Wessex Waterway

Restoring for the Future

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The Wantage Tramway
      The coming of the railways heralded the beginning of their competition with the canals for freight, and to a much lesser extent passengers, with the canal companies.  In the early days the two managed to co-exist, but as railway technology improved and routes expanded the viability of canal transport decreased.  Wantage initially had no railway station in the town; Wantage Road was two miles distance.  But this was finally rectified to some extent when the Wantage Tramway was built.
      This Tramway was two miles long and carried passengers and freight between the Berkshire (now Oxfordshire) town and Wantage Road Station on the Great Western Main Line.  Formed in 1873 to link Wantage Road station with its terminus at Mill Street, the line was cheaply built parallel to what was then the Besselsleigh Turnpike, and is now the A338.
      The line was opened for goods on 1st October 1875, and to passengers on 11th October.  The tramway junction was to the east of Wantage Road station; passengers from the main line walked under the bridge to reach the tramway yard, where the westernmost siding (parallel to the road) was reserved for passenger tramcars.
       It was built as a standard gauge line, and was, at first, run using horse drawn rolling stock  The line adopted mechanical traction when a steam-powered tramcar, designed by John Grantham, entered regular service on 1st August 1876.

Grove Bridge carried the turnpike road.
In 1873 a second girder bridge was built to take the Wantage tramway line.
The Canal Company charged £100 for the right to cross the canal.
      For most of its operation the line was well used and profitable but the advent of efficient road transport saw a steady decline in passengers and freight.  Trade fell off considerably during the 1930′s.  It picked up again during the Second world war due to the shortage of petrol, but the line had to close between November 1943 and February 1944 because of mud on the track, churned up by lorries from the American base at Grove.
Tram approaching Grove Bridge

     The line remained independent throughout its existence, and its range of unusual and often outdated equipment attracted attention from railway historians.  It ultimately closed after the track was damaged by heavy lorries during the Second World War, by which time repair would have been unaffordable.  The tramway was closed to passengers on 1st August 1925, and to goods on 22nd December 1945.