(All images by Alexandra Smith, all rights reserved)
A chocolate and cream coloured West Ham tram on display in the London Transport Museum appears to be all that remains of the historic tram network that once ran through the streets of the Olympic Borough of Newham (prior to 1965 Newham was the Municipal Boroughs of East Ham and West Ham). However, there are still a couple of architectural gems left over from the glory days of the electrically propelled tram.
The North Metropolitan Tramways Company ran a horse tramway through this area of the East End from the 1870s. At the turn of the 20th century (after experimenting with railed trams powered by compressed air, then charged batteries and finally steam), East Ham and West Ham began using an electric tram system. Unfortunately, the expense of tramway maintenance and the rise in popularity of trolley and motor buses meant that trams stopped running here around 1940.
The boroughs were proud of their trams and the associated architecture reflects this. East Ham’s tram depot is now Grade II listed. This Edwardian building was partially renovated in an adaptive reuse project during the 1990s, to incorporate a new leisure centre within Newham’s Town Hall annexe (originally East Ham’s town hall complex built around 1901). An image of the tram system in its heyday is engraved on to one of the leisure centre walls.
The West Ham Tramway Offices have also been preserved, although this building does look neglected at present. The structure sits opposite Greengate House in Plaistow and a war memorial stands proudly in its foreground. The building is dated 1906 and ‘Electric Lighting and Tramways Committee’ is engraved in marble on the front wall. To learn more about East Ham and West Ham’s tramways, check out The Newham Story.