Tram Sheds

Johannesburg’s population grew so rapidly after the discovery of gold that public transport soon became a matter of urgency. A bitter struggle developed, however, between the gold mining companies who needed supplies rapidly and in large quantities, and the Boer government who wished to protect Boer transport riders who hauled ox wagons as their livelihood. President Kruger eventually persuaded his Volksraad to assist the ‘diggers’ and to grant a concession for a horse-drawn tram system. Meant only to be used to transport coal, the horse-drawn trams quickly became a passenger service. Kruger refused, however, to approve an application for an electric tram system.

After the South African War, the new British administration set out to create a modern and efficient city. They granted the City a concession to operate electric trams. By 1906, the President Street Power Station was built to generate electricity for this service. The first double-decker tramcars ran on 14 February 1906.

Tram sheds were built on the south east corner of the Electrical Precinct in 1906 and 1907. Quarters for white single tramway employees were also built adjacent to the Lighting Works. In 1911, trade unionist Mary Fitzgerald led a group of women to lie down on the tracks bringing the tram system to a halt.
Increasingly seen as unsafe and incompatible with the City’s growing automobile population, trams were replaced with trolley busses from 1954 onwards. The last trams ran in March 1961.

The South African Reserve Bank stands on the site of the old tram sheds today. The building was designed by Floris Smith & Meyer Pienaar Architects and Urban Designers and was completed in 1996. It served a role of keeping Newtown alive at a time when it was starved of new development.

Did You Know?

Did you know that in 1893 brickmaking was the third largest industry in the Transvaal after mining and farming? The brickmakers rented land from the government and made their bricks from the clay which was found in Newtown.