Tracks revealed at Charlton’s lost last tram yard

London's last trams week
Inner London’s last trams ran 68 years ago this week (photo: Leonard Bentley under Creative Commons)

On this week in 1952, inner London’s last trams ran, with the very last journey taking place in the early hours of 6 July, when the final service ran from Woolwich to New Cross depot, passing through Charlton, with thousands lining the route. A few hours later, the replacement for tram route 40, bus route 177, ran for the first time, and the trams passed into history.

There are two locations in Charlton with close links to the tram. The first was an old repair depot in Felltram Way, close to what is now the Woolwich Road flyover, where tracks were still in place until the 1990s.

The second is more poignant. After they were taken out of service, the trams were taken to a yard in Penhall Road. They were scrapped and later burned. You can see this in a film made at the time, The Elephant Will Never Forget.

A few years ago, we were alerted to the possibility that the tram tracks might still be in place on Penhall Road. A Dutch tram enthusiast, Arie den Dulk, sent us some photos from the 1980s showing they were still there. We went for a look one day in 2012 – but the land was too overgrown to tell.

However, on a lockdown walk a few weeks back, the undergrowth had been cleared. And parts of the tracks remain in place, behind a warehouse, 68 years after they played host to London’s trams for the last time.

Tram tracks of Penhall Road
Small parts of where the tracks were can still be seen

With the Charlton Riverside area slated for redevelopment over the coming years, it will be interesting to see if any developer tries to retain a small part of London’s transport history.


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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.