Above: View looking east along Jamaica Road which has since been re-aligned.
“A Moment in Time”
To paraphrase a well known expression “Yes, its Jamaica Road but not as we know it”. The problem with old photos of Jamaica Road is that in the 1960s a large section of the road was completely realigned and, at the same time, widened into a dual-carriageway. So, even if you know Jamaica Road really well, relating anything on the old photograph to what there is now is virtually impossible.
Just a very few of the old terraces of houses lining the original road remain standing. Most of them were swept away of necessity because of the realignment which took several years to complete.
So, what can we glean from the photograph? Well, needless to say, its still a wonderful view and probably relates to some time before the Second World War, probably pre-1920s because the caption on the card shows ‘SE’ as the post code. Soon after 1920 numbers were added to the post codes and this one would have been SE1 or SE 17. The old Jamaica Road (if we can use that expression to distinguish between what was there before the 1960s and the Jamaica Road of today) had several churches standing beside it but there are very few pictures of them. We therefore have to rely on geography to work out what we are looking at. Most of the old Jamaica Road had horrendous bends apart from the length that is now close to Bermondsey Station. It is probably that part that we are looking at and the view seems to look east.
In the distance is a church tower but, as has just been pointed out, photographs of these churches do not exist. The tram takes ‘centre stage’. It has just left the tram stop (seen on the left of the view) and the destination board states ‘Creek Bridge Deptford’. This means that its route was along old Jamaica Road, down Lower Road and Evelyn Street, before ending at Creek Bridge, near the north end of Deptford High Street.
As was common right up to and sometimes even after the Second World War, the horse and cart was often to be seen on London’s streets. This one appears to be empty but it is typical of one that might have carried beer barrels of something similar. The tram is passing a covered wagon, sometimes called a ‘van’ which is also horse-drawn and is parked beside the road. Another two-wheeled cart is to be seen parked by the road in the distance.
The cyclist is coming towards the camera, its owner carefully avoiding the tram lines which, if your wheels got stuck in one, it was quite hard to turn out of. Trams in this part of London had no overhead electric pantograph but picked up electric power from a ‘third rail’ between the two lines that the tram wheels ran on. The electric power was concealed under the central rail – for safety reasons.
Dating the Old Photograph
Pat Dennison has thoughts on dating the photograph from information that he has researched about the the tram.
Tram number 1410 is an E1 class, this batch of 200 trams, numbers 1227 to 1426 were built by Hurst, Nelson and Company in 1910. They were equipped with trolley poles for the overhead wires (London trams were not equipped with pantographs) or supplied with ploughs for the conduit system which ran in the slot between the running rails.
Large numbers of trams were equipped with both to enable them to work on either power supply system. Changeover pits were used to slide in or remove the plough when the supply went from overhead wires to the conduit system.
The electrified line from Rotherhithe to the west side of Creek Road Bridge was opened on 22 June 1911 and from the east side of Creek Road Bridge to Greenwich Church on 5 August 1911. There is no route number visible on this tram, just a destination blind and the three coloured lights for night indication. This photograph was most probably taken before the 1 January 1913 when route numbers were introduced. It would seem to be between August 1911 and January 1913. By 1924 there was route 68 (Greenwich Church to Waterloo Station) and route 70 (Greenwich Church to London Bridge Station).
Above: This part of Jamaica Road was widened in the 1960s but some of the houses along its length remain from the time of the trams. Canary Wharf Tower is seen on the skyline and Bermondsey Underground Station can be seen on the right. It is not possible to know if this was the point at which the old picture was taken but it is a likely spot.
Above: Small scale map showing today’s Jamaica Road (in red) and the original alignment (in yellow) before reconstruction and widening in the 1960s.
With pictures like the one at the top of this article, it is always interesting to return to the scene and retake the view as it is today. It is certainly ‘a moment in time’ but, unfortunately, no identical view can be offered due to the considerable rebuilding that has taken place in the 1960s.