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Death in the fog; Ray Marshall takes a look at the electric trams which were a familiar sight to workers in factories and shipyards along the Tyne.

IT was one of the smaller electric tram companies operating on Tyneside.

Tyneside Tramways and Tramroads Company never operated more than 30 of their green and cream open-top deck trams.

The route followed the River Tyne from North Shields to Wallsend and served the workers from the factorie and shipyards which lined the riverbanks.

The company also owned a tram road that ran in a straight line across the fields from Gosforth to Wallsend along the old Coxlodge wagonway that once brought coal from the collieries to the river. It was a single line with a few passing loops.

On the morning of October 19, 1913, a thick fog had drifted in from the North Sea reducing visibility to only a few feet.

It was practically dark as Charles Linkhorn, the permanent way foreman, drove No 27, the tower and engineering car, out of the Neptune Bank car sheds, bound for the Three Mile Bridge at Gosforth, with five other men to do some repairs on the track.

Number 27 was a very unusual tramcar to look at. It carried no passengers; there was a small cabin at one end which served as a work shop or as a place to hang your coat or have your bait.

On the roof was a tower for repairing the overhead wires, the back was open and used to carry materials. Unlike any ordinary tramcar its underframes had no drop platforms, the floor was the same height from end to end, considerably higher than the platforms of other cars.

The fog thickened even more and Linkhorn, who was a qualified motorman, sounded his gong all the way as the tram passed by Bigges Main, Coach Lane and Benton Road.

The only car that worked the Gosforth line was the Pitman Special, which ran all night between Gosforth Park and Haddrick's Mill Bridge, at South Gosforth, taking miners to and from their shift.

Linkhorn expected to reach Joblings Loop, or possibly the North Road, before he met the Pitman's car.

Suddenly, almost 400 yards past Benton Road, he saw a tramcar only six or seven yards in front of him on the single line.

At once he shut off the power, applied the brakes and sounded the gong. It was too late. There was an almighty crash and the scream of scraping metal and breaking glass, followed by a deathly silence.

The tram No 23 was a large bogie car. It weighed almost 15 tons and the four Westinghouse 40 horsepower engines made it one of the most power-ful trams of its day. Magnetic brakes ensured the car could be stopped in the shortest possible distance.

It was ideal for a cross-country line and could seat 86 passengers with room for plenty more to stand.

In those days miners were paid fortnightly and so there was what was called "pay Saturday" and "baff Saturday".

It was Saturday morning and according to practise the Special was returning to the car sheds at Wallsend.

As this was pay Saturday it ran an hour earlier. For motorman Robert Walton and his conductor, William Amis, it had been a long night. It was almost 7am and they were on their way home.

The fog was very thick and conductor Amis was on the front platform helping the motorman to keep a lookout, not expecting to meet another car so early in the day - the first car for Gosforth did not leave Wallsend until 7.30am.

Both men must have seen the tower car looming out of the fog.

Motorman Walton applied the brakes and trod on the sand tramp. In an instant the underframe of the lower car rode over the bogie car's platform, stove in the vestibule and pushed the controller right into the saloon.

Amis was flung off the car to die shortly afterwards in a doctor's surgery. Walton died in hospital that same night.

All the men on the tower car were injured, some badly. At the inquest in Wallsend the story of the collision was MOVING THE MASSES: Trams in 1903 Gosforth,top, 1947 tram graveyard, above, and a tram at Scotswood, 1917, above left told. A verdict of "accidental death due to a collision in a dense fog" was returned on both men.

The jury considered that the driver of the repair car deserved censure because of his mistake in supposing the single line would necessarily be clear. They also considered both cars were being driven too fast considering the foggy weather and recommended that indicators be placed on all single lines throughout the system.


MOVING THE MASSES: Trams in 1903 Gosforth,top, 1947 tram graveyard, above, and a tram at Scotswood, 1917, above left
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Title Annotation:Sport
Publication:Evening Chronicle (Newcastle, England)
Date:Oct 23, 2010
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