Hastings Trams

Hastings Tramways Company 1909

How the organisation is worked

A peep behind the scenes

Whatever form it takes, a public supply company must necessarily be a big concern. Few people, however, probably realise what a vast amount of labour the working of such an undertaking as the Hastings Tramways system involves, or the many ramifications into which that labour extends.

Running a tramway is, of course, an industry in its self, but it embraces within its folds other quite separate industries as well which the man in the street would not ordinarily connect with the trams.  The cars run backward and forwards smoothly, rapidly, and regularly, and the man who uses them habitually probably rarely gives a thought to the manifold activities which are brought into use “Behind the scenes” to ensure the accuracy and safety, which he takes as a matter of course.  Most people know that a horse needs grooming and feeding, and all kinds of suitable attention, if he is to be kept in proper condition for the work required of him.  In very much the same way a tramcar has to be tended and looked after to perform the services which it does for the public.

The cars are not just run into the shed at Silverhill the last thing at night and left there till they are run out again the following morning.  While the people who use them are still sleeping soundly in their beds, the shed is a hive of life and activity.  A small army of men is engaged in overhauling each car, sounding it, testing it, and ascertaining that it is in good running condition, or where it shows any signs of weakness.  Any small defect found is at once remedied, or if a car has something seriously wrong with it, that car does not go out the following morning, but stays behind to be “doctored.”  There are a hundred and one things that need seeing to on the cars every night.  One car may require its armature – the instrument which makes the whirring, buzzing noise as it whirls round and propels the car along – rewinding.  One or other of the many electrical fittings shows signs of wear.  The quick expert eyes of the men at work spot it, and it is renewed.  The trolley wheels have to be renewed pretty frequently.  During the year some 700 new ones are served out from the workshops.  If a brake is seen to be wearing, the parts are at once replaced.  Brakes, of course, are an important item on a hilly system like Hastings, and the brakes of each car receive particular attention every night.  Between two and three thousand of the cast iron brake shoes which fit to the wheels are made and fitted to the cars during a year, which means that each of the 65 cars possessed by the Company wears out an average of over 40 brake shoes – cast iron ones – in a year.  Of course, such an average is rather misleading, because it stands to reason that a car working on the Front Line would not use up the brakes so quickly as one on the hilly routes, probably the difference would amount to half as many compared with those used by up the hill cars.

No less than seven thousand of the slipper brakes – the wooden blocks which grip the rail – are replaced in a year, an average of over 100 to each car.  Then in the course of a year a car receives new coats of paint and varnish, and is thoroughly re-decorated.

All this work represents an enormous amount of labour in the course of a year, and further keeps going in, the depot, a blacksmith’s and a carpenter’s shop which would be regarded as highly prosperous and flourishing businesses in themselves.

For all these new fittings and various details are made on the premises at Silverhill.  If occasion demanded, the staff there could turn out a whole tramcar, fully equipped in every detail, without any outside help at all.

Running the cars is not, of course, just merely a matter of setting machinery in motion and employing a staff of motor men and conductors to drive the cars and collect the fares.  Quite a large clerical staff is required, not only to keep the accounts of the Company, but to arrange and tabulate the timetables, to check the tickets, and attend to numerous details, of which record in proper form must needs be kept. And in each of the depots at Silverhill and at Bulverhythe, there is a big furnace, like an oven, which is kept going all year round for the sole purpose of drying the sand which is sprinkled from the cars onto the rails when they are slippery.  Each car carries four receptacles called “hoppers,” from which, when the driver presses a lever on his platform, a quantity of sand is shot through a tube right underneath the wheels.  One hundred and six tons of this sand is used in a year.

The Generating Station, the large building in the Ore Valley, which everybody knows, is, of course, quite an industry in itself.  The generating of the electricity to run the Hastings Tramways keeps at work all the year round six huge engines, of 3,150 horse power, to supply the motive power, for which no less than 5,000 tons of coal and 6½ million gallons of water are used.  It is probably little known that the current for the whole of the system does not come from the main station at Ore.  The Board of Trade regulations do not allow the current from a station to be transmitted over more than four miles of the system, so sub-stations have to be built, to which the current is transmitted from the main station, there transformed to a lower voltage, and then distributed.  The Mount Pleasant and Ore portion and the Hastings system receive current direct from the Ore Power Station, Silverhill and Hollington receive theirs from a sub-station at the Silverhill Depot, and the Front Line and Bexhill receive theirs from a sub-station at the Bulverhythe Depot.  Each car, by the way, contains two motors, of 37 horse power each, representing 74 horse power per car.

Maintaining the track is, again, a department by itself, necessitating a separate staff at work all the year round, for the man who travelled over the whole system in one day would be sure to find the Permanent Way Gang at work somewhere, either repairing a piece of roadway or laying new lines.  The whole track is inspected daily, weak spots and necessary improvements or alterations noted, and promptly seen to.  The same rule applies to the overhead installation of wires.  They, too, are inspected weekly, and repaired or otherwise attended to wherever necessary.  We should have said nightly, for it is at night, when the cars are not running, and the current is off the wires for a brief while, that the red towers on wheels can be seen in the streets, with men aloft on them handling the wires.  A gang of track cleaners is engaged all day long in keeping the points clear, and the rails free of obstructions.

The whole of such a concern, covering so many widely different departments and industries, all working nevertheless for one purpose – that of supplying the people of the town with a speedy, comfortable, and efficient means of locomotion – must thus be worked on a regular system, with perfect organisation, so as to combine all into one homogeneous whole, and the man at the head must be a capable organiser.  That Mr. T. B. Holiday, the well known and greatly respected manager and engineer of the tramways, is that, there is no doubt.  His past record in the world of tramway achievements prove it, and his record of management of the Hastings Tramways confirm that proof.  With such difficult and dangerous system as that at Hastings, Mr. Holiday’s record of no accidents during four years of running is a proud one.

Under Mr. Holiday the various departments all have their heads, who are responsible to him for their proper and efficient working.  The clerical department is in charge of Mr. A. B. Warner, a genial gentleman for whom local Press man, from recollections of the days at the beginning of the running of trams in Hastings when they had to be rather a nuisance at the offices, entertain very kindly feelings on account of his unfailing courtesy and readiness to do all that it is in his power to answer enquiries.  Such a gentlemen is valuable in his post, because to him have to go all the seekers after lost property, and Mr. Warner has to deal with some queer folk sometimes.  And the collection he has in his offices at times would astonish the ordinary methodical man who never mislays a stud.  In the various sub-divisions of the clerical work comes Mr. Ryan, the traffic clerk, who will be remembered as a prominent figure in the Sunday Tramway Agitation at the last Municipal Election, Mr. Vane, the ticket clerk, and Mr. Goodman, the chief inspector, who is able to combine clerical work with a spell of what appears to be the delightful occupation of “jumping.”

There would appear to be few more pleasant and less arduous lives than that of the ticket inspector, who spends his time boarding cars and seeing that the conductor is doing his duty properly.  But one never knows.  The inspector can probably trot out a goodly list of the disadvantages of being a “jumper.”

One of the clerical staff, Mr. Harry Seale, is, at any rate, well known to the public in his capacity as traffic regulator at the Memorial.  Besides recording the times of the cars, Mr. Seale finds inspiration from the Muses while performing his weary job standing patiently in the hub of the commercial centre of Hastings.  Certainly he would appear to be an ideal occupation for a poet, providing unlimited opportunity for meditation and study of life and the world from a pedestal, as it were.

The work of the depots is sufficient to keep two entirely distinct staffs at work day and night.  Mr. Geo. Francis has charge of the day staff at Silverhill, and Mr. C. Kendall of the night staff.  At Bulverhythe, where, by the way, exactly the same kind of work goes on as that described at Silverhill, Mr. R. W. Francis is foreman and Mr. Jeffreys is night foreman.

The permanent way is in charge of Mr. F. Holiday, a son of the Engineer Manager, and the foreman of the gang is Mr. J. Williams.  Mr. W. Chapman is the man at the head of the staff responsible for the care of the overheads wires.

At the Power Station is Mr. Edwards, whose position might be described in relation to the whole undertaking as that of assistant engineer.

Financially, too, the tramways system runs into some big figures.  Apart from the utility of the car services, such a concern is a tremendous benefit to the town.  Directly and indirectly nearly six thousand pounds are paid by the company in rates and in other items each year to the town’s benefit.  And yet the principle thing for which the ordinary citizen pays rates – the upkeep of the roads – the Company do themselves, thus further reliving the ratepayers of that charge for the fifteen odd miles of road in which the rails are laid in the town.  Wages to the amount of £20,000 are paid to the 250 employees of the Company, and every penny of that is spent in the town.


Recorded from a local unknown newspaper reporter of the time.