Trouble with Trams

Driving hazards in 1934, when British traffic rules and road designs were still evolving.

Image from a 1934 cigarette card by W.D. & H.O. Wills. Safety First series.

Tramcars are built with a considerable amount of overhang at each end, and for that reason the ends swing out for some distance when they round a curve. Do not pass a tram when it is nearing a corner or crossing a junction, as its rear platform may strike the side of your car. It is not safe to rely on the driver giving the correct hand signal, and even if he does so the bulk of his vehicle will hide his hand from you. Never follow a tram closely for it is fitted with very powerful magnetic brakes and should it stop suddenly you may be unable to avoid a collision.

Image from a 1934 cigarette card by W.D. & H.O. Wills. Safety First series.Some towns have by-laws that compel all traffic to stop when a tram stops, so as to avoid danger to any passengers who may be entering or alighting from it. In other districts the procedure is left to the discretion of the motorist who may stop, proceed cautiously or pass the tram on the off side. Of these three alternatives the first is the safest, for among the tram’s passengers there may be an old person or an irresponsible child. Passing round the off side of the tram has its dangers as one may meet another tram proceeding rapidly in the opposite direction.

It is always inadvisable to motor along a tram track, for tramlines, especially if they are wet, are most “skid-provoking.” Often, too, the lines are worn to a sharp edge which cuts the tyres. If you have the misfortune to get your wheels caught in the tram track (as in the case illustrated), pull out gradually.

Image from a 1934 cigarette card by W.D. & H.O. Wills. Safety First series.

Grip the wheel firmly, but gently, and change the direction of motion as gradually as possible. Avoid use of the brakes, take your foot off the accelerator and press down the clutch pedal so that the car rolls along, for rolling road wheels, that have no power transmitted through them, do not skid.

Source: Safety First, a series of 50 cigarette cards issued by W.D. & H.O. Wills.


Edwardian Society in Sidmouth

From ‘The South Devon Coast’ by Charles G. Harper. 1907. (Abridged)

Before Torquay, Teignmouth, Exmouth, and other places had begun to develop, Sidmouth was a place of fashion, and the signs of that early favour are still abundantly evident in the town, which is largely a place of those prim-frontaged, white-faced houses we associate with the early years of the nineteenth century. It belongs, in fact, to the next period following that of Lyme Regis, and has just reached the point of being very quaint and old-world and interesting, as we and ours will have become in the course of another century.


And now, in this town which ought to be jealously preserved as a precious specimen of what the watering place of close upon a century ago was like, the restless evidences of our own time are becoming plentiful; older houses giving way to new, of the pretentious character so well suited to the age, and in red brick and terra-cotta.

Why, confound the purblind, batlike stupidity of it ! red brick is not wanted at Sidmouth, where the cliffs are the very reddest of all Devon. We need not give the old builders of white-faced Sidmouth any credit for artistic perceptions, for they could not choose but build in the fashion of their age, but, by chance, they did exactly the right thing here, and in midst of this richest red of the cliffs, this emerald green of the exquisite foliage, this yellow of the beach, deep blue of the sea, and cerulean blue above, planted their terraces and isolated squares of cool, contrasting whiteness. It was a white period, if you come to consider it, a time of book-muslin and simplicity, both natural and affected, and although Sidmouth was fashionable it was not flamboyant.

Sidmouth is in these days recovering something of its own. Not perhaps precisely in the same way, for the days of early nineteenth-century aristocratic fashion can never again be repeated on this earth. But a new vogue has come to it, and it is as exclusive in its new way as it was in the old; if not, indeed, more exclusive. More exclusive, more moneyed, not at all well-born, jewelled up to the eyes, and only wanting the final touch of being ringed through the nose. Oddly enough, it is a world quite apart from the little town; hidden from it, for the most part, in the hotels of the place. Most gorgeous and expensive hotels, standing in extensive grounds of their own, and all linked together in a business amalgamation, with the object of keeping up prices and shutting out competition.

It is not easy to see for what purpose the patrons of these places come to Sidmouth, unless to come down to breakfast dressed as though one were going to a ball, and dressing thrice a day and sitting in the grounds all day long be objects sufficient. From this point of view, Sidmouth town is a kind of dependence to the hotels, an accidental, little known, unessential hem or fringe, where one cannot wear ball-dresses and tiaras without exciting unpleasant criticism.

Bullion without birth, money without manners are in process of revolutionising some aspects of Sidmouth, and it is quite in accord with the general trend of things that the newest, the largest, the reddest, and the most insistent of the hotels should have shoved a great hulking shoulder up against the pretty, rambling, white-faced cottage in Woolacombe Glen*, where some earliest infant months of Queen Victoria were passed, and that it should have exploited the association by calling itself the “Victoria.”


Ladram Bay is reached either by cliff-top or along that tiring beach; or, greatly to be recommended above all other courses, by boat from Sidmouth, one of whose boatmen, with the pachydermatous hands that would scarce feel any effect from rowing fifty miles, will take you there if you give him a chance.

Ladram Bay was undoubtedly made expressly for picnics. There cannot be the least question of it. Geologists write profound things about the raised beach and the pebbles Triassic, Silurian, or what not jargon that compose it, but Nature most certainly in prophetic mood designed beach, natural arch, and caves for lunch and laughter, and as a romantic background for flirtations.

*Harper frequently referred to “Woolacombe” Glen and cottage in chapter 6 but the actual name was Woolbrook, after the stream, or brook, that flows through the glen. Curiously, he got that name almost right as “Woolabrook”. There is a Woolacombe Bay on the North Devon coast and a Woolcombe Lane off present-day Temple Street in another part of Sidmouth. Was it there in 1907?

Whatever the reason for his confusion, “Woolacombe” took root in Harper’s mind and made it all the way to print. Perhaps nobody else in the production line knew enough about Sidmouth to stop it. Woolbrook cottage, with additions, is now the Royal Glen Hotel.

The postcard of Sidmouth Esplanade probably dates from around the time it was sent – 1908 – but the registration number in the left corner shows the photograph was taken in 1887. The cream coloured York Hotel at left was built in 1807 and has since annexed neighbouring buildings to become today’s Royal York and Faulkner.

The senders of both cards gave their impressions of local weather.
From Sidmouth in January 1908 “We must be nearing the North Pole”.
From Ladram Bay in August 1907 (late summer) “The wind is a bit cold, but the waves are lovely”.


The Spoils of War

Cigarette card image of the Cunard ship RMS Berengaria.In the 1920s, and into the 30s, British and American shipping companies were able to boast that they operated the biggest trans-Atlantic passenger liners afloat. It was a source of national pride. They didn’t advertise that some of them had been built in Germany for the Hamburg-America Line before the outbreak of world war and handed over to the victors as part of the peace settlement. Cunard’s Berengaria, which had sailed under the German flag for over a year as Imperator, was one.

C.R. Vernon Gibbs takes up the story in his book ‘Passenger Liners of the Western Ocean’, (1952).

[Imperator] began a trio of Hamburg-American ‘giants’ which remained the world’s largest liners until 1935. The others were Vaterland (afterwards the United States Line’s Leviathan), and Bismarck (later the White Star Majestic). The subsequent vessels were given extra beam to improve watertight sub-divisions in the light of the Titanic disaster.

Work on Imperator started in August 1910. The ship was launched in May 1912 and began her maiden voyage thirteen months later. The Ambrose Channel up to New York had been deepened just in time to take her and she worked from Cuxhaven [at the mouth of the river Elbe], not Hamburg. A novel detail was a gilded figurehead in the form of a German eagle, but this proved a nuisance, was often damaged and finally removed.


Imperator c. 1913, before the figurehead was removed.

Imperator and her consorts were the first big German turbine liners and nothing was spared to make them the most luxurious ships afloat. The after funnel was a dummy. Uptakes of the other two were split and rejoined above the boat deck so as to avoid passing through the dining saloon.

The beginning of August 1914 found her lying safely in the Elbe, where she stayed until surrendered to the victorious Allied Powers. She ferried American troops homewards between May and August 1919 and was then laid up at New York, to be transferred to Great Britain the following February. The Cunard Line operated her on the Southampton route throughout 1920 and needed the ship to replace the lost Lusitania, but was in no hurry to buy. The Bismarck was also for sale and the only possible purchasers for either were the Cunard and White Star companies. To avoid outbidding each other, the Cunard and White Star bought Imperator and Bismarck jointly from the Government in February 1921.

The Cunard sent Imperator to the Tyne for reconditioning and conversion to oil fuel. She returned to Southampton with her speed improved to run alongside Mauretania and Aquitania, clearing the port as Berengaria* for the first time on April 16th, 1922.

Cunard White Star liner Berengaria, ex-Imperator.

Postcard of Cunard ship Berengaria, ex-Imperator, in drydock at Southampton.

The ex-Imperator completed her last voyage in March 1938 and was sold for breaking up at Jarrow six months later. The final stages of dismantling took place at Rosyth [Scotland] in 1946.

Postcard of Cunard ship Berengaria, ex-Imperator

*Berengaria, after whom the ship was named, was the wife of King Richard I of England – Richard the Lionheart.

Cycling and the YHA

cyclist_woman 1939Before Britain had motorways, traffic congestion or road rage, the humble bicycle must have been a much more enjoyable form of private transport than it is today. These cigarette cards issued by John Player in 1939 recommend combining the healthy, freewheeling lifestyle with membership of the Youth Hostel Association for an idylic, affordable holiday.

This modern girl cyclist is a picture of health and fitness and contrasts favourably with the narrow-waisted, over-clothed female riders of 40 years ago. The cycling girl has been one of the greatest influences in gaining freedom for women to act and travel independently, a right that was denied her grandmother. In the background is Ferniehirst Castle Youth Hostel, near Jedburgh, in Scotland. It is a fine relic of a Border stronghold and a “show” Hostel of Scotland. Ferniehirst Castle is one of the chain of Youth Hostels linking Edinburgh to Newcastle.
Ferniehirst was a Youth Hostel for fifty years but has been privately owned since 1984.

cycling_groupCyclists and walkers of both sexes may join the Youth Hostels Association (England and Wales) for 2/6d [2 shillings and 6 pence] a year under the age of 25, or 5/- for those 25 and over. The same subscriptions apply to the Scottish Y.H.A., but the age limit for 2/6d. is 20. There are nearly 300 hostels in England and Wales and over 50 in Scotland where members can stay for 1/- a night, cooking facilities being provided for those carrying their own food. The wardens of many hostels also supply cooked meals, average prices being 1/- per meal. We show Hartington Hall Hostel, Dovedale, in the Peak District.

cycling_family tandemThousands of cycling mothers and fathers became acquainted and enjoyed their courtship on “a bicycle made for two.” And they do not forego the pleasures of cycling after marriage. When the little one comes along, the happy couple wait only the passing of the baby-in-arms period before the addition of a side-car to the tandem makes possible healthy and enjoyable week-ending and holiday touring for the family trio. Many tandem side-car clubs have been formed and family rallies are held. Houghton Mill Youth Hostel in Huntingdonshire forms the background to this cycling scene (now in the care of the National Trust).

cycling_borderMore and more cyclists are touring abroad each year. A cycling holiday in a foreign land amidst strange scenes, peoples and customs, is a fascinating experience and costs little more than a tour at home; in some countries, indeed, the rate of exchange is favourable. In 1938 the Cyclists’ Touring Club supplied 1,139,000 miles of routes to members touring abroad and issued 5,686 Triptyques, or customs tickets, to facilitate the passage of bicycles from one country to another without customs deposit. The picture shows a frontier post between Yugoslavia and Germany.
Later in the same year these cards were published, the world went to war. Invading German troops crossed this border in April 1941.

Kaiser Bill

This cartoon from 1902 shows that German Emperor Wilhelm II was seen as a subject for ridicule in Britain well before the Great War, when ridicule turned to hatred.

Kaiser cartoon

With his love of military uniforms – he was rumoured to own 600, some of which he designed himself – his arrogant attitude, and that absurd upturned moustache which he sometimes waxed into spikes, perhaps he was an easy target. The image comes from a little-known collection of twenty satirical cartoons called ‘The Coronation Nonsense Book’ by “Caroline Lewis” and illustrated by “S. R.” 1902 was the coronation year of Edward VII who was Kaiser Wilhelm’s uncle. The two detested each other.

The top caption alleges the Kaiser “has never been crowned” and suggests “For months past the fullest details as to arrangements and procedure have been telegraphed to his Majesty.” The main caption (for those with small screens) says – There was a Teutonic Tom-Tit, who said “I must certainly fit To myself all this Pomp.” But they cried “It will swamp Your Exchequer!” He said “Not a bit!”

If your wildlife knowledge is a little rusty, a Tom-tit is an old 17th century name for the Bluetit, a small but colourful bird found all over Europe. In a few lines the writer has skewered the man’s vanity and suggested that, although the British Empire can afford a lavish ceremony, Germany could not.

“Caroline Lewis” was Harold Begbie (1871-1929) and “S.R.” was fellow journalist J. Stafford Ransome (1860-1931). They are better remembered for their satirical novel ‘Clara in Blunderland’ published earlier in the same year.

If you believe that history repeats, you might be interested in this comparison of Kaiser Bill with a modern head of state.

Everybody needs a hobby


A Lady’s Pedestrian Hobby-horse

In 1818, Denis Johnson, Coachmaker, of Long Acre, London, introduced the Hobby-horse into England. A year later a modified version of this contrivance for the use of ladies was introduced, probably by Johnson, who exhibited it at his riding school. The machine, which weighed about 66 lb., had a wooden dropped frame somewhat resembling that of the lady’s bicycle of to-day. The saddle was supported on an iron pillar fixed to the lower part of the frame. There is very little evidence that the ladies of the early 19th century indulged in the pastime, although Johnson’s advertisements assured them that it could be enjoyed without loss of decorum.

Well Denis would say that, wouldn’t he? He was trying to sell them! It could be argued that a lady’s decorum might be slightly damaged just by getting on to the thing and completely destroyed when seen pushing a 66 lb. wooden contraption up a hill on a hot day.

The image and text come from a “Cycling” collection of cigarette cards produced by John Player and Son in 1939. It could be the start of an occasional series.

Ancestral Bones

The town of Esher, in the English county of Sussex, is known today as a commuter town on the outer reaches of London’s suburban sprawl but in 1902 it was described by Charles Harper as “a pretty village” and a “charmingly rural place, with a humble old church behind an old coaching inn, and a new church, not at all humble, across the way.”


The old church of St. George in Esher, parts of which date to the 16th century.

“The old church of Esher”, he writes, “long since disused and kept locked and given over to spiders and dust, has a Royal Pew, built for the use of the Princess Charlotte and the Claremont household in 1816. It is a huge structure, in comparison with the size of the little church, and designed in the worst possible classic taste; wearing, indeed, more the appearance of an opera-box than anything else.

The authorities (whoever they may be) charge a shilling for viewing this derelict church. It is distinctly not worth the money, because the architecture is contemptible, and all the interesting monuments have been removed to the modern building, on a quite different site, across the road. …..

The reflections conjured up by an inspection of Esher old church are sad indeed, and the details of it not a little horrible to a sensitive person. There is an early nineteenth-century bone-house or above-ground vault attached to the little building, in which have been stored coffins innumerable. The coffins are gone, but many of the bony relics of poor humanity may be seen in the dusty semi-obscurity of an open archway, lying strewn among rakes and shovels. To these, when the present writer was inspecting the place, entered a fox-terrier, emerging presently with the thigh-bone of some rude forefather of the hamlet in his mouth. “Drop it!” said the churchwarden, fetching the dog a blow with his walking-stick. The dog “dropped it” accordingly, and went off, and the churchwarden kicked the bone away. I made some comment, I know not what, and the churchwarden volunteered the information that the village urchins had been used to play with these poor relics. “They’re nearly all gone now,” said he. “They used to break the windows with ’em.” And then we changed the subject for a better.
Charles G. Harper. ‘Cycle Rides Around London’, 1902.

photo from wikimedia

Note: Follow the Royal Pew link to see the present condition of the old church.