WITH petrol and other energy costs rising, what price now that unique steam tramway which ran between Alford and Sutton in the great railway boom years at the beginning of the 20th century?
For five years this marvellous, almost Heath Robinson contraption ran between the two towns via Hannah, Markby and Bilsby.
Picture: The Alford – Sutton Steam Tram in its heyday.
- Alford to Sutton Steam Tramway
Then, alas, the railway system proper spread its network to Willoughby, Sutton and Mablethorpe, and the £30,000 steam project was on the market for £500, scrap value.
The steam dream came about because, apparently, the Louth and East Coast Railway did not carry out the promise in its prospectus to open out Trusthorpe, Sutton and other villages.
As now, transport facilities at the beginning of the 1870s in the coastal area were rather poor. The East Lincolnshire line of the Great Northern Railway from Grimsby ran through Louth and Boston to Peterborough, but this was inland, and left the coastal area high and dry.
In 1871 the Wainfleet and Firsby Railway was opened, and in 1873 its extension to Skegness was brought into use. This little railway was worked by the Great Northern. In the north, another short line, the Louth and East Coast Railway was opened from Louth to Mablethorpe in 1877. This again was worked by the Great Northern who thought it sufficiently profitable to purchase it in 1908.
The advent of these railways, part of the London and North Eastern Railway, soon created a considerable holiday traffic to the resorts they served. It is estimated that as early as 1878 about 200,000 excursionists visited Skegness alone from Nottinghamshire, Yorkshire and London.
However, the 1873 prospectus to open out neglected Trusthorpe and Sutton was not carried out, and so was born the idea of the steam tramway.
A Bill was deposited in the parliamentary session of 1880 for the construction of a tramway of 2ft 6in gauge, with a route mileage of over seven miles.
Construction did not start for over two years, and had to face opposition from many individuals and organisations. There were a lot of engineering obstacles, too, but finally at the beginning of April, 1884, it was full steam ahead.
Alford really made a day of it with festivities, and the town decorated end to end. When the tramway was formally opened, after a test run, all Alford shops were closed for the afternoon to enable as many as possible to use the new form of transport to the coast.
Goods wagons, as well as passenger cars had to be brought into use so great was the demand.
In the evening a public tea was held in the Corn Exchange, followed by a public meeting. Enthusiasm and optimism were the keynotes. According to the Louth Advertiser of 5 April, 1884 the cost of the tramway had been more than £30,000. Some eight miles of fencing had been put on the sides of dykes, and 5,500 tons of metal, limestone, granite and Ancaster stone were laid on the roads.
Three engines were bought, and the tramway was well patronised, by Alford people going to the sea, and by those on the coast having a shopping jaunt inland.
Travel was cheap, the return fares being one shilling for adults, and sixpence for children under 12. One could board or alight from the cars anywhere en route, which was very handy for those living in the countryside.
Parcels, newspapers and passengers’ luggage were also conveyed. There was a flourishing goods traffic, too.
The railway and equipment were kept in tiptop condition, but the tramway had no chance to have a strong financial foundation. The new Willoughby and Sutton railway gave it a mortal blow. Receipts of the tramways began to fall, and closure was inevitable.
Even so, it continued to give a good service to the end, certainly no less frequent than the buses of today.
In November 1889 the manager left the undertaking to take a job on the south coast, and at the beginning of December the tramway ceased to function.
As today, a song and dance was made locally about this great loss to the community, but when tradesmen and other influential people in Alford were given the chance to take over the tramway for next to nothing, they did not do so.
A year or so later the tramlines were taken up.