On the 20th May 1872 the Birmingham and District Tramways Co. Ltd., opened the first tramway line in the region.
It ran from the Birmingham boundary at Hockley Brook through Handsworth to West Bromwich, where, at Carter’s Green (the company’s main depot) it forked to serve Hill Top, south of Wednesbury and west to Dudley Port.
Metropolitan open-top double-deck horse-drawn cars (numbered 1-12 in crimson and cream livery) worked the single-track lines.
In September 1873 under the Birmingham Corporation Tramways Order of 1872, Birmingham Corporation constructed a line from Monmouth Street in the city centre via Hockley Hill to meet the Birmingham and District line at Hockley Brook.
The line was leased to the company and a further ten (?) Metropolitan and Starbuck double-deckers were purchased.
The line, however, failed to meet financial requirements and at the end of 1873 the branch to Dudley Port was closed. The route to Hill Top was curtailed at Carter’s Green in 1875 as a further economy measure.
By 1876 the company was in financial difficulties and, on 24th May 1876, a new company, specially formed for the purpose – the Birmingham Tramways and Omnibus Co. Ltd, purchased the line.
A southern extension to the system, on lines owned and constructed by the Corporation but leased to the new company, was opened on 17th June 1876.This travelled along Colmore Road, Anne Street, Paradise Street, Suffolk Street and Bristol Road for some 2.5 miles to the southern boundary, serving the residential south side of the city.
In 1882 the Birmingham and Aston Tramways Co. Ltd., opened a narrow gauge line from Aston Street northwards to Aston Cross, where the lines diverged, travelling by different routes to Witton.
Six (1-6) Kitson steam locomotives and ten (1-10) open-top double-deck trailers by Starbuck maintained initial services. In 1883 two Wilkinson locos (7-8) were added and over the next three years a further 19 more Kitson locos (9-27) joined them.
Passenger stock, in the form of covered bogie cars from Midland in 1885 (11-18), in 1886 from Metropolitan (19-26) and Starbuck (23-26) was also increased. In 1885 a branch line was opened to Salford Bridge linking with a company operated horse bus service to Erdington.
1884 saw the appearance of another tramway company, the Birmingham Central Tramway Co. Ltd., who began running horse trams between Old Square and Nechells Park Road with subsequent routes being steam operated.
The principal routes served Perry Barr, Saltley Road, Lozells, Sparkbrook, Moseley Road and Small Heath, those to the north running from Old Square and those to the south from the LNWR’s New Street station.
Early locos were provided by Kitson (1-26,35-36), Falcon (27-34,37-57), Beyer Peacock (58-70) and Burrell (71). Falcon supplied the covered double-deck bogie trailers (numbered 11-74 [Nos. 1-10 probably being used for the Company’s horse trams]).
The Birmingham and Midland Tramways Ltd., promoted by a group of local businessmen to link Birmingham with Dudley, opened the first section of track in July 1885. It ran from Summer Row in the centre of Birmingham along Dudley Road to the boundary at Cape Hill, on a section of track constructed by the Corporation.
The remainder, constructed by the Birmingham and Western Districts Tramways Co. Ltd., opened in August 1885 and continued the line to Dudley station, with two branches to West Bromwich. Some 35 miles of track were planned but only a quarter of this was ever built.
The initial steam locos were supplied by Kitson (1-12) and Oldbury provided the covered bogie trailers (1-16). Later locos were manufactured by Green in 1885/6 (13,20-24) and Kitson in 1886 (14-19) and 1896-99 (13,22,24-28).
In 1899 six second-hand Kitson locos (29-34) were purchased from the Dudley, Stourbridge and District Electric Tramways, followed by another two (1,10) in 1900. Additional trailers were covered bogie cars 17-22 (Starbuck, 1886), 25-27 (company-built, 1897-1900) and 28-32 (ex-Dudley, Stourbridge and District).
The entire fleet was housed in the depot in West Smethwick at the Spon Lane junction.
The tramway was not a financial success and the company sold out in 1899 to the British Electric Traction Co., who wished to electrify the line as part of their Black Country scheme. In July 1904 the company became part of the Birmingham and Midland Tramways Joint Committee (see later).
In January 1886, the Birmingham Central Tramway Co. bought the portion of the Birmingham Tramways and Omnibus Co.’s system that lay outside the city, the Corporation continuing to lease those lines that were within the city boundary.
The Colmore Row to Hockley Brook route was converted to cable traction in March 1888, because of the steep climb up Hockley Hill, and extended in April 1889 to Handsworth.
Open-top bogie cars (75-100 and 113-124) along with covered bogie toastracks (141-150) worked the route out of Hockley depot.
In July 1890 the reconstructed Bristol Road route to Bournbrook route re-opened and double-deck open-top bogie battery electric cars (101-112) worked the route. These cars lasted until 1901, when electric cars using an overhead supply replaced them.
On the 29th September 1896 the City of Birmingham Tramways Co. Ltd., took over the running of the Birmingham Central Tramway Company.
Throughout the 1890’s further locos were taken into stock including Kitson locos 57,60-62,71-90, purchased new and second-hand Kitson locos, 91-92 (ex-Birmingham and Aston Tramways) and 93-97 (ex-Birmingham and Midland), some of which were to replace withdrawn locos.
Additional double-deck bogie trailers were supplied by Midland in 1899 (125-130) and six built by the Company themselves in 1900 (131-136).
In June 1902 Aston Manor UDC purchased the portion of the line within its boundary, previously leased to the Birmingham and Aston Tramway Co., electrified it and leased it to the City of Birmingham Tramway Company.
By this time the British Electric Traction Co. had acquired a controlling interest and commenced expansion plans as part of the envisaged Black Country system.
Known as the Birmingham and Midland Joint Tramways Committee it was formed on the 4th December 1903 by the BET and included several subsidiaries (Birmingham and Midland, Wolverhampton District, South Staffordshire, and the Dudley, Stourbridge and District tramways).
A common fare structure was established with through timetabling and running and, by 1907, it even had its own car production works at Tividale, just east of Dudley.
However problems arose because of the enormous amount of agreements made with local authorities, some of which already ran their own systems.
In 1924 West Bromwich Corporation decided not to renew the lease on the tracks within their boundary, ripping the heart out of the system and by 1930 the BMJTC had disappeared.
Although the Corporation owned all the tracks within the city of Birmingham it was not until 1904 that it commenced operations in its own right. In that year the lease on the Birmingham portion of the Birmingham and Aston Tramways system expired.
The Corporation took over the line, electrified it and re-opened the section from Steelhouse Lane to the boundary using United Electric Car double-deck open-top bogie cars numbered 1-20.
As the leases on the City of Birmingham Tramway Co.’s tracks slowly expired they were taken over by the Corporation.
On the 1st January 1912 the operating rights on the last remaining lengths of track passed to the Corporation along with a number of the Company’s trams and they were now in control of the tracks within the city boundary, which had already been expanded by the absorption of several neighbouring smaller authorities.
Following World War I the system continued to expand into a comprehensive network of long routes extending to the city boundary in all directions from a number of central termini, linking with other undertakings at several points.
Connections were made with the Black Country network of BET at Ladywood (Birmingham and Midland) and at Handsworth with the South Staffordshire Company, whose loss of the West Bromwich lease sparked the collapse of the Black Country ideal.
In 1924 Birmingham Corporation took over the West Bromwich lease, enabling Birmingham trams to reach Dudley in the west. On the 1st April 1928 the Corporation took over the main line route to Dudley of the former Birmingham and Midland Tramway Company (it had been re-named the Birmingham District Power and Traction Co. Ltd., in 1912).
Later that year on 26th August the last major tram route to Stetchford opened.
On 26th November 1922 trolleybuses replaced the route to Nechells and although tramway abandonment did not gather pace until the 1930’s, the decline had already started. The route to Bolton Road was abandoned in May 1930, quickly followed by the Hagley Road route (August 1930).
By 1939 the Lozells, Yardley, Stratford Road to Acocks Green, West Bromwich, and Dudley routes had all been replaced. However the bulk of the system remained in use throughout the war years until 1947 when wholesale closure of the system started.
On the 4th July 1953, the last three routes to Short Heath, Pype Hayes and Erdington closed simultaneously and over 70 years of tramway operations in Birmingham came to an end.
In producing this history reference has been made to the following sources;
Black Country Tramways Vol.1: 1872-1912 – J.S. Webb (Author, Bloxwich,1974), Birmingham Transport Vol.1 – Alec G. Jensen (The Birmingham Transport Historical Group, 1978), A Short Review of Birmingham Corporation Tramways – P.L. Hardy and P. Jacques (HJ Publications, Reading, 1971). The Directory of British Tramways – Keith Turner (Patrick Stephens Ltd., 1996); PSV Circle Fleet Histories PD9C (1982) and PD10C (1984).