April 2003 was the centenary of the opening of the electric tramways of Sheerness in the county of Kent. The town of Sheerness-on-Sea lies at the northwest corner of the Isle of Sheppey, this island lying off the North Kent coast and connected to it today by the Kingsferry Bridge. The Sheerness tramways were unique in some respects and unusual in many others.
The British Electric Traction (BET) group put forward plans for an electric tramway in 1900 but strong and successful objections by the competing Sheppey Light Railway Co. resulted in a much smaller system than originally envisaged. Construction began in 1901 and the 2.5 miles of route were laid to 3ft 6in gauge in single track with passing loops. In much of the High Street, the track was laid close to the kerb on one side - an unusual feature for any British tramway. Service began, without great ceremony, on Thursday 9th April 1903 and the system became the smallest town electric tramway in the country. A route ran eastwards from Sheerness Pier and Dockyard, through the town centre and on to Sheerness East Station, a distance of less than two miles. The small depot was situated just past this terminus. There was also a 3/4 mile long branch line east from the town centre to Cheyney Rock.
Originally, there were twelve open-top 4-wheel tramcars built by the Brush Electrical Engineering Co. of Loughborough in 1903. They had reversed stairs and were mounted on a 6ft. wheelbase Brush Type-A truck powered by two 25hp motors - with almost no gradients, such power was sufficient. Uniquely for a British tramway, these open-top trams were fitted with Siemens bow-collectors rather than the almost universal trolley-pole. Overhead line equipment was also by the German company Siemens. Four cars were soon found to be surplus to requirements and were resold to the City of Birmingham Tramways Co. later in 1903. Tramcar livery at the system's opening was described as chocolate and cream but by 1908 that had been changed to green and cream, as evidenced by other postcards posted in that year.
Our postcard, published by the local newspaper in its "Guardian Series", shows car no.1 travelling away from the camera towards Sheerness East station and passing the elegant cast-iron clock tower (still standing) in the town centre that was built in 1902 to commemorate the coronation of King Edward VII. The tracks for the Cheyney Rock branch line can be seen on the left. This postcard is unusual in showing the view to the east. Most postcards depicting the trams at the clock tower look in a westerly direction.
The small scale of the town system, mounting losses and the fact that the trams could never reach the other centres of population on the island, contributed to its early demise and it closed on 7th July 1917, thus becoming the first British electric town tramway to be abandoned. The remaining eight tramcars were sold for further service in Darlington.
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