History of Wallasey Tramways

Wallasey Horse Tramways

Part Two

The Wallasey Tramways Act. 1887

Aimed at regularising bus operation, this Act gave the Local Board the power to authorise and approve routes and fare scales. In practice it spelt the end of competition along Seabank Road, the Board vesting the future of the route solely in the Seacombe and New Brighton Company. With this new monopoly, the Busbys' abandoned their plans for steam trains. They also decided not to proceed with the extension to Wellington Road, even though the Board had dropped their opposition and powers for the line were embodied in the Act. High operating costs were quoted as the reason, 55% of all receipts (0r 6½d per car mile) being spent on the horses. Drivers and other staff cost 9% or 1d per car mile; traffic expenses 17% (2d) and repairs and maintenance 19% (2½d). Total expenditure was 1s per mile run or 75% of gross receipts which amounted to about 1s 4d per mile run; this left a dangerously small profit margin, restricting dividends and limited investment and capital expenditure.

The Act acknowledged that powers for the Church Road/Borough Road line and the Upper Brighton loop had lapsed. It also paved the way for the merger of the Busbys' Wallasey interests into the Wallasey United Tramway and Omnibus Co. Ltd, which was incorporated on 20 April 1888 with a nominal capital of £40,000 dividend into £10 shares. The Secretary was William Knox and the registered office at 6 Lord Street, Liverpool. The eight shareholders were William Busby and Messrs. Carson, Russell Lee, Sheraton. Wright, Gill, Moresy and Knox. The final amalgamation did not take place until 8 May 1891 two months after the Wallasey Tramways Company had become limited. The Seacombe and New Brighton Company was wound up on 2 February 1892 although the title was to be revived in 1901. From May 1891 buses and trams carried the United title and crest.

Gardiner's business including his horse buses was taken over some time in 1889. Older residents referred to his buses as "Gardiner's originals". The stables in Holland Road were sold for building land.

By 1888 the Tramways Company had hit an all time low. With the track in Rowson Street declared unsafe, the cars were cut back to Mount Pleasant Road, the length to Field Road being used only for depot journeys. Prompted by local residents who objected to the new terminal arrangements, the Board accused the Company of causing an obstruction by parking illegally. Receiving no satisfaction they threatened legal proceedings in December warning the Company that as they had ceased operating to Field Road for over three months they could seize their assets without compensation. Proceedings were started on 8 January 1889 but, suitably chastened the Company relaid the track from Mount Pleasant Road to the depot entrance but excluding the terminal spur in Rowson Street. They also relaid several passing loops.

Both ferries and trams had suffered from the opening of the railway. By 30 June 1890 the fleet had been reduced to five licensed cars and 46 horses. During the year they had carried 609,544 passengers, run 143, 784 miles and earned £4,994. Expenditure totaled £4,101 giving a small profit of only £843 which forced the directors to cut maintenance to minimum. Only £168 was spent on the permanent way as opposed to £1,282 on animal upkeep and fodder, £1,264 on wages, new horses £361, car repairs £261 and management £300.

Matters improved with the absorption of the Tramways Company into the United Company in May 1891. The Rowson Street spur was relaid in February 1892 although the Company blamed the poor weather for its failure to renew cracked paving.

In contrast, the buses were going from strength to strength, offering a 15 min service on Seabank Road between 8am and 10.30pm at a through fare of 2d. However, shortly after the foundation of the United Company, the Board using their powers embodied in the 1887 Act banned all buses from descending Rowson Street, the route being permanently curtailed at Molyneux Drive. Sometime after 1891 the network was expanded with the introduction of a route from the corner of Mount Pleasant Road to Seacombe via Sandrock Road, Penkett Road, Stringhey Road, King Street, Brighton Street and the lower part of Borough Road. Believed to have operated only at peak times, this route may have well have been started by Gardiner. During its life the route varied - Serpentine Road, Liscard Road and Borough Road. It is possible that this was an entirely separate short-lived service. By 1892 the buses appeared in the tram livery of maroon and cream lined out in black with the Company title and destinations in white lettering.

The decade 1891-1901 marked a period of extraordinary population growth in Wallasey from 33,000 to 53,000. Other events included the replacement of the Local Board by an Urban District Council (1894), the opening of the Wirral Railway branch to Seacombe (1895) and the start of "The Dodger" a purely local rail service between Seacombe and New Brighton; the erection of the Tower (1897 - 1900) which at 621ft (higher than Blackpool) dominated the whole Mersey Estuary. The commissioning of the Council's electricity generating station (1897) and the decision to acquire and electrify the tramways operated by the United Company (1896) were to lead to a hard fought legal battle.

Milnes Double Decker 1893Determined to capture some of the potential new traffic, the Company revitalised the tramway by purchasing seven double-ended double deck two-horse cars from G.F Milnes in 1893. With a 6ft wheelbase the cars had improved springing and stairs, and integral decency boards. With six windows per side, they offered accommodation for 16 upstairs on reversible garden type seats and 18 downstairs on longitudinal seats provided with seat carpets or cushions. The original fleet numbers are unknown but by 1901 they carried the Nos. 6, 7, 10-14. Most of the older cars were withdrawn except for two Eades cars retained for standby duties and possibly one singe-decker for Sunday working. To improve riding conditions, the Company undertook cosmetic improvements to the track and paving. They may have reduced the through fare to 2d.

During the building of Seacombe and Egremont railway station (1894), the lower part of Church Road was reconstructed and a double track installed reviving the former St. Paul's Church loop abandoned in 1885. At the same time it is thought the loop in Brighton Street opposite Nelson Street was lifted.

In 1896 the Council declared their interest in converting the Rake Lane tram route and the Seabank Road bus route to electric tram operation. They requested W.H Travers, the District Engineer and Surveyor, to relay the existing route with rail suitable for heavier electric cars.

Anxious to retain control of the town's transport, the directors of the United Company including Russell Lee, the Chairman, William Busby and J.A.S Hasaal, the Secretary who had succeeded Knox, met the representatives of the U.D.C. After a year's deliberation they offered on 3 February 1897 to improve travel facilities by :-

1. Laying down a tramway from Egremont to Molyneux Drive where it would link up with the existing route.
2. Seeking powers to move the tramway carriages by electricity.
3. Suggesting that the U.D.C provide the Company with electricity from their generating station.
4. Inserting certain powers in a Provisional Order to be applied for by the Company.
5. Constructing a tramway along Borough Road and Liscard Road at a later date.

Later they added a line from Seacombe to Wallasey Village via Poulton Road and Breck Road. The company offered to rent any new lines at 6% per annum of a previously agreed sum. They recognised that road widening would have to be undertaken in King Street and in Seabank Road between Trafalgar Road and Maddock Road. Receiving no positive reply the U.D.C, they announced their intention of applying for powers to lay the Seabank Road tramway in 1898.

The Council declared their outright opposition, announcing their intention to acquire the United Company and electrify the tramway for the benefit of the ratepayers. The first meeting of the Council's newly formed Tramways Committee was held on 12 May 1898 under the chairmanship of Mr. W.G Ellery. They approved Travers' track plans for three routes (Rake Lane, Seabank Road and a new line linking Seacombe with New Brighton via Warren Drive) and recommended the preparation of a detailed Parliamentary submission. Presented on 10 October 1898, it was opposed by the Wirral Railway, the Mersey Docks and Harbour Board and the New Brighton Pier Company.

May Day 1900The Wirral Railway realised tramway electrification was a considerable threat, and accused the U.D.C of deliberately damagingtheir interests. They objected to the use of heavy vehicles over their railway bridge, but mainly they feared a loss of revenue. In an arrangement with the Ferry Department they received 7d from every 9d return ticket issued to people traveling from Liverpool to Harrison Drive via Seacombe Ferry as well as ½d for every railway passenger using the boats. In the summer "The Dodger" did some good business transporting hundreds from the beaches to Seacombe, especially when extremely low tides prevented the boats from landing in New Brighton. The Pier Company argued that the trams would encourage exploration of other parts of the town, whilst the Dock Board was determined to squash any consideration of any consideration of an inter-town link between Wallasey and Birkenhead. The objections were unsuccessful and the various proposals were embodied in the Wallasey Tramways and Improvements Act 1899 which gave the UDC powers to operate electric trams.

There then followed a complex legal wrangle as the UDC sought to implement the powers. They wanted to serve notice to purchase the tramway side of the United Company under the provision of the 1870 Tramway Act, which have local authorities power to acquire a tramway undertaking after 21 years and thereafter every seven years. The Company maintained that the special purchase provisions of the Wallasey Tramway Act 1878 superseded the general provision of the 1870 Act and, therefore, not having exercised its option within 15 years, the UDC had forfeited its right of compulsory purchase. Events proceeded as follows :-

6 June
The UDC applied to the Board Of Trade under section 43 of the Tramways Act 1870 for approval to serve notice on the United Company requiring them to sell their undertaking.
7 July
Approved received.
20 July
Council resolved to issue Notice to Purchase as above and this was served on the Company on 17 August.
18 August
Company obtained injunction claiming Council was not entitled to purchase.
6 September
Company refused to accept arbitration and denied ever having discussed a purchase prior with the Council.
25 October
Company obtained interim injunction restraining the Council from asking the Board Of Trade to appoint a Referee to adjudicate on the acquisition of the tramways undertaking and on 8 November this was extended until date of trial.
16 November
Injunction discharged and Council's act deemed to be legal.
4 January
Company appealed to the House Of Lords
13 December
Lords found in favour of the Council. Parties subsequently appealed before the Referee, Sir Frederick J. Bramwell at the Surveyors' Institute, Westminster and undertaking valued at £20,500
30 March
Company transferred undertaking to Council at midnight.

Milnes Car 1901The company's final timetable (that of 1901) required seven cars on Rake Lane, ten buses on Seabank Road including extras at peak hours, and one bus on Mount Road. The total stud was 142, 64 for trams and 78 for buses. Hours were still long, the team crews averaging 90s per week with no holidays. Missed days were deducted from the weekly wage packet even down to ¼ days. On 23 January 1901 the total staff involved with the trams was 38 excluding the Manager Tom Hale who received £2 10s 0d per week. Under him was a cashier (33s per week), three checkers or inspectors (25s), five coachmen (28s), eight horse-keepers (22s to 25s), four of whom were also drivers working summer months and peak hours only , one washer (18s 6d), one blacksmith (32s), a blacksmith's lad (16s), a tip lad (12s 6d), 15 conductors many of whom worked part-time (10s to 14s), yardman (15s) and a line repair man (26s). The wage bill for one week was £33 3s 0d and on the buses £37 15s 10d, the bus manager Henry O'Neill of Field Cottage, Field Road receiving £2 5 s 0d. Drunkenness, still an habitual problem was only partially alleviated by the provision of a coffee stall at Seacombe. Run by the Women's Temperance Society and opened in 1897, it dispensed mugs of coffee for 1d and cakes for ½d.

The tip lad referred to above was Robert McElney, who joined the United about 1898, His day began at 9am when he would start three hours of grooming the tip horse and cleaning its bridle. At 1pm, after an hour for lunch, he would ride down to the ferry and from 2pm until the last tram he was available to assist every departure up to St. Paul's Church. As the early morning cars were lightly loaded no assistance was needed. He also helped the pole-shifters whose job was to unhitch and re-harness the teams on the double-ended cars; these men were stationed at both ends of the route and were usually spare conductors. Operationally little had changed since inception; there was no official stops and those wishing to alight simply pulled a bell cord. On entering and leaving loops the conductor (or guard as they were usually called in Wallasey) blew a whistle. At night, oil lamps were used and a red tail light; in winter straw was laid on the floor. If two cars met on a single line one would be dragged off the rails, usually after a heated argument. The horses were fitted with collar-bells as a warning device at night. A good "trammer" cost in the region of £30. The Eades cars were only used as extras during the 10 minute service. McElney stating one car was No.5. According to John Eades Jnr. Wallasey was the last system to use his father's cars, other tramways having dispensed with them due to their costly pivoting arrangements and the cumbersome problem of turning the bodies in confined space. By 1889 the through fare on all routes was 2d with a range of intermediate 1d stages. No workmen's cars were ever operated.

Operation By The Council

At midnight on 30 March 1901 the keys of the tram dept and stables were handed over by a representative of the Wallasey United Tramways and Omnibus Co. Ltd to the Council's newly-appointed tramway manager, Major R.P Greene. The Council took over nine cars and 60 horses, many in poor condition, On the advice of the council's veterinary surgeon, Stafford Jackson, £912 was spent in three weeks buying 16 former tram horses from Warrington and Liverpool. Short-term repairs were carried out to the trams, including a new axle for car 6 and re-wheeling three others. On 26 April the fleet was augmented by three second-hand double deck cars purchased from the Liverpool tramways at £5 6s each. In July a further ten horses were purchased mostly through auctioneers but including four from Liverpool and one from the Warrington Omnibus Co. Another six inspected in Liverpool were rejected.

Most of the company's 38 employees were reengaged and their wages considerably increased, the average working hours per week reduced from 90 to 62. the company had given drivers and conductors one Sunday off in each fortnight, their places being taken by bus crews, but Greene employed additional staff allowing every employee one day off per week. Seven days' paid holiday were granted after twelve months' satisfactory service. The conductors and inspectors were given cap badges, but the purchase of uniforms was postponed until the opening of the electric tramway. The waybill-only method of revenue control was discontinued almost immediately, the first fare-stage tickets being issued in April and the first Bell Punches were hired in July. Additional revenue was raised by charging an extra penny on Bank Holidays. Temporary offices for Greene and his staff were provided above Price;s baker's shop in Rowson Street for £20 per year. In December a waiting room for the tramway crews was rented at 1 Sandridge Road.

Tramway ConstructionFrom 18 July 1901 a ten-minute service was provided on the tram route between noon and 2pm on Saturdays only, and that month Green was asked to cost the provision of a temporary horse-car service along the newly-laid electric track along Seabank Road. To provide a six car service he estimated it would cost £2,355 including £1,650 for 30 horses, £139 for additional harnesses, £16 for a further two second-hand trams and £550 for extra stabling facilities. Owing to the short-term nature of the operation, the proposal was dropped.

By September 1901 construction of the new electric tracks began to affect the operation of the horse tram service. The Falkland Road line was closed from 9 September and outward trams diverted along Church Street. From 28 October the horse cars were re-routed from Church Street to Seacombe along the newly completed track in Liscard Road, with penny stages from Liscard Village to Lloyds Corner and St' John's Church to The Queen's Arm's. From 1 December the horse cars were diverted to use the Seacombe ferry loop, their old stub tracks being removed, and the next day they were re-routed again, this time from Seacombe to Molyneux Drive via Demesne Street (inbound via Church Road), Brighton Street King Street, and Seabank Road, with a through fare of 2d and intermediate penny stages. Through an oversight, the Board of Trade inspection from King Street to Molyneux Drive was not carried out (by Lt Col von Donop) until 5 January 1902. It is not known when the trams reverted to their original route.

For the period of this major diversion, a bus service was operated wherever possible along the course of the former tram service by the Seacombe and New Brighton Omnibus Co as successors to the United. At two Extraordinary General Meetings of United Company on 30 March and 15 April 1901 it had been resolved to liquidate the company, to repay the preference shareholders and distribute the remainder of the £20,500 award to the ordinary shareholders, and to transfer the assets of the United Company to a new company. The final directors' meeting of the Wallasey United Tramway and Omnibus Co. Ltd. was held on 25 September 1901.

The new Seacombe and New Brighton Omnibus Company was incorporated on 25 May 1901, with a nominal capital of £5,000 in £1 shares of which 4,938 were to be allotted to holders of ordinary shares in the old company. Operating out of Egerton Street, the horse buses continued to run from Seacombe to New Brighton via Seabank Road and from Seacombe to Mount Road via Penkett Road with a stud of 78 horses and a fleet of 14 horses and one wagonette. The tram-replacement service in the winter of 1901-02 approached Seacombe via Wheatland Lane.

After the completion of the council's electric tramway service, the Omnibus Company continued for a time to operate a truncated service from Mount Road to the Queen's Arms, Liscard, probably via Withens Lane and Manor Road. This ceased about 5 April 1902 and the Company's horses and buses were sold, although some were kept for a short time to run excursions with the wagonette from New Brighton into the Wirral countryside and as far north as North Wales. The manager was John Worrall, who subsequently ran the taxis and landaus of the Birkenhead Carriage Co. Eventually the Egerton Street site was disposed of, the whole area being destroyed in the bombing of 1941. The Omnibus Company was finally dissolved on 5 May 1910.

Following the opening of the Rake Lane electric service on 17 March 1902, the horse trams appear to have been diverted to operate along Seabank Road for a final two days until shortly after mid-day on 19 March 1902, when the Seabank electric service was inaugurated. The last day of operation of the horse trams had been variously quoted as 17,18 and 19 March, but in the handwritten minute book of the monthly meeting of the Tramways Committee in April 1902 Greene wrote "the traffic return for the Horse Cars for the four days ending the 19th March (the last day on which the horse cars were operated) amounted to £50.11s.6".

During the 50 weeks and four days the horse cars were administered by the Council, they earned a total of £7,942 16s. 1d, over £1,000 more than the last annual return made by the Company. The cars carried on average 110,000 passengers each month, operated 13,5000 miles and earned £700, receipts being 12½d per car mile and expenses 8½d per car mile. On 4 April the stock was sold by auction, the horses realising £23.13s each and the cars £5 each, a total of £1,380; other items fetched an additional £1,380. One chestnut mare, Jessie, was retained and housed in a small stable at Seaview Road, she was used to pull the overhead tower wagon and for hauling heavy materials around the depot.

A Milnes horse car was also taken to Seaview Road, the electric depot. Painted in an overall muddy brown, it served as a mobile works car. Latterly without windows, it was used to carry grit to be shoveled on the road, and survived until scrapped in 1933. Several other bodies survived in the town, including one as a summer house in Wellington Road and another as a shed close to Wallasey Village station.