Doris Darbyshire

A Bit Of History

I first saw electric tram cars,
When I was five years old.
The tram-car track had just been laid,
I remember being told.

I was a first-year toddler,
In the Infant Pool,
Of ‘St James Church Of England,’
Elementary School.

New electric tram cars,
By Wigan had been bought.
And tracks from Wigan Market Place,
For every district sought.

Our village was one of the first,
To have the lines laid down.
From Ashton and through Worsley Mesnes,
And on into the town.

It was a day of history,
The day the first tram came.
We children stood outside the school,
Its advent to acclaim.

We stood three deep, we all had flags,
To wave as it went by.
Hurrah, hurrah, we shouted out,
Our voices lifted high.

The doors of houses opened wide,
As all rushed out to cheer.
The Mayor and those who’d active been,
The trams to pioneer.

The trams became quite helpful,
For folks to get about.
But my mother still preferred to walk,
Whenever she went out.

She took us on the tram, just once,
To help our education.
And she herself was very proud,
Of the township’s speculation.

Time went by and we became,
A set, now ten years old.
Entitled to go to Cookery Class,
For the tram a free pass hold.

The Cookery was at Wigan,
So eagerly we’d wait,
For the Electric Tram Car,
To stop at our school gate.

The conductors all were friendly,
And all were full of fun.
They’d peer into our baskets,
On the homeward run.

‘What have you got for us today?,’
Then, sniffing, they would whoop,
‘Just what the doctor ordered,
A drink of CLOG-IRON-SOUP.’

And we would pour into their mugs,
The savoury soup or broth,
Then add a crispy roll of bread,
From underneath our cloth.

So, we had rides upon the trams,
They served us well and true,
But time went on, the years rolled by,
Like us, they older grew.

Then came the war, and still they plied,
In all weather, there and back.
The ‘Black-Out Lights,’ all hooded down,
They barely showed the track.

By this time any of our age,
Were working for the war.
We had to start at six am,
And we travelled by tram car.

So, rising at five thirty,
We looked forward to the ride,
And made ourselves quite comfy,
Once we were inside.

Along Pool Street, and slow at first,
Then in ‘Swan Meadow’ gathering speed,
To mount the rise and over,
The Pottery Bridge proceed.

And from the top, with screeching brakes,
The swift descent was slowed.
As we rattled on, to what was then,
A treacherous piece of road.

Beyond the site of ‘Wigan Pier,’
And roped off by some chains,
A little plot of garden,
To join converging lanes.

The tram lines here were fickle,
And drivers were aware,
That on a wintry morning,
They had to drive with care.

But on this very early ride,
Their concentration slack.
A wrong acceleration brought,
The front wheels off the track.

The tram would shudder, sway a bit,
And then abubtly halt.
We’d jump up quickly to the steps,
Enlivened by the jolt.

We’d shiver, leaning on the chains,
As, with an iron ‘Jack,’
The driver and conductor,
Slowly inched the tram wheels back.

Then we’d continue to the town,
For work we would be late.
We’d have to tell the management,
Of the tram line’s ‘Comic State.’

But the joke was when it happened,
(Coming off the late night shift).
To a group of pitmen, miners,
On the homeward tram car lift.

They were grimy, tired, and weary,
But they jumped onto the track.
Put their shoulders to the wheels,
Did not need an iron ‘Jack.’

Then, with one accord they heaved,
And lifted up the tram
They put the wheels back on the lines,
With a sure and hearty slam.

And back they stepped inside the tram,
Of Discomfort?, not a trace,
But their sense of humour showing,
By the grin on every face.

I write this bit of history,
For those who’d like to know,
About the first electric tram cars,
Of eighty years ago.

You will not find the comic bit,
In the Archives of the town,
I Doubt that ‘Wheels came off the track,’
Has ’ere been written down.

But frequently it happened,
In the early morn.
And this, a true pen picture,
For posterity I’ve drawn.


Notes on this poem

Written in 1987.

During the latter part of the 19th century Wigan tramways were privately owned businesses and the trams were powered either horses or steam. In 1899 the local government began acquiring the private companies and in 1901 began the installation of electric tramways. According to a chronology of Wigan that can be found on WiganWorld, 30 March 1905 marked the “opening of the new Tramways through Poolstock and to the Ince boundary.” This, no doubt, is the event Doris records in her verse. It would have occurred just three days after her 5th birthday.

This map shows the route (in red) of the new tramway through Poolstock as Doris describes it, along Poolstock Lane, past St. James Church, then north up Pool Street. The full route can still be traced on modern day maps: northeast on Poolstock Lane through Worsley Mesnes; north up Pool Street on to Swan Meadow Lane; east on Pottery Road (the present site of Wigan Pier) and Wallgate into Market Place and Wigan town centre.