Electric Tramcars in the Black Country

The very first electric tramcar to run on a street in the West Midlands, ran on a section of the line from Wolverhampton to Willenhall towards the end of 1887. It was a trial run of a car built by the Midland Railway Carriage & Wagon Company Limited for Elwell-Parker Limited of Wolverhampton who manufactured and fitted the motor and all of the electrical equipment.

Two years earlier, Elwell-Parker Limited had designed and constructed all of the electrical plant, equipment, and motors etc. for the Blackpool Tramway, the first English electric tramway of any size. It was the first time that electric tramcars had run on British streets.

The Wolverhampton trial took place on the Willenhall line, presumably because it was close to Elwell-Parker’s factory in Walsall Street, Wolverhampton. The car was designed on the Julien accumulator system, which used lead-acid cells mounted beneath the seats, and accessible from the outside, so that a bank of batteries could be removed for charging. The drive from a single motor was transmitted to the wheels by gears. The body was much the same as used on a double deck, four-wheeled horse tram.

The first trial took place on 15th December, 1887 and appears to have been a great success. A second trial took place on 4th January, 1888 in the presence of representatives from various tramways, including Birmingham. After the trial runs, the tramcar, which had been ordered by the Australasian Electric Tramways Company was transported to Australia, and ran in Sydney, Melbourne and Ballarat.

The Elwell-Parker tramcar. From the Town And Country Journal, 16th June, 1888.
Elwell-Parker Limited held the UK patent rights to the Julien and Sprague systems of electric traction.

Although Elwell-Parker, Limited was absorbed into the newly formed Electric Construction Corporation Limited on 30th September, 1888, their tram development work continued. On 7th November, 1888 one of their electric tramcars was tested in Birmingham. The following description is from a newspaper cutting, source unknown:

The Trial of the First Elwell-Parker Birmingham Tram, 7th November, 1888

Important Trial in Birmingham

Yesterday the Directors of the Birmingham Tramways Company afforded to the Public Works Committee of the Corporation, and to a number of eminent men who are interested in electrical engineering, an opportunity of witnessing the trial of an electric tramcar of the type recently produced by Mr. Thomas Parker (Elwell-Parker and Company Limited), of Wolverhampton, in conjunction with Mr. Alfred Dickinson, M.I.C.E., the consulting mechanical engineer of the company. The car in question is the same, which has been the subject of one or two previous trials lately noticed in our columns.

Yesterday it was run from Station Street to the Sparkbrook Depot and back with a full load of passengers, and in the course of the journey ascended the long and severe incline of Bradford Street, a feat the like of which, the engineers allege has never been performed by any self-contained tramcar.

In 1890 the company supplied all of the electrical equipment, including tramcars for the Bristol Road accumulator tramway in Birmingham.
The story of electric tramcars continues in the following sections:
Part 2. The South Staffordshire & Birmingham District Steam Tramways Company Limited, later South Staffordshire Tramways Company
Part 3. Wolverhampton Corporation Tramways
Part 4. The British Electric Traction Company

To be continued.

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