Treasures of the pteg YouTube archive

Many rainy lunchtimes in the making, we are proud to present the treasures of the pteg YouTube archive…

YouTube is stuffed with archive train videos – there’s less out there on the buses, trams, ferries, trams and transit systems of our big regional cities. Well let me rephrase that – there’s less out there that’s interesting! But we’ve hunted down what we could find. So why not spend one of your rainy lunchtimes by joining us in an exploration of a world where people smoked at all times – including on wooden underground trains; where transport systems were built by men whose safety gear was flared trousers and check shirts, and of course a fag; and where pageants and festivals were held where grateful citizens would celebrate new rail connections.

We begin our tour in Liverpool with the wondrous Liverpool Overhead Railway. The world’s first overhead electric railway that glided over streets crowded with rail and road traffic from the UK’s second busiest port. Worn out by corrosion, wartime bombs and continuous use it was closed in 1956 and demolished the year after. It lives on however in a stunningly beautiful CGI recreation by Steven Wheeler.

Catching our breath we reach further back in time – right back to 1902 and one of Mitchell and Kenyon’s Edwardian rediscovered documentary films takes us on a tram ride through the Bradford of over a century ago. A double decker time machine on steel rails through streets of behatted cyclists and horse drawn goods wagons.

Five years before those scenes were filmed, the Glasgow Subway got some new trains. In the 1970s they were still running! Here a studiedly patronising home counties presenter makes an entertaining film about the eccentric and ramshackle  circular system that was shortly to be modernized.

There’s an equally whimsical video here where I’m sure the presenter says the Subway was the only one in the world to have its own boat if the tunnels flood!

And a more comprehensive effort here from 1977 to mark its last day before modernisation – complete with a set of characters as eccentric as the system itself.  There’s also some needling questions by the Edinburgh presenter about Glasgow’s perceived shortcomings.  However I’ve gone with the dramatic tension of having a condescending English public schoolboy who I’m surprised got out of Glasgow intact!

‘Last day’ films are a staple of the transport film documentary genre – and one of the best ones ever made was about the last day of Glasgow’s trams. ‘Nine Dalmuir West’ is a free wheeling, hand held grainy, black and white elegy to the last days of a tram system that was loved by the city – but not loved enough to buck the trend and spend the money to renew it. The film has all the latent restless energy of the early Sixties which was about to change British cities forever. And for all the fondness for the tram – it wasn’t going to be part of this new world. But the trams went out in style with one hell of a party in the tram depot on the last night (shown near the end of the film). And those women tram drivers are cool (they were out of a job too as the Corporation wouldn’t let them drive buses!). The men wearing their caps like guardsmen also cut a dash.

There’s a more stilted farewell to Sheffield’s trams in this 1960 documentary. The relentlessly chirpy, mustn’t grumble, know my place, tram driver narrator makes you want to clatter him with a tram pole after a while – but another steel railed, double decker, time machine. And a vivid reminder of what British cities were too quick to get rid of – especially the routes with dedicated tracks of their own. Though in the shots of the trams passing Sheffield’s new concrete and glass shopping centres you can see how the tram must have seemed like some elderly embarrassing relative that you may be fond of but now needed to be shuffled off to the retirement home as soon as was seemly.

Before we move on from the demise of the Tram here’s Alan Bennett’s closing words to a forword to ‘A Nostalgic Look at Leeds Trams since 1950’ by Graham Twidale:

‘Buses have never inspired the same affection, too comfortable and cushioned to have a moral dimension. Trams were bare and bony, transport reduced to its basic elements, and they had a song to sing, which buses never did. I was away at university when they started to phase them out, Leeds as always in too much of a hurry to get to the future, and so doing the wrong thing. I knew at the time that it was a mistake, just as Beeching was a mistake, and that life was starting to get nastier. If trams ever come back though, they should come back not as curiosities not, God help us, as part of the heritage, but as a cheap and sensible way of getting from point A to point B, and with a bit of poetry thrown in.’

Time for one more ‘last day’ film before we move on. This time Britain’s last trolleybus system which was to be found in Bradford before finally succumbing in 1972.  Not on YouTube but better than that – on the Yorkshire Film Archive.

The late Cllr Stanley King – proud Bradfordian, trolleybus advocate and former Chair of the West Yorkshire Passenger Transport Authority – can be heard near the end of the film. When the trolleybus returns to British streets it will again be in West Yorkshire (in Leeds in the form of NGT). There should be one named after him.

After all those seductively melancholy last day films lets take a more positive view of modernization and change! That’s what PTEs were set up to do. To turn round ailing public transport systems that had been battered by Beeching and hammered by the growth in private car use! Time to move on. Time to remake our cities and the transit systems that serve them. Time for Glasgow Transport 1980…

Everyone goes on about integrated transport nowadays but as the film shows in 1980 we had it! There’s even a transport pagent, march past and festival held at the end of the film to celebrate the Glasgow Transport 1980.

On a lighter note. Here’s an entertaining training film for bus crew from Tyne and Wear. If Oz from ‘Auf Wiedersehen, Pet’ had been a bus driver he would have been Animal Anderson…

And to end what better way to go out but with an all singing, all dancing finale – ladies and gentlemen I give you: Tyne and Wear Metro: the Musical!

If you enjoyed this selection from our YouTube archive there’s more to explore on our YouTube channel which can be found here

Jonathan Bray

The ‘Dockers’ Umbrella’ remembered

When, near the turn of the last century, the riverfronts of Glasgow and Liverpool were a seething mass of industry and commerce, the resulting clogged streets led to some bold moves above and below ground to beat the jams.

In Glasgow it led to the construction of what was then only the third underground railway in the world – the circular Glasgow Subway whose carriages were ingeniously moved from station to station by a system of cables, and which opened in 1896. The Glasgow Subway still exists today (though long since electrically powered) and indeed is to be given a new lease of life with a new fleet of trains.

Screen grab from Liverpool Overhead Railway animation c Steven Wheeler

The Liverpool Overhead Railway, re-created by Steven Paul Wheeler

In Liverpool it was decided to go skywards rather than underground, with an overhead railway which ran the length of the seven and a half mile network of waterfront docks and warehouses – then the second largest port in the country after London.

The Liverpool Overhead Railway opened in 1893 and being the first electric overhead railway in the world wasn’t the only way in which it blazed a trail. It was also the first to be protected by electric automatic signals and only the second place in the country with an escalator (although it didn’t last long as it caused too much damage to long dresses apparently!)

Unlike the Glasgow Subway, the Liverpool Overhead Railway has not survived. Worn out by continuous use, wartime bombs and corrosion, by the fifties it needed a total overhaul if it was to carry on. The £2 million needed was not available (ironically not a huge amount when compared with the, ahem, £300 million, at today’s prices, that it cost to build) so it was closed in 1956 and demolished the year after. The invention of the shipping container consigned the city centre docks it had served to similar oblivion in the decades that followed before we reached the current realignment where Liverpool is a busier port city than ever, though the Docks are no longer in the centre and the numbers employed are of course far fewer.

Meanwhile, some of the areas the Liverpool Overhead Railway served are now reclaimed for flats, hotels and tourist attractions – such as the new Museum of Liverpool. And the Museum of Liverpool pays handsome and appropriate tribute to this unique railway which still lingers in the city’s memories and affections. The exhibition includes one of the original carriages, plenty of memorabilia as well as a relief map of the Docks and the Overhead Railway which gives some sense of the vast scale of the docks and the intricacies of the warehouses and railways lines that served them.

The Liverpool Overhead Railway is also recreated in a spectacular and beautiful animation by Steven Paul Wheeler

The video is planned to feature as part of a documentary on what was popularly known as the ‘Dockers Umbrella’.

Screen shot from lumiere brothers project animation

Screen grab from the Museum of Liverpool video

The Museum has also helped put together this video which uses original film taken in 1897 to recreate what a journey would have been like over the mile after mile of busy docks in the first years of the Overhead Railway – where an electric train provided spectacular views of the sailing ships.

Well worth a visit – and demonstrates again that not all the most interesting and ground breaking thinking on transport happens in the capital!

Jonathan Bray