The Southport Tramways Order of 1872 authorised the construction of Southport’s first horse tramway.
Opened on 31st May 1873, it ran from Churchtown Station, southwest to Birkdale Station, travelling via Mill Lane, Roe Lane and Lord Street and was operated by the Southport Tramways Company.
A second route was opened shortly afterward, running from Lord Street to Cambridge Road, where it re-joined the original line by Churchtown Station, before continuing to the Botanic Gardens.
The system was single-track throughout its 6¼ miles, and worked by a fleet of thirteen open-top double-deck trams, liveried in green and white.
On the 12th May 1883, the Birkdale and Southport Tramways Company opened another line to the east of the Southport Tramways system. It ran from London Square (later Monument Square), on Lord Street, to Kew Gardens in the southeast, via Scarisbrook Road.
On the 5th November 1884 a short section south along Sefton Street to the Crown Hotel opened, the only section of the system that was actually in Birkdale. It is thought that the route was worked by twelve horse-drawn tramcars, although this cannot be confirmed.
Two years later, in 1896, Southport Corporation purchased the Company and, along with Birkdale UDC, also purchased the tramway tracks that lay within their boundaries.
The lines of the Southport Tramways Company were leased back to the Company for a period of 21 years, whilst those of the Birkdale and Southport Tramway Company were ostensibly operated by the Company until electrification.
In 1899 the authority was given for Southport Corporation to commence its electrification programme and to construct new routes in the process.
On the 18th July 1900, Southport Corporation tramcars ran for the first time, when three new electric routes were opened, the High Park, Blowick and Ash Street sections being the first to be brought into use. By the end of the year a total of seven routes had been opened.
The trams were housed at a newly constructed depot in Canning Road, Blowick and the initial fleet consisted of nine open-top double-deckers (occupying the even numbers; 2, 4, 6, 8, 10, 12, 14, 16 and 18) and six combination single-deckers (occupying the odd numbers; 1, 3, 5, 7, 9, 11), all manufactured by the Electric Railway and Tramway Carriage Works of Preston, and liveried in maroon and cream.
In 1901 the British Electric Traction Company purchased the Southport Tramways Company and began to electrify the leased lines.
The first electric service commenced on the 11th August 1901 on the Botanic Gardens route, which terminated at the Southport/Birkdale boundary, using 20 Brush open-top double-deckers (Nos. 1-20), based at the Company’s former horse tram depot in Churchtown. By 1903 electrification of the 5½-mile system had been completed.
In 1912 Birkdale UDC was absorbed into the borough of Southport, and, just five years later, on the 1st January 1918, Southport Corporation finally united the tramway system in the town by purchasing the Southport Tramways Company from the BET for the sum of £35 000, although operation of the services was not taken over by the Corporation until 1st March of that year.
In 1919 a programme of top-covering all the open-toppers was started and all the trams underwent re-conditioning and re-building to some extent. This kept the fleet running throughout the 1920’s.
In 1924 Southport Corporation purchased its first bus, a locally built Vulcan VSD (No. 1: FY6272) with 28-seat toastrack bodywork, intended for sea-front duties.
More followed, and by 1930 the Corporation had a fleet of 12 vehicles, mainly Vulcan’s, along with an AEC 411 of 1925 and two Leyland TD1’s purchased in 1929.
This, effectively, was the writing on the wall for the tramway system, which was isolated and had never connected with any other system, unlike the majority of neighbouring tramways.
From March 1931 the former Southport Tramways routes were gradually abandoned and replaced by buses, until, on the 31st December 1934, the last tram ran in Southport, bringing to an end over 50 years of tramway operations in the borough.
With the onset of World War II in 1939, the Government transferred several ministries to Southport for the duration, and consequently the demand for transport rose, especially in view of petrol rationing.
The fleet, which stood at 45 vehicles in 1936, had been expanded to 63 vehicles by 1946, and by 1951 it had grown to 78 vehicles. It was around this time that passenger numbers peaked, with approximately 30 million using the Corporation’s buses in 1951.
In 1946, the Corporation introduced a number of open-top sea-front services using ex-War Department Bedford QL’s, with locally constructed 23-seat bodywork by Rimmer, Harrison and Sutherland.
Some of these vehicles were used exclusively for the beach service to Sandhills and Ainsdale, since the salt water caused rapid deterioration of the chassis and bodywork, hence their early withdrawal, whilst the others were only used on beach services in emergencies and spent most of their working lives on circular tours. The last QL ran in 1966.
Southport Corporation received permission to operate 8ft wide double-deckers in 1947, and Nos. 84-95 (FFY401-412), a batch of Leyland PD2/3’s with Leyland H30/26R bodywork being the first such vehicles in the fleet.
This type of vehicle remained the standard until the late 1960’s when declining passenger numbers (down to around 15 million in 1966, about half of those carried in 1951) precipitated a move to one-man operation and the Corporation began to purchase a number of single-deck vehicles suitable for this type of operation.
In 1967 the Corporation operated the following stage carriage routes;
|1||Woodvale to Blowick, via Birkdale|
|2||Lord Street to Marshside, via Cambridge Road|
|3||Monument Square to Botanic Gardens, via Meols Cop|
|4||Chapel Street to Halsall Road, via Shakespeare Street|
|5||Chapel Street to Haig Avenue, via the General Infirmary|
|6||Monument Square to Blowick, via Sussex Street|
|7||Monument Square to Russell Road, via Meols Cop|
|8||Chapel Street to Carr Lane, via Cemetery Road|
|9||Lord Street to Crossens, via Roe Lane|
|10||Lord Street to Crossens, via Preston New Road|
|11||Lord Street to Woodvale, via Ainsdale|
|12||Lord Street to Ainsdale, via Hillside|
|13||Lord Street to Ainsdale Beach, via Hillside|
|14||Lord Street to Liverpool Road, via Birkdale Station|
|15||Lord Street to Clive Road, via York Road|
|16||Lord Street to Guildford Road, via Aughton Road|
|17||Lord Street to Balmoral Drive, via Golf House|
|18||Lord Street to Everard Road, via Promenade|
|19||Lord Street to Golf House, via Promenade|
|20||Eastbank Street Square to Kew, via Forest Road|
In addition, football buses were operated from Crossens (No.21), Ainsdale (No.22) and Carr Lane (No.23) to Southport FC ground at Haig Avenue on match days, and circular tours were numbered 25, 29 and 30, with No. 27 being the Chapel Street to Pleasureland circular.
By 1971 the Corporation had a fleet of over 20 one-man operated single-deckers and several of the earlier PD2 double-deckers with front entrance bodywork had been converted for one-man operation.
The Transport Act of 1968 was brought in to help rectify some of the problems facing bus operators at the time.
It also allowed for the creation of Passenger Transport Executives, Merseyside PTE being one of the first so designated.
Although the borough of Southport lay outside the catchment area, the Local Government Act of 1972 created the new Merseyside County, which included the boroughs of St. Helens and Southport.
As a consequence, on the 1st April 1974, the transport undertakings of these two municipal operators were absorbed into the Merseyside PTE, and at midnight on the 31st March 1974, Southport Corporation Transport passed into history and almost 75 years of locally controlled municipal services ended.
In producing this history reference has been made to the following sources;
The Directory of British Tramways (Keith Turner, PSL 1996); Route details and other information from ‘County Borough of Southport – Centenary Celebrations’ (Southport Corporation, 1967); PSV Circle Fleet History PC22 (1989).