Policing the Weymouth Tramway

by Keith Fleetwood

The Weymouth Tramway opened on the 16th Oct 1865. Initially it was goods traffic only and was drawn to and from the quay by horsepower. Most of the traffic was potatoes and other crops from the Channel Islands to the mainland as well as mail in both directions.

In the late 1870s, with additional heavy traffic there was a need to use steam locomotives to pull the wagons. On the 7th June 1880, the “Great Western Railway Regulations for working the Weymouth Tramway with Locomotive Engine” were brought into force. These stipulated that engines passing over the Tramway must always be accompanied by a Policeman in uniform and laid down the manner in which he should carry out his escort.

The majority of the boats that used the council owned Weymouth Quay were GWR steamers to the Channel Islands. The first passenger trains passed over the tramway on Sunday 4th Aug 1889. And even though the Police escorted some of the early passenger trains, regular Police escorts were not brought in until the build up of car traffic made it necessary. Dorset Police did this duty at first as they were reluctant to agree to the railway Police to deal with the tramway where it ran over public roads. It was later agreed that BTP should have specific responsibility for the trains on the Tramway and the prosecution of offenders. This was certainly so by May 1963. Originally, the duty was carried out by the BTP Police officer riding a bicycle.  Then from 1974 came the use of a car with a removable blue light.  For a time, between 1976 and 1977 the car was fitted with a roof board warning “Caution Boat Train”.

Four passenger trains ran every day (two in each direction) plus special trains and oil trains to refuel the boats. On one occasion – at four in the morning, a car transporter train was shunted in. It was twice the length of anything ever attempted previously and took some clever shunting and a new ramp to make it work. Although it was a successful operation it was not repeated.

One consequence of the continued use of a motor vehicle over such a distance each day, travelling at four miles an hour, was that the Police cars were always experiencing gearbox problems. In the late 1970s one new vehicle had three gearboxes in the first twelve months of use. This later resulted in the force ordering the first BTP Police vehicle to be fitted with an automatic gearbox. (Typically for the day though, it was ordered for Weymouth and then allocated somewhere else!) The train movements were also covered on one occasion in the early 1980s by Pc Graham Hockley, a BTP Police motorcyclist from Southampton Docks who rode his new motorcycle to Weymouth for the Tramway duty ‘in order to help run it in!’

About 300 offences of vehicles obstructing the tramway were prosecuted every year in court. As well as a fi ne, each case also attracted an application for a ‘tow-away’ cost.

The Police post was located at Weymouth Railway Station with a compliment of five Constables, one Detective Constable and one Sergeant in charge.  The costs of these officers were met by Sealink, the cross channel ferry operator, with British Rail element of the funding meeting the costs of just one of the Constables.  The post regularly called for duties to be carried out on the ferries as well as at Jersey, Guernsey and Cherbourg.  During some of the booze-cruises of the late 1970s and early 1980s, officers often performed duties in uniform on the quayside in Cherbourg long before any of the modern day agreements and legislation, and all with the blessing of the Gendarmerie, before any of the modern day agreements and legislation. On one occasion the Orient Express was escorted to the quay.

The Weymouth BTP Police post closed on the 1st of March 1987 and its officers were relocated to Bournemouth. At the time there were four Constables, Pc Alan Smith, Pc Malcolm Graham, Pc Jim Johnson and Pc Andy Pavitt: one Detective Constable, Dc Mansell Hopkins who took early retirement, and the Uniform Sergeant, Ps Keith Fleetwood, who moved to Bournemouth and later promoted to Inspector at Waterloo.