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Streetcars named desire . . . and some other things too
10:08am Wednesday 31st December 2008 in Echo Memories
George Francis Train, who was the inspiration for Around the World In 80 Days, and the driving force behind Darlington’s street railroad
It’s the truth. A Train brought tramcars to a North-East town.
Chris Lloyd looks back at a remarkable Yankee who doodled his dandy in Darlington before ending up in a debtors’ prison.
ON New Year’s Day 147 years ago, Darlington was in a high state of excitement. A Yankee was in town, digging up the streets, installing a new form of transport and promising great progress.
But there were those – including a prize greyhound – who wished to stand in the way of that progress.
The Yankee was George Francis Train, a magnificent eccentric who, in 1870, travelled around the world in 80 days and was the inspiration for novelist Jules Verne and his character, Phileas Fogg.
Mr Train made millions by sailing the fastest ships on the sea. He then invested in railways. He bought up cheap wilderness and sold it profitably after his Union Pacific Railway had been built nearby.
He was offered the presidency of a proposed Australian republic, and in 1872 he ran as an independent candidate for the presidency of America.
When his bid failed, he tried to become Dictator of the United States, which was the start of his descent into an eccentricity which bordered on lunacy.
He shook hands with himself, frittered away his millions and ended his life on a park bench in New York, talking only to children and squirrels – although he had by then managed to get his world circumnavigation record down to 60 days.
New Year’s Day, 1862, found Mr Train in Darlington.
His mind was always a whirlwind of money-making enterprises and he wanted to bring to Britain the horsedrawn streetcars of New York City, Baltimore and Philadelphia.
A tram pulled along smooth metal rails by two horses could carry 50 people more comfortably and costefficiently than a bumpy old stagecoach that required four horses to pull 16 people.
First, he tried to persuade Liverpool to adopt his patent tramway. The city authorities refused, but plucky Birkenhead opened a mile-and-a-half long line on August 30, 1860.
Then to London, where Mr Train was allowed to build a two-mile line in Bayswater, which opened in the summer of 1861.
Although well used by ordinary people, Mr Train’s trams were not well liked.
The rails jutted above the road causing injury to fourand two-legged creatures, and jolting to other carriages.
Cab and omnibus drivers feared the competition. They deliberately rammed their vehicles’ wheels into the tracks, preventing the trams from running and providing a spurious excuse for suing the streetcar company.
Undeterred, late in 1861 Mr Train hooked up with Darlington’s Pease family. It is unknown how this extraordinary connection was made, but Mr Train had made himself the principal spokesman of the Yankee side in the American Civil War.
The war was between the slave-owning states of the south and the free Yankee states of the north – Mr Train hailed from Boston, Massachusetts, in the north.
Britain was officially neutral, but many in the establishment sympathised with the south, if only because they wanted the cotton grown on the slave plantations.
However, the Quaker Peases were opposed to slavery, and this might have attracted them to Mr Train.
Alternatively, they might simply have seen his tramcars as a way of connecting their North Road station with the centre of the town and so increasing business.
With their associates, the Peases held the majority of shares in the Darlington Street Railroad Company Limited, which was chaired by Henry Pease of Pierremont.
In late 1861, they railroaded the town’s Board of Health, which they controlled, into granting them a licence to operate for three years, and construction started forthwith.
Such speed raised eyebrows. “It was a dispatch unparalleled but indicative of the wheels-within-wheels, hocus-pocus and one-in-thecorner pre-arrangement of the whole thing,” said the anti-Pease weekly newspaper, the Darlington Telegraph.
The paper condemned the Peases’ “scramble for filthy lucre”, accused them of “brow-beating insolence, misnancying arrogance and impudent contempt of all courtesy”, and condemned them for forcing the railroad “like a bolus down our throats”.
The biggest bone of contention was that the Darlington railroad was built along the west side of Northgate rather than in the centre of the road.
Therefore, all carts that parked on the side of the road parked on top of the tracks.
A trial run took place on Boxing Day, 1861, and although the tram came off the rails on a couple of bends, the opening was set for 9am on New Year’s Day.
“At that early hour of the morning, there were of course not many people out,”
reported the pro-Pease Darlington and Stockton Times (D&ST). Soon “a tolerably large number of respectable townsmen assembled at the terminus in the market place to hail the welcome guest.”
There were two trams, the Nelson and the Wellington.
One started at North Road station; the other at the Railway Workman’s Institute (near where Morrisons is today) in North Road.
The tracks converged in Northgate, with stops at Bulmer’s Stone, Union Street and Prospect Place, before arriving in the Market Place after a four-minute, 11mph journey.
After stretching their legs for 15 minutes, the Peases and their pals got back into the cars and returned to the station where “a splendid breakfast” awaited them.
THERE was plenty of speechifying, not least from Mr Train who was quite taken at finding himself in the birthplace of the steam train.
“If I had taken any part in introducing the greatest idea the world has ever seen, I would talk of it everywhere, because it has done more for civilisation of the world than any other agency,” he said.
“As an American, I thank the people of Darlington for having done so much for my country.”
He continued gratefully: “I wish to thank the people of Darlington for my courteous reception. I never met with men so willing to put their shoulders to the wheel in my life.”
But with a nod to the controversy surrounding his tramway, he said: “Factious men will no more stop its progress than the waves of the sea from rising, or the sun from shining.”
But factious men tried.
They deliberately spilled coal all over the tracks. They parked wagons full of steaming manure in the road It’s the truth. A Train brought tramcars to a North-East town.
Chris Lloyd looks back at a remarkable Yankee who doodled his dandy in Darlington before ending up in a debtors’ prison of the trams. They set a long train of pack ponies travelling at a snail’s pace in front of the streetcars.
Leading the opposition were two publicans: John Wrightson of the Sun Inn in Prospect Place (where HSBC is today), and Archibold Morritt of The Three Tuns in Northgate (opposite the former Woolworth’s store).
Even before the railroad, they were leaders of the unofficial anti-Pease movement (the Peases were advocates of temperance), and the trams threatened the carting and cabbing businesses of themselves and their customers.
In February 1862, Mr Morritt organised “the Northgate blockade” by getting his men to padlock their carts together across the tracks.
The railroad inspector, John Bell, smashed the padlocks with a hammer, damaging the carts. Mr Morritt sued him but magistrates let him off because “he was acting under the impression that his proceedings were legally right”.
The Darlington Telegraph concluded its coverage of the case: “The conduct of the defendant was indecent and offensive and in fact the impudent varlet was indebted to the indulgent forbearance of the chairman who might, with quite as much propriety as severity, have transferred him from the dock to a cell for his pernicious contempt of court.”
The Telegraph ran weekly items telling how people, horses, donkeys and mules had all hurt themselves tripping over the tracks. It used the most inflammatory language.
When a ten-year-old boy “clambered upon one of the tramway cars”, he “was by some means flung violently on the pavement and sustained severe bruises on his head and hip. We hope an allegation that he was kicked from the vehicle by the conductor will prove to be a misrepresentation”.
The Telegraph graphically described how one of the trams came off on a curve outside the Railway Tavern.
“There was a fearful rush of passengers higgledypiggledy, caulk-ow’re-keel, neck-or-nothing, rumbletumble, hurry-scurry out of great Nelson’s body,” it said with undisguised glee.
Further ammunition came in the summer of 1862 when Mr Train was fined £500 in Bayswater – where the posh residents hated his common tramway – for “maintaining a nuisance” and “breaking and injuring” a street.
He refused to pay and was thrown into a debtor’s prison (Mr Train was imprisoned 15 times in his life in many different countries).
Then a young boy died in a collision with a Bayswater tram. Mr Train was arrested in his cell and charged with manslaughter.
He successfully defended himself at the inquest, where a verdict of accidental death was returned, but the Bayswater tramway was fatally wounded. It never ran again.
The Darlington system was suffering similarly vexatious court cases.
William Johnson, a temperance missionary, took cab driver James Temple Mangles to court for cruelly flogging his horses.
PC Taylor told how he had had to jump aboard the tram, grab the whips and reins, and throttle Mr Mangles to prevent him thrashing the horses.
THE incident happened on Licensed Victuallers Fete Day, near the Sun Inn (proprietor: Mr Wrightson, chairman of Licensed Victuallers Association). One can imagine the scene: a drunken mob jeering at the tram driver as he tried desperately to force his horses between the obstacles strewn in their way at the top of tight Northgate.
Magistrates found Mr Mangles not guilty of cruelty, but fined him 21 shillings (£1.05) for driving his horses onto the pavement.
The most famous case reached Durham Summer Assizes in July 1864.
Auctioneer Charles Miller claimed £50 compensation for the loss of his prize greyhound, which had momentarily strayed onto the tracks.
“There was plenty of time to stop if the driver had been inclined, but being a man of rare astuteness, he merely put his whistle to his mouth and blew, which, however it might have alarmed a Christian, had no effect upon the dog, which, failing to see the urgent necessity for moving, was run over and its forelegs broken,” reported the Darlington and Stockton Times.
The case disintegrated when the Peases argued that it was the Streetcar Company that was liable for damages and not themselves.
Even the pro-Pease D&ST agreed this was “a shabby way of getting out of the claim for compensation”.
But by now, the Darlington tramway was a busted flush.
When its three-year licence neared its end, such was the vehemence of the opposition, even the Peases didn’t dare apply for renewal. And so the third street tramway in Britain fizzled out.
“It cannot be denied that the cars were a great convenience to thousands”
living in the new terraces in the north end of town, said the D&ST, before talking of the “great rumbling, clanging car, with light flaming and reflected from its bright yellow front, making night jaundiced with its colour and hideous with its din”.
The trams’ last day of operation was January 1, 1865. The rails were removed in February, the company was officially declared bankrupt in November.
But, 15 years later, a new tram company started running horsedrawn vehicles. They were a success. In 1904, they turned into electric trams, which turned into trolley buses in 1926, and which lasted until 1957 and are still fondly remembered.
So is this New Year’s tale a victory of people power over Peases, or another example of the Peases being ahead of the hoi polloi?