Tuesday, July 29, 2014

Horse drawn tramways (4) : The economic effect of the tramway (and success?)

Part 4 of this version of my MA dissertation. Part 3 can be seen here.

The coal trade in Stratford-upon-Avon expanded greatly in the early nineteenth century. The number of coal merchants rose from just 1 in 1792 to 18 by 1851 (going by Trade Directory figures). The population of the town itself only saw a modest increase in that same time period domestic consumption cannot account alone for the great increase in the trade.

By the 1840s 50000 tons of coal was entering Stratford every year, most of which then going on to other destinations. 10000 tons was carried by the canal and 15000 tons by the tramway. By sheer tonnage alone the tramway was a key actor in the expansion of the coal trade.

Tramway bridge at Stratford
The effect of the tramway can also be seen from the town at the other end of the line, Moreton-in-the-Marsh in Gloucestershire. Before the arrival of the tramway the town and its market was said to be of little importance but this changed when coal could be bought into the town from Stratford and agricultural produce could go the other way up to Stratford and via transport links to other destinations. The Oxford, Worcester and Wolverhampton Railway later built their line to Moreton where it joined the tramway. It was hoped this would increase the profitability of the Stratford tramway however the opposite effect occurred with through traffic decreasing. As with the tramway itself which was said to have diverted traffic from the Oxford Canal, providing an alternative route to take coal into the South Midlands, due to its perceived superior technology the steam railway to Moreton had the same negative effect on tramway traffic.

Stratford had been, and continued to be, a trading town and the tramway helped to develop that further after the similar stimuli caused by river and canal trade. The coal trade had existed before the tramway, the tramway does not seem to have created any new markets or traffic flows but instead improved what already existed. However in the longer term tourism was the area of the town’s economy that became the most important and here the tramway was not much of a factor. Some passengers were carried on the tramway after its opening with the first licences issued from 1834 though there are also some indications of this taking place illegally beforehand. However there were only two return passenger trips along the line every day (though other passengers paid to travel on freight waggons), perhaps this was due to the slow speed of the tramway and the limited scope of the network. The town would have to wait until the arrival of the steam railways to fully enable the arrival of tourists en masse.

Was the Stratford and Moreton Railway a success? It ran as a horse-drawn tramway for over thirty years and parts of the line continued in operation as a steam railway for decades after that. The initial grand ambition of the tramway was not fully realised though that ambition was sufficiently vague as to be easily discounted later on. Despite early problems with the quality of construction the tramway became a steady performer with a large share of Stratford’s coal trade. However the tramway was quickly overtaken by the new steam railways, the losses the Oxford, Worcester and Wolverhampton Railway made on their investment early on and the problems with conversion could indicate the tramway was a technically inferior and obsolete system. However most of these losses were due to the (perhaps overly) generous terms the OWWR paid in leases to the tramway’s owners and the system itself was basically sound, if needing more investment. It could be that a link to Birmingham would have been a more viable connection to the tramway at least in hindsight but the tramway’s builders wanted a good deal and no doubt got it from the OWWR.

Selected bibliography

R.B. Pugh (editor), Victoria County History. Gloucestershire Volume 7 (1965)
Stratford Birthplace Trust Record Office (SBTRO) ER10/3/658 Complaint of carrying passengers without a licence.

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