Gateshead tragedy tram returns to the North East for restoration

A Gateshead tram involved in a death crash in 1916 is to be restored to join the Beamish Museum fleet

Gateshead tram number 7, re-numbered 52
Gateshead tram number 7, re-numbered 52

A tram involved in a Tyneside tragedy almost a century ago has returned to the region with the aim of once more carrying passengers.

The tram, known as Gateshead 52, has arrived at Beamish Museum in County Durham where it will be restored to working order.

It has been gifted to Beamish by the National Tram Museum in Derbyshire where it eventually ended up after the Gateshead tram system closed in 1951.

The tram started life as No 7 in 1901.

But on the evening of February 5, 1916, No.7 was to be involved in Gateshead Tramway’s blackest day. “While the tramway had the enviable record of never having any passenger fatality, No.7 was to be the cause of the death of four pedestrians that night,” said Beamish keeper of transport and industry Paul Jarman.

The tram was on the steep Bensham Road in Gateshead

On the line ahead was stationary tram on which a fight had broken out.

The driver of that tram had rung his gong to attract attention and summon assistance. No.7’s driver applied his handbrake and walked up the bank to assist, almost immediately noticing the lights of his own tram had disappeared.

An inquest heard that he had applied his brake but not informed the conductress. As he walked up the bank an additional 23 passengers joined the 12 on board.

With this extra weight the brake was overcome and the tram began to run away downhill towards the turn into Saltwell Road. Here, it overturned, killing a family of three and a soldier crossing the road. Ten passengers were injured, three seriously.

Gateshead tram 52 now at Beamish for restoration
Gateshead tram 52 now at Beamish for restoration

The inquest essentially returned a verdict of accidental death, although the driver was remanded on bail on a charge of causing the death of four persons. The case was later dropped.

It was common in those days for postcards to be issued to mark accidents and disasters.

“It is perhaps morbid to us these days that such an event should be the cause of public gathering and a postcard to note the occasion, but such a ritual of the day has given us a very poignant image of the accident,” said Paul.

“It is terrible that a soldier, who was probably home on leave in 1916, was killed.”

No 7 was rebuilt in Gateshead’s Sunderland Road depot and returned to service in 1920, later being re-numbered No 52 in 1928. On the closure of the tram system in 1951, No 52 was bought by its former driver William Southern who moved it to his allotment in Low Fell.

Following his death, it was acquired by the National Tram Museum and a group was set up in 1963 to restore it, but its ill luck struck again when the building in which it was stored was torched.

The tram was damaged and the Derbyshire museum’s annual general meeting voted to give it to Beamish, which had been suggesting such a move for the last three years.

It will now be rebuilt and join the eight-strong tram fleet which ferries visitors around Beamish.


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