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How Wantage led the way in steam powered passenger transport

26 November 2020

Wantage Tramlines v2

A short walk from Renaissance Wantage, on Mill Street, once stood Wantage Railway Station, the terminus of the Wantage Tramway. The line closed for the last time in 1945 but reminders of the first steam powered passenger tram in the UK can still be seen today such as on the façade of the former head office building in Mill Street. Here is a potted history of a fascinating little branch line.

The Wantage Tramway Company was created in 1875 to carry passengers and goods between Wantage and Wantage Road Station on the Great Western Railway and was in operation for nearly 70 years, being one of the most successful of the few rural lines that operated in England.

To begin with the two horse drawn passenger cars made the regular journey between the two stations. When a Grantham Steam Car was purchased, the tramway made history as the first regular passenger service to use mechanical traction. Every GWR passenger train that stopped at Wantage Road Station, in the village of Grove, was met by a tram to ferry passengers back to Wantage.

The tramway was also able to carry goods between the two stations, made easier by the fact that the tramway was of the standard gauge, so could use ordinary steam locomotives, the first one purchased for £350 in 1878 which soon became known as “Jane”.

To begin with the Wantage Tramway company was a big success, it is thought in large part because it was controlled by local people. Although fares were a little higher than other similar tramways, luggage was carried for free and for a few pence could even be collected or delivered in Wantage.

Unfortunately, all good things must come to an end and in 1924 a bus service was introduced by GWR which led to a decline in revenue of the Wantage Tram Company. The passenger service was closed in favour of continuing the goods service and although trade fell off it picked up again during World War II due to the shortage of petrol.

Other than having to close for three months during the War due to mud on the track, churned up by lorries from the American base at Grove, the Tramway served Wantage for 70 uninterrupted years. It closed permanently in December 1945. “Jane” was auctioned off and shunted from pillar to post over the years.

Finally in 1968 three members of the Great Western Society took an interest in the old steam locomotive and persuaded Wantage Urban District Council to let them move the engine from Wantage Radiation Laboratory at Grove, where she had ended up two years before, to the Society’s depot at Didcot where they restored her. Occasionally in steam at the Didcot Railway Centre, “Jane” is thought to be the oldest working locomotive in existence and will always be remembered with affection by those who travelled on the Wantage Tramway.

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With just a few remaining homes available, Renaissance Wantage, situated on Church Street, a short walk away from the heart of the attractive town, offers great onsite facilities and a place enjoy deepening relationships with neighbours, friends and family. Discover more about the one- and two-bedroom homes. Please call 01235 330168 or email [email protected]. Renaissance are delighted to give purchasers their first five years free of any service charge. Sale prices start from £285,000 | Rental prices start from £1,657 pcm.