The 30s was the era of comprehensive transport for the first time. There was everything from roller skates to the tube trains. Public transport was cheap, the railways ran on time, were comfortable and well organised. After all, there was no alternative as only the wealthy could afford to run cars. .The main mode of transport in the cities was the tram, while there were Bus Lines connecting the cities with the towns and the countryside. Post-war, cities began to get rid of the trams because there operation was so rigid, the tracks were a nuisance and they did not offer the flexibility the bus did. I find it interesting therefore, that some cities are bringing back the trams, There was a period in the 40s when trolley buses were tried, but the authorities reverted to buses.
Trams. in London in the 30s were cheap. My grandmother, during holiday times, would give me a packed lunch, six pence to buy sweets, sixpence for an all day transferable ticket, and sent me off on the trams to find my way about London, see the sights and generally acquaint myself with the city. I would ride so far on one tram, walk a bit, look around a bit, and then take another tram somewhere else. So in this way I learned London, but I think in many ways she was unique. For those who don’t remember the trams, they generally had wooden seats, some were padded, and when they arrived at the terminus, which virtually meant a stop at the end of the line, in the middle of a street, the conductor would remove the contact, spring loaded onto the overhead electricity wire, dragging down on the rope and walk the full length of the tram, with the contact following in an arc, high in the air, and re-attach it by the spring to the electric wire at the other end of the tram. Then he would walk up the tram flicking the backs of the seats downstairs and up, so that the seats faced in the opposite direction. He and the driver would exchange ends of the tram, and set off back down the route by which they had arrived. The trams were noisy, swayed quite a bit, and none too speedy. Their advantage was that they could carry a lot of people, and were plentiful. I remember sitting in school one day and heard the most incredible bang. On the way home I discovered that a tram going down Balham Hill had left the tracks, swivelled somehow and was lying on its side in the High Road, diagonally, with one end on one footpath and the other on the other footpath. Apparently no one was hurt because it happened at a time when there were few passengers.
Cars. The majority of the cars in the 30s were strongly constructied, ,not always dependable, but one stepped up into them, using a running board as a step. I was always sorry the day the running board was abandoned, because this then allowed cars to be lower to the ground, and in some instances their floor was and is, level with the footpath, making getting out a contortion. That was the era of the more sporty cars, which were basically two seaters but had two seats in the boot, which used the lid of the boot as the back rest – not to be recommended.
Trains By the 30s the trains had been in service long enough for most of the wrinkles to be ironed out, with the result train travel was comfortable, relaxed reliable, pleasurable, speedy and cheap. Luxury was beyond the imagination of most, and Third Class was the norm. There were fast trains, and stopping trains on suburban routes. The dining cars were a pleasure and the quality of service was high. For a child I found it exciting when the stewards came past, ringing the luncheon bell,, and we would wander down the long corridors, over the connecting passages between the carriages which rocked under your feet, to arrive at the splendour of the restaurant car, with all the clatter and bustle that was there. I find eating on trains today sordid. In those days gaps were left between each length of rail to allow for expansion due to sun heat – a left over from laying tracks in the Raj, giving the ride that dot dot – dot dot sound some of us loved. Round the 60’s the rails were welded together, I wonder what ghastly effects that will have if global warming reaches the levels predicted, and the cost of reverting.
I remember my first trips on the continent which we naturally took by train, as flying, in the 30s, commercially, was only for the rich. On those trains, as I could not afford a berth, I slept on luggage racks, and if we stopped at a station through the night, someone was bound to open a window to see where we were, and the draught went up the trouser legs and woke me. When I came to live in Ireland, I would travel back to England partly by what today is called a ferry, and in the 40s were cross-channel ships, beautifully equipped, comfortable and one got one’s tea and toast in bed, in a delightful cabin. These little luxuries I believe are no longer available – what a shame!