When trams led the way

The 49A ‘shuttle’ tram service between Ponders End and Enfield Town began service in 1911

Enfield Society chair Dave Cockle recounts the history of the borough’s tram services

Did you know that Enfield was once served by a number of tramways, spanning more than half-a-century?

The first of these tram routes to be introduced was a horse-drawn service from Edmonton, running southwards along Hertford Road to the boundary with Tottenham. Opening in April 1881, it was run by the North London Suburban Tramway Company and operated from a depot in Edmonton at Tramway Avenue.

This tramway had been extended to Stamford Hill and Ponders End by June 1882. A branch running to Finsbury Park along Seven Sisters Road was quick to follow, taking people further towards the centre of London.

Steam power was introduced in 1885. This was not only unsuccessful in practice, because of the heavy wear on the tracks, but it also bankrupted the original company. North Metropolitan Tramway Company (NMTC) took over in 1891, switching back to horse trams and abandoning the route north of Tramway Avenue.

In 1901 the Metropolitan Electric Tramways (MET) acquired a controlling interest in NMTC. The tramway was electrified as far as Tramway Avenue in 1905, before extending north along Hertford Road – first to a temporary terminus at Enfield Wash in 1907, then to Waltham Cross in 1908. The depot at Tramway Avenue was rebuilt for electric trams in 1904. It was enlarged in 1907, with the capacity to accommodate 60 trams.

The second tramway to arrive was the route from Wood Green along Green Lanes. It eventually reaching Palmers Green in June 1907, Winchmore Hill in June 1908, and was completed all the way to Enfield Town in 1909. It is the tramway that was responsible for the current alignment of the main road between Winchmore Hill and Enfield; the more direct route is via Bush Hill and this was the original main road, but there was insufficient space to provide the statutory 50 feet width carriageway for tramways, where Bush Hill crosses Salmons Brook at the historic Clarendon Arch. A new road, Ridge Avenue, was therefore constructed instead, swinging east and joining up with the southern half of Village Road. The new main road used the western half of Park Avenue to link up to London Road.

An ‘Enfield By Tram’ poster dating from 1914, created by Fred Taylor and currently part of London Transport Museum’s collection (copyright Transport for London)

The last tramway to arrive in the borough ran along Southbury Road, from Ponders End to Enfield Town, just east of Enfield Town Station. This opened in February 1911. Predominately running as a shuttle service, in the peak period some trams ran through to Liverpool Street. Plans were afoot to join it up with the Wood Green tramway at Enfield Town; track work for the link was laid out, but because of the narrow entrance to Southbury Road from The Town, and difficulties widening the road at this point, the link was abandoned.

The early trams did not have route numbers but merely displayed their destination. MET began to give its trams route numbers in 1912. Just skirting the south-west part of the borough at New Southgate was tram route 21 from Holborn to North Finchley. This ran along Bounds Green Road. MET joined up with the London County Council (LCC) tramways at Stamford Hill in 1906/7 and, in March 1913, they started through-running with the 59 service from Edmonton Town Hall to Holborn, followed in June by the 79from Waltham Cross to Smithfield. The 49from Edmonton Town Hall to Liverpool Street started in June 1920, using LCC trams. The Ponders End to Enfield Town shuttle was given the route number 49A.

A 1937 tram map shows that the 27to Euston had been extended to Edmonton Town Hall and the 59 to Waltham Cross. Over on the western side of the borough, the 29route ran from Enfield Town down to Finsbury Park, and then along the Seven Sisters Road to Euston.

In July 1933, London Passenger Transport Board took over the running of all London tramways, making a policy decision to convert the majority of the system to trolley-buses. The last tram along Green Lanes to Enfield Town ran in May 1938. Edmonton soon followed with their trams ceasing in October 1938. The Ponders End shuttle was withdrawn at the same time, being replaced by a bus service.

Some of the tramway journey times were impressive by today’s standards. The Enfield Town to Ponders End tram took just six minutes end-to-end, but then there was no Great Cambridge Road to cross in the early days! Just one old penny was the fare for the journey.

Today, trams have made something of a comeback in several major British cities, with Birmingham, Blackpool, Edinburgh, Nottingham and Sheffield all having regular tram services. They have even returned in London – but so far only in Croydon, Bromley, Sutton and Merton.

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