Friday, April 28, 2006

Wanchai's Peak Tram

I am really rather fond of Wanchai, mainly because I used to live there, and would often go for great walks from around Hopewell, up the steep incline that is Wanchai Gap Road. Passing the resting point on Bowen Road, I would keep walking up the vertiginous, verdant valleyway (yes I saw V for Vendetta recently) until I arrived at the Wanchai Gap (nearby incidentally is the very interesting Police Museum, which among other things demonstrates how to build a heroin still). How I would envy those living in this area, on Coombe Road or on the opposite ridge.

Heading due south would take me to the far end of the island, to the Aberdeen reservoir. But normally I would cross the road and then take an immediate left onto Black's Link, that wonderful path that affords spectacular views both of the city and of the residences and Ocean Park to the south. I would end up by Wong Nai Chung Gap, which by the way, since last August, has had a wonderfully signposted memorial walk indicating notable points of the World War II battlefield (you'll find it right next to the entrance to Parkview).

I only discovered today, though, that at one point in the 1920s, the Colonial Administration was actually considering building another funicular right up Wanchai Gap Road to make room for more European settlers of 'moderate means'; in other words, those being squeezed out of existing areas by the skyrocketing Chinese population. Allow me to quote the November 14th, 1921 minutes of the Legco meeting:
MR. H.E. POLLOCK: As regards the projected tramway to Wanchai Gap, the unofficial members would suggest that the question be gone into as to whether it would not be preferable to carry up such tramway (a little to the East of Wanchai Gap) almost up to the top of Mount Cameron [i.e. up Black's Link- Ed.] as it would seem possible that, with branch roads (ricksha roads) at intervals from the stations on such tramway, an increase could be made in sites available for building at different levels on Mount Cameron, the first station from the bottom being on Black's Link, the second and third at different levels above that, and the fourth station being at the top of the Tramway. It may also be pointed out, if it be suggested that the time is hardly ripe for such a tramway, that the tramway would take some time to construct and furthermore that, when the present Peak Tramway was opened in May, 1888, there were then only about a dozen houses in the Peak District and half a dozen houses in the Magazine Gap District. Moreover a tram is obviously the only feasible means of approach enabling those of moderate means to reside in the Mount Cameron District and is also indispensable for the transport of provisions and other necessaries.
It has to be remembered that the connecting road between Stubbs Road and Peak Road did not exist - indeed, the Peak Road did not exist at all (hence why the way up then called Peak Road is called 'Old Peak Road' today), and the Governor of the day Sir Reginald Edward Stubbs, had not yet completed the road that would be named after him.

I believe that the reason this tramway was never built was due to lack of funds, with the economic depression and the strikes of 1922 and 1925 with its unrest causing the Colonial Government to cancel nonessential projects such as this. Particularly since this project's aim was clearly to create a second European enclave that would further cement division between British and Chinese residents. Even though the roads such as Stubbs Road and Peak Road were more difficult to build and more expensive, the Government ultimately opted for the option that would serve a wider variety of purposes (including access to the Peak) and not to build many more houses in the Mount Cameron area. Today, you can still see the magnificent houses on Mount Cameron, particularly when walking up from the Aberdeen Valley, but it never became as settled as Victoria Peak.

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