Dartford Hospital Histories

Tramway

The tramway was a good example of forwards planning by the Metropolitan Asylum Board (MAB). The ships were full and nearing the end of there useful life. In 1893, a new hospital was planned on the shore, but there were delays in building it. The MAB, however, decided to go ahead with the construction of a horse tramway along a causeway, to the new hospital area. This would ensure a smooth journey from the Ambulance Steamer, especially if temporary hospitals needed to be built at short notice.

The contracts for the tramway were awarded to Mr J Dickson of St Albans in 1896, who subcontracted some of the work to Dick, Kerr & Co.

The tramway was a single line of 4ft gauge. A second track was provided at the pier head and at three passing places en route.

A smallpox epidemic occurred in the winter of 1901/2 and the temporary 300 bedded Long Reach hospital was erected. The patients were transferred in horse-drawn ambulances but later the MAB purchased two horse-drawn tramcars and changed their gauge to 4ft before use. The Orchard hospital was also built and connected to the tramway. A temporary car shed and an additional passing place were also added. After the epidemic gas lighting was installed along the causeway.

In 1903, when Joyce Green opened it was served by branch tramways running past each ward. There was a permanent coach house, replacing the temporary depot at the Orchard. A branch track led to the boiler house and a wet weather terminal added so that patients could be unloaded under cover and transported to the wards under the covered ways (this was the area outside the porter’s office), and it was also extended to the gate-porters lodge. The tramway could now be used for the transport of goods, as during epidemics tradesmen and their vehicles could not enter the hospital. The tramway was now at its maximum extent of 3.4 miles, measured as a single track.

In 1908 the MAB purchased two second-hand tramcars without prior inspection. These proved to be unsuitable, so the MAB designed their own purpose-built models. These were based on the detailed designs submitted by Dr Ricketts (the Medical Superintendent). Dr Ricketts was so pleased with the design he suggested that the Board took out a patent, but this was hardly necessary as horse drawn trambulances were probably unique.

Electric traction was never introduced, the hospital being lit by gas until 1925. In July 1914 a motor tractor was tested. It hauled two trams laden with 23 adults, this was successful but due to the war the idea was dropped as no vehicles could be spared.

In 1924/5 motor traction was again tried. A Talbot motor ambulance was used successfully and two more ordered. The speeds were kept low and the tram brakemen had to alight at corners and lean against the tram to help it round. Unlike the horses it didn’t have the same sideways pull at corners.

From 1930 the tram was used only as an internal link between the hospitals. It was last used in 1936 and the track lifted in 1943 during the wartime drive for scrap metal.

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