Birmingham Trams

As trams start running in Birmingham again for the first time since 1953 I was reminded of a brief mention in some family papers of one of the earliest steam trams in Birmingham.

Julia Bandinel, my great grand aunt, kept an occasional travel diary which is deposited in the Cadbury Research Library at the University of Birmingham (Bandinel Family Papers MS563). One of the most interesting sections, for me, she entitles “My first visit to Birmingham” and in it she describes a trip with her mother, also called Julia, from their home in Elmley, Yorkshire to visit her brother Richard Bulkeley Bandinel in August 1887. Bulkeley, as he was known, (named after his uncle Bulkeley Bandinel, longest-serving Bodleian Librarian)  who had moved to Birmingham as an Inland Revenue Officer.

I’ll include a full-transcript of her visit in a later blog but here is what she had to say about her first experience of Birmingham’s steam tram on a journey from New Street Station out to Bulkeley’s new home at Camp Hill.

p.49 1st visit to Birmingham Extract

p.49 1st visit to Birmingham Extract 2

Extract from Julia Bandinel’s Travel Diary MS563 Cadbury Research Library


Then we left our large packages at the Left Luggage Office and going outside waited for a Steam Tram which soon came along. Bulkeley says they hold 52 passengers. They are extraordinary looking things – 2 storeys high with an odd looking engine in front. It is wonderful, as B. points out what sharp
corners they turn.

The title image[1] shows one of these beasts en route for Sparkbrook which would have have been the route Julia travelled on. They had been introduced in 1884 so were a common feature of Birmingham life by the time of Julia’s visit in 1887.

The steam engine had identical controls at each end and so could be used to either push or pull the tramcar.  The upper deck was open to the elements and also to the effusions of the steam engine itself which resulted in those on top being exposed to a
“smell like rotten eggs and Lover's Lament at the loss of Birmingham Old Steam Tramstar” according to the verse on the postcard I found lurking in my personal collection of Birmingham ephemera.  Entitled “The Lovers Lament at the Loss of Old Steam Trams. Electrocuted December 31st 1906 it showed that the top deck certainly held other attractions though as

“…many a Miss has received a kiss

On the top of the Car

From Perry Barr

Or the Tram that came from Moseley !”

 Whether the new Urbos 3 trams will be held in such affection in years to come only time will tell – but its to be hoped they smell a little better;)






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