Tram Shed and Carnegie Library


On 25th March 1875, East Anglia’s first horse-drawn tram service started running from Gorleston’s Feather’s Plain to near South Town Station. Its open-topped coaches were horse-drawn and a complete journey cost 2d. or 3d., to guarantee an inside seat provided with straw on the floor to keep the feet warm, and could take 2½ hours. Stables were in Baker Street and Halfway House, which had previously been the inn, the Guardian Angel, but new ownership in 1882 saw Baker Street becoming the main depot, with 68 horses operating from it; then too, the old tracks of 4 feet 8½ inches (143½ centimetres) width were replaced by ones of 3 feet 6 inches (106½ centimetres) width. A new service also ran to England’s Lane, and later, to Brush Quay, via Lowestoft Road. In summer, an almost round trip could be used using the river steamer service and the trams. The Southtown terminus was just west of the Haven Bridge, in the middle of the road until 1922, when a lay-by was cut near the present day bus stop. 

The year 1900 saw the enterprise bought by the British Electric Traction Company, but by 1904, it was owned by the Great Yarmouth Corporation, which had already started an electric tram service in Great Yarmouth. In 1905, new tracks were laid, including an extension to the newly opened Gorleston Railway Station and a route via Baker Street, Pier Plain and Pier Walk to the Pavilion, although this service terminated near the Pier Hotel in winter. For all tram services, the laying and removal of tracks provided work for the Borough’s unemployed. 

The electric system needed a smaller depot in Baker Street and, just at that time, the Carnegie Foundation gave £2,000 for a new Gorleston Library, but specified it was not to be used for land purchase. Gorleston had had a library since 1887, originally situated in the rear of the Duke Road Police Station and then in St. Andrew’s Hall. The Borough Architect, J. W. Cockrill, was ordered to draw up plans for a tram depot to the east of the Baker Street site with the library to the west, on the corner of Lowestoft Road. The new library opened in 1907. 

The two new tram services provided a tram every four minutes in summer and every six minutes in winter along the original route. The Beach Service ran from 8am to 11pm and the Station Service from 6.30am to 11pm, with no services on Christmas Day. Over a million journeys were made in the first six months and the Gorleston section was always the most profitable part of the Corporation services. 

Haven Bridge was an impediment to a united tram service. The 1906 plans for a new, wider bridge were foiled by the Great Eastern Railway refusing to sell land occupied by its sidings on the West Quay and the 1913 plans were rejected by a public meeting as being too expensive. By 1925, the need for a new bridge was serious; some Corporation buses were crossing the old one, but only one at a time and if no other vehicles were on it. Gorleston’s tram service closed in September 1930, with a ceremonial last journey made by the same vehicle which had made the initial journey in 1905. 

Between 1907 and 1931, the library used a closed system of issuing books, necessitating the borrower making two checks to see if the book was available and the librarian unlocking a bookcase and making two records of the loan before issuing it. Although the library utilised the old tram depot, by 1971, the Borough’s Chief Librarian described it thus: it is noisy, unattractive, incongruous, dark, cramped and dusty. Staff conditions are deplorable, lending library a hotchpotch, reading room a complete disaster and book store a pokey hole. Plans were made for a new building, spurred on by the planned 1974 take-over of the service by Norfolk County Council, which it was feared, would not replace it.

The new library rose in two stages, the eastern section being completed first and in use while the Carnegie building was demolished and replaced; the whole being opened in 1977. 

Last Gorleston horse-drawn tram 1905. 

Note: All images courtesy of Peter Jones.