Our main postcard, un-posted and by an unknown publisher but printed in Germany in 1914, shows open-sided ('toast-rack') double-deck tram 13 at Piazza St. Anna, Floriana, en route to Cospicua on the eastern side of the Grand Harbour, Malta. This was one of ten such cars (nos. 7 - 16) built in 1904 by the British Electric Car Co. Ltd. of Trafford Park, Manchester, and mounted on American-built Brill 21E four-wheel trucks. Six double-deck saloon cars (no. 1 - 6) were similarly supplied and one of these can be seen in the background of the view heading towards the city terminus. As far as is known, all these cars were fitted with electrical equipment by British Thomson-Houston. The second postcard image below shows car 12 heading for Valletta and about to pass through 'Porte des Bombes'.
Malta is the largest of the Maltese islands but is still smaller than the Isle of Wight off the south coast of England. With Malta Railways already established, the British company of Macartney, McElroy & Co. Ltd. was formed in 1898 to promote an electric tramway. (The company later had contracts to build a number of tramways in Britain and other parts of the world). Construction in Malta ran through 1904 and was completed in time for part of the system to be opened by the Maltese Governor and his wife, Sir Charles and Lady Mansfield Clarke, on 23rd February 1905. The remainder was completed by the summer of 1905.
There were approximately seven track miles with three main routes, all starting at Porta Reale just outside the entrance gate to the capital, Valletta. The longest route was to Zebbug, about 4 miles to the west. A branch to the north-west went to Birchircara and the Cospicua route, which passed the depot at Marsa, looped around the Grand Harbour for over 3 miles. There were plans for at least three extensions but they were never built. Track gauge was one metre and car livery was green and white. Some coloured versions of the title postcard show the trams as being red but that was wrong.
Five more 'toast-rack' trams (17-21) were delivered in 1906, this time from Brush in Loughborough. Finally four (some sources say five) more double-deck saloon cars (22-25) were ordered in 1907 from the United Electric Car Company of Preston, as in the manufacturer's view right. Some of the 'toast-rack' cars received temporary canvas top covers for the summer of 1911 and saloon car 6 received a more substantial open-balcony top cover in 1927.
Almost from the beginning there was intense competition from local bus operators and the tramway ran at a loss for most of its life. In 1929, the plug was pulled and the last tram ran on 15th December. The metre-gauge railway (opened in 1883) closed soon after, in 1931. Even without the trams, the scene in our postcard changed forever in 1940-42 during the 'Siege of Malta', when the island was heavily bombarded by Italian and German forces in WW2.
The Malta tramway had been almost forgotten but the Malta Post Office issued a set of four stamps in 2004, effectively commemorating the centenary but entitled 'Trams 1905 - 1929'. The tram design for the 19c stamp left was based on our main postcard image, even to the extent of including all of the people on and around the tram, although the background has been altered.
Until quite recent times, Malta was famous for its old multicoloured buses, many of them British built. If any London readers of this article want to know what happened to the infamous Mercedes Benz 'bendy buses' that were withdrawn after some caught fire, 68 of them were bought by Arriva in 2011 and shipped to Malta - where some ten more of them have since caught fire! They were withdrawn in September 2013....... We think Malta needs a new tram system!
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