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”.


Railway uniforms and the English class system.

The London and South Western Railway garments are issued to the staff in the spring and autumn. Generally trousers are supplied every six months; light coats and vests every other summer; and heavy coats, vests and overcoats every other winter. At the Stores the garments for each man are made up into a separate parcel, duly labelled with his name, grade and place of employment. ….

railway serviceIt is impossible to mention all the articles of clothing that are served out on the different railways to various classes. Some men are supplied with leggings and mackintoshes; oilskin suits and clogs are required by those whose duties call for the use of water, as in carriage-washing, etc. Blue blouses are worn by men engaged in fruit and meat loading; the sailors on the railway steamers wear blue jerseys; tunnel men are clothed in flannel suits; and electricians, boiler-inspectors, policemen, firemen, dining-car attendants, Royal train officials and the hotel staff all require garments of widely differing character.

Platelayers, as a rule, are not supplied with clothing by the Company. Some of these men, however, are employed in fog-signalling, cold and cheerless work, for which warm clothing is very necessary. They are therefore provided with thick overcoats, the collars of which are covered with scarlet cloth. These garments are generally second-hand ones that have been returned to the Stores after two years’ wear by officials in higher grades. There are also various other servants, not entitled to new clothing, who are favoured with similar garments.

railway guard

Station Master, two porters, and a train guard.

A great many of the left-off garments of railway employés find their way to the “shoddy” mills for conversion into cloth of the cheapest kinds, but garments that are worth it are fitted with new collars and cuffs and then find a ready sale among farm labourers and other classes whose work calls for rough clothing. The articles for which there is no demand at home are sent abroad. Upon many of the sugar and cotton plantations of India and the West Indies and in the mines of South Africa it is not uncommon to see a native clothed in a strange medley of garments.
‘The Wonder Book of Railways’, Ed. Harry Golding,
Ward, Lock & Co., Ltd. Eleventh edition, c.1924.

Great fleas have little fleas upon their backs to bite ’em,
And little fleas have lesser fleas, and so ad infinitum.
And the great fleas themselves, in turn, have greater fleas to go on;
While these again have greater still, and greater still, and so on.
Augustus De Morgan (1806 – 1871)

Buy British

In the last thirty years the British motor industry has grown rapidly and mass-production of moderately priced cars has increased the standard of living of millions of citizens. English cars, unsurpassed for their quality and reliability, are in demand throughout the world and ably demonstrate our national aptitude in engineering skill. These photographs were taken of work in famous factories at Cowley and Birmingham.
‘England Today in Pictures’, Odhams Press Ltd, 1947.


Austin 10 family saloons at the Birmingham factory. 0 to 60 m.p.h. in a blistering 1 minute 55 sec!


A production line for the Morris 8E – made by humans, not robots – at Cowley, Oxford.

We might have a more demanding definition of “quality and reliability” today, so those words should be understood in their historical context, not to mention their propaganda value for a country struggling to recover after WWII. Petrol (gas) was still rationed in 1947 and a large proportion of new car production was exported to boost the economy. A new car was actually out of reach for “millions of citizens”. Consequently, second hand pre-war vehicles held their value well into the 1950s.

Oxford Circus

Sepia postcard image of Oxford Circus, 1920s or 30s.

Oxford Circus, London. Junction of Regent Street and Oxford Street. One of the principal shopping centres of the world. Noted for its magnificent Buildings.

[Oxford Street] has seen in our time a marvellous transformation, for those who are not even old remember the day when men smiled at Mr. Selfridge coming from America and setting up his great shop at the wrong end of Oxford Street where nobody came. People come today in their thousands and hundreds of thousands, and all the world knows Selfridge’s, the greatest shop in England that has no need to put its name on it. Its massive row of stone columns stretches for 500 feet along the street. Its windows are one of London’s annual shows at Christmas, and in summer its roof is a daily delight.
‘London’, Arthur Mee, Hodder & Stoughton, 1937.

Postcard image of Oxford Circus from Regent Street c. 1930s.

Approaching Oxford Circus from Regent Street.

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.

Crossing the Tamar

I recently acquired an interesting old letter card featuring eight photographs of Devonport, England. It was published by “W.B.P.” and my best guess for a date would be 1904 to 1907. Printed on semi-matt paper with a fairly course screen and a little faded with age, it doesn’t provide the best quality but I think these two images are good enough (after a little tweaking) to be posted for their historic interest.

Torpoint ferry

The ferry service across the Tamar estuary between what was then Plymouth, in Devon, and Torpoint, in Cornwall, was established in 1791 by the first Earl of Mount Edgcumbe. It’s still running – with three much bigger ferries. This image was also published by W.B.P. as a hand-coloured postcard.

Image from a letter card c. 1904-1907 published by "W.B.P."

Farther upstream, at Saltash, is the Royal Albert railway bridge opened by Prince Albert in May 1859. Still in use today, after periodic strengthening to take heavier trains, it is literally a monument to the brilliant Victorian engineer I. K. Brunel. He died four months after his creation opened and the railway company added his name, in large letters, to each end of the bridge as a memorial. A road bridge was built alongside it in 1962.