Remembering the trams that used to run through Hackney

Trams ran in Green Lanes until 1952.

Trams ran in Green Lanes until 1952. - Credit: Archant

Sixty-five years ago, Stoke Newington’s last tram pulled away. The Gazette spoke to readers who remember the horse-drawn – and later electric – vehicles that ran down Green Lanes and connected Hackney to the rest of north London.

Trams ran in Green Lanes until 1952.

Trams ran in Green Lanes until 1952. - Credit: Archant

With no Tube stations and a temperamental Overground service, trams would probably be welcomed in Hackney today – but 65 years ago, transport bosses couldn’t wait to get rid of them.

They weren’t the most modern vehicles in the world, but they did a job until they were phased out for trolleybuses by 1952.

Gazette readers have written about their memories of the trams, which served Stoke Newington, Stamford Hill, Finsbury Park and Hackney Central.

Norman Clayson said: “I remember riding the trams 33 and 35 from Manor House terminus to Aldwych Kingsway and coming out on to the Embankment at Waterloo Bridge – being a ruddy pest by keeping pushing the seats back and forth.”

These photographs are taken from Derek Baker's Stoke Newington encyclopaedia, which he formed over 3

These photographs are taken from Derek Baker's Stoke Newington encyclopaedia, which he formed over 30 years and is now being maintained by historian Amir Dotan following Derek's death. Picture: Amir Dotan - Credit: Archant

Roger Francis, who lived in Wilberforce Road and used to catch the tram in Green Lanes from Clissold Park to Manor House, also remembers them fondly.

“I loved the tram compared to buses,” he told the Gazette.

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“I was particularly fond of going upstairs. The last example of one I saw was in the Science Museum many years later. Tey were far more romantic than those we find abroad.”

The trolleybuses also evoke memories for the people of Hackney. Rosemary Ashley said: “I remember going with my mum to Green Lanes and seeing the man with a big pole doing something to the overhead lines.

“I was just a toddler, but I was fascinated. I think they were turning the bus around or something like that. It was so long ago, but still stuck in my mind.”

Trams were brought in at Hackney Central in the 1870s, 20 years after the railway arrived to transform it from a rural suburb into the urban area it was to become. A depot was opened in Upper Clapton Road in 1873 by the North Metropolitan Tramways Company and today it is one of the last remaining Victorian horse-drawn tram hubs in London.

Its route was from Bishopsgate, up Mare Street, and onto Clapton. In 1875 it was extended to Clapton Common and then onto Stamford Hill in 1902.

Another route ran from Newington Green along Green Lanes to Clissold Park and then from 1883 extended to Manor House.

Bohemia Place off Mare Street also had a depot, which opened in 1882. By 1885 there were 169 journeys a day each way on the service between Stamford Hill and Moorgate Street, and 53 between Stamford Hill and Bishopsgate.

The different lines also had different colours. Red cars went to Moorgate Street, yellow to Bishopsgate and green to Holborn. There were also green cars from Finsbury Park down Green Lanes to Moorgate Street – though an inquiry in 1925 found there was huge overcrowding at Finsbury Park station and in 1904, the Metropolitan Electric Tramways Company, which had taken over the lines, electrified that route and part of the Green Lanes service, which went on to Wood Green.

While the overcrowding was partly responsible for the switch, so too were horse droppings, which impeded road sweeping.

The Stamford Hill line was electrified in 1907 and the southern part of the Green Lanes line followed in 1912.

A new service along Amhurst Park to link the Seven Sisters Road trams with those at Stamford Hill was opened in 1924 but trams across London began to be phased out from 1935 – though the war put it on hold and some of the Hackney lines survived.

A B B Valentine of the London Transport Executive (LTE) believed they were causing congestion on roads and pushed for the introduction of buses. “Operation Tramway” was launched in 1950 and the last trams ran on July 6, 1952, pulling into the New Cross depot.

True to form, the move didn’t ease congestion very much at all.