Then and Now Tram 5

Today’s post comes from Hobart Rd New Lambton. At this point in the road there used to be an overhead railway bridge for the rail line to the Lambton Colliery.

What’s interesting about this old photo is there is the tram line has what’s known as a “gauntlet track”. The tram line was a dual track (inbound/outbound), but in order to get through the narrow gap under the rail bridge the two tracks, while not connecting, interleave with each other. To avoid collisions, tram drivers had to collect a wooden staff from a signalling box at the site and only proceed through the gauntlet section if they had possession of the staff.

Old tram photo from University of Newcastle Living Histories.

William Conn

In the late 19th century, William Conn was the owner of one of the finest commercial establishments in Lambton. Conn was born in Durham (UK) in 1841 and emigrated to Australia with his parents in 1864, initially working at a mine in Hamilton before opening a store in Lambton.

This month’s photo by Ralph Snowball shows William standing by the front door of his large grocery and produce store on the north west corner of Elder and Morehead streets. At his side is one of his daughters, while upstairs on the balcony is his wife Sophia with their four other children.

While the ground floor was devoted to commerce, upstairs was the family residence and a large room capable of seating 200 people. This “Temperance Hall” was used in the campaign against the social ills of alcohol. Many other community gatherings, political meetings, church anniversary teas and public lectures were held in the hall.

The grand appearance of this building with its veranda’s and colonnades was no accident, for it was designed in 1885 by a young up and coming architect Frederick B Menkens, who would go on to design some of the city’s iconic buildings such as the Mechanics Institute in Hamilton and the Earp, Gillam & Co Bond Store in Newcastle East.

Unfortunately, the prosperity of William Conn captured in Snowball’s photo evaporated in the late 1890s with a series of bad financial investments. “In one undertaking, which was regarded as safe as a bank he lost upwards of £300.” In 1900 he was forced to sell off his business and depart the district. He had been an enduring contributor to civic life, serving 7 years as an alderman on Lambton Council, including two years as Mayor.

The hall William built continued to be used for many decades, and was variously known as Bell’s Hall, Empire Hall, and Tiplady’s Hall. After residing in Wallsend for about 20 years, William Conn died on 2 June 1921 and was buried in Sandgate cemetery.

William Conn’s store, residence, and hall, circa 1888. Photo by Ralph Snowball. University of Newcastle. Cultural Collections.
The same location in 2020.

The article above was first published in the May 2020 edition of The Local.


Additional Information

The date of Snowball’s Photo

Ralph Snowball’s photos of Conn’s store in the University of Newcastle Cultural Collections (photo 1, photo 2) are undated. However an approximate date can be gleaned from the following information.

  • Conn’s “Temperance Hall” is mentioned in Trove in a very defined and narrow window of 1886 to 1892.
  • The start date of 1886 is consistent with the call for tenders for alterations and additions to the building in October 1885 and Conn asking Council for permission to store building materials on the footpath in Elder St in March 1886.
  • The signs on the front of the store do not look brand new – there is a bit of weathering, so I’d suggest that the photo is a few years after 1886.
  • Elder St originally had quite a deep stormwater gutter running along the north kerb of the street. This can clearly be seen in the photo’s of Conn’s store.

    Elder St gutter before 1888.


    In January 1888 Lambton Council called for tenders for an underground culvert in Elder St, that was “to be constructed under the present gutter on the north side of the street“. This work was in progress by April 1888. After the underground culvert was constructed, aboveground the street had an ordinary sized gutter as seen in this 1901 photo. (Note that the 1890 date in the caption of this photo on the UoN site is incorrect – the correct date is 16 Nov 1901. This date is corroborated by searches in Trove that show references to “Bell’s Hall” in Lambton only from 1900, the year that Conn sold his premises and departed Lambton.)

    Elder St gutter in 1901.

The evidence of the gutter and culvert construction indicate that the photos of Conn’s store must be before April 1888. Combined with the evidence of the weathering of the signs, I think the most likely date for the photo is either 1887 or early 1888.

We know that Conn’s eldest child Ella was born in 1876, and his youngest child Cyril was born in 1883. If the photo was taken in 1888, Ella would have been about 12 years, and Cyril about 5 years of age, and this is consistent with the children we see in the photo.

Later history of the site

By August 1900 the site was owned by E Bell and Snowball photographed the building on 16 November 1901.

E. Bell Shoe and Boot Depot, 16 November 1901. University of Newcastle, Cultural Collections.

The following year “Bell’s Hall” was the venue for a banquet to celebrate the return of Albert Henry McEwan from the Boer War.

14 April 1902 – A decorated Elder St in readiness for the torchlight parade and banquet in Bell’s Hall to honour Lieutenant McEwan later that evening. University of Newcastle, Cultural Collections.

By 1905, the site hosted E D’Este Boots and Shoes, and Snowball photographed the building on 8 September 1905.

D’Este Boots and Shoes. Newcastle Library, Hunter Photobank.

Note that the hall upstairs has now been name the “Empire Hall”.

By December 1909 the assembly room was known as “Mr. Tiplady’s hall”, and references to Tiplady’s Hall continue in Trove up until November 1937.

Additional Biographical Details

On 3 November 1894, the Newcastle Morning Herald and Miners’ Advocate published and article “Our Civic Fathers. The Mayor of Lambton” in which they profiled Alderman William Conn.

Alderman William Conn, the present Mayor of the municipality of Lambton, is a native of the County of Durham, in England. He is now 53 years of age, and came to the colony with his parents in 1864. Shortly after his arrival he settled in this district, and has resided here ever since. In 1873 Alderman Conn was married, and he now has a family of five children.

(Note that the article is in error in stating that he was first elected to Hamilton Council – it was Lambton Council he was elected to in 1878.)

Newspaper articles

Article Date Event DateNotes
22 Jul 1871First mention in Trove of William Conn in Lambton.
29 Aug 1871William Conn unsuccessfully applies for position of Town Clerk in the first Lambton Municpal Council.
6 Feb 1878
5 Feb 1878
"Mr William Conn, storekeeper, Elder-street, " nominates for election as alderman in Lambton Council.
12 Feb 1878
9 Feb 1878
William Conn first elected to Lambton Council.
16 Aug 1880"I notice that our enterprising townsman Mr. W. Conn has been making considerable additions to his business premises in Elder-street. The front of the shop has been altered and made more attraction. A new wing has been added fronting Morehead-street, and also a spacious colonnade and balcony over the footpath in this street. The store has been greatly enlarged by these improvements, and Mr. Conn's customers have now the advantage of being able to enter the promises from either of the abovenamed streets."
17 Oct 1885"TENDERS are hereby invited for the erection and completion of ALTERATIONS AND ADDITIONS (Shopfronts, Colonades, etc.) to business premises for William Conn, Esq., Lambton.
FREDK. B. MENKENS, Architect."
10 Jul 1886First mention of "Conn's Hall".
23 Jul 1890The valuation of William Conn's allotment 849 on the Commonage is appealed. (Lot 849 is 22A Morehead St.)
6 May 1892Last mention of "Conn's Temperance Hall".
19 Jul 1892Willima Conn nominated as a candidate for a director of the Burwood Coal Company.
23 Nov 1892William Conn's auctioneers' license renewed.
6 Jan 1893William Conn elected chairman of the Lambton Business Men's Association. One of the activities of the association was to maintain a list of customers who were racking up too much credit amongst the retailers, and thus only accept cash transactions from them.
16 Dec 1893William Conn announces that he will contest the seat of Waratah at the upcoming state election.
24 Jul 1894
22 Jul 1894
Death of Michael Conn, father of Alderman William Conn.
3 Nov 1894Biographical profile of Alderman William Conn - "Our Civic Fathers. The Mayor of Lambton."
21 May 1896
19 May 1896
William Conn resigns as an alderman from Lambton Council. There is a bit of acriminony in the council meeting when Alderman Burg and Middlemas opposed a vote of thanks to Alderman Conn, with Burg stating that "the arrears had accumulated so much during Alderman Conn's terms as Mayor he thought it would have been better for the municipality if Alderman Conn had never entered the council."
30 Jan 1900
29 Jan 1900
Committee formed to organise a send-off for William Conn.
30 Jan 1900Advertisement for sale "In the Assigned Estate of W. Conn, Lambton. Freehold Property, Lambton, And Small Stock of Groceries, &c., Spring Van, Horse, Harness, and Sulky, 2 Sets of Avery Scales, Counter Scales, and Sundries. Those centrally situated Business Premises, situate on the corner of Elder and Morehead streets, comprising Four Shops on the ground floor, large Public Hall and Commodious Residence on the first floor, the whole being surrounded by an imposing Colonnade 12ft wide."
3 Feb 1900Advertisement for sale of Conn's properties near Warath railway station. "IN THE ESTATE OF W. CONN. By Order of the Trustees. WARATAH. 2 allotments fronting Hanbury and York streets, containing 40 perches."
17 Mar 1900Farewell presentation to William Conn. "… although now under a gloom caused by losses, he was not yet despondent … There had been a time during his residence at Lambton when he could say he had full and plenty; it was not so now, unfortunately."
24 Mar 1900
4 Apr 1900
Advertisement: "Mortgagees' Sale. On Wednesday, April 4th. FREEHOLDS, LAMBTON.
ELDER & MOREHEAD ST., known as Conn's Property, comprising Four Shops on the ground floor, Public Hall and Residence on the first floor, together with outbuildings."
13 Aug 1900First mention of Bell's Hall in Trove: "In future the [Rosebud] lodge will hold its meetings in Mr. Bell's Hall."
23 Jun 1905Last mention of "Bell's Hall" in Trove.
10 Dec 1909First mention in Trove of "Mr. Tiplady's hall".
1 Jun 1914Last mention of Empire Hall in Trove" "A banquet was held later in the Empire Hall ..."
27 Aug 1920
25 Aug 1920
"On the occasion of his leaving Wallsend to take up residence in Sydney, Mr. William Conn was entertained by the parishioners of St. Luke's Church of England at a valedictory social gathering in the parish hall on Wednesday evening."
4 Jun 1921
2 Jun 1921
"Mr. William Conn, who died on Thursday, lived in Lambton for many years prior to removing to Wallsend. He conducted a business in Elder-street, and also a produce store near the railway station, Waratah. He took an active part in all public matters, and was for a number of years an alderman of the council, in which he filled the Mayoral chair for the years 1894, and 1895. He was also a devoted member of the Lambton Church of England, and was the representative at the Synod on many occasions."
3 Jun 1921
2 Jun 1921
"The death occurred yesterday of Mr. William Conn. Deceased, who was eighty years of age, had been resident of the Lambton and Wallsend districts for many years, and had been a prominent lay member of the Newcastle Anglican Synod, where he regularly took a firm stand regarding the liquor question."
6 Jun 1921"The late Mr. William Conn was a highly-esteemed resident of Wallsend for about 20 years. Deceased was a zealous member of Saint Luke's Church... He first served as a lay representative to synod when living in Lambton... and as such had completed 30 years' office. He was prominent in many deliberations at synod, and fearlessly gave expression to his convictions... He had also performed splendid service as a lay reader, and was a strong advocate of the temperance cause."
10 Nov 1937Last mention in Trove of "Tiplady's Hall".

Then and Now Tram 3

This morning I snapped this photo near the Jesmond Grove aged care home. The Wallsend tram line used to curve through what is now a grass lawn. What’s interesting about this location is there’s a parchmark to be found.

A parchmark is where under the right climatic circumstances, the drying out of vegetation can reveal structures under the surface when viewed in an aerial photograph. So the October 2014 image from Google Earth shows a clear curved line of the former tram line.

Newcastle-Wallsend tramway. Tram photo courtesy of Newcastle University, Living Histories.
Google Earth aerial photo from October 2014, showing curved line of former tramway.

Then and Now Tram 2

I’ve been doing pretty well at getting out for a cycle before each working day. I only missed last Thursday, when it was pouring rain. Here’s a photo I took this morning in Jesmond Park to pair up with a circa 1950 photo from the University of Newcastle Living Histories site.
 
This is the spot that the Rankin Park to Jesmond bypass will go. (If it ever gets built.)
Jesmond park shared path. Tram photo courtesy University of Newcastle, Living Histories.

Adamstown Tram, 1900-1950

Tram services in Newcastle began in July 1887 with the opening of the Newcastle to Wallsend line. Other areas wanted a piece of the action and immediately began agitating for extensions to the tram line. In October 1887, Adamstown Council sent a deputation to Sydney asking for a line to their municipality, but it took another decade of lobbying before the Government finally approved the Adamstown line.

Construction began on 22 January 1900 of a one-mile single track that branched from the Wallsend line at the Nine Ways in Broadmeadow and ran along Brunker Rd. A steam tram service commenced on 13 August 1900, and the line was subsequently electrified in 1925.

Originally the tram terminated at the Public School, and this was a source of much contention. The tram whistle disrupted meetings of the Methodist (now Uniting) Church, and the shunting of engines back and forth across the Glebe Rd intersection to couple up with carriages for the return journey to Newcastle caused much traffic congestion.

In 1927 as part of the tram line duplication, the terminus was moved to just south of Glebe Rd, but this caused as many problems as it solved. With the terminus now in the centre of the narrow main shopping street, in an era when car and bus traffic was increasing, congestion was even worse. In 1929 a widening of the street by 18 feet failed to fix the problem, so in 1938 the tram line was extended south a further 100 yards to place the terminus past Victoria St.

As competition from bus services increased, some advocated that the tram system should be closed, while others argued that it should be extended. Eventually, with falling patronage and rising costs, the service proved unsustainable, and at 11:41pm on Sunday 16 April 1950 the last tram from Adamstown returned to the city.

Seventy years on, with passenger numbers on Newcastle’s light rail exceeding forecasts in its first year of operation, who knows, maybe we will one day see a return of trams to our suburbs?

The Victoria St terminus on the last day of the Adamstown tram service, 16 April 1950. Photo courtesy of Greg and Sylvia Ray from their book “Destination Newcastle”.
The same location in Brunker Rd Adamstown in 2020.

The article above was first published in the April 2020 edition of The Local.


Additional Information

Union St

One piece of information that I deliberately excluded from the published article, to keep it simple, was that the main shopping street of Adamstown that we now know as Brunker Rd, was originally called Union St. A real estate poster from 1921 shows the tram line running along Brunker Rd to the terminus at the Public School. South of Glebe Rd, the roadway narrows and becomes Union St.

Portion of real estate poster from 1921 showing Union St Adamstown. University of Newcastle, Cultural Collections.

In 1925-1926, Adamstown Council negotiated with the Main Roads Board, and reached an agreement to widen Union St. The work progressed during 1927-1929 and an official opening of the newly widened street was held in November 1929, where it was noted that …

“Prior to its being widened, Union street, with a roadway of only 30ft, was long regarded as dangerous for traffic … The roadway [now] is 42ft wide and the footpaths 12ft, the total width being 66ft. To widen the street, it was necessary to resume a strip of land 18ft deep on the western side, and the buildings were either demolished, and new ones erected, or they were moved back to the new alignment.”

I haven’t been able to confirm when exactly Union St was changed to be an extension of Brunker Rd, however a search of Trove reveals that the Union St name seems to disappear around 1949.

The end of trams

The view that it was competition from the motor buses that killed off the tram system is starkly presented in a commemorative postcard from 1950 which stated …

Born 5 July 1887. Died 10 June 1950. 63 years old. R.I.P.
In rememberance of Newcastle’s trams, which were finally suffocated by the deisel ‘buses.

(Note that the dates in the postcard are slightly off – the Wallsend line opened for public traffic on 19 July 1887, and the last tram ran on the Waratah line on 11 June 1950.)

A commemorative postcard from 1950 lamenting the ‘death’ of Newcastle’s trams. From the Arthur Perry collection, Living Histories, University of Newcastle.

Newspaper articles

Article Date Event DateNotes
7 Oct 1887"The agitation for an extension of the tram line, which has been going the rounds of the district, has at length reached Adamstown."
18 Sep 1893"On Thursday an officer from the Department of Public Works met the Mayor and aldermen on the matter of the extension of the tramway from Broadmeadow to Adamstown."
24 Oct 1898Municipal conference calls for tramway service to Adamstown.
1 Nov 1899
31 Oct 1899
"The Cabinet decided to-day to construct the tramway extensions from Broadmeadow to Adamstown and from Tighe's Hill to Mayfield."
2 Nov 1899"The announcement in yesterday's 'Herald' that the Government had agreed to construct the tramway from Broadmeadow to Adamstown has given great satisfaction to residents and the public generally. The survey for the tramline was made five years ago."
6 Jan 1900"The plans and book of reference are now open for inspection at the office of the Minister for Public Works for the line of tramway authorised to be constructed from Newcastle to Adamstown. All persons who may be interested in the lands through which the line will run are required to lodge any objections on or before the 26th inst."
20 Jan 1900"The amount of work that the tramway extension from Broadmeadow to Adamstown will provide has caused considerable disappointment to be felt by the local unemployed, many of whom were more than hoping that the work would be sufficient to enable them to relieve families dependent on them. But there should not have been disappointment, as it was not at any time officially represented that the extension, the length of which is only a mile, covering an easy route, and requiring only simple work, would provide employment for a large number of men."
19 Jan 1900
22 Jan 1900
Construction of Adamstown tramway to be "begun on Monday by the selected men, who will apply pick and shoved to several small hills. At noon to-day Mr. Creer will meet the men at the Broadmeadow waiting shed. About 10 capable men will meet present requirements,."
22 Jan 1900"General satisfaction is expressed at a start being made with the tram extension, but there is a deal of dissatisfaction at the way the men for the work were selected."
30 Apr 1900"The tram extension is proceeding slowly, and now the rails are laid to the municipal boundary of Hamilton and Adamstown. Now that the tramway is nearing completion there are people who argue that the tram terminus will not be in the proper place at the Public School, and that the terminus should be at the Carrington Hall, or down the Glebe-road, near the reserve."
14 Aug 1900
13 Aug 1900
Opening of the Adamstown Tramway.
16 Dec 1901"Many of the local aldermen say that the tram terminus is in the wrong place. The principal objections are that the tram stands in the centre of the road and starting as it does from a point directly opposite the Primitive Methodist Church door, the whistling annoys the congregation."
31 Jan 1925
2 Feb 1925
"Slowly but surely the antiquated steam tram is disappearing from the streets of Newcastle. The latest section of tramline to have electric overhead wires strung above it is that between Broadmeadow and Adamstown."
8 Jan 1927"The duplication of the tram line from Melville-road to Adamstown tram terminus has been completed and put into use. Delays which were unavoidable are now overcome, and a faster service established. While the public will appreciate the duplication of the line, the making of the terminal in front of two main business premises, at the intersection of Union-street and Glebe-road, is regretted; in fact, some of the trams make the stop right across the intersection of Union-street and Glebe-road, which at times is dangerous, carrying traffic four ways, and being the main road to Sydney, with an every day increase of traffic. "
19 Mar 1931"Newcastle Transport Trust, by allowing the trams to terminate in the middle of Union-street, has defeated the council's aims, and has created one of the most dangerous spots in the district. Before the street was widened, and before the trams were electrified the terminus was at the public school stop. The steam trams stopped here while the engine shunted across the Glebe-road intersection and back again to couple up with the front portion of the trams for the return to Newcastle. In August, 1925, Alderman Wiggins commenced an agitation to have the bottle-neck eliminated. The work was started in 1928 and the new widened street opened for traffic at the end of 1929. In the meantime the trams were electrified and the Tramway Department made the terminus right at the intersection. Council agitation caused it to move the terminus further along to the middle of Union-street, which was very unsatisfactory to the council. At present the tram loiters here, in the middle of the council's' parking area. If vehicles park at shops on either side of the tram and stay there for any length of time, traffic is completely held up."
7 Apr 1932 Council debates having "the tram terminus fixed at its original position in front of the school, pending the extension of the tramline."
19 May 1938"The suggested abolition of Adamstown tram service was not received very favourably in that suburb yesterday, though in some quarters it was thought that an adequate omnibus service might meet demands, particularly during the slack hours. While the people of Adamstown, particularly those in the western portion, seek improved transport facilities, any suggestion to abolish the tramway service was criticised."
6 Sep 1938"Adamstown tram terminus has been extended, not to Rifle-street, but to a point opposite the Mechanics' Institute, just beyond Victoria-street. For many years the terminus was near the intersection of Glebe road and Union-street, but the growing traffic problem and public agitation caused its removal recently to the locality mentioned."
10 Oct 1946"The State's tram, bus and railway services are, generally, in a grave position, the Auditor General (Mr. Swift) warns the State Government in his annual report … The disconcerting feature is the disproportionate increase of working expenses relative to earnings through the years … the number of passengers carried on buses increased, but there was a decrease in tramway travellers.”
17 Apr 1950
16 Apr 1950
"After 50 years and 8 months' service, the Adamstown tramway closed last night when tram No. 252 left the terminus at 11.41 o'clock bound for Gordon avenue depot."
17 Apr 1950
16 Apr 1950
"MR. T. H. GRICE, of Brunker - road, Broadmeadow, 70-year-old former ganger for the Tramways Department, last night fulfilled an ambition when he travelled on the last tram to run from Adamstown to Newcastle before buses took over the route. Mr. Grice retired from the department almost 10 years ago. He was on the first electric tram to operate on this route, on January 2, 1925."