Wallasey Mishaps

Tram Accidents
Story of incidents and accidents on the Trams

The first 'fatality' occurred on 18th June, 1902. when a sheep escaping from a butchers shop in Liscard Road had been knocked down and killed. 10s. being paid in compensation. No human fatalities are reported until 17th October, 1903 when a five year old boy named Cox had run from behind a stationary coal wagon on which he had been swinging, into the path of a tram traveling along Brighton Street. He had been caught under the lifeguard which had failed to operate correctly. The driver stopped with the emergency brakes and "backed off the little fellow" who died from fractures of the skull in a nearby chemist shop. The accident prompted a spate of anti-tram feeling; drivers were accused of operating at dangerous speeds and people asked why the lifeguard had failed to function. The boy's grave still bears the inscription 'killed by electric tram'.

In 1902-1903 free swinging trolley ropes with their tendency to coil out and strike people sitting on the open decks of cars traveling in the opposite direction gave grave concern. The problem was partially associated with passing loops and several cases of laceration had been reported. Manager of the Wallasey Tramways, Richard Greene, confided that "a person might be strangled in this way" and the wires were restrung to follow the centre of the track, thus confining the lateral movement of the trolley pole within narrow limits and preventing the rope from swinging out at sharp angle to the car. Pigtails (known locally as trolley governors) were fitted and conductors ordered to occupy the rear platform in order to guide the rope whilst negotiating a loop.

Thorough inspection of the overhead was ordered following two incidents in 1904 involving broken wires. On 26th July Councillor Barber was struck by a falling span wire, and one week later Mrs. Gattersby of Salford was hit whilst sitting on an open top car in Seaview Road. She was awarded compensation of £35 plus doctor's fees of two guineas. To reach accidents more swiftly, the maintenance staff were given a bicycle. Gradually it was decided to replace existing overhead equipment with more modern anchor ears and outrigger spans from the poles to the wire either side of each section breaker.

Fog was an occupational hazard, frequently blanketing the whole of Merseyside for up to 72 hours. The northern ferries were usually suspended, putting extra pressure on the trams. In a real 'pea-souper', the conductor often walked in front of the car carrying a storm lantern. At these times cars going towards Seacombe sounded two gongs whilst those traveling to New Brighton three in rapid succession. To assist single line working along Warren Drive, the Harrison system of coloured light signals was installed in October 1903, they proved invaluable in fog, but were never extended to the remainder of the system. Elsewhere, drivers relied upon a code of hand signals when cars were in adjacent loops:
'Waiting' - in daylight drivers would stand near the step and extend arm horizontally, at night this would cover the dashlight three times in rapid succession.
Reply 'Coming' - in daylight extend the right arm vertically above head, at night cover Pilot light for three seconds and proceed.

On 19th December, 1906 Nos 18 and 19 collided head-on in Seabank Road, the Council agreeing to pay fall compensation to the injured. Two weeks later a horse-drawn van owned by the Little Sisters of the Poor and driven by 'a deaf and aged man' banged into No 4 in Rowson Street, injuring his thumb and slightly shaking the nuns. Although the tram driver was blameless, the Council awarded the Sisters £5.

The first reported runaway occurred on 19th December, 1903, when car 14 embedded itself in a pole outside the North and South Wales Bank on the corner of Rowson Street, New Brighton. As early as September Greene, alarmed at the prospect of a runaway down Rowson Street, had advocated the reversal of the one-way system so that a runaway car would continue across the junction on to the level section of Rowson Street north of Victoria Road, where it could more easily be brought under control, but no action had been taken.

A second more serious accident happened at the same spot on 13th May, 1905 when a Seabank Road car ran out of control. The driver of car 4 had reported to an inspector that the brake handle had begun to slip and he could not get the proper leverage on the brake. Inspector Scott drove the car from Holland Road and found that there was a tendency for the ratcher to slip, but with careful handling, the car could be kept under control. He told the driver to exercise great care down the hill and to change ends at New Brighton so as to use the other brake staff. Half way down down the brake staff became locked in the ratchet, the electric brake was applied and the motors reversed but without effect, as the wheels were locked. The inspector used the rear brake handle, which tightened the brake, but the car jumped the track and collided with the Bank premises, the driver jumping off just in time, All seven passengers on the car complained of being shaken, but only one, Mrs Rowbotton, was injured. George Fenny, the driver and J. Rawcliffe, the conductor were off work for 14 and 12 days respectively. Reporting the accident, Greene wrote:

"The primary cause of the accident was a defective brake handle, spring and ratchet, the teeth of the ratchet not properly, engaging causing the brake staff to become locked and making it impossible to either tighten or release it. But for the fact that the brake became locked, there is a strong chance the car at the speed at which it was proceeding might not have left the track. The secondary cause was the non-use by the driver of the rear brake in lieu of the front brake as if he had known as he undoubtedly did, that the front brake might probably become inoperative he should have driven the car from the rear in descending the hill in order to obtain more effective braking power. The inspector too appears to have committed an error of judgment in not so directing the Driver, or ordering him to return the car to the Depot or to Seacombe in which latter case the defective brake would have been in front. The subsequent action of the Inspector in applying the rear brake as already detailed although it did not avert the accident was, however, commendable and probably reduced the force of the impact with the Bank premises."

This time the manager's warning was heeded, and plans was prepared to reverse the one-way system; it adopted from 29th March, 1907. Guard posts were meanwhile placed around the Bank.

On the 19th March, 1907 car 36 ran out of control in Seabank Road before leaving the track and finishing on the pavement alongside a garden wall. There were no casualties.

No further accidents as spectacular as this appear to have occurred in later years, but the minor accidents mentioned in the records are many and varied. Taking 1910 as an example, 30s. compensation was paid to Mr Baryard for being jerked forward by a car at Quarry Loop, £3 was paid to the owner of a furniture van demolished by No. 50, 4s. was paid to Mrs Hunt whose dust-coat had been smeared with grease from No. 50's brake rigging and £5 was paid to an unfortunate woman who was dragged along by No. 30 after the conductor had accidentally given a starting signal. In September a Mr Ellis received 7s. 6d. for repairing his trousers, on 24th November two men were injured when No. 39 and 47 collided in Wheatland Lane, and on New Years Eve an elderly lady fell off No. 18 into Liscard Road. The Council also recovered sums from other parties, such as 10s. from Mr Bryan for ripping seat coverings, 5s. from a Mr Townsend whose float struck No. 1, 1s. 6d from Mr Bradfield for breaking No. 51's lifeguard, and £1 from Mr Robertson who celebrated Christmas Eve by smashing a bottle of spirits on the side of No. 4.

The records for 1912 reveal some more serious mishaps. On Easter Monday during a 'boisterous sandstorm' a young man was catapulted against the side of the car 32 in Virginia Road, receiving serious injuries. Heavy compensation was paid to a Mrs Kingham who sustained multiple fractures when cars 14 and 26 collided in Rake Lane on the same day. Children were particularly vulnerable, there being many instances of youngsters being knocked down. It should not be thought that Wallasey trams were more accident-prone than most, but they may have been more meticulous in keeping financial records.