From the Top Deck of a Glasgow Tramcar

by Chris Jones on December 4, 2016


We are in the Trongate approaching Glasgow Cross from the west on the top deck of an open-top tramcar, circa 1900. Facing us, is the statue of King Billy ( William III, Prince of Orange ) upon his charger. King Billy’s statue was in the Trongate for 163 years before it was removed, placed in storage for a few years, and then erected in the Cathedral precinct in 1926. Behind the King is the Caledonian Railway’s Glasgow Cross Station serving the Low-Level Line out of Glasgow Central. The ornate station building with its green roof was designed by J. J. Burnet and completed in 1896, just a few years before this scene. To our left is the Tontine Hotel, established in 1783 after the Tontine Society purchased the original buildings and converted them into a hotel. As well as catering to travellers, the Tontine Hotel was renowned for its coffee room which proved very popular as a place to conduct business, while its assembly rooms hosted regular social meetings and dances. Next to the hotel is where the original Tolbooth building used to stand, housing the Town Clerk’s office, the council chamber, and the city jail. The building shown here is a redevelopment designed by David Hamilton after the original Tolbooth building was sold in 1814. The famous Tolbooth Steeple, dating from 1626/27, has survived to this day and it is interesting to reflect that the Tontine Hotel and the original Tolbooth formed the very heart of Glasgow before the Victorian era.

The road forks in front of us, with the left fork continuing along the Trongate, through Glasgow Cross, and into the Gallowgate. We are about to take the right fork into London Road. Riding on the open top deck of a tramcar must have been an exhilarating experience in those days except, of course, when it rained. Roofs were introduced on the tramcars between 1904 and 1910 but the front and rear balconies were not completely covered and enclosed until later. Between 1898 and 1902 the Glasgow tramway system was electrified but there is no evidence of overhead wires in this picture. It is possible that they may have been carefully erased during the production of this colorized postcard, or that the trams in the scene were actually horse-drawn, pre-dating the electrification. The postcard itself was not printed until the very early 1900’s but the image from which it was manufactured could have been obtained a few years earlier. ( Postcard published in the Charmette Series by Raphael Tuck & Sons, London. )

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