Train and Europe's first tramway
How Birkenhead copied the street cars of America
1860, the birth of Europe's first tramway took place... in Birkenhead.
In America "street railways" were already firmly established
when George Francis Train, "a cute Yankee from Boston way",
apparently got an idea in his head that Europe would benefit from
a similar system.
If the Europeans would buy it, excellent, but if they wouldn't,
then they should have it gratis.
He landed in England in October 1859 and tried to sell his idea,
first to London and then to Liverpool, but neither city could be
persuaded. Eventually he found himself discussing the proposals
in Birkenhead with John Laird, of shipbuilding fame, who was then
Chairman of the Commissioners who governed the town's affairs.
Asked by the cautious corporation fathers to take all the risk and
pay for any legal damages that might occur, a confident Mr Train
had no hesitation in giving his guarantee. He even said he would
take up the rails if they were considered to be a public nuisance.
“What security will you give?".
“Anything you like, gentlemen!”.
The Commissioners mentioned £3,000 as guarantee.
"All right," replied the irrepressible benefactor. "You
shall have it in sovereigns, or consols, and today, if you say so."
Preliminaries settled, Mr Train lost no time in availing himself
of his fearfully given grant and accordingly got to work instantly.
Operations commenced on July 10th, 1860 and were put forward with
what was quite a novelty to England’s accustomed methods.
The length of line was under two miles and the gauge was five feet
two inches. The cars, 24 feet long and seven feet wide, were constructed
by a Mr Main, a Birkenhead carriage builder, and had accommodation
for 48 passengers (24 in and 24 out).
Two horses were used to draw each car.
Meanwhile, the ubiquitous Mr Train was already planning a lavish
"American-style" opening banquet for the threepenny tram
and 1,200 were invited, including 30 Royals, Peers, Members of Parliament
and even the Pope !
About 350 actually attended, most of them civic heads, but they
were, indeed, present at the beginning of the first tramway system
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