Monday, May 26, 2014

Horse drawn tramways (2) : Building the Stratford & Moreton Tramway

Continuing the adaptation of my MA dissertation...

As described in part 1 Stratford-upon-Avon was keen to improve its transportation links for communications and commerce in the nineteenth century. This was not only to improve the flow of goods into and out of the town but also to ward against the town being bypassed by new transport links elsewhere. Town elders were fearful of Stratford being left behind if they did not keep up with rival towns like Evesham. A grand vision for Stratford was for it to be a major regional transport hub. The Stratford and Moreton Railway was a tramway intended to be a key part of this vision. The main promoter of the project William James had grand ambitions and wanted the tramway to be just the first part of a railway line to London.

In the end the actual tramway that was built was a much more modest affair, the line was laid from Stratford to Moreton-in-the-Marsh in Gloucestershire with a later branch line added to Shipston. The line visited a number of small towns along the route including Atherstone, Alderminster and Ilmington. Newbold was already involved with the coal trade with nearly 3000 tons of coal a year taken through it to destinations along the route via turnpike road. As detailed below the building of the line harmed Newbold’s coal trade with most coal travelling through the town along the tramway to either ends of the line and bypassing the facilities in the town.
Stratford & Moreton Tramway route plan
Despite being scaled back the plans for the tramway were still ambitious. An acre of warehousing in Stratford was proposed to serve trade along the tramway as well as quays along the river. These ambitions were never played out although sidings were laid alongside the river and canal basins at Stratford. Tonnage estimates for the tramway in the original prospectus were kept vague though were assured to potential investors to be ample.

As was common with new transport projects of the time investors funded the building and initial operation of the tramway with investors needing to supply £15 at the start of the project and more shares issued later on in return for shares in the company. Building the tramway was not an inexpensive business, around £15000 was spent on earthworks alone in 1826 and another £5000 on gravelling and rails. Progress was slow because of rising costs and the need for further fund raising, in 1825 a “Looker-on” wrote to the newspapers to complain that the “whole subscription expended - not a mile of the Rail completed” although this may have been an exaggeration as the tramway did become operational in 1826 on the sixteen mile route between Stratford and Moreton-in-the Marsh.

Despite the investment in the tramway a poor job of building the line appears to have been made. As early as 1831 a survey of the line found it in a “pretty dilapidated state” with poor stability of waggons along it and a poor record of maintenance, an agreed schedule of maintenance not being kept to. These problems continued for a while, a 1832 survey also found the tramway waterlogged in places and fences and rails neglected. It took until 1840 for surveys to be satisfied with the state of the line. The tramway was slow to make much money from tonnage, the poor state of the line no doubt not helping matters. In 1833 most income coming into the company was still from loans and rents, and expenditures were still high. Even as late as 1846 the company was still discussing ways of improving aspects of the line such as fencing.

Next : The problem with the Stratford & Moreton Tramway

Image and text (c) Kris Davies

Selected bibliography

The National Archives (TNA) RAIL 673/2 General committee minutes
TNA RAIL 673/1 Shareholders' meetings minutes
Stratford Birthplace Trust Record Office (SBTRO) ER 8/1/162 Statement to shareholders
SBTRO ER 8/1/186 Notice of repairs (attached survey of Mr Trubshaw)
Bertram Baxter, Stone Blocks and Iron Rails (Tramroads) (Newton Abbot: David & Charles, 1966)
Charles Hadfield and John Norris, Waterways to Stratford (Newton Abbot: David & Charles, 1968)

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