The National Tramway Museum’s oldest tramcar, Oporto 9, celebrates its 150th anniversary this year! The tramcar was built in 1873 by the Starbuck Car and Wagon Company Ltd. of Birkenhead, which was the first tramcar manufacturer to be established outside the United States. The precise date of Oporto 9’s construction is not known. It was one of ten cars to be supplied to the Companhia Carril Americano do Porto in Portugal. Like its sister car no. 10, supplied at the same time, Oporto 9 was an 18-seat single deck tramcar that was designed to be pulled by two horses, although mules were used during the early years in Portugal.
Mule tram operations continued for 30 years. Following the introduction of electric tramcars, many of the original vehicles were converted into motor cars. Some, including Oporto 9, remained in use as trailers for much longer. These were pulled either by steam-tram engines (in use between 1878 and 1914) or electric tramcars (introduced from 1895 onwards). In later years they were confined to the unglamorous but essential task of ferrying workers to and from the sardine fisheries for which Oporto was famous. The trams providing such services were identified by boards reading “Operario”, which indicated that they were reserved for workers.
Oporto 9 remained in use as a service tram trailer for a remarkable 87 years before being withdrawn and placed in storage in 1960. It was then acquired by the English tramway enthusiast and preservationist John H Price to join the Tramway Museum Society’s growing collection at Crich. It was shipped to England and transported to Crich in 1964. This journey was very well publicised thanks, in part, to the generous assistance of the port wine merchants Geo. Sandeman, Sons & Co. This was possibly the first example of commercial sponsorship for tram preservation in Britain. Oporto 9 was transported on one of Sandeman’s port wine cargo ships to England and unloaded at London docks in October 1964. It was then transported by road to its new home at Crich, where it still represents the oldest vehicle in the collection, dating back to the dawn of the tramcar era in Britain.
On the day of its arrival in Crich, Oporto 9 was taken for trial runs behind Blackpool Corporation No. 49 to test it out on the track. It subsequently operated as a trailer car for the Tramway Museum Society’s steam-powered tram, John Bull. In its early days it provided a regular service in this capacity, at a time when the electricity supply to the museum was not fully dependable.
Oporto 9 ceased passenger operation at Crich prior to the mid 1970’s to become a static exhibit. It currently sits in the main exhibition hall, where it not only helps to illustrate the very earliest era of Britain’s involvement in tramway development, but also provides a visible reminder of the long-standing mutual trade links between Britain and Portugal.
On Saturday 16th September 2023, Oporto 9 will (weather permitting) make a rare outing from the Exhibition Hall onto the depot fan. To celebrate its 150th Anniversary, the tramcar will be joined by Oporto 273 for a (static) photo opportunity as part of Tram Weekend. For details please see our website here: https://www.tramway.co.uk/whatson/tram-weekend/:
Thanks to museum volunteer Jim Dignan for producing this blog.
- Image 1: Source – the photograph is featured on the website: ‘The Oldest Porto Trams’ https://www.ernstkers.nl/blog/the-oldest-porto-tramcars/
- Image 2: Source – the photograph is featured on the website: ‘The Oldest Porto Trams’ https://www.ernstkers.nl/blog/the-oldest-porto-tramcars/
- Image 3: National Tramway Museum collection.
- Image 4: Richard Lomas.