Ipswich Corporation Transport 1903-1986

The first tramway in Ipswich was that built by S. A. Graham of Manchester, who constructed and operated a ¾-mile horse drawn line between Cornhill in the town centre, via Princes Street, to the Great Eastern Railway station.

The tramway was built to a gauge of 3ft 6ins and opened for business on the 13th October 1880. Three single-deck Starbuck-built cars formed the initial fleet, working from a depot in Quadling Street about ¼-mile from the station.

Later in the year a branch line to Brooks Hall, via Portman Road and Norwich Road, was opened.

In 1881, under the Ipswich Tramways Act of 1881, the lines were taken over by a newly formed company, the Ipswich Tramway Company, who constructed a third section linking Cornhill and Brooks Hall, via Westgate Street and St Matthews Street, producing a triangular system.

In 1884 an extension from Cornhill to Derby Road station completed the system, which was single-track throughout its length. By this time the purchase of six additional double-deck cars, three of which arrived in 1882 and three more in 1884, had increased the fleet.

In 1898, the Ipswich Omnibus Company commenced a horse drawn omnibus service between Bramford Road and Wherstead.

The cheaper fares offered by the Omnibus Company resulted in the Tramway Company reducing their fares in order to compete; this hardly helped their finances since they were already losing money and planning to put the business up for sale.

On 1st November 1901, the system was purchased by Ipswich Corporation under the authority of the Ipswich Corporation Act of 1900, who continued to operate it whilst plans for electrification of the system were put into place.

On the 6th June 1903 the system closed to enable work to proceed on electrification and, for a while, the Ipswich Omnibus Company had the roads to themselves.

On the 23rd November 1903, Ipswich Corporation re-opened the tramway as an overhead electric system (the Corporation had been granted the authority to establish its own electricity undertaking in 1897).

On the 21st December 1903, opened a line serving Derby Road, Bramford Road and Lattice Barn, providing a much swifter and efficient service than the Ipswich Omnibus Company, who withered under the competition and by the end of the following year had ceased trading, bringing the horse-drawn era to a close.

The initial fleet consisted of 26 (Nos. 1-26) Brush-built open-top double-deckers, housed in a new tram shed on Constantine Road, alongside the power station.

The tramway remained basically a single-track system radiating out from Cornhill to most parts of the town and was completed by the middle of 1904.

The trams were liveried in green and cream with the legend ‘Ipswich Corporation Tramways’ along with the rocker panels. In 1904 another ten (Nos. 27-36) Brush-built cars were purchased to complete the fleet.

The first section of tramway to close was that between the GER station and the Quay, which was only used when the GER steamers docked there; this ceased being used in 1917.

By the early 1920’s the system had begun to deteriorate and was suffering from the effects of reduced maintenance during the First World War.

Consideration was given to the costs of renewal and repair of the ageing system, with the local bus operator the Eastern Road Car Company (the predecessor of the Eastern Counties Omnibus Company) offering to provide the replacement services.

There was much debate over the issue, but after the Corporation had evaluated an experimental trolleybus service that had commenced on the 23rd September 1923 between Ipswich railway station and Cornhill, it was decided to replace the trams with trolleybuses.

This would also help to alleviate the effects of the post war depression, since local builders Garretts and Ransomes could both manufacture trolleybuses. Later that year trolleybuses also replaced another tram route, from Princes Street to Mill Street.

The final demise of the tramway system came three years later when trolleybuses replaced the remaining routes, with the last trams (along Bramford Road and to Whitton) running on the 26th July 1926.

30 trolleybuses were delivered for use on the tramway replacement services; 15 were built by Ransomes and 15 by Garrett. To reflect the changing status of the transport department the undertaking was re-named Ipswich Corporation Transport.

The early trolleybuses were all single-deck, but as the system gradually expanded, double-deck vehicles were introduced. A new depot was built at Priory Heath in 1937.

The Electricity Act of 1947 resulted in the nationalisation of the Corporation’s electricity department, putting up the cost of electricity. With Ipswich expanding it would be necessary to extend the services into new areas.

In 1950 motorbuses were introduced on new routes to the Whitehouse and Maidenhall estates, initially as an evaluation exercise to see if passenger numbers warranted the costs associated with erecting new overhead.

Ipswich was the last major urban operator to place motorbuses in service, but once it had done so, the versatility of the bus and the rising costs of trolleybus operation meant that the days of the trolleybuses were numbered.

In 1957 consideration was given to the sale of the transport department to the Eastern Counties Omnibus Company because of mounting losses. An investigative committee was formed but finally decided that the undertaking should remain in Corporation hands.

By 1960 the bus fleet overtook the trolleybus fleet in size and the writing was on the wall. In 1961 the routes were shared between buses and trolleybuses as shown below;

Route No.Route
1Bourne Bridge-Electric House (Motorbuses)
1BCastle Hill Estate-Maidenhall Estate (Motorbuses)
2Electric House-Priory Heath (Trolleybuses)
2AElectric House-Airport (Motorbuses)
4Electric House-Felixstowe Road (Trolleybuses)
5London Road, Chantry Estate-Foxhall Heath (Motorbuses)
6AElectric House-Gainsboro Estate (via Duke Street) (Trolleybuses)
6BElectric House-Gainsboro Estate (via Clapgate Lane) (Trolleybuses)
7Foxhall Heath-London Road, Chantry Estate (Motorbuses)
8Ipswich Station-Whitehouse Estate (Motorbuses)
9Whitton-Rushmere Heath (Motorbuses and Trolleybuses)
9AMaidenhall Estate-Castle Hill Estate (Motorbuses)
11Electric House-Sidegate Lane (Trolleybuses)
12Chantry Estate-Electric House (Motorbuses)
XWhitehouse Estate-Ipswich Station (Motorbuses)
Electric House-Colchester Road (Trolleybuses)

Over the next two years, however, the trolleybus replacement programme was speeded up; the last trolleybus (No. 114) finally running on the 23rd August 1963.

Towards the end of the 1960’s, Ipswich, in common with most other operators, was suffering from falling passenger numbers and increasing costs.

From 1968 all new buses were purchased with a move to one-man operation in mind. In 1974, in line with local government re-organisation, the name of the undertaking was changed to Ipswich Borough Transport.

In the mid-1970’s staffing problems led to the rapid implementation of the one-man policy, and, in 1975-76, thirty-five Leyland Atlanteans were purchased. The traditional crew-operated buses did not finally disappear until 2nd August 1986, though most had been replaced by 1980.

The final two AEC Regent V’s (Nos. 63 and 65) performed the last services, which also marked the end of AEC buses in the fleet, severing a connection that had gone back 36 years.

From 1983 single-deck vehicles were purchased as passenger numbers continued to fall.

The enactment of the 1985 Transport Act led to the formation of an ‘arms-length’ limited company trading as Ipswich Buses Ltd, effectively bringing municipal operations in Ipswich to an end, although the Council still held the majority shareholding in the new company.

This history covers the period of municipal operations of Ipswich Corporation, which effectively ended on 26th October 1986 with the enactment of the 1985 Transport Act (de-regulation) and in preparing this history reference has been made to the following sources;
The Directory of British Tramways (Keith Turner, PSL 1996); Ipswich Corporation Transport (Michael Draper and John Cumins, Buses Illustrated No. 71 Feb. 1961); Municipal Buses in Colour 1959-1974 (Reg Wilson, Ian Allan 1997); Notes on Ipswich Transport (Ipswich Transport Museum website); PSV Circle Fleet History 2PF9 (1987), Buses/Buses Illustrated (various editions).

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