Meet 93 year old Ben Ventham, the last surviving Southampton tram driver.

Ben was born in 1926 and spent a lifetime working on the trams and buses in Southampton.

Although known as Ben his name is in fact Arthur.

As a young man he was a Petty Officer in the Navy and lived in Southampton during the preparations for D-Day.

He was later deployed to the Far East for fifteen months before joining the 14th Battalion of the Parachute Regiment.

Upon his return to Southampton, Ben got a job as a tram driver, but only having first passed his medical in Oxford Street.

Ben’s aunt and uncle in-law, Stanley and Sheila Lovegrove, worked for Southampton Corporation Tramways, and so Ben thought he would apply to work there too. Ben is particularly proud of Sheila who was a tram conductor during both World Wars as well as a tram driver.

Daily Echo:

According to the Daily Echo’s article entitled Buses kept on rolling bullet holes and all, by Guy Fleming, during the second world war “it was not uncommon to see trams and buses with bullet or shrapnel holes – or even with windows blown out and repaired with canvas”.

By 1945, Southampton was recovering from the bombing raids and blasts, and life for Sotonians was starting to get back to normal.

“To become a tram driver you had to gain experience as a tram conductor, practice 24 hours on your own time with a qualified driver, and then go up to Shirley to see a man called Burt Wheeler, who would test you to see if you were fit to drive”, Ben explains.

Burt Wheeler obviously thought Ben was fit and so his life as a tram driver began.

In 1946 Ben was on £2 17s 3d per week - £2.86p in today’s money.

He happily drove trams No 11 and 12, on the different routes, 6 days a week, 8 hours a day. Tram No 11 is still in Southampton, and a second tram can be seen at the National Tramway Museum located in Crich, Derbyshire.

The main tram depot was in Portswood Road at the time, and the other depot in Carlisle Road, Shirley.

The work atmosphere and camaraderie were good - the only problem being the bitter cold.

Ben described how cold drivers would get, and reminisced about “putting on more layers and using newspaper sheets” under his vest.

In the winter Ben wore a uniform jacket, hat, cape, and gauntlets.

Southampton Corporation Tramways operated from 1879 to 1949, at first with horse-drawn trams and then from 1900 onwards they were electric powered.

Daily Echo:

Ben drove trams for the last four years of their operation until 1949 when the trams were either sold off or scrapped. The graveyard for the scrapped trams was in Bevois valley.

After that, Ben and his colleagues were transferred on to the buses.

His bus route was: Houndwell, Woolston, Bitterne, city centre, Hill Lane, hospital and Shirley. It took him approximately 1.5 hours to complete it, as there was no Itchen Bridge then only the floating bridge which was unsuitable for buses.

He often drove the Royal Pier – Shirley - Royal Pier route. One of these pictures shows him and fellow driver Tex taking a break at the Royal Pier.

Daily Echo:

The last tram through the Bargate in 1938

Ben later became a regulator, making sure buses were running on time. He also enjoyed roles as a ticket inspector, a relief inspector and a depot inspector.

He would oversee the driver’s weekly payment - flat rate, paid cash in a brown envelope with a pay slip. Under Ben’s watchful eye, all drivers would receive extra remuneration for overtime.

By 1964 Southampton gained city status, and the bus network became the City of Southampton Transport Department.

After a career spanning 38 years Ben finally retired from the buses.

Although he loved it, Ben admits that trams were more fun to drive!

Katie Belo Dos Santos is a tour guide with .