Bradford City Transport 1898-1974

Although the construction of tramways within the city of Bradford had been proposed on a number of occasions (notably by the Bradford District Tramways Company and the Bradford Tramways Company), the Corporation’s insistence on financial guarantees to be paid before they would allow work to proceed did not find favour with the private companies and the projects were abandoned.

By 1880, however, the Corporation had gained Parliamentary approval under the Bradford Corporation Tramways Order to construct its own tramway system within the city. In September 1881, construction of the first section of single-line track on Manningham Lane began.

The finished line ran from Rawson Square in the city centre, along North Parade, Manningham Lane, Oak Lane, St. Mary’s Road and North Park Road to Lister Park Gates.

At the time, local councils were not allowed to operate their own tramway system and so the line was leased to the Bradford Tramways Company (later the Bradford Tramways and Omnibus Company Limited).

Following a Board of Trade inspection, which took place on the 31st January 1882, the line was opened to the public. The company commenced the first service at 8 am on the 2nd February 1882, using a fleet of six horse-drawn open-top 38-seat double-deck tramcars (nos. 1-6), built by Ashbury of Manchester to Eades’ reversible patent.

On the 8th August 1882 the first additional line was opened. This time steam traction was used because of the gradients involved.

It ran along Leeds Road to Stanningley and was followed soon afterwards by other radial lines to Tong Cemetery, Allerton via Four Lane Ends and an extension of the horse line from Manningley to Undercliffe.

The steam engines were built by Kitson of Leeds and the first trailer cars were converted from the Ashbury-built horse cars, with new trailer cars being supplied by Milnes.

In 1884 a new line was constructed from the Town Hall Square to Shelf, with a branch line from Odsal to Wyke, and, as was Corporation practice, the Bradford Tramways and Omnibus Company was offered the operating lease, but failed to show sufficient interest.

The Corporation therefore invited offers, prompting a new company, the Bradford and Shelf Tramways Company to submit a tender. In the event a 19-year lease was granted, expiring on the same day (31st January 1903) as those of the Bradford Tramways and Omnibus Company.

The Bradford and Shelf Tramways Company inaugurated its steam services using five Thomas Green and Sons (of Leeds) engines and 6 Starbuck-built 58-seat double-deck trailer cars.

In 1896 an Act of Parliament removed the prohibition on local authorities operating their own tramways and Bradford Council decided to construct and operate its own electric tramway.

On the 30th July 1898 an electrified line was opened to Bolton Junction, and, on 27th August 1898 a further line to Great Horton came into service.

The initial fleet of tramcars consisted of 16 Brush-bodied open-top double-deck cars (nos. 1-16), with another 8 similar tramcars (nos. 17-24) delivered in 1899 and four trailer cars (nos. 25-28).

Further tracks were laid in preparation for the large-scale expansion of the tramway, although a comprehensive system could not be developed until the expiry of the Bradford Tramways and Omnibus Company, and the Bradford and Shelf Tramway Company, leases in 1903.

However, such was the Corporation’s determination to improve the system, statutory powers were obtained to terminate the Companies leases before their expiry date, and, on 1st February 1902 they were purchased outright, both tramway companies subsequently going into liquidation.

The Corporation was, however, obliged to hire some of the steam engines and cars from the former tramway companies until the electric system was fully operational.

On 31st January 1902, the horse trams that had been running on the Manningham Lane service since 1882 were finally retired. The following year the last steam tram ran on the former Bradford and Shelf Tramway track and the Bradford tramway system became fully electrified.

In 1904 the Corporation purchased the Mid-Yorkshire Tramway Company of Shipley and incorporated the workings into the Bradford system.

The electric tramway continued to be developed and extended until October 1914, when the last extension from Bingley Post Office to Crossflats was opened, thus completing the system.

By this time, however, the trolleybus had made an appearance on the streets of Bradford. Following an inspection of several European systems it was decided to inaugurate a trolleybus service from Laisterdyke to Dudley Hill, which commenced on 20th June 1911, using two Railless single-deck chassis with Hurst Nelson B28R bodies numbered 240 and 241.

The trolleybus was intended for use where the population of an area was too small to warrant the cost of providing a tramway service, and had been preferred over the motorbus.

With the two systems running side by side, Bradford Corporation adopted a policy of building its own vehicles, and in 1912 the first Bradford Corporation tram (No. 210) built on Brush 21E bogies entered service and during the next few years over 150 cars were built at the Corporation’s Thornbury Works.

Between 1913 and 1918, an improved design of single-deck trolleybus was also built by the Corporation, culminating in the design of Britain’s first top-covered double-deck trolleybus, which underwent trials in 1920.

The transport department manager of the time (Mr. R. Wilkinson) was in favour of the trolleybus as a replacement for the tramcar, but his plans for a large trolleybus network did not find favour with the Transport Committee and, in the event, the tramway system was retained, although the trolleybus fleet was increased and modernised over the years.

More trolleybus routes followed, Odsal to Oakenshaw (opened 1914), Bolton Woods and Frizinghall (1915), Clayton (1926), Allerton (1929), Saltaire via Thackley (1930), Greengates via Idle (1931), Duckworth Lane (1935), Tong Cemetery (1938), Saltaire, Bingley and Crossflats (1939), Bradford Moor (1949), Wibsey (1955), Buttershaw (1956) and Holme Wood (1960), with the trolleybus fleet eventually numbering over 200 vehicles before its decline and demise in the late 1960’s and early 1970’s at the hands of the ubiquitous bus.

The bus had made a brief appearance in Bradford as early as 1897, when a short-lived service, operated by the Yorkshire Motor Car Company using a single vehicle, and which lasted for only a few days, ran from the Town Hall to Four Lane Ends.

In August 1900, another daily service was inaugurated, this time along Manningham Lane by Mr. Albert House (trading as the Bradford Motor Company), who had maintained and garaged the Yorkshire Motor Car vehicle.

This service outlasted the earlier attempt but finally succumbed to the newly electrified tramcars in 1902, but not before Mr. John House (son of the owner) had been issued with the very first motor car conductor’s licence (No.1) issued by the Corporation.

It was to be the mid-1920’s before Bradford Corporation finally introduced the motorbus after a lengthy legal battle with the West Riding Automobile Company, which culminated in the decision on 17th May 1926 to grant licences for the operation of private motorbuses on no less than 14 services in Bradford.

The Bradford Corporation Act of 1925 had granted powers to the Corporation to operate motorbuses, but restricted their use to the city. Nevertheless, armed with these powers, Bradford Corporation set about challenging the private operators and several demonstrators had been tested by January 1926.

It was planned to inaugurate four routes, to Haworth Road, Cutler Heights, Lister Park to Bankfoot, and to Oakenshaw. The initial order for 17 vehicles was split between AEC (who provided 10 AEC 413’s with United B28R bodywork) and Leyland (who supplied 7 Leyland B31F-bodied PLSC1’s).

Four of these (Nos. 301 and 303-305) commenced the first scheduled bus service from Lister Park to Bankfoot on the 13th May 1926, in deliberate competition with Blythe and Berwick, a local operator who had been running buses in competition with the tramways.

The bus fleet was garaged along with the trams at Thornbury depot, with the nearby English Electric Works being used as an overspill when the fleet began to grow.

Investment in the tramway system was still continuing with the Tramways Committee authorising a new permanent way for Manningham Lane and the construction of a new experimental tramcar, but a strike by tramways staff in 1926, allowed private bus operators into the city and highlighted the shortcomings of the tramway system.

By 1928, when some of the worn tramway track was in need of repair, suggestions were made that trolleybuses, at just one quarter the cost of completely renewing the track, should be used to replace the trams.

Although the official policy at the time was that there was a place in Bradford for all three forms of transport, in reality plans were being made to replace the tramcars. In 1929, trolleybuses replaced the Allerton trams, and several of the elderly tramcars were withdrawn.

The following year trolleybuses replaced the trams on the Thackley and Saltaire route and the tramway system began its slow demise and by 1931 construction of tramcars had ceased.

By 1939 much of the system had closed and it was planned to complete the abandonment within the next few years, but the onset of World War II delayed the plans and it was not until 6th May 1950 that the last Bradford tramcar (No. 104) returned to Bankfoot depot for the final time.

In the meantime, the motorbus had continued its relentless march. In 1926 services were introduced to Bierley, and Fagley; in 1927 to Little Horton from Duckworth Lane, to Horton Bank Top from Bankfoot, and to Tong and in 1928 to Greengates, Leeds and Tyersal, by which time the Bradford Corporation Act of 1928 had authorised the operation of Bradford buses outside the city limits for the first time.

On the 16th April 1928, buses were used for the first time as replacement vehicles for the tramway between Undercliffe and Greengates, pending the introduction of trolleybuses.

This necessitated the use of large capacity vehicles and as a result tenders were invited for the supply of ten double-deck vehicles, which, in the event, resulted in the acquisition of ten Leyland TD1 chassis with Leyland L27/24RO bodywork, numbered 353-367.

By 1935 the motorbus was used to replace several more tramway routes although expansion of the fleet was not contemplated for several years. Instead the predominantly single-deck fleet was converted to a modern double-deck fleet in anticipation.

With the advent of World War II, motorbus services were immediately affected by restrictions in fuel, although the tram and trolleybus services continued as normal.

Wartime deliveries included Guy Arab and Daimler CW chassis with austerity bodywork. In September 1948 Bradford’s first 8ft wide vehicles in the shape of six Crossley DD42’s with Crossley H30/26R bodywork were purchased, followed in 1949 by 20 all-Leyland PD2’s as the Corporation strove to modernise the fleet.

The official title of the undertaking was changed to Bradford City Transport in March 1952, although the rising cost in working expenses was beginning to concern the department and economies were sought.

The imposition of increased diesel fuel duty in the Budget of that year coupled with a decrease in electricity costs for the trolleybuses meant that they were now more viable than the motorbuses and the Transport Committee was therefore persuaded to use trolleybuses whenever practical.

However, by 1962, the position had been reversed and the Transport Committee voted to replace the trolleybuses by the more flexible motorbus.

Ten AEC Regent V’s were delivered in March 1961 in readiness for the first stage of trolleybus conversion, which involved the withdrawal of the trolleybuses on the City to Bradford Moor, and the Eccleshill to St. Enoch’s Road services in November 1962.

At its peak the Bradford trolleybus system covered 47 route miles and operated 200 vehicles, but by 1967 the fleet had dwindled to less than 100 vehicles and, five years later, on Sunday March 26th 1972, trolleybus No. 844 made its way into Thornbury depot, the last trolleybus to carry fare paying passengers in Bradford, and also the last in Britain.

Over 60 years of trolleybus operation had ended and the motorbus now reigned triumphant. But Bradford City Transport’s days were numbered.

On the 31st March 1974, just two years after the last trolleybus had run, Bradford City Transport itself disappeared, swallowed up by the newly formed West Yorkshire Passenger Transport Executive, ending at a stroke over 75 years of locally run transport in Bradford.

In producing this history reference has been made to the following sources;
The Directory of British Tramways (Keith Turner, PSL 1996); Bradford Corporation Trams; Bradford Corporation Trolleybuses; Bradford Corporation Motorbuses; all by J.S. King (various dates, Venture); PSV Circle Fleet History PB28 (1993).

Tram Fleet List 1898-1950 | Trolleybus Fleet List 1911-1972 | Bus Fleet List 1926-1974 |