Charlton: Where London’s last trams went to die

Sixty years ago today, in the early hours of the morning, London’s last tram pulled into New Cross depot from Woolwich. Once a much-loved part of the capital’s transport system, the rattly old trams were deemed uneconomic to replace after the Second World War, and were replaced with buses. So while today in 1952 also saw the end of tram route 40 along the Woolwich Road, yesterday saw the 60th birthday of the 177 bus route, which, until the 1980s, used to follow the old tram route to the City.

Little bits of tram infrastructure survive here and there – New Cross depot remains as a bus garage, the power station in Greenwich originally served the trams, there’s the odd manhole cover around, and there was an old electrical cabinet next to the Blackwall Tunnel’s old tram terminal until a few years ago. Most famously, the old tram subway survives under the Kingsway, with part of it kept in use as the Strand Underpass.

But there’s two sites in Charlton that are key to London tram history. The first is the repair depot, which was, naturally, in Felltram Way, right at the western edge of SE7. Opened in the days of horse trams, the Central Repair Depot served all the capital’s fleet and remained open until the end. Later, it became a factory making Airfix models. Before it was demolished in the early 1990s – landing the next door Asda with a rat problem for a while – the tram tracks and cobbles were still there.

Here’s the site in 1991…

Here’s what it looks like now.

There’s one other, more notorious site – but it could be one where the tram tracks live on. The old trams were scrapped at a yard in Penhall Road, close to where the Thames Barrier is now. A couple of years ago, Dutch tram enthusiast Arie den Dulk sent me some pictures of Penhall Road in 1987. (He also sent me the shots of Felltram Way in 1991, for which I’m also very grateful.) He’d been hunting around, and found the old tram tracks…

Are they still there now? It’s hard to tell. While part of Penhall Road was swallowed up when Woolwich Road was turned into a dual carriageway, the building that sat on the site remains. Until fairly recently, it was the first home of the Meantime Brewery. But the yard was never used, and it now remains overgrown and fenced off. There’s nothing to see but foilage.

There’s long-term plans to see all this land developed as housing, but for now the secrets of Charlton’s role in London transport history may well remain buried beneath foilage next to an empty warehouse. When the bulldozers return, if there’s something to left to preserve, hopefully it can be kept for posterity.

More pictures at Greenwich Industrial History.

5 thoughts on “Charlton: Where London’s last trams went to die

  1. Mary July 6, 2012 / 07:44

    There was also an old tram telephone box near the Blackwall Tunnel entrance until very recently – and of course the existing Greenwich Power Station was built for the trams. Merryweathers in Greenwich High Road manufactured trams – though not, I think, for the London County Council system.
    Greenwich Industrial History Society would love to find someone prepared to come and give a talk on our local tramway heritage – which is very very diverse. Please get in touch if you could do it.
    – and – I think I was told that the last tram was driven by the Mayor of Woolwich (he was a tram driver anyway)

  2. 58frankh July 7, 2012 / 20:56

    I think I remember that when Greenwich South Street was resurfaced (25 to 30 years ago) the tram rails were still there and just surfaced over. Not entirely surprising: the bottom bit of Royal Hill (the bit from South Street) has clearly just been tarmacked (spelling?) over the original cobbles which are still to be seen at the gutter edges.

  3. TiaMariaJim July 6, 2014 / 12:21

    Yes, I was staying with my aunt in Forest Hill and spent the afternoon taking photographs outside New Cross depot. I persuaded her to go back that night so I could see the last tram get back. During school holidays I went to Penhall Road to look for souvenirs and somewhere I still have a fragment of burnt red-painted wood and a fragment of the orange glass that was behind the driver. I have always collected tickets and salvaged a few filthy LCC specimens that children of former times had secreted in the woodwork. My mother was appalled by these!

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