Seacombe Railway & The Trams
Opening of the Seacombe Railway
In 1891 the Wirral Railway absorbed the Seacombe, Hoylake and Desside railway and work on a branch terminating at Seacombe ferry commenced in 1893. A formal Agreement was made between the railway company and the Local Board on 3rd August 1893 granting the railway authority to issue through tickets to and from Liverpool landing stage and granting a 33% rebate on the tolls. This was similar to the arrangement reached over a decade earlier at Woodside. Passengers’ luggage was to be conveyed free of charge and the railway company’s servants were to be given all necessary facilities for free travel on the ferry when engaged on the company’s business.
In June 1894, the railway company, which was short of money proposed to build a ‘temporary station’ on the corner of Church Road and Victoria (later Borough) Road so that passengers would have to walk the full length of the ferry approach but assured the Local Board of its intention to extend to the ferry as soon as funds were available. The Wirral Railway Act 1895, to which the 1893 Agreement was attached as a Schedule, set out the scheme in detail. The station was to be built almost on the water’s edge with a 18ft wide covered way between the entrance and the ferry terminal building. In addition, Church Road, part of Birkenhead Road and Victoria Road were to be diverted to permit rail connection with the Dock Board lines in Birkenhead Road with a turntable connection with the lines in the ferry coal yard. Unfortunately, the company was never able to afford to proceed with the scheme and although powers for the extension were renewed twice, they finally lapsed in 1912.
The railway provided a service from West Kirby to Seacombe which was a viable alternative to the route via Birkenhead Park and the Mersey Railway. From 1st May 1898 the trains of the Dee and Birkenhead Railway (later renamed the North Wales & Liverpool Railway and in 1906 the Great Central) from Wrexham ran over the Wirral line from Bidston to Seacombe, again with through bookings and this created a considerable volume of traffic. Inclusive excursions to Caergwrle at one shilling (5p) attracted hundreds of passengers and, even at this low rate, were apparently good business for both ferry and railway.
The railways company continued to exert pressure on the Urban District Council (which replaced the Local Board from 1st January 1895) to gain further concessions on fares and, in May 1896, a 33⅓ discount on through contracts was agreed. Concessions were also made for excursion passengers.
In the summer of 1897 the Wirral Railway inaugurated a train service between Seacombe and New Brighton with through fares from Liverpool, a development which the ferries management had not foreseen but were powerless to prevent as no restriction had been put on the destination of through passengers. The service had mixed success and ran seasonally until 1911 when it was killed off by the extension of Wallasey’s tramways.
The Trams and the Ferries
In 1900 the Urban District Council obtained powers to lay electric tramways in the town and acquired the horse tramway company’s route from 31st March 1901. In March 1902 electric cars started running and two months later cars were running on all three routes all connecting Seacombe with New Brighton. These facilities were much more extensive than those previously provided by horse trams and buses as well as being faster and cheaper. Traffic built rapidly at Seacombe but fell at Egremont as people preferred to ride straight through to the tram terminus rather than break the journey and walk down Tobin Street. The tramways also took their toll of railway traffic and this benefit was shared with the ferries.
Although separate committees controlled the ferries and tramways, it was recognised that close co-operation was essential and from 12th July 1902. Cars on the Seabank Road and Rake Lane services connected with every boat. Once more, there were thoughts of closing Egremont down or selling off both northern ferries but after some public discussion, a half-hourly service from New Brighton, calling at Egremont, requiring two vessels, was provided from 1st December 1902. Requests for an all day 10-minute service from Seacombe and concessions on the trams for New Brighton contract holders were turned down. From 1899, notice of closure of the northern ferries was given by hoisting red balls on chains at both ends of Church Street, Egremont and at Victoria Road (Rowson Street), New Brighton. Flags were flown at the ferry stations. From November, the trams displayed flags on their trolley rope when the northern sailings were suspended – a blue square flag for New Brighton and a red swallow tail flag for Egremont. This practice continued for the life of the tramways and special roller blinds for the purpose were later fitted to the buses which eventually replaced them.