South Shields Local History Group

Under Construction

Trams – Electric

Planning the System was a Rough Ride
By 1899 the town had witnessed a population explosion reaching over 100,000.  Large parts of the town were without transport and others were inadequately served by horse trams and buses.  Fares on both systems were very high and were the domain of the middle class, the working classes walked.  By the end of the 19th century the Corporation had received Royal Assent to construct a modern tramway but they effectively sat on the fence to see what other authorities were doing.  The British Electric Traction Company (BETC) were granted an extension to continue running the horse tram service till 1905 which gave the Corporation some breathing space.

There then followed some contentious rivalry mainly between the Corporation and the BETC to agree a way forward with the initiation of an electric tramway.  Significantly, the BETC wanted to run a tramway under a Light Railway order from Mile End Road through Harton, Cleadon, Whitburn, Sea Lane then joining with the Sunderland tramway system.  This would have involved running on both the South Shields and Sunderland systems and would have created severe competition to the North Eastern Railway.  All three objected and the application was turned down.

BETC had also wanted to extend the system from Tyne Dock to join up with the Jarrow system.  What a service to the public this scheme would have provided had not local and commercial interests not prevailed, a tramway service linking Sunderland through the villages to Shields, then Jarrow and ultimately on to Newcastle.

In the end South Shields Corporation decided to construct and operate their own standard gauge tramway system within the Borough and received Royal Assent in 1903.

Three different operating systems were considered.  The electric conduit system which utilised a third rail running underneath the road, a cable car system like that still seen in Los Angeles today and the overhead electric overhead system which is what was eventually agreed.  At a cost of just under £71,000 for the overhead this was the cheapest option.  Significantly, the Act stipulated that the operator had to provide cheap fares for the labouring classes at a fare not exceeding a halfpenny a mile.

In June 1905 the Mayor with due ceremony dislodged the first stones out of Stanhope Road and construction of the new tramway was carried out over the new routes i.e. Westoe and Stanhope Road while the horse tram service continued over the old routes until 31 January when that service was withdrawn to allow the standard gauge track and the overhead to be constructed.  Twenty cars were ordered to work the system.

The new system resulted in major restructuring of some prominent town streets.  This included demolition and the widening of Fowler Street, King Street and part of Adelaide Street.  The new tracks no longer ran across the Market Place as a diversion when certain church services were taking place and significantly, the trams still did not run right round the Market but ran in both directions past St Hilda’s Church and the Tram Hotel.

The Opening
Opening of the system took place in stages over a period of a year as new sections were completed.  The first section to open was from Fowler Street to Stanhope Road and Laygate.  The actual opening ceremony took place on 30 March 1906 with the Mayor driving the first of three gaily decorated trams from Fowler Street to Stanhope Road.  The final section to be opened was from the top of Stanhope Road to Tyne Dock in March 1907.

The Service
The trams ran in a figure of 8 route that survived the trams, trolleys and into the motor bus era.  Route 1 ran from the Pier Head – Westoe – Chi – Stanhope Road.  It then ran down Hudson Street to Tyne Dock where it ran Route 2 from Tyne Dock – Laygate – Market – Pier Head.  Route 3 ran from the Market – Westoe – Laygate – Tyne Dock.  It then ran up to Stanhope Road where it ran Route 4 from Stanhope Road – Chi – Laygate – Market.

Tramway Map (Andrew Abbot Wikipedia)

The service was very successful and profitable to the extent that 15 additional cars had to be ordered in 1907.  Each tram car ran 111 miles a day at an average speed of 7.61 MPH which is faster than most town traffic moves today.  In time other areas of the town notably Harton, Cleadon and the riverside that were not served by trams demanded a tram service.  All were rejected but the Corporation did agree to provide a motor bus service but these consistently ran at a loss and were effectively propped up by the trams.

There followed a period of intense speculation for the expansion of all the regions tramway services which would have seen, Sunderland, South Shields, Jarrow, Gateshead and Newcastle systems all linked together with “cross routes” that would have linked Whitburn, Cleadon and Boldon into the systems.  Yet there was simply not the local push to make it work and a great opportunity was lost.

The Cleadon Light Railway
What did happen however, was the construction of a new route under a Light Railway order from Westoe to the Ridgeway to serve the new council estate. 

Trams ran down a central reservation from the Ridgeway to the Cauldwell where it then ran along Sunderland Road to Westoe where it followed the town routes down to the junction with Ocean Road.  A short spur was also created along Mile End road to Moon Street just beyond the station where the service started.

The new route opened in December 1922 and was an immediate success.  In 1931 number 45 named Monarch of Bermuda was upgraded and modernised with new motors, doors, seating and heaters underneath the seats.

The following year she worked a Cleadon Work Express car service from the Market stopping at Russell Street, Fowler Street, Town Hall then non stop to Moor Lane, Prince Edward Road, and the Ridgeway.  On the first day she carried 102 passengers, and journey times were 11 minutes from the Market Place, 8 minutes from the Town Hall.

1920 and 1930s

For the rest of the 1920s and first half of the 1930s the town’s trams provided an essential service for workers, shoppers and leisure.  Despite rising costs they continued to make a profit but had to financially prop up the loss making motor buses.

Caer Urfa (Sunderland Echo)

Beginning of the End
In 1935 Royal assent was given for the construction of 13 trolley bus routes and the eventual abandonment of the tramway system.  There was no intention of scrapping the tramway system for many years to come and indeed old track was being replaced by new in places, Ocean Road in particular.  The immediate intention was to run trolley buses from the Market through High Shields to the new Prince Edward Road and eventually onto Marsden then back along the Coast Road.  However, in 1936 the condition of the tramway track in Stanhope Road was drawn to the attention of the Corporation.  The cost of relaying the track would be £17,000 but the cost of converting the route to trolley bus operation was £12,000.

The dice was set, a trolley bus service would replace the trams along Stanhope road, and it was soon decided to replace all the figure of 8 town services.  This was completed and the last town service tram ran on the 10 April 1938.  There were no plans to replace trams on the Ridgeway service and it was intended to continue running tramcars along the newly re-laid Ocean Road track during busy summers, but this was abandoned in 1943 in favour of the new single decker trolley bus.

Trams were seen as old hat, just as the trolleys were in the early 60s, they operated in the middle of the road with passengers having to cross the traffic at most tram stops, the track was a nuisance especially to the many cyclists and was expensive to replace.  The fleet of trams despite refurbishments dated from Edwardian times and would at some stage need replacing.  Replacing old track or laying track for new routes was extremely disruptive compared with the trolley bus infrastructure.  So when the track needed replacing in Stanhope Road and the costs showed how much cheaper it would be to convert the system to trolley bus operation I guess that was the writing on the wall. 

The last regular service of tramcars on the Ridgeway service ended on 31 March 1946 when trolley buses took over on a slightly extended service at the town end where the wires continued along Mile End Road then along Fort Street to the Lawe Top.  A final Last Car ceremony took place the following day.

The remaining tramcars were offered for sale but only the modern ‘one off’ centre entrance car number 52 was purchased to run on the Sunderland system, the rest were scrapped.

Written by Les Snaith


1 – Tramway track being laid in 1905 at Chichester. This is Chichester looking down Dean Road with Stanhope Road to the left, Laygate Lane to the right.

1 – (Sunderland Antiquarian Society)

2 – Same location same time but looking in the opposite direction. Note the way the tracks do not go round a central point but go for example direct from Laygate Lane up Dean Road.

2 – (Sunderland Antiquarian Society)

3 – The junction at an uncertain location possibly Chi, Fowler St or Laygate?

3 – (Sunderland Antiquarian Society)

4 – This photo shows the construction of a grand union junction even though there would have been no regular service into Mile End Road at the time. Note the disruption and the volume of people lined up for the photograph.

4 (TWMCS-2457)

5 – The opening of the town tramways was done in stages as the infrastructure was complete and there appears to have been equal ceremony and photographic recording at each stage.

The first section to be completed was from Fowler Street to the top of Stanhope Road on 30th March 1906 “consisting of cars 7, 3 and 10. The cars were well decorated with fluttering flags, green and yellow trimmings, together with ivy and spring flowers, presenting a very pleasing sight.”  Hearse.

5 – (Sunderland Antiquarian Society)

Note the destination blind shows Boldon Lane rather than Stanhope Road which is probably more accurate.

6 – Tram no 7 at the top of Stanhope Road on that first day in 1906. For all its destination would be the bottom of Fowler Street, its destination blind is showing ‘Westoe’. Tram number 7 with number 3 in the background. Ten of these trams were built in Motherwell in 1905/6 for £5307.

6 – (Sunderland Antiquarian Society)

7 – This is the three inaugural trams, 3, 7, and 10 about to set off on their very first public trip from Fowler Street to Boldon Lane on 30th March 1906.

7 – (Sunderland Antiquarian Society)

8 – This must certainly be the open day as Hearse describes the trams as being decorated with ivy and spring flowers. On the opening day, the only part of the system that was ready was between the bottom of Fowler Street and the top of Stanhope Road. But on the return journey a stop was made for the party to inspect the sheds at Dean Road.

8 – (Sunderland Antiquarian Society)

9 – The section from Laygate Lane to Tyne Dock and from Tyne dock opened on 23 June 1906 and for all the occasion was marked formally it was not quite such a ceremonial occasion as on the opening day. These 2 trams pose at Tyne Dock ready for their journey to Laygate Lane.

9 – (Sunderland Antiquarian Society)

10 – This photo is shown as the first tramcar to run on the Laygate to Tyne Dock route. The tram is in Frederick Street, on the corner of Reed Street looking towards Laygate. The shop belongs to Mrs Margaret Biles, grocer, at 50 South Frederick Street is pictured outside her premises. The year is 1906 and it looks as if they are still replacing the cobble around the newly laid tram lines. This is likely to be a service tram taken later in the day after the formal opening.

10 – (South Tyneside Libraries, STH0001848)

11 – On 2 August 1906 the former horse line opened between the Pier Head and the Market Place, number 5 being the first tram. This posed picture of tram 5 at the Pier Head is likely to have been taken on that occasion. Formal openings having run out of steam.

11 – (Sunderland Antiquarian Society)

12 – This is a post card of Chichester Crossing in the early days of the system with the first batch of trams operating. It is likely to be a posed picture.

12 – (Sunderland Antiquarian Society)

13 – Tramway Band members outside their depot, Chichester in 1913.

13 – (South Tyneside Libraries, STH0001856)

14 – In South Shields more than half the tramway men had answered the call to arms by the end of 1915 and in one week 16 out of the 36 motormen had joined up. Services were curtailed in the evenings and long hours were worked by those who were left. Women conductors took the place of men in November 1915 and more found employment as cleaners in the car sheds. Hearse does not record what happened to the women after the men returned after the war.

14 – 1916 (South Tyneside Libraries, STH0001110)

15 – Originally the colour scheme for the trams was crimson lake for dash and waist panels with lining out in gold leaf. The rocker panels, windows, decency boards and upper decks were in ivory. So these reproductions are a good representation. A few different colour schemes were tried out but it was not until 1935 that the royal blue and primrose became standard.

15 Colourised (South Tyneside Libraries, STH0015798)

16 – Tram 38 was built in Peckham in 1914 and unlike the earlier batch of trams, these new trams had covered top decks which would be later fitted retrospectively to the original trams. It is likely that this picture was a posed PR picture for the corporation of the new trams at the Pier Head.

16 – (Sunderland Antiquarian Society)

17 – Tram 57 was built in 1921 for Ayr Corporation Tramways and bought by Shields Corporation for £125 including delivery. 57 was named Charles Allen Henderson after the Chairman of Tramways Committee at the time.

17 – (Sunderland Antiquarian Society)

18 – It is post 1935 as the tram is in the original livery and interestingly, the water car is visibly behind it. Rather than running in tandem, it is likely that the water car has backed as far as it can to allow the tram to pull up to change tracks.

18 – (Sunderland Antiquarian Society)

19 – Tram 46 at the bottom of Fowler Street in September 1933 bound for the Ridgeway, also destined as Cleadon as the inside indicator shows. No 46 was built for Tyneside Tramways and Tramroads and was one of 2 purchased in 1930 for £250.

19 – (Sunderland Antiquarian Society)

20 – Tram 42 also seen here at the bottom of Fowler Street on the Ridgeway run was built at Preston in 1921. No 42 was one of 18 cars that were named between 1929 and 1934. It was a unique practice naming electric cars that was supposed to give them publicity unknown in other towns to draw attention to some of the rebuilt luxury trams. Number 42 was named Mauritania. Sadly, all the names were painted out in 1934.

20 – (Sunderland Antiquarian Society)

21 – In 1933, sister tram number 43 was converted into a single decker by the removal of stairs and top deck seating. Number 43 is seen at the Dean Road Depot.

21 – (Sunderland Antiquarian Society)

22 – This is a fascinating picture in that it does not only show an unidentified tram in the middle lane but on the right is what could possibly be one of the original horse trams. On the left would appear to be the upper deck of an enclosed tram probably that removed from number 43 when it was converted to a single decker.

22 – (George S Hearse)

23 – Number 24 at the Pier Head sometime after 1935 when she had been repainted in new the colours. This was one of the third batch of trams built at Preston in 1907 for about £530 each. All the original trams had open upper decks and were fitted with covered decks in 1923/24.

23 – (Sunderland Antiquarian Society)

24 – Number 23 probably in Sunderland Road just before the dedicated tram track. This was one of 7 trams purchased from Wigan Corporation Tramways in 1931 for £100 each. Two of those purchased were never placed into service and were scrapped in 1935.

24 – (Sunderland Antiquarian Society)

25 – Number 45 at the Ridgeway either in 1922 or 23. The service opened to the public on 15th December 1922 and a 12 minute service ran from Mile End Road to the Ridgeway. The main carriageways are yet to be competed, and the ground on the right will have another 40 years or so to go before the White Ensign is built.

25 – (Sunderland Antiquarian Society)

26 – Former Wigan car number 50 on the head shunt at the Ridgeway, i.e. looking towards Cleadon. An extension of just 2 miles would have joined South Shields Tramways with those of Sunderland.

26 – (Sunderland Antiquarian Society)

27 – Number 42 at Mile End Road, Little’s fruiterer at no 72 with Co-op next door. The date could be any time after 1935 when they were painted in the new livery up to their withdrawal in 1946.

27 – (Sunderland Antiquarian Society)

28 – Golden City was the name given to tram number 41 and George Hearse the eminent historian of South Shields trams said in his book that “doubt was expressed that this name was ever used”. The tram was a batch of English Electric trams built at Preston in 1921. The location is somewhere along the reserved track along King George Road.

28 – (Sunderland Antiquarian Society)

29 – In 1933 number 7 one of the original standard open topped trams of 1905 was taken out of service. It was painted in London Midland and Scottish Railway dark red and served as a carnival and stores car. It was seen in many guises but was scrapped in 1938 when the town system closed.

29 – (South Tyneside Libraries, STH0001843)

30 – The Carnival tram illuminated for some unknown function between 1933 and 38.

30 – (Sunderland Antiquarian Society)

31 – The Carnival Tram advertising the film Cavalcade in 1933 for the Scala. – Gazette photo.

31 – (Shields Gazette)

32 – The water tram in finer weather – when the water tram was delivered in 1913, water was sprayed under pressure using an electric pump to wash down the streets. This would have been particularly relevant in the days of horse transport and dust. It delighted young boys who ran after it to be sprayed by the jets of water. It is seen here passing the front of the Town hall with Charlotte Street in the background.

32 – (Sunderland Antiquarian Society)

33 – The water tram in Mile End Road in the 1941 as the horse watches on. The men appear to be manipulating the snow plough. So the water tram could spread water, it could be used as a snow plough and it also was used to grind the rails.

33 – 1941 (South Tyneside Libraries, STH0000471)

34 – In 1936 South Shields tramways purchased a single, centre entrance tram number 52 at a cost of £2500. Quite a modern looking tram but it arrived rather late in the day. It was too fast for normal services but perfect for the Ridgeway route. It was sold to Sunderland in 1946 for £250, the only tram that managed to find a new home after the closure of our system. Seen here at the Pier Head probably a PR photo when the tram was new in 1936.

34 – (Sunderland Antiquarian Society)

35 – A study of old and new designs in Dean Road Depot in 1950 by H.V. Jinks.

35 – (George S Hearse)

36 – Number 52 on the light railway section at a tram stop near the junction of Prince Edward Road.

36 – The Car Stop, King George Road

37 – Number 51 an ex Wigan Tramways car purchased in 1931 for £100 bound for the Ridgeway about to pass the Town Hall. Date unknown.

37 – (Sunderland Antiquarian Society)

38 – Upstairs in one of the un-rebuilt trams showing how basic they were.

38 – (South Tyneside Libraries, STH0015638)

39 – Lower deck of tram 52, the bubble car.

39 – (Sunderland Antiquarian Society)

40 – Down stairs on one of the older trams showing how basic they were in terms of comfort. Trams didn’t turn round at a terminus (unless they were running a loop route) but simply reversed back the way they had come. The conductor had to reverse the direction of the trolley pole and reverse the direction of the seats which were hinged on the floor which can be seen here.

40 – (Unknown photographer)

41 – Quite a contrast the seating upstairs on the Bubble car number 52 with padded leather backed seats, decked floor and much brighter.

41 – (South Tyneside Libraries)

42 – First motor-tower wagon belonging to South Shields Corporation – An Albion with a speed of 12mph – Solid wheels. Photo by Amy Celia Flagg 1913, info David Smith.

42 – (Sunderland Antiquarian Society)

43 – Monarch of Bermuda – fleet number 45 was one of 5 built by English Electric of Preston in 1921 at a cost of £3300 each. She was totally rebuilt as a luxury tram in 1931 and not only was she a very fine looking tram, but she was also a very powerful tram and had 4 motors instead of the usual diminutive 2. She was too powerful for the town routes so they put her on the workman’s lunch time express from the Market to the Ridgeway. Showing ‘Express’ she was given a clear road and had limited stops. Journey time was a staggering 11 minutes which could not be rivalled today.

43 – (South Tyneside Libraries, STH0001840)

44 – In the 1960s a letter appeared in the Gazette “This car operated the lunchtime Express Service from the Ridgeway to Moon Street in 7 minutes making only four stops namely Cauldwell, Westoe, Town Hall and the bottom of Fowler Street, the line being kept clear for this car.” She held the Express speed record and this 7 minute run is likely to have a been one off but what a sight that would have been.

44 – (Sunderland Antiquarian Society)

45 – Car 36 of 1914 vintage as supplied with top deck and open veranda at Tyne Dock looking towards South Eldon Street. Last day of service 10th April 1938.

45 – (Sunderland Antiquarian Society)

46 – Another picture taken in Slake Terrace on the final day of operation of the town service with crews posed for the occasion.

46 – (Sunderland Antiquarian Society)

47 – The Final Tram – By the end of March 1946, trolley wires were in place up to the Ridgeway and were also extended to the Lawe Top, but not as far as the Harbour Lights pub which had been the original plan. The last day of service for the trams was 31th March 1946. The following day, no 39 made one final outing on a last tram special. The picture is believed to be that occasion with the invited guests posing at the Ridgeway. Little effort seems to have been made to spruce the tram up for this auspicious occasion. End of an era.

47 – (Unknown photographer)

48 – Dean Road April 1946. Nos 42, 23 and 49 stand dejected and forlorn awaiting a buyer. None came. Photo George Hearse.

48 – (Unknown photographer)

Written by Les Snaith

The Tramways of Jarrow and South Shields by George S Hearse

South Tyneside Libraries
Sunderland Antiquarian Society
Sunderland Echo

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