement labelled LCC Tramways! This is a power cable run linking Lordship Lane with West Norwood. No trams actually ever graced Dulwich Common.
To begin at the beginning - around 1883, a horse tramway was laid near Dulwich Library to Peckham. This started at the top of Crystal Palace Road and ran down that road to Goose Green. It then crossed into Adys Road and continued to the lower end of Hollydale Road via Maxted Road, Choumert Road, Rye Lane and Brayards Road and thus into Hollydale Road.
In 1906 the London County Council built many electric lines, one of which ran from Camberwell to Dulwich Library via Dog Kennel Hill. This was extended two years later to Forest Hill. The power supply was via live rails under the centre of the tracks, sunk into a slot. This was done, very expensively, to avoid unsightly overhead wires and was known as the conduit system. It was never very satisfactory, but it lasted until the end of trams in about 1950. Much of this is still in situ, buried in concrete and comes to light from time to time during roadworks.
SE21 had a narrow escape when it was proposed to lay tracks from Denmark Hill to Crystal Palace via Red Post Hill, Dulwich Village and College Road or possibly Gallery Road and Alleyn Park. This plan came to nothing as it was strongly opposed. Not even buses were allowed through the Village in those days.
The earliest electric trams in Dulwich were of necessity, short open toppers because of the steepness of Dog Kennel Hill (or Tram Kennel Hill as I once heard it called!) Not long after trams started running on this hill one ran backwards and crashed at the bottom. In view of this, the number of tracks was doubled so that only one tram needed be on the track at any one time. One of these trams can still be ridden at the tramway museum in Derbyshire. These old trams were not all scrapped but some were retained as stores vans or converted into snow ploughs and snow brooms. It is one of these (No. 106) that has been restored at the transport museum at Crich.
Trams were fitted with a hopper of sand beneath the seats, which squirted sand on the rails if the wheels slipped in wet weather. If there was an obstinate dog in the road which would not get out of the way, the driver would squirt some sand under the wheels and this made a loud growling noise as the wheels went over it and the dog would run for its life!
There were no bell pushes on the top deck. Passengers wishing to alight had to struggle down the bouncing staircase and ring the bell at the bottom. These were pneumatic bells and the plunger had to be pushed hard to send a draught of air through the tube to operate the bell at the other end. If the conductor was collecting fares on the upper deck he had to lean out of the window above the entrance toto ensure it was clear and then blew a whistle.
Tram fares were very cheap. The return fare to central London was 5d. For 6d one could get an evening tourist ticket, available on any tram, for travel either north or south of the River Thames, and for a shilling one could buy an All Day rover ticket for journeys all over London. A _d scholar's ticket for use to and from school was sold in school offices. I once travelled all the way from Dulwich to Horns Cross (beyond) Dartford, Kent via Woolwich for 4d return.
One of the surprising things about the tram crews was that they were always cheerful despite working in horrendous conditions in winter. There were no heated wind screens until about 1928. Drivers were frozen stiff and were turned into snow men. The conductors often had their own brand of amusing patter. Thus we had 'The Same Pattern Man' who, if two passengers were obviously together, would ask the second one, "same pattern?" when issuing the tickets. There was also 'Husky Bill' who used to call out "All Fezziwigs, all Fezziwigs" as he collected fares (all fares here please). Another conductor used to call out "High School" when we arrived at the top of Dog Kennel Hill where the primary school stands, and "Low School" when we arrived down the hill at Grove Vale (school).