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Witton Lane Tramway Depot, Birmingham

Description: Witton Lane Tramway Depot

Grade: II
Date Listed: 4 April 2012
English Heritage Building ID: 1405550

OS Grid Reference: SP0788090418
OS Grid Coordinates: 407880, 290418
Latitude/Longitude: 52.5116, -1.8853

Locality: Birmingham
County: Birmingham
Country: England
Postcode: B6 6RA

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Listing Text


A tram depot, initially built in 1882 for the borough of Aston Manor to house steam tram carriages, and then extensively altered in 1904 and converted to house double-decker electric trams.

Reason for Listing

The Witton Lane Tramway Depot, a steam tram depot of 1882, later altered for electric trams in 1904-6, is designated at Grade II for the following principal reasons:
* Intactness: despite some losses due to wartime damage and replacement of cladding, the plan and functioning of the building are clearly evident due to the considerable amount of original material and fittings which survive.
* Architectural: the building has a well-designed façade onto Witton Lane which shows the civic pride in this form of transport at the time.
* Context: the style and scale of the tram depot match well with several other municipal buildings in Aston which are now listed. The borough was separate from Birmingham City, at this time, and mindful of its independent status.


The building was erected in 1882 and was the first purpose-built tram depot in the Birmingham area. It was initially designed for the borough of Aston, which did not become part of the administrative City of Birmingham until 1911. Initially the trams consisted of steam-powered engines which pulled carriages. The depot for steam trams housed the engines in a lower, joined building to the north and the carriages in the larger building to the south.

In 1904 the tramways were converted to electric power and the new, double-decker tramcars meant that the lower engine shed to the north was no longer used. It was sold off and has since been converted to other use. The southern shed, alone, became the depot and is the subject of the present application. A new roof, of shallower pitch was added to the west end of this southern shed, presumably to accommodate the greater height created by the overhead cables. George Trentham was awarded the contract to rebuild the tram shed and the present facade, facing Witton Lane, was built at this time, but the rear wall, facing onto Manor Lane, appears to have been left unchanged. The conversion to electricity was apparently phased, with full completion by the end of 1906.

A low, gabled building of five bays appears to have been added at the south-east corner in the early years of the C20. The depot building suffered bomb damage in the 1940s, when the central part of the south wall and the central roof were destroyed and then patched using corrugated metal.

The building continued to operate as a depot until 1949 and was then used to store and dismantle trams until 1953, thus making it the tram depot in longest use within the city. Towards the end of the C20 the building was used as a car showroom and in the 1980s the roof covering was entirely replaced with corrugated metal sheets and the central walling on the south side was also replaced with this material. At the end of the C20 and start of the C21 the building has been used as the home of the Aston Manor Transport Museum.


MATERIALS: the building is of red brick laid in English bond to the street fronts facing Witton Lane and Manor Road, with blue brick and ashlar dressings and diapering, and a corrugated metal roof.

PLAN: the building has four entrances facing onto Witton Lane, which allow access for six sets of tram lines. The site slopes slightly downhill towards the east and was initially designed for garaging and repair of tram carriages. Steam trams would uncouple their carriages from the engines at the western end of the carriage shed. The carriages would then roll back towards the rear of the shed, where large internal buttresses appear to mark where the buffers were originally positioned. The engines were then garaged in a separate engine shed to the north. Inspection pits for maintenance and repair of carriages originally ran almost the whole length of the depot, between the rails, but these were infilled in the 1950s.

EXTERIOR: the front to Witton Lane has four bays, grouped under a large, shaped gable. These are divided by piers with recessed panels. The four doorways have cambered heads with blue brick dressings to the foot of the wall and the arch heads. The shaped gable has an ashlar moulding to the top. Set at the centre of the gable is a large stone plaque with a brick surround, which records ‘BOROUGH OF ASTON MANOR / TRAMWAYS DEPÔT’. The north side of the depot is abutted by the former engine shed, which does not form part of this item. The south flank has walling of random bond brick, which has been partially colourwashed. To the centre is a portion of corrugated metal walling, built in the 1950s and recovered in the 1980s. At the eastern end the lower roof line appears to indicate the original ridge height for the whole shed before electrification of the tramways. To the south of this lower portion is the gabled building which appears to be an addition of the early-C20, and at west of this is a lean-to block added in the late-C20 and housing lavatories for the museum. The rear, facing onto Manor Road, has red brick walling with decorative horizontal bands of blue brick diapering. There are two pedestrian doors to the lower walling and a group of three windows to the top, at the centre, set in brickwork which has been rebuilt.

INTERIOR: the eastern end of the shed appears to have five of the original pattern of metal trusses, which are of cast iron with tie rods. These spring from stone corbels set near to the top of internal buttresses. Other trusses to the west of this are plainer and appear to date from two distinct periods. Most probably date to when electrification was introduced in 1904 and led to a raising of the height of the roof, with the remainder dating to the 1940s, following bomb damage. An internal buttress at the west end with corbel confirms that the configuration of the roof seen at the eastern end originally extended throughout the whole of the depot shed. Suspended from these trusses are insulated brackets with wire guards (although the power cables have now been removed). At the eastern end a short stretch of inspection pit between the tracks has been excavated for reuse. The metal tram tracks and the square stone setts into which they are mounted are original, and the eastern wall has large internal buttresses which apparently mark the site of the buffers which originally halted the lines of carriages.

Source: English Heritage

Listed building text is © Crown Copyright. Reproduced under licence.