Wolverhampton Corporation Tramways - Electric Traction.
Into Operation

Once the decision had been taken to use the Lorain System, and an Act of Parliament had been passed to allow the work to progress, the Tramways Committee quickly pressed ahead with the conversion so that trams would be running in readiness for the Wolverhampton Art and Industrial Exhibition in West Park, which was due to open on 1st May, 1902. This was seen as essential for the success of the exhibition because most visitors would use public transport to get there.

Two initial routes were planned from Ettingshall Road to Tettenhall, one along Tettenhall Road, and another via Waterloo Road, and New Hampton Road. The first section from Ettingshall Road to Cleveland Road, which would be used for the initial trial, was completed on 13th January, 1902, and inspected the next day by the Board of Trade.

Tests were carried out during the next two weeks, including the running of a 15 ton steam roller, over the track, up and down the route for a whole afternoon. Another test used a traction engine to pull a 28 ton load over the track. While this was happening, work progressed on a new tram depot in Cleveland Road, capable of holding 60 tramcars. The building had a repair shop at the rear, which had an overhead crane for moving heavy items. The depot opened on 6th February, 1902. The first three tramcars used on the Ettingshall Road track were supplied by the Lorain Company. Two of them were single deck cars, one fully enclosed, and one with open seating at each end. The other was a double deck, open-topped car. Initial problems were caused by pieces of scrap iron that had fallen onto the track from open carts, used by the scrap merchants in Bilston Road. The scrap iron was attracted to the magnetic skates on the bottom of the tram, and caused short circuits.

Work on the track in New Hampton Road began in January 1902, after which the horse-drawn trams to Newbridge only ran along Tettenhall Road as far as the junction with New Hampton Road West. The various sections opened on the following dates:

Ettingshall Road to Cleveland Road - 6th February.
Cleveland Road to Victoria Square - 30th April.
Victoria Square to Coleman Street - 1st May.
Victoria Square to Newbridge via Tettenhall Road - 12th June.
Coleman Street to Newbridge - 11th August.
Newbridge to Wergs Road - 13th September.
Waterloo Road to Molineux Road siding (for football matches only) - 20th September.

Another nine tramcars went into operation in May, in readiness for the exhibition, and another six began to operate in July and August. In March, the Corporation began selling most of the horse-drawn tramcars and the horses. On 17th March, 1902 a horse-drawn tram service was started by the Corporation on the Dudley Road route, running to Fighting Cocks. The service, which was withdrawn on 22nd December, 1903 was the Corporation's last venture into horse drawn trams.


Cleveland Road Depot in October 1902. From 'Tramway & Railway World'.


Two of the trams built by G. F. Milnes & Company Limited, seen in May 1902, outside the Cleveland Road Depot. From an old postcard.
As already mentioned in the article from 'The Engineer', Mr. C. E. C. Shawfield, Borough Engineer, submitted his critical report about the Lorain system to the council in April 1903. The Borough Surveyor Mr. George Green also submitted a report that listed the shortcomings of the Lorain system. In his report he stated that 24 percent of the granite casings on the contact boxes were badly worn.

The council met to discuss the matter under the chairmanship of Alderman Charles Tertius Mander who was in favour of the continued use of the system. He felt that the use of the system was essential to keep the British Electric Traction Company at bay. He stated that it was fighting tooth and nail to get Wolverhampton tramways into its hands. The Mayor, Alderman G. R. Thorne disagreed. He felt that the best option would be to use overhead wires, which was the cheapest system to run and maintain. At the end of the meeting it was agreed that the use of the Lorain system would continue, but the council would not purchase the system outright from the company.

This led to a fierce dispute between the council and the company. The council claimed that it was not fit for purpose because it was not a commercial success, and was unsafe for men and animals. Five months later an agreement was finally reached, and approved at a council meeting on 21st September, 1903. The Lorain Company were to be paid £22,000 on account, and they were to supply and fix 1,000 top plates with removable centres, plus an additional 4,000 top plates, all without charge. When this had been done, the council would pay the balance of the contract price.


Car number 10 in Queen Square, on its way to the 1902 exhibition.

New Routes

The Lorain system was extended with the opening of several new routes in 1904, all under the terms of the Wolverhampton Corporation Acts of Parliament. The new routes and opening dates were as follows:

8th March Snow Hill to Fighting Cocks
2nd April Horseley Fields to Coventry Street
23rd April Coventry Street to Deans Road
22nd June Princes Square to Church Street, Heath Town
13th August Waterloo Road to Bushbury Lane
31st October Church Street, Heath Town to New Street, Wednesfield


Repairs to the track in Dudley Road as a Lorain tram from Snow Hill approaches.

In 1904 the Corporation received a further six double deck, open-topped tramcars, and another four closed, single deck cars. The whole network came to a halt in Christmas 1906 after a heavy fall of snow, followed by rain, and a heavy frost. This left a layer of ice over the rails and contact boxes, which had to be chipped away by hand. It took three and a half days to clear it all away.

In 1909, after the reconstruction of Queen Square, and the widening of Worcester Street, work began on the line to Penn Fields. The new route opened on 10th September, 1909. It ran from Victoria Square to Stubbs Lane, via Lea Road. This completed the Lorain network, which covered 21½ miles of single track. Six more double deck, open-topped tramcars were purchased for use on the new route.


Car number 44 built by the United Electric Car Company Limited, approaches Queen Square.

The British Electric Traction Company and the Corporation

For several years, Wolverhampton Corporation had successfully prevented the B.E.T. Company from extending its routes into the centre of Wolverhampton. This annoyed many members of the travelling public, and local businessmen who had to frequently change trams as they travelled to and from Wolverhampton.

The Corporation came under a lot of pressure to allow through-working from Wolverhampton to the surrounding towns, but would still not allow unsightly overhead wires in Wolverhampton town centre. In February 1905 a provisional agreement was made between the Corporation and B.E.T., allowing each to run dual-system tramcars, capable of running on each-others network.

Some corporation tramcars were soon fitted with overhead trolley equipment, and a through service began between Wolverhampton and Bilston Town Hall on the 9th November, 1905, followed by a through service from Wolverhampton to Willenhall Market Place which began to operate on 18th April, 1906.

Things were not so easy for B.E.T. whose tramcars were six inches narrower than those operated by the Corporation, and so difficult and expensive to modify. Wolverhampton District cars began to run a through service from Dudley to Wolverhampton on 15th October, 1906, but it was to be short-lived. The Lorain equipment that had been fitted to the trams weighed nearly one ton, which greatly increased the consumption of electricity over the hilly route. The trams became uneconomical to run, and as the Corporation would not allow overhead wires on its section of the route, the through service ended in January 1909.

Until 1911 all of Wolverhampton Corporation's double deck trams were open topped, because the Board of Trade felt that closed-top models were unsafe in high winds. The Board of Trade recommended that if closed-top double deck tramcars were used, a number of open-topped cars should be kept in reserve for use when necessary. In wet weather passengers naturally headed for the lower covered saloon, which often became overcrowded. In 1911 the Tramways Committee decided to add top covers to six cars. They were a great success, and so another seven were later modified.


A tram built by the United Electric Car Company Limited, with an added top cover. Seen in Lichfield Street sometime after 1911. From an old postcard.

Around the same time, drivers were complaining that the open-fronted trams were a danger to their health. As a result, from 1911 cars were fitted with vestibules.

Overhead Wires

In October 1919, the General Manager of Wolverhampton Corporation Tramways, Mr. Charles Owen Silvers submitted a report to the Tramways Committee, drawing attention to the bad state of the track, much of which needed to be renewed. He also advocated the conversion of the network to an overhead wire system. Much of the single track also needed to be replaced with double track to accommodate the increasing amount of traffic. The cost of this conversion using Lorain contact boxes would be prohibitive. In June 1920 the report was discussed at a council meeting, and the findings were approved. The expected cost of conversion to overhead wires was expected to cost around £375,000.

In 1920 the Corporation received its last tramcars fitted with Lorain equipment. They consisted of three double deck cars, and three single deck cars, all built by Dick, Kerr & Company Limited. The single deck models were also fitted with poles and trolleys for use with overhead wires.

Work on the conversion to overhead wires began in January 1921, and had been completed by mid October. The various routes were equipped with poles and overhead wires, and opened on the following dates:

Date Route Service Number
26th March Dudley Road 8
15th June Bilston Road 7
22nd July Willenhall Road 6
28th July Wednesfield 5
28th August Whitmore Reans 2
1st October Bushbury 3
5th October Tettenhall 1
15th October Penn Fields 4

The conversion, carried out under the direction of Mr. Silvers, involved the fitting of around 1,100 poles, all of which were stronger than necessary so that they could also be used for a possible conversion to trolley buses. As each route opened, the Lorain gear was removed from the trams, each of which then weighed about one ton less. Although no longer used, the Lorain contact boxes remained in place until either trackwork, or roadwork was undertaken.

Early in 1922 the Corporation purchased its last new tramcars. The eight tramcars were built by the Brush Electrical Engineering Company Limited, and were long wheelbase single deck cars.

On 16th January 1923, members of the Tramways Committee inspected the trolley buses in operation at Birmingham. Mr. Silvers submitted a report to the council recommending the conversion of the existing Wednesfield line to trolley bus operation. This was approved by the council, and the trolley bus service to Wednesfield began on 29th October, 1923. Within the next five years all of Wolverhampton Corporation's trams had been replaced. The last tram journey on the Corporation's system took place on 26th August, 1928. The tram ran from Bilston to Cleveland Road Depot.


The tram wires in Darlington Street.


   

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