In 1872 the British and Foreign Tramways Company applied to the council to introduce a horse-drawn tram service in the town. As the suburbs expanded the need for a more efficient means of public transport to convey people to and from the town centre became more acute. The idea of a tram service, however, was not immediately popular with every section of the public. Opposition came from traders in Above Bar Street and the High Street who felt that tram cars would impede the carriages of their customers, and from those who objected on religious grounds to trams running on Sundays. Other thought that trams were a danger to the public and that the beauty of the High Street would be spoiled by the laying of tram lines.
By 1876 it was clear that Southampton was lagging behind other towns in this matter and a local company was set up, of which the ironfounder William Goddard Lankester was appointed manager. The Southampton Tramways Company ran its first horse-drawn trams on 5 May 1879. The new service proved to be an immediate success. For the first time people living in the distant suburbs had a regular, fast and cheap way of getting into and around town. The first route, using single deck trams, ran between the Floating Bridge and Alma Road via The Avenue. Double deck trams turned right at Stag Gates and travelled to Portswood. The Shirley route, via the Junction and Commercial Road, started shortly afterwards. In 1898 Southampton Corporation took over the tram service and by 1900 had started to introduce electric trams, having taken over the Southampton Electric Light and Power Company two years previously. The first section of the system to be electrified was the Junction to Shirley run, soon followed by the Holy Rood to Stag Gates route.
The Bargate proved to be an obstacle to trams travelling along the High Street and Above Bar and trams on this route had to be specially constructed to allow the vehicle to pass safely through the central arch (image 2). Numerous innovations and design modifications were introduced until the 1930s when the Bargate ring road was constructed, obviating the need for trams to pass through the Bargate. The last tram went through the Bargate arch on 4 March 1938.
As part of post-war planning it was decided in the 1940s to replace trams with a fleet of diesel buses and consequently tram services were gradually withdrawn. The first to go, in 1948, was the Bitterne Park to the Docks route. Southampton’s last tram ran into Shirley depot on 31 December 1949.

1. Horse-Drawn Tram

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A Southampton horse-drawn tram in Shirley, c.1897

2. Tram Going Through the Bargate

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One of the specially designed trams in the Bargate arch, c.1930

3. Southampton Corporation Tram

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An open-topped tram from the 1940s.

Further reading:
100 Years of Southampton Transport, by John B. Horne and Adrian Rance. (HS/ln)
Georgian and Victorian Southampton, by A. J. Brown, p48-50. (HS/h)
Public Life in Southampton, Volume 1, by James Lemon, p41-43, 114, 118, 125, 133. (HS/l)
Public Life in Southampton, Volume 2, by James Lemon, p214, 219, 225. (HS/l)
History of Southampton, Vol 3, by A. Temple Patterson, p40-41, 111-112. (HS/h)
‘The Beginnings of Southampton Tramways’, by Jeff Pain, in Southampton Archaeological Society Bulletin, No. 23, p9-13. (HS/f)
‘Southampton Tramways’, by Jeff Pain, in Southampton Local History Forum Journal No. 23, Autumn 2014 p 65-73. (HS/h)
Southampton Tramways, by Martin Petch. (HS/ln)
‘Saving the last of Southampton’s Tram Fleet’, by Nigel Smith, in Hampshire, Vol. 31, No. 5, March 1991, p61-62. (HS/y)
Twilight of Southampton's Trams, by Dave Marden. (HS/ln)


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