The Encyclopaedia of Plymouth History
PLYMOUTH CORPORATION TRAMWAYS DEPARTMENT
At the start of 1892 Plymouth Corporation decided to oppose the Plymouth Tramways Company's Bill in Parliament. They even resolved that when the construction of the new lines was completed, they themselves should apply to the Board of Trade for a certificate so that they could 'run an efficient service of cars'. However, at a Council meeting on March 1st 1892 it was resolved that they purchase the Company's tramway system for a price of £12,500 and in due course they served a notice on the Company to repair the line between Westwell Street and West Hoe.
It is worth noting that the tramway network had been constructed by the Plymouth, Devonport & District Tramways Company but been legally shut down in December 1887. Since then it had been owned by the Plymouth Tramways Company Limited and then the Plymouth Tramways Company, which had made only one trial run to West Hoe.
On April 30th 1892 Plymouth Corporation made an Agreement with the Company to purchase the system for £12,500. What the Corporation purchased were :
In May 1892 they slightly changed their minds, however. At a meeting on May 24th they resolved to lease the tramways back to the Company for seven years at a rental of £1,100 per annum for the first three years and £1,250 for the remaining four. After the Plymouth Tramways Act 1892 received the Royal Assent on June 27th 1892 authorising the Corporation to purchase the tramway, they immediately invited tenders for the leasing of the line.
The purchase by the Corporation was completed on September 12th 1892 but they had received only one tender to lease the line, offering £104 per annum for the use of the tramway and £15 per annum for the use of each of the depots. They refused an application to extend the time for tendering so that a firm of electrical engineers could submit proposals for electrifying the line and resolved to work the tramway themselves.
Various proposals were put forward by the Corporation's Works Committee in October 1892. A siding was laid on North Hill and it was proposed to do likewise on Mannamead Hill, although there was an alternative suggestion that the track here might be simply doubled. A new line was to be built from the Market through Frankfort Street and Courtenay Street to the Clock Tower, thus enabling the abandonment of the section from the General Post Office in Westwell Street to the Royal Hotel. A new depot was to be erected on land off Pound Street, adjoining the Technical College. The vehicles run by the Tramway Company had not at that time been acquired but it seems to have been felt that: 'This will not cause keen regret'. The tramway was to be opened in March the following year.
It was not until November 15th 1892 that a Tramways Sub-committee was formed, consisting of Alderman Pillman in the Chair, with Councillors Snow, Jinkin, Axworthy, Pethick and Ham. At their first meeting they decided to purchase the depot at Millbay and to buy four of the best tramcars owned by the Company for £80 each. They also resolved to connect the two sections together again and to seek powers to construct new lines to Prince Rock and the town boundary at King Street/Manor Street.
On December 3rd 1892 the Corporation received the certificate of the Board of Trade and on the 9th they appointed Mr Charles R Everson of 13 Exeter Street, Plymouth, as the Manager of the undertaking. An office was set up at 23 Market Avenue. In between these dates, on the 6th, it was agreed to place an order with the Bristol Waggon Works Company for six tramcars, to be delivered by the end of February 1893.
Work started immediately to put the system back into working order and in March 1893 a service was started from the Guildhall to West Hoe. That was followed in April 1893 by a service from the Market Place to Compton Lane End.
The tramcar livery was bright red and yellow.
By means of the Tramways Orders Confirmation Act of August 24th 1893, Plymouth Corporation obtained powers to construct additional lines. Most of the work was carried out during 1894.
There is no evidence of the date of the opening of the section between Market Place, Cobourg Street, Houndiscombe Road and Mutley Plain but it is though to have been in December 1893 or possibly January 1894.
In March 1895 and again in June 1896 Mr Baskerville, the operator of horse bus services to Compton Lane End and Salisbury Road, offered the sale of his undertaking to the Corporation. They declined to purchase on both occasions, probably realising that his asking price would be forced to drop as time went by.
Thanks to a new line from Westwell Street, through Basket Street and Old Town Street to Market Place, in August 1896 a through service was at last introduced from West Hoe Pier to Mutley Plain via Houndiscombe Road. In December 1896 a new route from the Theatre Royal to Prince Rock was opened.
There was a major change in the livery of the tramcars during 1897. On April 23rd the Council resolved to repaint the tramcars according to the route they were allocated to. Cars going to Compton would be green; those for Hyde Park via Houndiscombe Road would yellow, and those for Prince Rock were to be painted red. This would be carried out when the cars needed renovating but it is not clear if this decision was actually carried out.
An interesting diversion was a Council decision dated September 19th 1898: 'That a notice be exhibited on the tramcars requesting passengers to destroy their tickets upon leaving the car'.
During December 1898 a proposal was made to close the line through Cobourg Street, North Road and Houndiscombe Road and this decision was confirmed by the full Council on January 9th 1899.
Following the instigation of the Electrical Power Station at Prince Rock, Plymouth Corporation started to electrify the entire tramway network. The new electrified service to Prince Rock was started in September 1899 and that to Compton Lane End in April 1901. These were followed by a new route to Beaumont Road in April 1902.
Services on all of Plymouth Corporation's routes except that to West Hoe were severely interrupted following a large fire on June 2nd 1902 at the premises of Messrs Spooner's Ltd, on the corner of Old Town Street and Bedford Street, opposite Saint Andrew's Church. The heat was such that it bent the tram-poles and brought down the wires, stopping services for a few days.
On Thursday June 12th 1902 Major Pringle, from the Board of Trade, inspected the short length of tramway linking the Plymouth Corporation system to the PS&D track at Derry's Clock and passed it for traffic. The following day, Friday 13th, the trams from Beaumont Road started to run through from their previous terminus at the Market to the Borough boundary at the New Palace Theatre in Union Street, under the terms of an agreement by which the Corporation had running powers over the PS&D track within the Borough. The fares would be one penny from Beaumont Road to Derry's Clock and 1½d to the New Palace Theatre. It was planned to construct a proper terminus at the Manor Street end and to extend the Compton and Prince Rock services to there as well. So as not to hamper the PS&D service, the Plymouth trams were not allowed any waiting time at the New Palace Theatre.
New regulations brought into force on January 1st 1903 meant that all tramcars must display a red light at the rear. The Western Daily Mercury reported that this would cause confusion in Plymouth because on one particular tram route a red light was used to denote that route. Unfortunately it did not identify the route.
A wage increase for the tramways staff was announced at the end of November 1905. Motormen's wages were to be increased from 21 shillings to 22s a week and the maximum from 24 to 25 shillings. Conductors with over four years service were to get £1 per week. Shortly after a wage increase for inspectors was also announced, from 26 shillings to 28s a week.
The route to West Hoe remained horse-drawn until it was electrified in June 1907, when the service was combined with the line to Pennycomequick and the Millbay Depot was closed.
By this time some form of route identification was necessary. Although the tramcars carried their destinations, there were still a great number of people who could not read so it was decided that some other means of showing the route was required. The answer came with coloured discs. It is not clear exactly when these were introduced but it was either during 1905 or after the West Hoe section had been opened in June 1907. The discs were suspended over the front dash above the fleet numbers. They were allocated as follows:
A sign of "things to come" occurred on Wednesday March 22nd 1911 when the Tramways Committee submitted to the full Council a letter from a Mr W Hopkins of London asking 'whether the Council would be prepared to licence motor omnibuses and motor char-a-bancs as hackney carriages for public service in Plymouth and in the summer to places of interest?' The question was adjourned to the next meeting.
It was reported in 1945 that the wages for tram drivers in 1914 were 25 shillings (£1 5s) per week.
Three Towns' Amalgamation
In 1914 with the amalgamation of the Three Towns, Plymouth Corporation took over the system operated by the Devonport & District Tramways Company and the universal penny fare was introduced. The Plymouth, Stonehouse & Devonport Tramways Company still had several years to run on their lease so they remained independent until July 1922. At the end of 1914 it was recorded that the new Plymouth Council licensed 44 motor men, 66 conductors and 33 tramcars belonging to the Devonport & District Tramways Company and 21 motor men, 20 conductors and 15 tramcars belonging to the Plymouth, Stonehouse & Devonport Tramways Company.
Enter the Motor Bus
Motor Bus Services started to appear in 1920 and eventually the Plymouth Corporation Tramways Department became the Plymouth Corporation Transport Department.
With the Three Towns of Plymouth, East Stonehouse and Devonport now amalgamated, in 1916 Plymouth Corporation were able to link up the Plymouth and Devonport systems at Peverell Corner and Pennycomequick to enable through services to be started. Finally, in 1922 the Corporation took over the former Plymouth, Stonehouse & Devonport Tramway and links were installed at Derry's Clock and Fore Street. The unification of Plymouth's tramway network was now complete and the system had reached its full extent. But the "Golden Age of Tramways" was not set to last long.
Increase in Speed Limits
In October 1924 the general maximum speed limit on the Plymouth tramway system was increased from 12mph to 16mph. The speed on sections that were formerly restricted to 4mph was increased to 8mph and all the lower restrictions were abolished. Mr H P Stokes announced that Plymouth was the first narrow-gauge undertaking to have its maximum speed increased. 
A tramway replacement programme started in October 1930 and lasted until 1937. During visit of Bath & West Show May 25th -28th 1938 cars were run from Fore Street via Peverell. Tramcars were still used for workmen's specials until March 1939. This left only Guildhall to Mutley and Peverell Corner in regular operation.
The Last Tram
Plymouth City Council decided to abandon trams in June 1943 and the last tram ran in September 1945.
Tram rails remained around the City for many years afterwards and most are still buried beneath the tarmac on many of the main roads.
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