This is an account of the last tram procession through Edinburgh on Friday 16th November 1956 by unknown reporters as described in the Scotsman Newspaper.
We thank the Scotsman Newspaper Publications for allowing us to use this article.
Fully a hundred thousand people of Edinburgh turned out from their houses to watch the last tram and its accompanying convoy travel to Shrubhill depot in Leith Walk, at the end of fifty years of tramways, including the twenty years when Leith was ahead of Edinburgh in starting electric tramcars.
It was, one of those nights when Edinburgh lets herself go. At seven o'clock it didn't look as if there was going to be much enthusiasm, but out at the Braids terminus at 7.15 p.m., when ten tramcars were waiting to take V.I.P.s and passengers who had arranged to get tickets for the last journey, quite a number of people were lining the footways.
When the convoy moved off from the Braids terminus at 7.40 p.m. a number of motor cars sounded their horns in farewell to a departing form of public transport. At Morningside Station there was a tremendous crowd, numbering thousands, of cheering onlookers. There a No. 23 tram, carrying Town Councillors and Corporation officials, joined the procession of ten vehicles. We travelled in the last No. 28 tram, which was displaced from the honour of being the last tram when we got to Morningside, where the No. 23 joined in. But for the whole convoy wherever they were in order of precedence, it was a tremendously exciting journey, full of honest sentiment, without sentimentality.
There were several incidents during the procession which had a dramatic quality - for instance, when, just after passing Tollcross a No. 23 bus (taking the place of the tramcar in which we were travelling) passed us, going towards Morningside.
On board the "28" tram (which immediately followed the official. and brightly decorated "last" tram there were several members of a group of people who have been travelling in every "last" tram since the Edinburgh tramways system began to close. Mr R. E. Jack, from Edinburgh, was probably the only passenger present who had been on board them all, beginning with the closing of the "24" route; along with him were a number of other enthusiasts, including at least one man who hadcome through from Glasgow.
When the official last tram reached Lauriston Place, students carried out a carefully planned attack on it. Three or four broke out of the crowd, grabbed at the trolley rope, plunging the vehicle into darkness as the trolley came away from the overhead wire. Although the tram had a motor cycle escort, two of the men were able to stick a banner along the side of the bodywork, where it remained until the car got to Forrest Road. There it was pulled off, and as it lay on the road we could make out the words, “A Streetcar of No Desire."
About this point the convoy was joined by the horse-drawn bus from the Transport Department's museum. Taking up station in front of the decorated tram, it led the procession down the Mound, where the largest crowd was waiting to receive it. So, too, was Lord Provost Sir John G. Banks, who stepped forward, amid a battery of floodlights, to shake hands with the drivers of the last three trams.
The Lady Provost handed over a wrist-watch to James Kay, most senior of the Transport Department's drivers, with 43 years’ service: and wallets to William Moffat, driver of the “official " last tram, and James Pryde, both of whom have 40 years service. She also presented chromium-plated controller keys, suitably inscribed.
For these three there is no switch to bus-driving. They will be on "inside" work from now on, but their last drive was their most memorable, and probably their toughest.
The Lord Provost made a short speech, in which he described the event as "a pretty historic occasion," and then the trams moved on - to face crowds increasingly demonstrative as the depot was neared. In Princes Street, people surged forward to pat or touch the "last tram”. Thousands of pennies and other coins were laid on the track to be bent for luck, and the drivers of the two following trams had to use all their skill to avoid colliding with stooping figures.
At St Andrew Square the horse-drawn bus pulled aside and let the tramcars go alone. From here on the conductors had to stand by to repel boarders - and Inspectors John Gilchrist and John Hogg, who manned the platform of the decorated tram, said later that they had a difficult job.
Our own No. 28 had a few hangers-on as it travelled the last half-mile. The motor cycle policeman travelling immediately behind our platform slipped his clutch and raced his engine in discouragement. Eventually people crowded so close to the tram that he had, for safety's sake, to drop behind it.
Inside, the passengers were getting restless, and fittings began to disappear as the souvenir lust grew. Bell pushes were unscrewed; the number indicator roll was ripped to pieces; lights were taken from their sockets. As Shrubhill depot was reached schoolboys attempted to remove seats and arms off seats.
Not even the police were immune from the fever. In the sanctuary of the depot one strong arm of the law was seen to catch hold of an outside driving mirror and wrench it so effectively that it fell to the ground and smashed. Seven years bad luck orsimply a wigging from the superintendent? Perhaps neither. The police did a first-class job of crowd control, and the Chief-Constable has every reason to be satisfied.
At Shrubhill, Councillor J. Chalmers Brown, chairman of the Transport Committee, expressed surprise that so many people had come to see the procession. He thought they had behaved - as he expected Edinburgh people to behave - very well.
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