Cardiff Corporation No. 131
At the dawn of the electric tramway era, horses were still the predominant mode of traction for road vehicles and in London alone 300,000 plied the city streets at a time when the total number of motor vehicles in the whole of the country was just 17,000. Moreover, the state of the roads was often deplorable as the patent for tarmac, which involved the mechanical mixing of tar and aggregates to form a more durable weather-resistant surface, was not granted until 1901.
Not surprisingly, therefore, an abiding preoccupation for early tramway operators was the need to keep the streets reasonably clean to ensure that tramlines did not become completely blocked with mud and animal waste. An important weapon in their armoury was the water car and many operators found it necessary to incorporate at least one as part of their fleet even though – partly because of their unglamorous role, perhaps – only one was to survive into preservation.
This was built in Preston by the Electric Railway & Tramway Carriage Works as a 1000-gallon rail-cleaning car for Cardiff, at a cost of £600. It was delivered as a completely open car, with a central water tank, gaining the number 131 in 1905. By 1913 the tank had been enclosed, and in 1919 it was fitted with slipper brakes. From 1920 it was used for grinding out corrugations on the track around Cardiff, and it was also used to take the traffic superintendent home to Cathays after the day’s operations had been completed.
In 1913 it was painted in the full passenger livery, but around 1916 it became plain grey (the livery typically used for such tramway works cars), then ten years later it even lost its number.
In addition to its essential maintenance functions, Cardiff 131 – in common with other works cars – was frequently used as a driver training vehicle since passenger tramcars were too valuable and often too heavily utilised to be deployed for this purpose.
But it was to have a happier fate than the passenger cars. At the end of the Cardiff tramways enthusiasts enquired whether one of the trams might be preserved, only to be told that they had all been sold for scrap already. However the little water car had fortuitously been overlooked.
After being sold instead to members of the Light Railway Transport League the tram led a somewhat nomadic existence, travelling around the country until it acquired the distinction of being the first tramcar to arrive at the Crich site shortly after its acquisition by the Tramway Museum Society back in 1959.
Sadly, there was little room for sentiment in those early days as recently rescued tramcars from around the country quickly began jostling for the limited depot space and workshop attention. So it was that Cardiff 131 was placed in the museum’s off-site storage facility in May 1971, an unfortunate fate for the only surviving purpose-built water car in Britain.
Over thirty years later, however, and with an important 50th anniversary looming since the acquisition of the Crich site, time and resources were finally made available in 2007, thereby enabling this fascinating vehicle to be fully restored in time to take pride of place in the 2009 anniversary celebrations.
After its restoration, for which it won a prestigious award from the Heritage Railway Association, Cardiff 131 has visited Beamish museum in County Durham in 2010 and also Blackpool in 2011, where it assisted in cleaning the tracks between Pleasure Beach and Starr Gate in preparation for the trial running of the new second-generation Blackpool trams.
Now part of the regular operational fleet at Crich, it performs an important role preparing and maintaining the track each season. One of its earliest tasks is to scrub the rails and flush out the grooves before the season gets under way.
- Type of tram
- Works car (purpose-built water car)
- Maroon and cream.
- Seating capacity
- Date built
- Manufacturer of body
- Electric Railway & Tramway Carriage Works of Preston
- Manufacturer of truck
- Brill 21E
- 4’ 8½”
- GEC 200K 2 x 30 hp
- BTH B510
- Current collector
In 1913 the previously open sides were enclosed by matchboard panelling and a roof structure. In 1920 track-grinding equipment was added.
- Withdrawn from service
1950, on closure of the system.
- Subsequent history
Acquired for preservation on withdrawal
- Restoration history
It was preserved by members of the Light Railways Transport League, who overhauled it after its withdrawal, and repainted it back into the attractive livery of the Cardiff passenger trams. They arranged for its temporary storage in a variety of locations before its arrival in Crich in May 1959, the first tramcar to appear on site.
- Current status
- Restored to operational condition. Commissioned for service as part of the operational fleet during the current season.
- Date started operating at Crich
- 2010. Has operated in 8 seasons, most recently in 2017.
- Total mileage covered at Crich
- Current location
- 1902 – 1950Operational on original tramway
- 1950 – 2007In storage
- 2007 – 2009Undergoing restoration
- 2009 –Operational at Crich and elsewhere