London's tram system - or more rather the combined operations of its municipal and company operators, was contending with rumbles of public and political discontent by the late 1920s. London County Council together with contiguous municipal systems viz : East Ham, West Ham, Croydon, Walthamstow, Barking, Erith had by far the larger number of trams in the capital. For the most part the LCC approach to trams was very much tried and tested with a standardised design emergent before the Great War being applied to successive delivered with more or less inconsequential tweaks. This resulted in the capital's streets being dominated by more or less obsolescent designs by the early 1930s. However the interests of London United Tramways, Metropolitan Tramways, and the South Metropolitan companies - working within a corporate conglomerate, were still very much a major force in several areas; notably the western and northern suburbs. The combine determined to impose a new order on its important trunk routes.
Introduction of trolleybuses by London United for some of its routes around Kingston on Thames with the new 'Diddlers' was a foretaste of things to come. But in the meantime both the companies (and the LCC) determined that initiatives should be taken to improve on the quality of their respective tram fleets. As things turned out it was the private sector which made the biggest impact with commissioning a hundred strong fleet of superlative four axle cars following trials with three experimental versions from 1929. The trials were preceded by two prototypes nicknamed 'Bluebell' and 'Poppy', which tested out new double deck trams - not necessarily with a positive outcome. The driver of 'Bluebell' was crushed in his cab after the tram's braking systems failed on Barnet Hill within a short time after entering service. Nevertheless orders were subsequently placed for a trio of prototypes incorporating the best innovative features of the time.
A production run of 100 new cars were ordered on behalf of London United and
Metropolitan Tramways - with the order being almost equally split between them.
The so-called 'Felthams' would become the final design of trams for London - with one exception. The trio of trial cars included one example with a centre entrance design - quite different from the two sister cars and definitely not fitting in with London's familiar end platform boarding and alighting. Metropolitan Tramways 331 was a direct 'descendant' from New York's 'Broadway Battleship' 6000 of 1913 (see previous blog) in styling approach (albeit on a more advanced level). As an odd man out in London's entire tram fleets - it was not destined to have a long working life. It would find favour in Sunderland (like Blackpool) where centre entrance trams were far more welcome; being sold to that operator in 1937.
Construction features of 331 were of interest to English Electric which was already engaged in developing its own centre entrance designs in Preston - and some features would be licensed to EE by the MET and LUT - who shouldered the design costs of the 'Feltham' class arising from the three trial cars 320, 330 and 331.
Fortunately 331 would be saved by the initiative of Jay Fowler - a leading principal in the founding days of the LRTL. Left : It would later undergo total renovation at the National Tramway Museum - and is now a star exhibit. The extended driver cabs at both ends - hark back to the Broadway Battleship (6000). All the Felthams had similar features. One example has been kept by the London Transport Museum. A less fortunate Feltham was acquired by the Seashore Trolley Museum after closure of the Leeds system in 1959 - the majority of Felthams had a second life in Leeds after withdrawal by London Transport.