The eight metre length of steel tram rail was recovered by Shield Environmental contracted for the demolition phase of the former Kier Construction offices in Millbay to make way for the construction of Plymouth’s long awaited £20million “boulevard”.
Believed to be dated back to the 1900 the tram rail once part of Plymouth Corporation’s network of tramways, served another purpose for over half a century. It was recovered from a joinery workshop, situated between Bath Street and Martin Street, where it had been built-in prior to 1945. The length of rail spanned across the joiners shop at about 2.5 metres above the floor, and was used in the process of staircase manufacture.
John Netherton, volunteer and director of Plym Valley Railway (PVR), where the tram rail is now sited, worked in the joiners shop from 1955 until his retirement in 2004. He approached Shield Environmental, who were more than happy to help retain an item of historical interest. As well as donating the rail, Shield also transported it to PVR’s site at Coypool Road, Plympton.
Mr Netherton, said: “It (the tram rail) was used in the process of ‘wedging up staircases’ where a low platform was created just off floor level.
“The stairs were assembled on their side and props driven in the keep the staircase held together and stair wedges glued and driven in to the underside of the treads and risers.
“The tram rail is still almost as good as new and not a bit like the rusty ones which become unearthed from time to time on redevelopment sites in the city.”
Frank Smalley, Shield Environmental demolition director, said: “I received a call from John saying about the rail asking if it was still on site. He caught it just time before the scrap bin”
“This was the start of an interest in what could be the last piece left in Plymouth”
“It was nice to be able to retain something of historical interest in Plymouth.”
Preserving a piece of Plymouth’s history, the tram rail, cut down to around six metres for transportation, will go on display together with other examples of former methods of transport, at PVR.
Visit www.plymrail.co.uk for details of PVR, run entirely by volunteers, founded in 1980 to restoring part of the ex-Great Western branch line from Plymouth to Tavistock that was closed in 1962.