The Runaway Tram Came Down the Hill (Part One)
At Easter, 1901, the long-awaited opening of the Isle of Thanet Tramway system was greeted with much enthusiasm by the public and press alike, although a small group of very vocal critics predicted that the tram would be the ruin of the town and its
holiday trade, a view not shared by Margate Corporation who believed the network would open up the area and increase prosperity, so there were mixed feelings. Due to poor training of its drivers the tram company was to experience a string of accidents which plagued the first months of operation, and soon that vocal lobby was calling for the thundering giants to be banned. Before the first car had ventured onto the tracks there had been accidents, as the rails possessed a perfectly sized slot for the wheels of the horse-drawn vehicles and cyclists to drop in and get wedged or broken. The first six months of operation saw a total of over sixty accidents in Margate worthy of a mention in the local press, but for now we shall concentrate on two of the most serious.
On the 15th of April, Car No. 2 was making the last journey of the day into Margate at 11.15pm when it ran away down the steep hill of Fort Road. At the bottom of the hill the rails made a sharp turn into King Street in the direction of the Harbour, but outside what was then Lloyd’s Bank No.2 jumped the rails narrowly avoiding collision with the buildings around it. No.2 roared straight into the narrow entrance to Broad Street and made a bee-line for the back of the Old Town Hall, the flanged wheels carrying 8 tons of tram car carving deep grooves in the roadway. As it sailed on its way past the premises of Mr. Cox, Tobacconist, the trolley arm, now free of the restraint of the conductor wire, poked itself through Mr. Cox’s upstairs parlour window before coming to a halt outside the old Crown Hotel, just a few feet short of the wall of the Police Station, when an open workmen’s trench halted progress. The only passenger and the conductor, deciding that discretion was the better part of valour, had both jumped from the
moving car, escaping with nothing more than cuts and bruises, but the driver, in a supremely pointless display of bravado, stuck to his post at his now useless controls as the wall of the Police Station rapidly loomed larger through the windows of his dashboard. According to the press, the Police were quickly on the scene - hardly to be wondered at given the noise there must have been inside the building!
The breakdown gang arrived with two more cars from the Depot and pulled the wayward Car 2 the 60 yards back to the track at Fort Road using long chains, jacked it up and placed it back on the tracks with a bogie under its broken axle before towing it away to the Depot. The driver said it wasn’t his fault that the car had run away and that he had done all in his power to avoid the accident, which would have been much more serious later in the season when the streets would have been crowded. Unfortunately for him, the incident had been witnessed by Tramway Inspector Saddington, who gave evidence that the driver had failed to make the compulsory stop at the top corner of Fort Road, and had entered the 1 in 10 gradient at too high a speed. It also transpired that the vehicle’s chain brake had broken shortly before, at the bottom of Athelstan Road, but the driver had foolishly decided to carry on with just his power brake, quite insufficient to check the heavy vehicle’s progress on the steep hill of Fort Road. Next time we shall look at the much more serious accident to Car 8, again in Fort Road.