Frequent and affordable public road transport came to Darlaston in the early 1880s in the form of steam trams. The trams began running in Darlaston in 1883 under the terms of the Staffordshire Tramways Order of 1879. They were operated by the South Staffordshire and Birmingham District Steam Tramways Company, founded in 1882. The company's headquarters and tram depot was in Corns Street, Darlaston, off Birmingham Street.


A South Staffordshire Tramways tram.

 There were 38 steam trams:
 
Fleet number Builder Year
1 to 2 Wilkinson of Wigan 1883
3 to 12 Beyer, Peacock and Co. 1883
13 to 16 Thomas Green & Son 1883
17 to 21 Wilkinson of Wigan 1883
22 to 29 Beyer, Peacock and Co. 1884
30 to 37 Thomas Green & Son 1884
38 Falcon Engine & Car Works 1885

Passenger trailer vehicles:

12 built by the Starbuck Car and Wagon Co.
22 built by the Falcon Engine & Car Works.

The opening dates for the various sections of the network, which covered about twenty three miles, were as follows:
 

Opening date

 

                            Route

16th July, 1883   New Inns Handsworth and Darlaston, via West Bromwich and Wednesbury.
14th January, 1884   Carter's Green West Bromwich to Great Bridge.
21st January, 1884   Wednesbury to Dudley, via Tipton.
21st January, 1884   Darlaston to Moxley.
4th December, 1884   Wednesbury to Bloxwich, via Pleck and Walsall.
4th December, 1884   Darlaston to Pleck.
4th December, 1884   Extension from Walsall to Mellish Road.
12th October, 1885   Great Bridge to Dudley.
21st November, 1885   Extension at Bloxwich,

People greatly enjoyed the ease of travel offered by the first low-priced public transport system in the area. A large number of passengers was carried. The local railway passenger services suffered greatly. The Darlaston branch claimed to have lost £6,000 in passenger traffic between 1883 and 1886. Passenger train services were discontinued in 1887. Ironically the railway delivered the coal for the trams to Darlaston tram depot. A railway line ran up the side of the embankment, and into the depot.

Mr. Alfred Dickinson, the General Manager, who lived in the manager's house next to Darlaston depot, took out a number of patents relating to trams, including a road-rail vehicle for use with goods traffic. It had rail and road wheels, either of which could be swung into position so that the vehicle could be used on the tramway, or horse-drawn on conventional roads. The company was greatly in favour of goods traffic and ordered several wagons built to Dickinson’s design. In June 1887 a goods service began across the system, but not initially in Walsall. Around 150 tons were carried each week between Smethwick and towns in the Black Country, mainly Darlaston and Willenhall. Around 50 tons were carried daily between the Pleck and Wednesbury. Unfortunately both West Bromwich and Handsworth councils insisted that the goods traffic had to stop because it was much noisier than passenger cars. The company then came to an arrangement with the Birmingham and Midland Tramways so that the lucrative goods traffic could continue on a different route.


An impression of a Dickinson road-rail wagon crossing the Bull Stake.


Mr. Alfred Dickinson, J.P. General Manager.

Mr. Alfred Dickinson, J.P. was born in Peterborough on February 29th, 1856 and educated at the Academy in Gorton near Manchester.

Before joining the Staffordshire Tramways Company in 1883, he spent seven years at the Manchester, Sheffield and Lincolnshire Railway which in 1897 became the Great Central Railway. During his time with the railway company he worked in most of the departments.

As a Justice of the Peace, he served on the Wednesbury Borough Bench.

 

On 26th August, 1889 the company changed its name to the South Staffordshire Tramways Company, and soon began an electrification scheme. The installation was carried out entirely by the Electric Construction Corporation of Wolverhampton. The company’s chief engineer, Thomas Parker, had previously designed much of the equipment used for the trams in Blackpool, the country’s first electrically-powered tramway of any size.

The sub-contractor for the cars was the Lancaster Carriage and Wagon Company. Brown, Marshalls & Company produced three 150 hp. compound stationary engines for the generating station, which was built at Darlaston Road, Pleck, and designed by the Electric Construction Corporation's chief engineer, Thomas Parker.

Coal was delivered by canal boats on the Walsall Branch of the canal into a basin alongside the building. The generating station consisted of  an engine room, 59 feet by 45 feet, a boiler house 47 feet by 39 feet, with an octagonal 120 feet high chimney. The three Lancashire boilers worked at 120 psi. and were supplied by Messrs. Musgrave & Son, of Bolton. The three dynamos each produced 260 amps at 350 volts (91 kW).


Another of the company's trams.


The tramway company's electricity generating station.

The traction motors, also designed by Thomas Parker, were of the Elwell-Parker type. The posts for the overhead wire were placed at the side of the road, and the bracket arms carrying the trolley wire stretched out over the road from 7 to 10 feet, and gave a clear height of 21 feet.

By a kind of universal joint, the collector was allowed a variation of several feet, so that the trolley wire didn't have to be directly over the middle of the track.

The posts to carry the overhead wire were made by James Russell & Sons, and John Russell & Company.


Tram lines and overhead wires at Kings Hill. From an old postcard.

On 1st January, 1893 the electrified routes from Walsall to Bloxwich, and Darlaston to Mellish Road via Walsall opened. Other routes were soon electrified, as was Darlaston tram depot. The steam trams were gradually phased out.

In the first year of operation the electric trams carried 1,668,057 passengers. The service was operated and maintained by the Electric Construction Corporation, soon to become the Electric Construction Company.

The trams, in their oak brown and cream livery were a familiar sight around the Bull Stake, which was often crowded with tram passengers.


Another view of the generating station.

South Staffordshire Tramways.  From The Engineer, 18th November, 1892.

Early in the present year the South Staffordshire Tramway Company entered into a contract with the Electric Construction Corporation, of Wolverhampton, for the equipment of a section of its lines with plant for electric traction on what is generally known as the trolley wire system, the lines having hitherto been worked by steam locomotives. The plant is now practically completed, and the inspection by General Hutchinson and Major Cardew, on behalf of the Board of Trade, took place on Saturday, November 12th, so that the electric cars will very shortly come into service.

The lines over which the electric cars are to be run extend from the junction of Holyhead Road and Bridge Street in Wednesbury, through the centre of the borough of Walsall, to Bloxwich, with two branch lines, one running from the Pleck to Darlaston, and the other from Walsall to Mellish Road. The length of streets occupied by the tramways is just over eight miles, six miles having a single line with turn-outs, the other two miles having a double line, making a total length of track, and therefore of trolley wire, of over ten miles. The route taken by the lines is shown on the map - Fig. 5 - which also indicates the position of the generating station on the line between the Pleck and Darlaston.


Fig. 5. A map of the tramway.


The generating station at Pleck, Walsall.


Fig. 6. The generating station.


Fig. 7. A plan of the generating station.

Arrangements are also provided so that the engines can be run non-condensing if required. The dynamos, one of which is driven from each engine by means of cotton ropes, are of the usual Elwell-Parker type, and give an output of 260 amperes at 300 volts, when running 400 revolutions per minute, the field magnets being shunt wound. The driving pulleys are carried between two bearings, and there is a coupling between the pulley and armature shafts, so that the latter can at any time be removed without taking off the ropes or dismounting the pulley.
Each dynamo is connected by cables carried under the floor to a patent Elwell-Parker automatic magnetic contact, which also acts as the main switch for the machine.

These contacts are adjusted so that, in the event of an excessive current being demanded from the machines - due to any accident or short circuit on the lines - the circuit is opened, and any damage to the machines prevented.

All three machines feed in parallel on to common omnibus bars, between which and the feeders taking current out to the line there is a simple main switch. Ammeters are provided in each dynamo circuit, and a voltmeter with large dial indicates the electromotive force across the omnibus bars.

Multiple contact switches and resistance coils are connected in the shunt circuits for regulating the electromotive force.

A section of the switchboard showing the arrangement for each machine is illustrated in Fig. 4.


Fig. 4. The switchboard.

From the generating station the current is supplied to the 0 gauge copper trolley wire by underground feeders, these being insulated with vulcanised bitumen, lead sheathed, and armoured with a double layer of steel tape, so that they can be laid directly in the ground without further protection; the lengths and sections of the feeders are indicated in the map - Fig. 5.

The return circuit is completed through the rails and earth. At distances of approximately half a mile apart connections are made between the feeders and trolley wire by means of cables drawn up inside the posts. Each section of trolley wire is fed into at both ends, the current passing through fuses placed in an underground box - Fig. 8 - at the foot of the feeding posts. These fuse boxes are made on the diving bell principle, to prevent any possibility of water accumulating in them and rising sufficiently high to reach the connection. The covers are easily drawn up to allow of examination or insertion of new fuses. The map - Fig. 5 - shows the position of the feeding points and fuses.


Fig. 8. Underground fuse boxes.

The trolley wire is carried at a height of 20ft. from the surface of the streets by poles along one side of the road only; arms projecting from the poles - Fig. 7 - carry the insulators supporting the wire. A special arrangement, suggested by Mr. Dickinson, the Tramway Company's engineer, makes it unnecessary that the trolley wire should be at a regular distance from the centre of the rails, the collector being designed so as to allow a variation of several feet. Where there is a double line of rails the pole arm carries two insulators and two trolley wires, one for the up and one for the down line. Automatic overhead switches are fixed at the turn-outs, so as to guide the collector wheel along the right wire.

Fourteen cars made by Messrs. Brown, Marshall, and Co., and the Lancaster Wagon Company, are being supplied for the equipment of the line, each carrying forty passengers, eighteen inside and twenty-two outside. The collector is fixed on one side of the roof of the car, the arrangement being clearly shown in Fig. 7.


Fig. 2. An under truck with motors.


Fig. 3. An Elwell-Parker motor.

The under trucks - Fig. 2 - carry two Elwell-Parker series wound motors - Fig. 3 - each capable of running continuously with a load of 15 horsepower, the normal speed being 400 revolutions per minute; the armatures are geared up to the axles by means of cast steel double helical wheels and pinions, having a ratio of 4 to 1. One motor is considered to be amply sufficient to take a fully loaded car up the heaviest gradient of 1 in 28 occurring on the line. The practice of using two motors on each car appears to have been brought over from America, where the lines are not so well laid, and where, also, they have to contend with snow and ice throughout the winter. On very few lines in England do we consider that it will be necessary to use two motors, although it will be necessary that the one motor shall be more than 15 horsepower, unless a simple form of gear for varying the speed with a constant speed of motor be used. Driving switches are fitted at both ends of the car, and arranged so that either or both of the motors can be in use, the regulation of speed being effected by putting resistance into the motor circuit.

The whole of the electrical plant has been designed, manufactured, and installed by the Electric Construction Corporation, who are also responsible for the other portion of the plant supplied to them by various firms as sub-contractors. The running of the line is also in the hands of the Electric Construction Corporation, they having undertaken to work it at a fixed charge per car mile for a number of years. Mr. Alfred Dickinson has been appointed to superintend the working on their behalf.

By 1897 the tram company was behind with its annual payments to the Electric Construction Company for running the service. The matter was settled when the tram company gave a large number of shares to the Electric Construction Company, giving it a controlling interest in the tram company. On 29th July, 1897 the Electric Construction Company sold its shares in the tramway company to the British Electric Traction Company, who now had the controlling interest in the tram company, and took-over the running of the services.

On 31st July, 1899 the British Electric Traction Company formed the South Staffordshire Tramways (Lessee) Company Limited. The new company took over the operation of the electrified lines on the South Staffordshire Tramway network.

Thanks to the frequent and reliable service, people could quickly travel, and shop in the surrounding towns. This gave them a much wider choice of commodities, and changed their shopping habits for ever.


Darlaston Tram Depot.

A photograph from an old postcard showing the last steam tram that operated from Darlaston depot, on 15th June, 1904.

It's on its way back to Darlaston from Walsall via the Pleck and Wednesbury, passing Samuel Platt's King's Hill Foundry.

It took a long time for the route to be electrified. The line opened to traffic again in September 1905.

The first electric tram ran between Wednesbury and Darlaston via King's Hill on 26th September, 1905.

The route from the Bull Stake to Moxley ended near the old horse tram depot of the Wolverhampton Tramways Company, which at the time ran four-wheeled, open-topped double deckers, drawn by a pair of horses. There was a tram from Moxley to Bilston every forty minutes, so passengers from Darlaston to Bilston had to change at Moxley from an electric tram to a horse-drawn tram. In 1900 the route was taken over by the Wolverhampton Tramways Company, and electrified. The depot at Moxley closed, and a new depot was built at Mount Pleasant, Bilston.

In 1902 the Wolverhampton District Electric Tramways Company, part of the British Electric Traction Company group, secured running rights over the South Staffs track from the Bull Stake to Moxley, and began running trams from Stow Heath Lane to the Bull Stake. People could change at Bilston for Bradley, or for Dudley, via Sedgley and the Fighting Cocks. On 6th December, 1902 the Wolverhampton District Electric Tramways Company began running trams into Church Street Darlaston from Willenhall, and nine days later extended the service down King Street to the Bull Stake.

By this time Darlaston had an excellent public transport system enabling people to easily, and cheaply travel to most of the towns in the Black Country. Nearly all of the trams were operated by the British Electric Traction Company, which acquired leases from local authorities to run the trams within their area.


In the early years of the 20th century, the Bull Stake was a busy place, as people queued for the trams, and alighted from them on their arrival in the town. From an old postcard.


Another view from an old postcard of the tram queues on the Bull Stake.


A tram arrives in Darlaston Road from Wednesbury.

On 1st January, 1904 the Borough of Walsall began to operate trams on the tramways in Walsall, after taking them over from their previous owners. In the early 1930s Walsall Corporation took over the South Staffordshire Tramways (Lessee) Company Limited, and replaced the tram network with motor buses, which resulted in the closure of Darlaston tram depot. After the closure, the only trams still running in the Black Country were those operated by Birmingham Corporation.

The Wolverhampton District Electric Tramways Company was taken over by Wolverhampton Corporation under the terms of the Wolverhampton Corporation Act of 1928. The Corporation purchased the Bilston depot, and began running trams to the Bull Stake on 1st September, 1928. In 1929 the Corporation began replacing the trams with trolley buses. The first trolley bus ran to the Bull Stake on 27th January, 1930.


From Wolverhampton Corporation's 1928 timetable.


A Walsall tram at the Bull Stake in about 1910.

 

The trolley buses dropped passengers off by Pinfold Street Wesleyan Chapel, turned round at the Bull Stake, and stopped outside Len Mitchell’s shop before returning to Wolverhampton.

The frequent and reliable service was very popular. The last trolley bus ran from the Bull Stake on 8th August, 1965.

 


A Wolverhampton & District Electric Tramways tram, number 30, arriving from Bilston in the early 1920s.


A tram travels along Church Street on its way to Willenhall.


The sales literature for the tram depot.


Walsall Corporation Tramways tram number 41 turns into Bescot Road, from Wednesbury Road, on its way to Darlaston via Wednesbury. The building on the left, the Brown Lion pub is still much as it was in 1930 when the photograph was taken.

This poor quality photograph taken in Walsall Road shows the single tram lines that were in use at the time. Passing places were used to allow two-way working.

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