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Tracking the history of city’s trams

Novus Rotary President-Elect Sarita Shah
with speaker Malcolm Riddle

Hundreds of slides filled with still and moving images of Leicester’s tram system, from its days of horse-drawn omnibus and the firs horse-drawn tram of 1874 to the end of the line in 1949 were shown to Novus Rotary by Malcolm Riddle.

Malcolm, a member of the Rotary Club of Blaby Meridian, was born in Highcross Street and his first slide showed a painting of that street populated by horses and pedestrians. Over the next hour or so, he galloped through his presentation and gave his audience a fascinating but detailed view of the development of public transport across the city.

Leicester, we learned, was a city of transports firsts

It had:

  • the first licensed horse-drawn omnibuses
  • the first roundabout
  • the first pay-as-you enter trams
  • the first traffic wardens (much later)

Despite being a very complex junction, the trams tracks around the Clock Tower were laid in just 10 days while horse-drawn buses were still able to operate in the area.

Although the trams were powered by electricity generated at the LERO building (1904) in Painter Stret, the points were manually switched by ‘Points Boys’.

During World War I it was necessary for the first time for conductors to be women. As men returned from war service, they jobs were soon given back to men.

During World War II there was a big munitions factory near the Clock Tower with shells filled with explosive powder staining yellow the hands of the women workers, earning them the nickname ‘canaries’

In the inter-war years the city (which the town had become in 1919) had trialled trolley buses and motorbuses.

The trams cams to the end of the line on November 9,1949, when tram number 8 trundled along the Humberstone route back to the Abbey Road depot (now the derelict site opposite Abbey Park).

Staff had decorated it with a poem:

We mourn the loss of faithful friends
from the streets of our grand old city
to move with the times
we cannot have lines
so – go they must – it’s a pity


Standing in for President Maya Vansia, President-Elect Sarita Shah ended the meeting, but only after members had all asked several questions and thanked Malcolm for a most enjoyable and expert presentation — one of three talks that he gives.

Last edited: 08:30 on Friday, February 28, 2020