The Ancient Chapel of Toxteth and an early electric tram

I was very pleased to pick up this picture on an ever-popular internet auction site. It was sold as a Victorian photograph, but I thought it possibly wasn’t quite that old and might, in any case, be a print that was made much later. However, I think it is a genuine old photograph, probably dating from the earliest years of the twentieth century. It is only a very small print, about two and a half inches by three and a half inches, but it is curiously interesting too.

It wasn’t very costly and I half expected it to command a much higher price appealing, as it does, to a number of different constituencies – those with an interest in old chapels, enthusiasts for Liverpool history, and aficionados of trams and transport.

Clearly it is a view looking towards the end of Park Road. There on the left is the Ancient Chapel of Toxteth, complete with ivy and a corporation road name plate. There are a few pedestrians wandering past: a lady in a long dress and another lady pushing a pram outside the chapel. On the right is tram car number 10A climbing the slight incline of Park Road, on its way to the Pier Head.

Ancient Chapel Tram 03

The size of the print would suggest a photograph taken after 1901 on a Box Brownie No.2, so probably not quite Victorian. The clothes worn by the ladies in the photograph would suggest a point at around that date. The driver of the tram is wearing a double-breasted overcoat with an oval badge on his chest and on his hat. The badge on his chest would be his licence and this particular style of wear apparently indicates the way the uniform of the driver (or motorman as he would have been called) was worn prior to 1904, or so I read on Ashley Birch’s very informative British Tramway Company Badges and Buttons site.

Ancient Chapel Tram crop 02

So we have a well composed photograph, probably dating to between 1901 and 1904, which I am sure is meant to contrast the old – in this case a place of worship dating back to 1618 – with the new, an electric tram, the most up to date and exciting form of public transport available.

Electric trams were introduced to Liverpool in 1898, so they would still be a relatively new phenomenon by 1904. A large dent on the front right-hand side of the tramcar points to this not being a brand new tram when this photo was taken but still it is a picture taken fairly close to the inauguration of the tram system in Liverpool. Another site (Ron’s Liverpool Tram Site) tells me that according to the number this was a Brill ‘Philadephia’ Car, built in America, and the picture does correspond with this type of vehicle.

Ancient Chapel Tram crop 01

The original tram depot was just around the corner from the chapel so this vehicle had only just begun its journey. The depot was built in 1898 and was a building that survived long after the tram system closed, I knew it well, or at least was aware of it but never gave its original purpose a second’s thought. The same would be true of the Smithdown Road depot opened in 1899 but still there until relatively recently. It’s curious how these buildings survived for such a long time before seeming to just melt away.

Another curious thing is how this corner of Toxteth became such a hub for transport. Once the most remote part of an ancient royal hunting park it became the site of an early seventeenth-century chapel for the convenience of the local farmers and was far away from the prying eyes of government or ecclesiastical hierarchy. The Chapel was situated really on the road to nowhere when it was built. Centuries later the Chapel found itself in between the first electric tram depot built on one side of it and the last station of the Liverpool Overhead Railway situated immediately opposite it on Park Road. The Dingle station of the Overhead Railway would have been just to the right of the tram in this picture. Impressively the Dingle Overhead Railway Station was built underground and is one of the few surviving features of that railway which closed the year before the trams were stopped in 1957. It is a significant junction which I have blogged about before:

Two views of a junction in Toxteth

ACT Ext 05

The view across the Chapel graveyard. The garage visible on the left was the site of the Dingle station of the Overhead Railway. The Dingle tram terminus was to the right of the picture.

It is curious too how trams were marked out as old-fashioned and unsustainable in the 1950s but came back into fashion in the twenty-first century. Today cities like Manchester, Edinburgh, Dublin and many more appreciate their value. Of course, most major European cities never took them away and have always had the benefit of these types of transit systems.

But it is easy to have a romanticised or sentimental view of this informative and attractive little photograph. It seems a long time ago as well. But when I was assistant minister of Cross Street Chapel in Manchester in the 1980s one of the oldest members was in his 90s. He had worked as a tram driver in Manchester before the First World War. He told me there was no covering above his head when he was driving and the rain would pour down his back in bad weather. In the end he was forced to give up due to ill-health and had a lifetime of difficulty with his back as a result. But maybe things were better in Liverpool, this driver certainly looks well enough protected at the front of his car.

No pictures or text may be reproduced from this site without the express permission of the author.