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Merseyside History, Liverpool Tramway

Horse tramways:- 1865-1885

THE tramway's era started in Liverpool in 1865 when the first sample track was laid in Castle Street. But this project did not go further and the design was abandoned.

In 1868 the new Liverpool Tramway Company was granted for the construction of the Inner Circle and the lines to Walton and Dingle.

The first car left Dingle at 8am on Monday 1st November 1869. Sixteen cars, each drawn by three horses carried 7000 passengers this day.

During 20 years, horse tramways were livened up with rivalry with buses, reconstruction, extension and financial difficulties.

By the end of 1875, 60.75 miles of tramway lines were laid down, with 2894 horses and 207 tramcars rolling on these lines.

The Liverpool Road and Railway Omnibus Company and the Liverpool Tramway Company merged in 1876 as the Liverpool United Tramways and Omnibus Company after failing to do so in 1871.
This event marked the beginning of the end.

In 1879, Liverpool Corporation bought out the company's lines for 30.000, valued at 122.000.
In June 1880 the tramway section of the company owned only 30 cars and 360 horses.
The decision in 1883 to stop laying down tramways and the growth of competition of omnibus companies increased the decline. 

By the end of 1897, Liverpool Corporation acquired the Liverpool United Tramway and Omnibus Company and only 4 cars were still in the timetable.
The Liverpool Tramway Transfer Act 1897 ratified the conversion to mechanical power.

The electrification:- 1898-1902

IN November 1898 the first electric car left Dingle. In 4 years, nearly all the tramway network had been converted and the last horse car (they worked in parallel during this time to bridge the gap) ran in the city in December 1902. Electrification of the network was not only aiming to answer public needs of travelling. It was the opportunity to consume a lot of electricity during hours of the daylight, but also the tramway could be a matter not of transport but 'social engineering' according to John Brodie's expression (City Engineer, 1898-1926). Indeed Liverpool always had bad record of in sanitary over-crowding and the tram was the solution to reduce population density: new areas on the outskirts of the city were opened up by the building of large dual-carriage way roads with tram reservation in the centre.

In 1899, two main events marked Liverpool's transport history and form the basics of our current system: first 1d fares were introduced and each route was divided into penny stage. This measure allowed to considerably increase the traffic because working and middle classes were able to move out to new housing areas.
Then it was decided that buses and tram would stop only at fixed places, contrary to the horse omnibus and tram, which stopped almost anywhere when hailed.

In the whole of 1901, 101 million passengers were carried by the electric cars.

The 20s

THE decade was a period of exceptional expansion for the tramway.
After the First World War, the tramways were almost derelict. But it had been included in the City Council policy of reconstruction works and benefited from the extension of the lines, the introduction of new facilities and the redevelopment of the network. The traffic considerably increased.

The 30s

DURING this period the tramway system advanced further with the simplification and modernisation of the network. The 1938 Agreement between the Liverpool Corporation and the bus companies up-dated the first 1931 Agreement confirming the creation of three operating zones and already presented the Corporation's aspiration of development based on their new buses.

By keeping and still improving the tramway, Liverpool went against major British cities in term of transport policy, where motor buses and trolley buses already replaced tramways.

The war years

WITH a high unemployment rate and the high quality/standard of the railway, port and road facilities, Liverpool became a wartime centre of industry. As a large proportion of passengers were carried by tram, the fuel rationing did not cause as much inconvenience than in all-bus town. Despite that, all along the war, the tram (and bus) services were more and more reduced in order to save manpower and resources.

Post war years: the end of the tramway

AFTER the end of the Second World War, the Corporation banked on the buses to re-establish as quick as possible a good service to the public, nearly completely forgetting tramways.

Indeed the war years affected them badly. Tramways presented a poor state of maintenance and seemed obsolete. It is only in the early 50s that they drew attention once more.

The fire of the Green Depot (1947) probably did not help its survival, destroying 10% of the total stock, much of it the best and most modern in the fleet.

The conversion program (from tramway to buses) was approved in February 1948.
The last tramway was taken out of action in 1957.

The tramway, back to Liverpool?

IN perspective of Liverpool Capital of Culture 2008, there is a possibility tramway returning to Liverpool. For the last decade, the tramway has become an important component of transport policy in many cities, all around the world.

It represent a great way to give the city centre back to the pedestrians, to have more green spaces, to empty the city centre of cars and buses, to bring about a better environment for city inhabitants and workers, and to reduce the pollution rate.

Will the Liverpudlians go for that? 

Book Sources

HORNE, J.B. & MAUND, T.B. (1995) Liverpool Transport 1830-1900, Vol.1. (2nd ed). Glossop, Derbyshire: Mopok Graphics.  ISBN:- 0863172008

HORNE, J.B. & MAUND, T.B. (1982) Liverpool Transport 1900-1930, Vol.2. Glossop, Derbyshire: TPC Studio.  ISBN: -0903839504

HORNE, J.B. & MAUND, T.B. (1987) Liverpool Transport 1931-1939, Vol.3. Glossop, Derbyshire: Transport Publishing  ISBN:- 0863171419.

HORNE, J.B. & MAUND, T.B. (1989) Liverpool Transport 1940-1957, Vol.4. London: Transport Publishing Company Limited.  ISBN:- 0863171486

JARVIS, Adrian (2001) Transport in Liverpool. Hersham, Surrey:- Ian Allan Publishing. ISBN:- 0711027358

Related books:-  MARTIN, Brian P. (1997) Liverpool Tramways:- 1.The Eastern routes. Midhurst: Middleton Press.  ISBN:- 1901706044

MARTIN, Brian P. (1998) Liverpool Tramways- 2.The Southern routes. Midhurst:- Middleton Press.  ISBN:- 1901706230

PALMER, Steve (1996) A nostalgic look at Liverpool Trams 1945-57. Wadenhoe:- Silverlink.  ISBN: -1857940598

Useful web links

Merseyside Tramway Preservation Society  

Tramway Review:-
the Historical Journal of the LRTA (Light Rail Transition Association)

Birkenhead Tramway and Wirral Transport Museum

1 Taylor Street, Birkenhead, Wirral, Merseyside, CH41 1B6 
0151 647 2128


24 Hatton Garden, Liverpool, L3 2AM
0151 330 1000

Research on this page was conducted by Alexia Wodli.

Mersey Reporter and Liverpool Reporter are Trade Marks of Patrick Trollope.