Portsmouth Corporation Transport 1901-1986

The first recorded instance of public transport in Portsmouth would appear to be a horse-bus service that commenced plying for hire in 1840.

It ran between Southsea and North End via a circuitous route through Old Portsmouth and the Hard, the fare being 6d (2½p), a considerable sum in those days.

By 1857 horse-bus services operated from Grove Road to Portsea and Landport hourly, and from Portland Street to the Railway Station connecting with each scheduled train, and by the end of the decade routes from the Thatched House to the Cambridge Hotel, and from the Dockyard to the Royal Marine Artillery Barracks at Eastney were operating.

In May 1865 the Landport & Southsea Tramways Company opened a single-track line (using step rails, replaced in 1875 with grooved rails) from the joint London & South Western Railway and the London, Brighton and South Coast Railway station at Landport, via the town centre, to Clarence Pier at Southsea, Britain’s first statutory street tramway.

The line was originally intended to provide a connection with the Isle of Wight ferries and the unusual gauge (4ft 7¾in) was chosen to permit the through working of railway wagons, which, in the event, never seems to have taken place, although it did determine the gauge of the tramways that followed.

The original rolling stock probably consisted of just two, two-horse single-deck tramcars, sufficient to work the one-mile route.

In September 1874, the Portsmouth Street Tramways Company opened a much longer single-track route from North End (where the Company had a depot), via Kingston Crescent and Commercial Road to Landport Station, from there it ran parallel to the Landport & Southsea line via Cambridge Street, High Street and Broad Street terminating at the Point (where the Company had a second depot).

Another Company, the General Tramways Company of Portsmouth, opened its first line on 18th March 1878.

It ran from High Street along Alexandra Road to the Landport & Southsea line, which it then joined to run along Kings Terrace, Jubilee Terrace as far as the Pier Hotel, where it branched off along Southsea Terrace, Castle Road and Osbourne Road to the Queens Hotel.

By 1883 the Provincial Tramways Company Ltd. (established in London in 1872), who already owned the Portsmouth Street Tramways Company, had purchased the other two competing companies and amalgamated them into one single company, under the PST name.

The system was extended throughout the following years and by 1890 the tramway reached Hard by the Harbour, East Southsea, Fratton, Buckland and Cosham.

Although details of the rolling stock are sketchy, it would appear that, by 1894, the fleet had reached number 69, and at least one Lifu steam tram was operated.

Manufactured by the Liquid Fuel Engineering Co., of East Cowes, it was a large top-covered (but with no upper-deck glazing), oil-fired, tramcar, which operated from 1896 to 1901.

Whilst the network of tramway lines was being constructed and expanded, a number of horse-bus services flourished.

The Portsmouth Street Tramway Company itself operated a number of services, as did Andrews Safety Buses, a Cardiff concern, which ran on a route between Kingston Road and Havelock Park amongst others, but was eventually purchased by the PST in 1888.

Routes worked by single-horse vehicles included North End to Cosham, prior to the construction of the tramway; Cambridge Junction to Havelock Park, and Edinburgh Road to the Dockyard.

Two-horse buses worked from Cambridge Junction to Eastney Barracks, via Elm Grove and Albert Road, and between the Dockyard and Beach Mansions, as well as assisting with traffic on the Edinburgh Road to the Dockyard route when required.

Some of the routes were subsequently combined to give a service between Edinburgh Road, the Dockyard and Eastney, a route largely followed by the first Corporation motorbus in 1919, although the horse-bus route had ceased operation by 1904.

The Portsmouth Corporation Tramway Act of 1898 empowered the Corporation to purchase the lines of the Portsmouth Street Tramways Company that lay within the borough.

On the 1st January 1901 Portsmouth Corporation exercised its option, leaving the Company with just a short stretch of track from the boundary at Hilsea to Cosham.

Preparations had been made for this event and the parent company (the Provincial Tramways Company) had obtained an order to extend the system from this point.

The Portsdown & Horndean Light Railway formally opened on 2nd March 1902, running between Cosham and Horndean, via Portsdown Hill, Widley, Purbrook, Waterlooville and Cowplain (where the depot was sited).

The overhead electric line was mainly single-track and services commenced with Nos. 1-9, British Electric Car, open-top, double-deck, tramcars, joined later by five similar vehicles (Nos. 10-14).

Portsmouth Corporation was given the running powers over the first mile of the nearly six-mile route, although the Company had no reciprocal rights and it was not until 1924 that they first ran into Portsmouth.

The official opening of Portsmouth Corporation’s system took place on the 24th September 1901, after extensive reconstruction and conversion to electric traction.

The basic routes remained those worked by the PST’s horse trams (which continued to work the Hilsea to Cosham section until May 1903) with one or two minor alterations; the first electric tram route opened being between North End, the Town Hall and Clarence Pier. Extensions to the system were opened in 1909 and 1913.

The initial order for 80 tramcars (Nos. 1-80) was placed with the Electric Railway and Tramway Carriage Works (ERTCW) and these were delivered during 1901 and 1902.

In 1904 Portsmouth Corporation rebuilt four (Nos. 81-84) of the former horse cars purchased from the Portsmouth Street Tramways Company, which had been new in 1880, for further service. One of these (No. 84) still survives in preservation.

Further new cars were added in 1907, when 15 open-top balcony cars (Nos. 85-100) were delivered, and in 1920 when 12 totally enclosed English Electric cars (Nos. 105-116) were purchased.

Although there had been attempts to establish the motorbus in Portsmouth, including a short-lived service operated by small ‘waggonettes’ between the Hard and Fratton Road early in the 1900’s and an attempt by the Isle of Wight Motor Bus Company to establish several routes using Milnes-Daimler vehicles in 1906, none of these schemes came to fruition and were eventually abandoned.

A proposal had been put before Portsmouth Corporation in 1906 to augment the existing tram services with motorbuses, and was revived again in 1911, but, on both occasions, the Council, wary of other ventures in the town that had failed, decided that the economics of bus operation did not justify their introduction.

In 1919, however, the Council again turned its attention to the use of buses as feeder services for the trams and an initial order for ten Thornycroft J chassis was authorised.

They were delivered in the summer of 1919 and commenced operation on a new service between Devonshire Avenue and St. Mary’s Road on August 11th of that year.

They carried Wadham open-top, double-deck, 34-seat bodywork and were numbered 1-10.

At the same time private operators, such as the Portsmouth & District Motor Services Ltd., which commenced a service between Eastney and Cosham, and the Southsea Tourist Company, which ran a town service from North End to Clarence Pier, attempted to establish themselves in the area.

It was competition such as this that persuaded the Corporation to conclude an agreement with the Provincial Tramways Company in 1924 to allow their tramcars to run through to the Town Hall from 1st August, which was later extended to include Clarence Pier and eventually South Parade Pier.

Up until then the Corporation bus fleet had remained static at ten vehicles, but in the summer of 1924, twelve more vehicles arrived.

Five (Nos. 11-15) were Guy J chassis with ‘toastrack’-style bodywork by Wadham, with seats for 15, purchased after a visit to Bournemouth where a successful seafront service using similar vehicles was in operation.

They were used for summer duties along the Esplanade, a function they performed until 1939. The remaining vehicles were on Dennis 50-cwt chassis (Nos. 16-22) with Strachan & Brown bodywork.

They operated on a new route, initially as a temporary measure whilst the Council considered a new tramway link, but eventually ran permanently, connecting South Parade and Cosham.

The following year twelve more Dennis 50-cwt chassis (Nos. 23-34) were purchased, this time with Dennis bodywork, originally with the intention of operating as one-man vehicles, but subsequently conductors were used.

The original route from Devonshire Avenue to St. Mary’s Road was extended to Winter Road at one end and to Tangier Road at the other end.

A further extension to Great Salterns was deemed uneconomical, but was later revived.

The route between the South Parade Pier and Cosham was extended in July 1925 to Drayton at the borough boundary and extended from the Pier via Guildhall and North End, returning to Drayton via Cosham.

Southdown Motor Services already worked the section of the route beyond Cosham, and the Corporation fare undercut that of the Company.

As a result Southdown retaliated by increasing the number of journeys into Portsmouth, putting pressure on Corporation trams.

On July 18th 1927 an agreement came into force imposing a protective fare on Company vehicles south of Cosham, whilst the Corporation withdrew the Cosham to Drayton section.

Although Portsmouth Corporation was empowered under the 1920 Act to run buses to its own boundaries, this agreement inhibited future development of its services, and applications to the Traffic Commissioners to extend services beyond Cosham (invariably opposed by Southdown) were refused, creating an anomaly that continued until wartime relaxations.

Portsmouth was elevated to city status in 1927 and the new version of the coat-of-arms began to appear on the sides of buses and trams from 1929, accompanied by a change of livery from the previous scarlet lake and Oxford ochre to a brighter shade of red and white by 1931.

This was the year that saw a turning point in the transport department’s development, with financial losses being largely attributed to the tramway system. Until this time the undertaking had been primarily a tramway supported by buses, but now the roles were about to be reversed.

The Transport Manager had recommended that the tramway system be replaced by trolleybuses, and this was accepted by the Transport Committee in preference to a rise in fares, the first conversion taking place on the 4th August 1934 when trolleybuses replaced trams on the Cosham to South Parade Pier route, although the tram rebuilding programme, introduced in 1929, still continued.

Just over two years later, on the 10th November 1936, the last tram (No. 106) ran between Guildhall and Eastney, leading a procession of three other trams, amidst much celebration, bringing the tramway era in Portsmouth to an end.

By the end of 1937 the trolleybus fleet stood at 100 vehicles, mainly of AEC 661T manufacture, although it was to be some 13 years before any more trolleybuses were added to the fleet.

The onset of World War II had an immediate effect on Portsmouth and its transport undertaking. The population dropped by around one-third as people were evacuated.

Many of the platform staff were called up and almost 500 women had to be recruited as replacements.

Services also suffered, many stops were eliminated and frequency reduced, especially on routes that could be served by trolleybuses; summer services along the seafront were suspended altogether.

A single raid in 1941 destroyed eleven buses and damaged many others, which were hardly replaced by the wartime intake of 19 vehicles. When peace returned some of the cuts and services were restored, whilst some services remained curtailed from their pre-war termini.

One feature of post-war services was the agreement between the Corporation and Southdown Motor Services over joint running on various services, which came into force on 1st July 1946 and saw the operators pooling mileage and receipts in an agreed proportion (originally 57% to the Corporation and 43% to Southdown).

This enabled each partner to run mileage for the other partner that may otherwise have been lost, resulting in Southdown vehicles appearing on erstwhile Portsmouth Corporation routes and vice versa.

Post-war orders were for 25 new double-deckers, Nos. 1-4 and 180-200 being Leyland PD1 and PD1A chassis, whilst the remaining chassis (Nos. 11-14) were Crossley DD42/5T’s with local Reading bodywork. They were delivered late in 1947 and early 1948.

Although, because of fuel restrictions, maximum use was still made of the trolleybuses, on May 29th 1949 a service extension to the new Leigh Park housing estate that was currently under construction, was instigated with buses temporarily replacing trolleybuses pending extension of the overhead.

In the event, the use of buses proved permanent and became the first replacement of a trolleybus route with buses, a portent of things to come.

Even so plans were still made for extensions to the trolleybus system to Paulsgrove and Farlington and provisional powers obtained. Fifteen new BUT trolleybuses were purchased (Nos. 301-315) in the early fifties.

On September 30th 1951, the Copnor to Floating Bridge trolleybus route became the next casualty, being covered by diverting existing bus services along the route.

At the same time, however, new overhead was erected between Milton, Copnor and Hilsea, enabling certain service extensions to be worked by trolleybuses.

Although the Transport Manager had recommended abandonment of the trolleybus system in favour of motorbuses because of the substantial expenditure that would be required to replace the ageing vehicles and infrastructure, it was not until 1958 that the Council approved his recommendations and the gradual abandonment of the trolleybus system began.

On 27th July 1963, the final day of trolleybus operation was marked without ceremony, as the last vehicle (No. 313, a 1951 BUT 9611T), completed the final journey on the Dockyard-South Parade Pier-Eastney-Copnor-Cosham route and the depot doors closed on another chapter in Portsmouth’s transport history.

In the meantime the bus fleet had been supplemented by the addition of new vehicles and many of the pre-war vehicles were rebuilt in the Corporation’s workshops. More Crossley chassis were purchased in 1949, and in 1952 there was a return to Leyland vehicles with the purchase of 25 Leyland-bodied PD2/10 chassis.

In 1958 one-man operation was introduced when the wartime Bedford OWB’s had their folding doors converted to lever operation.

They were used initially to replace some of the less well-loaded journeys between Hilsea and Paulsgrove, which was primarily a double-deck operated route.

Dual-door single-deck vehicles made their appearance in 1960, again for one-man operation, but with facilities for standee passengers, increasing their capacity.

A vehicle renewals fund was established in 1961 that proved to be adequate in supplying the necessary finance for new buses, especially with the introduction of the New Bus Grant in 1968, which provided a grant towards the cost of new vehicles that met certain criteria.

The fleet continued to be updated with the introduction of front-entrance Leyland Atlanteans in 1963, suitable for one-man operation, and the continuing purchased of standee dual-door single-deckers.

By the middle of the 1970’s however, in common with most other operators, passenger numbers had dwindled to almost 50% of those carried in the 1950’s, resulting in a deficit, which was accompanied by the inevitable fares increases and service reductions in a continuous spiral.

Between 1980 and 1982, vehicles purchased included dual-purpose chassis, suitable for private hire work, which was undertaken to provide extra income, and was subsequently expanded. The first coach in the fleet was purchased in April 1986, a second-hand Leyland Leopard with Duple C57F bodywork (No. 101).

On the 26th October 1986, under Government legislation, the undertaking became Portsmouth City Transport Limited, an ‘arms-length’ limited company, effectively ending municipal transport in the city, although Portsmouth Council retained all the shares.

On the 8th June 1988 the Company was sold to a consortium in which the shares were jointly held by Southampton Citybus (75%) and Portsmouth City Transport employees (25%), finally removing the last vestige of Council involvement and bringing to an end over 80 years of municipal transport in Portsmouth.

This history covers the period of municipal operations of Portsmouth 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); Portsmouth Corporation Transport (THJ Dethridge, Buses 115 Oct 1964); City of Portsmouth Transport (Roy Marshall, Buses Extra 65 1990); PSV Circle; Fleet History PH14, (1997); Municipal Buses in Colour (Reg Wilson; Ian Allan, 1997), Buses (various editions). Some of these publications also draw on material from earlier works which are acknowledged in the relevant publication.

Tram Fleet List 1901-1936 | Trolleybus Fleet List 1934-1963 | Bus Fleet List 1919-1986 |