July 2019 – David Beynon – Swansea Improvements and Tramway Company and its influence on the development of the Town

This month’s talk was given by David Beynon, a local expert on the Swansea Improvements and Tramway Company, and was accompanied by many old photos.

In 1870 an Act of Parliament made it easier for tramways to be set up in towns. However, this wasn’t so easy in Swansea. The roads were winding and there were buildings where there shouldn’t have been. An 1874 Act allowed for changes to the layout of the streets to allow for the trams. Some houses were moved, along with the graveyard of Crug Clas Chapel, and the Hafod Bridge was raised and widened. Among the local businessmen who were shareholders in the company were David Evans and H H Chapman. Along Prince of Wales Road building plots were put up for sale to re-coop some of the money lost in the trade depression of 1873. The company also built The Pavilion Music Hall. On one side, the building was heavily decorated but on the other, which fronted the road owned by the council, it was unadorned. This was a subtle way of the company ‘showing off’.

The trams were horse trams with three teams of horses used each day, the best team kept for the evening runs. Blankets were provided for the horses at the end of the run but when the men asked for weatherproof clothing they were told no. Horse trams were used until 1900 when the trams became electrified. In 1884 steam haulage was banned on the Cwmbwra line after a couple of accidents, one which lead to the death of a child. The main line for the trams ran from the High Street to Morriston. This only became a continuous line in 1884, prior to this there had been a small gap due to a local landowner refusing to sell a small area where five cottages stood. The tram returned from Morriston via a different route to avoid the tollgate.

There was a long running dispute between the trams and the Mumbles Railway. Although it was possible to buy a ticket from Morriston to Mumbles the tram wouldn’t go any further than the slip (St. Helen’s Road), when the Mumbles train took over. In 1905 trams started to go through Morriston and an Act of Parliament in 1906 allowed the trams to run up to the Swansea Valley, but they ran out of steam at Ynysmorgan. The Port Tenant line also opened in 1905 but the trams were often delayed due to the North Dock Bridge lifting for shipping.

In 1913 a third route was introduced, to Brynhyfrd, with Castle Street becoming the terminus. The different routes were identified by different coloured lights, route numbers were not introduced until 1937. There was a problem getting the double-deckers under the railway bridge at Landore so low double-deckers were bought, the design copied and the company then built their own. Initially there were no fixed stopping points for the trams, people would simply stand in the middle of the road and wait. Trams were also used to carry parcels and the TPE (Tram Parcel Express Office) was established, with school boys delivering the parcels locally with hand carts after school.

The tramways company was bought out by the bus company – SWT – and a1937 Act of Parliament allowed the tramways to be closed. On the last day of the trams the Sketty tram was meant to be the last one into the depot but the Port Tenant driver stopped at the market and sent the conductor to watch. Only when the Sketty tram was in did he return. All signs of the tramway system were quickly removed and the company finally closed in 1953.

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