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Report from the select committee on the House of Lords on tramways; together with the proceedings of the committee, minutes of evidence, and appendix.
London, House of Commons, 25 April 1879

Introducing mechanical road power wholesale involved unknown, if anticipated problems such as size of engines, noise, smoke and smell, obstruction or congestion, not to speak of potential increases in the width of streets or changes in road surfacing. All this caused the Government to proceed with extreme caution.

Although two House of Commons select committees had already reported, a House of Lords committee was appointed with a brief concerning regulations for construction and further use of tramways. Recognizing that mechanized tramways had hardly advanced beyond the experimental stage in Britain, this committee strongly urges that any regulations to be enshrined in law should "be elastic enough not to throw needless impediments in the way of the development of the system in the form which experience may show to be practically the best".

Their report goes deeply into crucial questions of gauge, street widths, construction and maintenance of permanent way and so on, with the help of an impressive set of witnesses, some from the previous enquiries and some new.

Once again these include General Hutchinson, railway inspector of the Board of Trade, though the Assistant Secretary to the Board’s railway department, H.G.Calcraft, who was asked to comment on all the evidence at the end of the enquiry, appears for the first time. James Allport, General Manager of the Midland Railway, does not see that a difference in gauge between railways and tramways would present problems, while Henry Oakley of the Great Northern Railway thinks that tramway connections between outlying villages and towns would be a better and cheaper option than constructing short railway branch lines. However, Myles Fenton of London’s underground Metropolitan Railway, perhaps predictably, is dead against tramway construction in London, as is Frederick Gamble, representing some 10,000 hansom cab proprietors in London, who objects to the damage to cab wheels caught in tramline grooves.

Of particular interest is the evidence of George Stevenson, engineer of the Wantage Tramway, the first line to use steam power, and Henry Hughes, a locomotive manufacturer from Loughborough, who had supplied one of the engines to the Wantage line. Hughes had also supplied engines to the other early line, the Vale of Clyde Tramway in Glasgow, and its engine inspector, Stephen Alley, is questioned, particularly on the performance of Hughes’ self-acting steam break.

Out of all this and more, the committee distilled a final set of well-thought-out regulations. Among other things, they recommended that there should not be a standard gauge, nor should absolute minimum width of streets be laid down, that permanent way be carefully inspected before the use of mechanical power on it is finally sanctioned, and that the Board of Trade be empowered to make general regulations controlling safety aspects of the engines.

The committee drew heavily on the earlier enquiries, incorporating the recommendation of the 1877 committee that engines should carry individual numbers and of the 1878 committee that concessions for mechanical power should only be granted for a term of seven years. Much of this was shortly enshrined in law.


Large 4to. xvi + 177 + (1)pp. Boards. Orig. printed front wrapper bound in.



Catalogue No: 5824