Although the residents of Wantage may be used to catching a bus to wherever they need to go, as recently as 80 years ago, they were taking a tram to Wantage Road Station, alongside what is now the A338. Roadside tramways were common for other parts of Europe, but were unusual for the UK, making the tramway of interest to railway historians.

Remnants of the former head office building can still be seen in the town centre, above the shopfront for West property consultancy on Mill Street. The brick façade reads: Wantage Tramway Co Ltd 1904. This once was Mill Street terminus and was Wantage’s link to the Great Western mainline.

The tramline underwent many changes over its 70 year duration, including its colour. Trailers were originally brown and cream but are believed to have transitioned to olive green in the early 1900s. More significantly, the tram began as horse-drawn passenger cars but when the company bought a Grantham Steam car for £350, it became the first passenger service to use mechanical traction.

Apart from an intermission during the Second World War, the service transported goods for over 70 years, from 1875 to 1945. This journey began with its cheap construction under the 1870 tramways act. It was created to transport passengers and goods between Mill Street and Wantage Road Station, around a 4km route. The fares were higher than other similar connecting tramways. However, luggage was carried for free, then collected/delivered in Wantage for only a few pence. Unfortunately, it was forced to close for passenger service in 1925, due to the growing popularity of cars but it served the town in transporting goods for another 20 years. During this time, the Second World War began, which eventually led to the permanent closure of the line. Lorries from the local military base in Grove churned up mud which impeded the tram’s movement so the service was forced to close for several months. Despite the intention of continuing, the tramway wasn’t able to fully recover and closed on December 21st 1945.

That wasn’t quite the line’s last hurrah though. After vital repairs, Engine No5 was steamed and operated once more in October 1969. After this outing, large cracks were discovered in the firebox were discovered so it has since been retired. If you want to look further into this historic tram, said engine has been preserved and is on display at Didcot Railway Centre.